Whether it inspires a story or just makes your day a little more interesting, here’s an image to begin the morning with:
Marshaling my thoughts this week has been akin to herding cats. This is partly due to my efforts to escape from my aforementioned liminal state. There are lots of ways out of that maze and all of them are varying degrees of shiny. So, in herky-jerky, bits-and-bobs fashion, here’s a smattering of all things Miranda this week:
1. I wrote a new short story! It’s my first effort at a short in nearly a year. I think it’s pretty darn good. It features hedge fund douchbags, 16th century Venetian courtesans, and fireflies.
2. Grading is my ongoing albatross. I try to work through the pile of papers and exams and they seem to mate and multiply. I try to ignore them and they press oppressive fingers of guilt on my heart. I try to burn them and they erupt in a wild bonfire of…wait, no, sorry…that last one is just a fantasy. Seriously, though, I should be done today. Finally.
3. I fell off the wagon with my dieting and exercise while traveling for Paradise Lost, but I’m back on the horse (or, more accurately, the elliptical machine) again. I’ve shed 4lbs so far–and all without going to extreme measures–which means I’m almost halfway to my goal. I’m sure our upcoming trip to Spain (during which I will eat my weight in Jamon Iberico) won’t erase all my progress. No, of course it won’t.
4. Here’s a bit of shiny that’s been distracting me from my work lately: ever heard of tilt-shift photography? I hadn’t either till I visited Ana Silva’s blog and saw her post on Ben Thomas’ work. Basically, he works magic to make his photographic subjects (mainly cities/urban landscapes) appear as miniatures. Mind-bendingly cool.
5. Another cool link: Abandoned ships stranded in the desert from iO9. Very Mad Max, if you ask me.
6. What else? Oh, yeah…those novels I’m writing. Sigh. Progress on my latest novel is a little stop and start. I’ve gotten the first three chapters revised and have taken about 1400 attempts at starting the 4th. I’ve got it outlined. I know what needs to happen, but it just isn’t working on the page. Should I chalk this up to the limits of outlining or to my paralyzing fear of actually writing this thing and screwing it up?
Since most of my writing blocks tend to resolve themselves while I exercise, I think I’ll head off to the gym.
Please share your own bits and bobs for the week in the comments!
Whether it inspires a story or just serves to make your day a little more interesting, here’s an image to start the morning with:
Whether it inspires a story or just makes your day a little more interesting, here’s an image to start the morning with:
Lately I feel as if I’m caught betwixt and between, stuck in a liminal state.
Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep defined the concept of liminality as “in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes.”
My, Arnold, you do have a way with words.
Frankly, this is always a liminal time of year for me. The semester is over, but my grading isn’t done. Spring is clearly ending but summer hasn’t begun. I’m transitioning from a world structured by my day job to a world without structure. Pile onto that the fact that I’ve just finished a draft of one novel and must begin a draft of another, and the sensation of being stuck between one state and another is complete.
I’m not complaining, per se, but grappling for an explanation as to why I feel so very, very blah. My attempts at grading have been desultory at best. Rather than dive into that new novel, I’ve distracted myself by writing a piece of flash fiction that, in all likelihood, makes no sense. It doesn’t help that it’s been raining and raining and raining.
This will pass. That’s the great thing about liminality. It’s a period of transition. Temporary. Fleeting. I will submit my grades. Summer will come. I will travel (to Spain, New Orleans, Seattle, Boston, and England to name a few) and I’ll frolic in a world of unfettered writing time.
But, for now, for today, I’m stuck. I wallow, my only companions dislocation, reversal, and uncertainty.
Did you know that the world’s oldest evidence for shoe use comes not from preserved footwear but from human toe bones?
Well, it’s true.
Preserved sandals or other ancient footwear don’t appear in the archaeological record until around 9,000 years ago (from a site in California). This is because biodegradable materials tend to preserve poorly. Recently, though, physical anthropologists have speculated that we may be able to determine when humans began wearing shoes indirectly by examining their toe bones.
People who go barefoot develop stronger, more robust toes than those who wear supportive footwear. Archaeologists have found a decrease in the size and strength of toe bones among Homo sapiens in Europe and the Middle East around 30,000 years ago, suggesting it was at this time that they began to innovate new footwear technologies.
Eat your heart out Christian Louboutin!
Here’s the article from National Geographic if you want to know more.
