Saturday, August 23, 2008

Weekend Reading - Travels with Barley

My recommendation for this weekend involves two elements of the best late-summer celebrations -- a road trip and beer (I'm not advocating drinking and driving, of course - enjoy separately). In this era of international conglomerates buying up all the great American beers, Ken Wells goes looking for the best local brews and the perfect beer bar.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Scrapbooking Steals

Today's fall-ish weather had me wanting to shop in the worst way, so I decided to take a trip to A. C. Moore for some art supplies.

Having never been to an A. C. Moore before, I didn't know what to expect. I found it to be much smaller than Michaels, with a disappointingly small selection of what-the-hell crafts. One thing I love about Michaels is I am guaranteed to find at least one bizzare craft-in-a-box kit that I can't wait to take home and sew/engrave/bake/all three. A. C. Moore was pretty bare bones, which I suppose probably saved me some money.

I wanted to check them out because every week the Globe runs their ad and it always has some really enticing items in it. This week the ad featured 40% off any full price item with a coupon and advertised that all K & Company items were 40% off. I've blogged before about my love for the K & Company scrapbooks, but my passion for all the other assorted pages, stencils, cutouts, and doodads they make borders on obsession. (oh yeah, and their borders!) I must have read that ad 20 times because I was afraid I'd gotten it wrong, but no - every K & Company item -- including the hard-to-find expander pages was 40% off. And, to top it off, a lot of those items were already on sale or reduced.

So I went, I spent, and I made a killing! Check out this haul (above), all for 40% off!
I was particularly excited by this sort of mix-pack the store put together of all different random doodads. Maybe you can see in the picture, it's labeled $49.99. That's the value of the decorations contained in the pack. The normal, every day price for the pack is $19.99. It was all K & Company, so I got 40% off of that -- just $11 bucks! The best part is that it's all mix/match stuff that I would never buy separately so I have a lot of cheap weird materials to work with and get creative on. I opened up the package and look how much was in there. Some cutouts, some glitter stickers, ribbons, alphabet stick-ons and my favorite, rub-ons. I could go on, but the night is young and I have a whole stack of photos just waiting to go into the book.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Weekend Reading - Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

Friday at last! It is just me or has this been a particularly long week?

This week I’m reading “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant”, essays on dining alone compiled by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Some of the essays focus on the act of dining alone, and others are more focused on the recipes. Essayists include M.F.K. Fisher, Marcella Hazan, Amanda Hesser, Ann Patchett, Steve Almond and others I haven’t gotten to yet. The tone varies from essay to essay but all are masterfully written and enjoyable to read.

Reading the book has me thinking about what some of my favorite foods are to eat when I’m by myself. When I’m out I love a buffet – especially Indian – or any place where I’m likely to encounter new foods on my plate. I love a sushi combo platter too.

At home by myself, nothing makes me quite so happy as a bowl of lentil or veggie soup (something really tart and salty) with at least 2 types of pungent cheese and more bread than is healthy (heated 30 seconds in the microwave and drizzled in olive oil). My current favorite bread is the When Pigs Fly kalamata olive and roasted red pepper – very salty and spicy. After arranging it all on a plate I pour a glass of cheap red wine – I like blends with lots of zinfandel. My favorite is Beaulieu Vineyard’s Beauzeaux, but I haven’t been able to find it in a while so I usually end up with whatever’s cheap with an “Adjective Noun” name (Red Truck, Gnarly Head, Big House, etc. especially anything with big or red in the name. If my blog were a wine I would certainly drink it). The Barefoot wines are always good too. I could eat this for every meal every day.

What do you eat when you’re alone?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Work in Progress

Today I broke ground on my new book. I need to save all the ideas for the writing, so I won’t do any synopsis or story specifics on this blog, but I will go into process a little.

