Saturday, April 04, 2020

Friday, March 27, 2020

Super Simple, Easy, 4 Ingredient Homemade Artisanal Bread

I don't usually use this blog for recipe posts (my exploration of some of my Grandma's recipes was an exception, rather than the rule). But I can't stop telling everyone about this bread and how easy it is to make.

Since many people are trying their hand at baking as they self-isolate to keep the Coronavirus at bay,  I had to share. (And since I loathe those recipe blogs that take six days of anecdotal storytelling to get to the point, I'll just skip to the good stuff.)

SUPER SIMPLE, EASY, 4 INGREDIENT HOMEMADE ARTISANAL BREAD

3 C flour (Any kind. Bread flour. White. Wheat. Rye. Doesn't matter. For this loaf, I used 1 C whole wheat and 2 C unbleached white.)
1/4 tsp. dry yeast (NOT a whole packet. If using pre-packaged yeast, measure what you need & save the rest for another batch.)
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C very hot tap water

(* Optional 5th ingredient: 1 Tbsp. sugar, honey, molasses, or other sweetener. For the loaf featured, I used raw sugar.)

Step 1:
Dump all ingredients in a large bowl.
Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until well combined.

No need to knead.

Step 2:
Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to proof at room temperature for 3 to 5 hours. Instead of rising, like typical bread dough, it will look more like a gummy, pillowy porridge.

Step 3: After proofing 3 hours.

Step 3:
After proofing, remove plastic wrap and discard.

Step 4:
Sprinkle dough with 1 to 2 Tbsp. flour. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, work dough into a self-contained ball.

At this stage, you can add a few tablespoons of old-fashioned oats as an optional 6th ingredient. Just sprinkle them over the dough and roll it a bit so they stick. (I didn't do that this time.)
Step 4: Resting on parchment.
Tear a large square of parchment paper. Place dough in center of paper. Place paper back into bowl.

Cover with clean towel. Let rest 30 - 40 minutes.

Step 5:
Place empty Dutch oven, with lid, in oven and preheat to 450 F.

When oven is hot, place dough (parchment and all) in hot Dutch oven. Cover and bake at 450 for 30 minutes.

Step 6: Baked for 30 minutes.

Step 6:
Remove cover.
Remove bread from parchment.
Return loaf to Dutch oven and bake, uncovered, for 30 - 45 minutes.

Between Steps 6 and 7. Mmmmmm!

Step 7:
Cool completely before cutting and eating. (From start to finish, the hardest part is waiting for the bread to cool before cracking it open...)

This recipe is (mostly) taken from "Faster No Knead Bread" via Jenny Can Cook -- a 7 minute how-to video version of the process. Share and enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Sketch Notes: One Way to Help Focus Attention For Sermons and Online Learning

TBH: shouting rocks have always intrigued me.
(Future readers [if, indeed, there is a future], please note: this blog post was written at the beginning of the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic. Michigan, along with most of the free world, is shut down. Grocery stores are devoid of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Schools, churches, restaurants {::sob!::}, salons -- all closed. The times, they are *weird*, and only expected to get weirder.)
I'm especially happy with the party
limo and the "Jesus Prius."


As the realities of quarantine settle in, the name of the game right now is Online Learning, which involves parking on the couch in your PJs, nibbling on a stale bagel, trying to stay focused on the tiny talking head on your screen that is attempting to enter your home via the internet in order to impart knowledge into your noggin.

One thing I've noticed: the older I get, the more easily my attention wanders. Especially during lectures. Even lectures that I want to pay attention to.

Though I no longer spend a lot of time in the classroom listening to lecturing professors, I do spend a significant amount of time in church. And though it pains me to admit it, if all I do is sit and listen, I have a mortifying tendency to ... dozzzzzze offff... ~ZZZzzzzzz~

Or, rather, I *did.* Until I started taking sketch notes as a way to focus my attention and absorb the information coming my way. Not only did they stop me from falling asleep, but when I return to them -- even months later -- I find myself readily remembering the source content.

Got a little carried away with
treeing Zaccheus.
Now that so many religious services are being held online, not to mention business meetings and educational classes, it occurred to me that perhaps sketch notes can help others as well.

The Point

There are three primary purposes of sketch notes.

One is to give your hands something to do to keep you engaged while your brain focuses on whatever words are being said. Doodles, patterns, drawing things in close proximity (since most of these examples were drawn in church, that explains the sheer number of sketches of the backs of people's heads). The sketch doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the content of the lecture, but it does anchor you to the place and time.

