Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Recipes ain't everything

The pastry shops I love keep going out of business.

The week before Maggie McCullough's closed some seven years ago, I bought all their brioche to put in my freezer. About three years ago, I brought my daughter to Babette's Feast to celebrate with her favorite pear tart as was our tradition, only to find a note taped onto the door. Not long ago, I stopped by the Belgian bakery in town and noticed it was now a bagel store. At least my daughter wasn't with me when I walked into the store.

The store lo
oked more or less the same. The only difference is the food in the display cases. One was filled with bagels and the one that usually tested my willpower the most, the one showcasing beautiful cakes and tarts, was sparse and sad.

I asked for pear tarts, they had none. I looked at my other favorites: t
he almond croissants didn't have sliced almonds on the outside. The palmiers were thick and not of the right color.

(Rather then posting pictures of sad foods, I thought I'd post ones that reminded me of what used to be.)

"So, how long have you guys been here?" I asked, as nonchalantly and as non-accusingly as possible.

The woman behind the counter regarded me with suspicious eyes. "It's been a while."

I should have come more often, bought more pear tarts, helped them stay in business!

"We bought their business and all their recipes."

I looked up at her. There is hope yet. So what if the baked goods don't look the same. All I need is for them to taste the same. They have the recipes, so all is not lost!

I bought an almond croissant and a palmier and got into the car with my little baggie of hope. It was a while before I took my first bite because I knew my hopes would either be buoyed or shattered by it.

Recipes ain't everything.

The croissant was limp and unflaky and the inside undercooked. The almond paste was the only thing that tasted the same. The palmiers tasted the way they looked: inexperienced.

All those writing rules out there, they can't promise success. All the shows-don't-tells and three-act-arcs and what-the-character-wants will not give us the products that thrill and haunt and satisfy.

What will?

Recipes + experience + well-honed taste buds + desire + working at dawn everyday.

Oh, and maybe consumers who won't practice self-control when encountering our work.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Most memorable books I read in 2010

It's that time of the year again, when we look back on the year and take stock, noting the highlights and milestones, and of course, my year-end contemplation is incomplete without remembering the books I've read. Here are some that have touched me in some way:

Loveliest book to read aloud with children:
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Authors new to me whose work I must check out:
Nick Hornby
Aimee Bender

A book in which plot, character, language share equal weight, marrying genre and literary seamlessly:

In The Woods by Tana French

A middle grade series featuring two young adventurers, a boy and a girl, a trait that characterizes several other series, but manages to feel fresh and captivating:
Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

A book that rewarded careful, slowed-down reading
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson

A book that is much less gimmicky and much more pleasurable to read than at first glance:
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

An irreverent book that made me think about important stuff:
Lamb by Christopher Moore

Two favorite books that captured me, stayed with me, and completely baffled me as to how the authors managed to come up with what they did:
Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Tales From Outer Suburbia
by Shaun Tan

Let me know which of these book you've read and share some of your favs this year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is this writing?

Reading critiques of my work by my writing group
Reading their works-in-progress to offer my critique
Figuring out why a book I'm reading works so well
Figuring out what makes another book not work as well
Reading advice from screen writers about dialogue and exposition
Reading writers' and agents' responses to different loglines and opening paragraphs
Identifying elements of story in movies and other art forms
Daydreaming of what-if situations for my characters
Writing down new story ideas
Writing blog posts

These are all things I do n my quest to become a better writer. They are all important, some perhaps even necessary.

But none of them takes the place of actual writing.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Trial run, dress rehearsal, resolution

I chose not to do NaNoWriMo because I wanted to celebrate my birthday and my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, without having the word count over my head. I also needed to concentrate on my WIP, a YA novel I had started three times without being able to go past a particular point.

November is now over. Its December 1st and I don't have that much to show for it. No planning, no specific goals: that was my problem.

When The Rejectionist invited her readers to do a Pre-Resolution, a mini one before embarking an a full-blown I will exercise an hour everyday and eat only raw fruits and will treat everyone with the utmost respect and work for world peace type thing on New Year's Eve, I answered the call.

Small is good. One month is doable. I am in. Here are my pre-resolutions:

  • Every weekday at 10 a.m. I will be working on my YA novel. Actual writing, no research, no brainless switching sentences and words around or other busy but useless work.

  • Every weekday at 2:30 p.m. I will be practicing piano. My solo gig in August doesn't seem that far away anymore.

  • In Tae Kwon Do, I have a midterm coming up in less than a week and a national tournament in 6 1/2 weeks and I have specific training plans I've drawn up that I will stick to.

  • I will stick to my (more reasonable, less ambitious) house cleaning plan.
You are welcome to nudge or remind or ask me questions.