This will be my third novel, and the third approach I’ve taken to writing one. The first two were each pushed out in a month for National Novel Writing Month, and this will be my first outside the confines of November. A little about the approaches I’ve taken:

For my first novel, Loss Prevention, I paid a lot of attention to structure. I started with a character – a loss prevention specialist (sort of a supermarket security agent) who has a knack for detective work but who has suffered a series of losses in his personal life. I wanted to write the complete story in a month, so I drew out a character arc using Lew Hunter’s Screenplay structure as a guideline and multiplying by two (Nanowrimo guidelines require novels be 50,000 words / about 200 pages – roughly twice the length of the average screenplay). Next I broke the story down into 28 or 29 chapters of 7-8 pages each. I wrote a one sentence description of what should happen in each chapter, giving each chapter its own mini story arc, as well as using those pages to move the overall story along. I wanted the book to be zippy and cinematic so I committed myself to write in chapter blocks (usually one chapter per day) to keep the tone and pacing consistent within the chapter and to make writing the book feel like a series of small tasks instead of one overwhelmingly big one. That first year, I was concerned I wouldn’t finish the book in a month so the structure helped me gauge how I was doing and made 50,000 words feel reachable. The organization and plotting was useful for me, and boosted my confidence in my abilities to produce large works. I did finish Loss Prevention, but by the end I had lost a lot of my interest in the story. In retrospect, I should have chosen a topic that I knew better or that was more interesting to me. But my main goal that year was just to see if I could do it and what the process would be like, so it was, in that way, a success.
For last year’s novel, instead of a character I started with a theme – doubt – which I explored through a mystery/suspense book set in the woods of Maine. I still remember writing the first chapter with every light in my apartment on and the radio playing just to keep me from scaring myself. The idea for the scene developed out of my own claustrophobia one dark night when Greg and I stayed in an un-electified cabin near the end of the Appalachian Trail. The room around me was as dark with my eyes open as closed and it occurred to me that the nearest light might be miles away – with who knows how many animals and people between. That feeling of being vulnerable without sight stuck with me and I used it as an entry-point into a story where unseen forces were constantly inflicting doubt and anxiety on the main character. I gave myself a lot more leeway in my writing schedule. I wrote chapters out of order, rewrote chapters, and even wrote some pages that didn’t directly fit in with the story. I really enjoyed writing this book, and I’d love to go back and finish it one day. At the end of the month it wasn’t as well paced or filled in as Loss Prevention, but I did complete 50,000 words and had an ending of some sort.
With the new book I’m leaving things very loose and giving myself a lot of space to figure out how the story will work. I’d like to have a finished draft by the end of the year, but I plan to spend a lot of time at the start of this one finding the best entry point. Beginning the book is the hardest part for me because I can’t do the work in my head, I need to write it all out and read it to see if it works. My personal style on art projects has always been to produce 10 times what I need and then cut out the worst stuff until it looks like something manageable. I’m hoping I can do some of that editing as I go so I won’t need to actually write 10 novels before I get one good enough to show somebody. But, even if I do have to write 10, at this rate I’ll only be 34 by the time I write a good one, so that’s not too bad.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Weekend Reading - The Lace Reader

Happy Friday everyone!

This week I recommend Brunonia Barry’s “The Lace Reader”. This book is getting lots of attention in Boston both because of its modern day Salem setting and for the author’s unusual route to publication. The 58 year old author self-published the book first, then after it gathered a following with book clubs, she managed to sell it to Harper Collins for a $2 million deal. Of course, a quick look at the bio on her webpage reveals that she’s certainly paid her dues; studying literature, creative writing and screenwriting and a building a career history that spans the communications world from copywriting to screenwriting to young adult fiction to devising logic puzzles.

There’s a whiff of J. K. Rowling fandom in reviews of this book so I picked up my copy on Tuesday as soon as it was released. Even though I practically never buy hard cover books (they’re too bulky for my purse and usually too expensive), since it’s a heavily promoted new release, the big book sellers have it on sale for 30-40% off, meaning it’ll only set you back $15 and change. Just go buy it now on sale. Everyone you know is going to be reading this book by the end of the summer (at least if you live in the Boston area) so you’ll probably break down and read it eventually.
And no, sorry, I can’t lend you mine. My mom is already dying to get her hands on it as soon as I finish, which shouldn’t be long. After 3 days I’m already half way through it!