Another is to jot down important data. Write out verbatim quotes and references that are important or that you want to be able to revisit for further study at another time.

The third is to make intuitive jumps between what was said, and what you got out of it.  (See the party limousine contrasted with the "Jesus Prius" as part of the story of calling Matthew, for instance...)

FWIW: the kids' story was about a loose moose...
The purpose of sketch notes is not to take down extensive content verbatim. Rather, it is to find ways to encapsulate the information or anchor it in your mind for later recall when you revisit the sketched pages.


Required Items

All you need for sketch notes is a sketch pad and a writing utensil. Artistic talent is irrelevant (as you can plainly see in the accompanying photos).

I find that too many options (say, a complete array of colored pens or pencils) is too distracting. With so many choices, instead of concentrating on the information coming my way, I'm deciding which color is best to work with.

For me, my "sweet spot" is a pencil, a pen, and a marker. Those three mediums are enough to provide a nice variety without overwhelming me with choices. Your actual mileage may vary -- do what works best.

From snakes named Prince to pet huskies
to "Finding Dory," one sketch page
helps me remember it all.
The Approach

I like to start with a date, so I can quickly locate a particular note at a later time.

When the speaker starts, I begin filling up the page, using one of the three methods mentioned earlier. Generally, I'll start a doodle and noodle around with it for a significant portion of the lecture -- but I'll often leave it to cite specifics or to note connections, then return to it as the lecture progresses.

That's what works for me.

The point is to use your sketching to help focus your thoughts on the new information coming at you. Whether learning online or in a more traditional lecture setting, fiddle around with sketch notes to see if they can work for you too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

After the Crash: Getting Unstuck and Back on Track

I haven't written in awhile. Months, in fact. Almost a whole year.

::sigh::

I know. I know.

I thought about taking the blog offline, but that seemed defeatist. I thought about taking it in one of several dozen different directions, but I couldn't dredge up the energy it would take to completely reconfigure and reinvent the thing.

For awhile, I thought laziness was the culprit. But I think the real problem was The Rut.

As in "I was seriously stuck in..."

For months, I explored pursuing several things, including starting my own publishing company, only to feel that I was doing nothing more than spinning my wheels and getting more and more stuck.

Recently, I came to the conclusion that now is Not The Time. I'm a single parent and an only child. The last thing I want to do right now is be the sole person responsible for One More Thing.

I had a conversation along these lines with one of my dear clients, a wonderful woman whose book deserves to be in print. "Do you feel like you're in Limbo?" she asked.

Yep. That's it exactly.

"It's ok," she said. "I've been there. The thing about Limbo is, it's only for a season. It's not permanent, though it may seem like forever when you're in it. But, like any season, it will pass and you'll come out the other side better and wiser for having gone through it."

I have the *BEST* clients. Just sayin'.

Her words were exactly what I needed to hear. They gave me the oomph I needed to slog on, to push forward, to keep reaching out in the hopes that I'd make some sort of progress.

Maybe they're what you need to hear, too.

If so, take them to heart, take them to soul, and make good use of them. Hopefully, you won't have to experience an in-your-face moment with your own mortality to further hammer home this truth, as I did.

Here's what happened:

Yesterday, Dad and I were at our Township Hall to vote in Michigan's presidential primary. We stopped by on our way to lunch and were surprised at how few people there were waiting to vote. Yes! No lines! W00t!

I voted and was waiting for the clerks to get Dad's paperwork finished when --

KA-BOOOM!

The building shook as if hit with a massive explosion. The wall buckled. Wood splintered. Bricks flew. The table that held voting materials shot across the walkway. In all honesty, at first I thought a bomb had gone off. Especially when the initial BOOM was followed by an ominous high-pitched whine.

It wasn't a bomb.

It was a car. Embedded in the wall, with the grille poking into the voting area. That whine was the accelerator still revving.

Had it happened only a minute or two earlier, it would have likely smacked into both Dad and me. As it was, we were all supremely fortunate that no one -- including the driver -- was seriously injured. In fact, she said she intended to vote, just as soon as she had spoken with her insurance company.

As the dust settled, I helped to move some of the larger pieces of drywall to clear a path so we could get out and future voters could come in.

Adrenaline ran rather high as Dad and I went off to lunch at El Asadero. (It takes more than a little car crash to keep us away from Taco Tuesday.)

By the time our food had arrived, word of the accident had gotten around. (It's a small town. News spreads like wildfire.)


By the time we finished eating and headed home, the wreck had been cleared, the wall was in the process of being patched, and voting was continuing.

It does no one any good to dwell on the damage that's been done. What matters is not the Bad Stuff that happened. Rather, what matters is clearing away the debris and doing The Thing that needs done.

In the aftermath of the wall crash, I found myself energized. "Inspired" isn't quite the right word, but neither is "stuck" any more.

So I'm going to do my best to clear the debris, tow away the things that are blocking progress, and continue to press forward. The plan is to update things here regularly -- once a week at least, probably on Sundays. Definitely more than once a year.

If you're stuck in a similar rut: onward and upward!

With any luck, this season will soon be history. Here's to pushing ahead and getting back on track.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Words For Worried Writers: Answering the Question "Am I Wasting My Time?"

From the in-box:

"I may need a bit of encouragement. I've queried fifteen agents -- two asked for partials, then rejected after a lengthy time. Others outright rejected the manuscript. Now I am wondering if I am wasting my time. Should I move on to something new? Did I kill my book before it even had a chance? I believed in my beta readers who said it was ready, and I think that's what bothers me most."

These questions, in some form, are the most commonly asked ones in the Writer's Realm. 

It may have something to do with an industry that requires me to spend days researching an agent's likes, dislikes, sales record, social media presence, online interviews, and current client roster, and to spend at least an hour filling out their personalized form (Who is my favorite Muppet, and why? What song am I most likely to sing out loud in the shower? Hmmmm), only to receive a "not for me" reply in less time than it takes for me to refill my coffee cup.

I asked permission to share this writer's email and my response to this and every other unsure / underappreciated / self-doubting / anxiety-ridden / apprehensive creative soul out there standing at the precipice of a Career in the Arts and wondering "Can I do this thing?"

So -- here is my response:

::ahem::

Dear Awesome Writer,

Here’s the short version: You want a career in writing? Buckle up for a LONG HAUL. 

Writers are called. We start out writing a story or a book, looking at it like we’re going to run a 5K on a weekend. Then people start warning us of “marathons.” Those people are wrong. 

A writing career is not a marathon, which is over in a few hours. It's more akin to circumnavigating the globe. It is a lengthy, exhausting, imperfect, messy, unfair process. You are at the very beginning — at the starting gate. If you give up easily or are readily discouraged by what others say, quit now. Seriously. I cannot overestimate how hard the process is.

So why do it? 

If you’re like me, and the other writers I know, it’s because you must. You have a story to tell. You love telling stories. 

And you’re not going to let the querying odds (fewer than 1 in 1000 queries get an offer of representation), the money (the vast majority of published writers must work at another job to make ends meet), the rejections (Lin-Manuel effing Miranda was rejected for arts grants only 15 short years ago), the naysayers (“The Great Gatsby,” which is considered a classic and is one of my favorite books — the book that made me want to become a writer — tanked when it was released. It never became “successful” until after its author’s death, when the publisher cleaned out their backstock to send cheap reading material to soldiers in WWII), or your own inner voice derail your dreams.
As long as you love what you are doing, you are not “wasting your time.” Think of all those poor saps out there who have no North Star passion.

Your betas encouraged you. They weren’t wrong to do so, but they probably know jack about publishing. Don’t blame them. We all need fans. Put them in the “fan” category and turn to them when you need cheerleaders. 

The people who work in publishing will often not be as encouraging as your betas were. That’s why my goal for all my clients is to work on a project and polish it until it is as good as we can possibly make it, every word has fought for the privilege of remaining in the manuscript, and you love it

Realize that once the project finds a publisher, you will rewrite it again with the editor — your Publication Sherpa.

It is entirely possible that this book may not be the one that lets you break into publishing. (“Carrie,” Stephen King’s first published book, was his seventh manuscript, I believe. He was so discouraged that he threw the draft in the trash, but his wife dug it out and encouraged him to keep going. Even so, over 30 publishers rejected it.) But the tools you learn from working on it will apply to your next book. And your next. And your next. 
Your book is hardly dead. There are hundreds more agents to approach when its time. Fifteen agents is *nothing*. And they were right to reject it. It was nowhere near ready to query. 

My job, and the job of any other writer you ask for help at this stage, is to help you get your book query-ready. We won't lie to you. We'll help you identify your weaknesses and point you toward the tools to fix them. When it's ready to query, we'll join your beta-fans and cheer you on every step of the way!
Every so often, the blind pig finds the truffle...

Chin up! Soldier on!

Onward and upward!

[Of course, I had no sooner replied to this writer than I noticed that Don Jr. announced a publishing deal. Because of course. ::sigh:: In this TED Talk, I will discuss...]

tl;dr ~ Yes. You can do this thing. You will fail along the way. Get used to it -- especially if you are not a member of the Automagically Privileged Elites (APEs). If you can actually walk away and leave your creative soul unexplored, do it now. If you can't, then suck it up and get to work!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

5 Ways Online Magazines Can Energize Your Writing Mojo

It's no secret that the Writing Life can contain a few pitfalls. Slogging through the query trenches is a lonely, soul-crushing experience, often flavored with loneliness, angst, and self-doubt.

One antidote to such misery -- far better than spiraling into either a Fitzgerald or a Hemingway of despair -- might be online magazines. Literary ones, genre ones, big ones, startups: each has a special place in the heart of my career. The top 5 reasons for my love affair:

This is no time for a trail ride...
1. I Feel the Need; The Need For Speed
Every writer knows this business of ours moves at a g-l-a-c-i-a-l pace.

Glacial.

Writing a good book takes months, at least. Often, it takes years. Finding representation can take longer than your child lasts in elementary school. Getting a publisher to take a chance on you is an exercise in not eating one's own liver.

But magazines, especially digital ones, have a much shorter publication schedule. The submission-to-publication time frame is measured in mere weeks or months, instead of geologic eras. While I'm waiting for a book editor who has had a manuscript since May to make a decision, a short work sent out this month can be published before the snow melts. That's about as close to instant gratification as the writing world gets.

2. Exciting Editorial Interaction
Every publisher, every publication, has a particular vision, tone, or style that sets it apart from the rest. This includes e-zines, from the bigwigs to the tiniest literary startup. Working with editors to polish shorter pieces for their publications builds critical skills and awareness that will be invaluable when working with an editor on longer projects.

There is no such thing as "too many bylines."
3. Bylines, Beautiful Bylines
Call me shallow, but I like seeing my name in print. "By Ami Hendrickson" never ceases to fill me with an Enterprise-sized payload of warm fuzzies.

Fun fact: people who are not in the publishing biz (your mom, your kids, your dentist) often do not make a distinction between having a book published and having a thing published. They do, however, understand being unpublished.

While waiting for the book deal, the script option, or the staging of your play, placing a few poems, or articles, or short stories with e-zines can not only help mitigate Byline Fever, but it can also help shut up those people who wonder aloud, within earshot, when you're going to be a "real writer."

4. Reckoning with Rejection
We fall down. We get up again...
I know some writers who are paralyzed with fear at the thought of rejection. Somehow, they have equated rejection with failure. (This, of course, is ridiculous. Even Lin-Manuel Effing Miranda got rejected when he applied for the Jonathan Larson grant in 2004.)

Getting published is like playing a massive game of Concentration. (Remember, from when you were a kid? There's a deck of a jillion picture cards. Each card has a match. You lay all the cards face down and then turn two over, hoping for a match. You get a match, you keep the cards and go again. No match, your turn is over.) You send out a piece hoping it finds an editorial match. If it does, it gets published. Yay! Confetti-flinging ensues. If it doesn't, you send it somewhere else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I used to worry about rejection. Now, I realize it's just part of the game. FWIW, I even sent queries out when my husband was dying. I figured no rejection could possibly compare with losing my WunderGuy. You can't win if you don't play. You can't get published if you don't go out on sub. If rejection worries you, let the quick turnaround of e-zines help you get used to it. The sooner, the better.

5. Bend! And Stretch! And Reach for the Stars!
The shorter length of pieces for online magazines allows me to stretch myself, trying something new with presentation, or with language, or with ideas, without committing months of my life to it.

If I run across an interesting tangent in my research (helloooooo, YouTube rabbit hole about Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians...), exploring it in poetry, or flash fiction, or flash non-fiction allows me to sink my teeth into it far enough to know if I need to devote a larger chunk of my writing time to it -- or if I can let this Bright, Shiny Object lie and return to my work-in-progress.

You never know what new interests you might discover if you give yourself permission to try them. I once wrote a contest winning six-word short story ("No taxidermist loved his daughter more.") that not only brought with it a lovely, unexpected winner's check, but it also permanently kick-started a love of micro-fiction.

Added bonuses:
As I review an e-zine to see if what I've written might be a good fit, I invariably find new writers that I like, wrestle with new ways to look at the world, and discover some new technique to put into play. My research almost always results in immediately improving my writing -- whether I submit something to them and get it published or not.

Bragging Rights:
If you've had something published online recently that you're proud of, tell me about it. It's ok to brag. Let the world know what you did this nifty thing.

I'll go first: I'm thrilled that my poem "Drive By 'I Love You'" was published this past weekend in The Cabinet of Heed.

Ok... Your turn!



Saturday, January 19, 2019

"I Traded My iPad for a Smith-Corona Typewriter": Q & A with Author Harry Marks


Author and Typewriter Aficionado, Harry Marks.
I am thrilled to present an interview with my Twitter-friend, author Harry Marks (@HCMarks)

When I discovered Harry uses a typewriter for his writing, I was simultaneously skeptical and intrigued. Here, Harry kindly answers my questions about where the typewriter fits into his writing process. Thanks, Harry!


Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing. What do you write? What are your favorite genres? Favorite formats?

A:  My name is Harry Marks and I’m the host of the literary podcast, COVERED (hologramradio.org/covered). I’ve been published in HelloHorror, The Coil, and have written for Baron Fig. Links to all my writing can be found at hcmarks.com

My short fiction tends to be genre-focused. I really love experimenting with short horror stories and flash fiction. My novels (I’ve completed five and I’m finishing up a sixth) tend to skew more Literary.


Q: In 2019, what is the Brass Publishing Ring achievement you would love to unlock?

A: I would love for 2019 to be the year I finally sign with a literary agent. I think I might be nearing completion on the book that will get me where I want to go. Fingers crossed!


Q: How long have you used a typewriter for your writing? Do you have a preferred make or model? What was your first foray into the Wonderful World of Typewriters?

A: I’ve been using a typewriter since 2015. I’d always wanted one for the reason most writers want a typewriter—the romantic fantasy of clicking and clacking my way to a best-seller like Stephen King. 

Harry's Workstation.
My mother used to let me mess around on an electric typewriter she had before we got a computer. This was in the early ‘90s when the hottest computer game around was Solitaire. It’s only recently that I’ve delved back into the analog world, having grown weary of the constant blinking and beeping and buzzing of my digital lifestyle. [I can SO relate... AH] 

I actually sold my first generation iPad so I could buy my first typewriter: a teal 1950s Smith-Corona. I wrote the first short story I ever had published on that machine. 


Q: What about the typewriter appeals to you?

A: The typewriter is a connection to the past, and I know how hipstery that sounds, but that’s what’s so appealing. I grew up in a house where vinyl was the primary source of music and paper books lined shelves in almost every room in the house. 

I love the dichotomy between the simple act of typing and the incredibly complex network of levers and springs within. And most importantly, my typewriter is over 60 years old and still works as well today as the day it rolled off the assembly line. It’s a tank. I can’t say that about the iPad I sold.


Q: Can you walk me through a typical idea-to-draft-to-polished-piece project? How does the typewriter fit into the process?

A: I tend to go to the typewriter during the drafting phase. Everything must end up in my computer eventually, but first drafts are either handwritten or typed on my Smith-Corona.


Q: What drawbacks are inherent in using a typewriter? How do you combat them?

A: The typewriter has plenty of drawbacks that make the idea of using one to write a novel seem absurd. 

I don’t have correcting tape, so I tend to go over typos with Xs until a word is blacked out. A lot of my first drafts look like redacted military files. 

They’re also heavy, loud, and if you use them enough, you’ll find yourself replacing the ribbon pretty often. 

Also, if it breaks and you don’t know how to fix it, you have to find someone who does. I work in New York City, so I tend to take my machines to a tiny shop in Midtown owned by a man who’s been fixing up typewriters for over 50 years.


Q: What advice would you give to a writer who is intrigued by the idea of using a typewriter and who wants to give it a try?

A: For anyone interested in writing on a typewriter, my biggest piece of advice is: try it in person. Don’t just buy a typewriter on eBay and hope for the best. Most of them are garbage anyway. If you can, go to a brick-and-mortar store where typewriters are sold (typewriter resellers, antique shops) and try them out. Choosing the right typewriter is like choosing the right guitar: you’ll know it when you feel it.

Any other typewriter-using authors out there? I'd love to hear your process. Me? I draft either in illegible handwriting OR on my AlphaSmart. Chime in below on what works best for you!