Homemade granola may be the perfect food — sweet, salty, crunchy, fruity, and healthy (though not, alas, low calorie). It’s also relatively simple to prepare, more a concept than a recipe.
This is nourish-the-writer-brain food and makes a saliva-inducing start to the day or a good energy boost in the afternoon.
My favorite kind of granola (and the “recipe” I share here) is one with lots of seeds and nuts in it. I don’t give quantities because this is a fluid recipe — add as much or as little of your favorite ingredients. You will need access to a good bulk-food section or health food store for some ingredients.
Start with an assortment of seeds and nuts – I use pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews – but you can add or omit whatever you like. Mix in proportions that prioritize your favorites.
Mix the seeds and nuts with oats and puffed rice to give the granola some body.
Prepare a dressing of 1/2 cup canola oil, 2 tbs good quality maple syrup, 1/4 cup honey, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Whisk this together and pour it over the nut, seed, and grain mixture. Stir well to coat everything. If you’ve really made a big batch of granola, you might need to double the dressing. The mixture should be damp, but not dripping.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Turn the granola mixture out onto baking sheets, spreading thinly and evenly. Bake the granola for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until well toasted, crispy and golden. It’s important to set a timer and stir regularly so the toasting is even and nothing burns. Use the time between stirs for writing sprints on your current novel or short story project.
Once the granola is well toasted, turn it all into a large bowl and mix with the dried fruit of your choice. I usually include dried cranberries and dried golden raisins, but you can put in whatever you prefer.
If you have the strength, it’s best to let the granola cool before diving in…but if you can’t wait, I won’t tell 😉
The best way to serve this granola is on top of some good plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey.
Paradise Lost is organized by Sean Kelley and geared towards folks who’ve already attended a longer workshop (such as Viable Paradise or Taos Toolbox). The goal of Paradise Lost is to provide a space in which people who are starting to have some success but are not yet full-fledged pros can hone their craft and share ideas. In this, it succeeds.
The workshop spanned 3 days, which were fairly evenly divided amongst lectures by pros (this year’s pros were John Joseph Adams, Jay Lake, and Steven Brust), small group critiques, free time for writing, and social time. It was an excellent balance, providing opportunities to learn, relax, and get to know cool new people. I left this workshop feeling sated but not burned out.
The lectures, particularly those by John Joseph Adams and Jay Lake, were very career focused. It was fascinating to hear an editor’s take on submissions, querying, slush, rejections, and the like. John also encouraged those of us who consider ourselves novelists not to turn our backs on writing short fiction. He pointed out short fiction is a great way for novelists to stay in readers’ sights during the long wait between books, to experiment with ideas that don’t lend themselves well to long form, and to increase our odds of getting nominated for awards (there being more short form award categories). This really hit home and inspired me not to give up on short fiction. Thanks, John!
Jay Lake talked a lot about social media, conventions, and productivity. His big take-home seemed to be that you really need to do what works for you. If you don’t feel comfortable tweeting, then don’t. If you hate writing a blog, then don’t. If you’re too shy to be the center of attention at cons, then don’t feel you have to try. One topic he touched on was the pros and cons of getting on con panels. I’d always figured this would be a Good Thing in terms of career development, but Jay wisely pointed out that you have to think about why you want to be on the panel, whether you’ll have anything valuable to say on the topic, and whether you’re enough of a “competitive talker” to have your voice be heard (or, if you are a competitive talker to be self-aware enough to know not to completely dominate the discussion). I really appreciated the nuance of his advice.
Steven Brust was the final guest at the workshop, and his advice tended towards the writing side of the equation. In particular, he offered some really clever tricks for getting unstuck, some ways to use POV to solve problems with plot and description, how to use cliche to your advantage, and some insights on using theme to move your story forward without hitting the reader over the head with it.
Best of all, though, were the great people I met — most of whom were previously strangers or faceless “voices” on the interwebs. I love connecting with other writers, and this group was uniformly nice, talented, and fascinating.
San Antonio was also a perfect spot for a workshop like this — the Riverwalk was just outside the front door of the hotel, offering plenty of easy options for eating/drinking — all of which were happy to accommodate big groups. All in all, it made for an enjoyable and productive weekend.
Paradise Lost is a recurring event, so if you think you might be interested, you should consider it for next year. Once applications open, I’ll post the link here, and I’m happy to answer questions in the comments.
Well, a crazy busy week and a half of end-of-semester madness caps off with a rush to the airport, papers trailing behind me as I slam the cab door and tell the driver, “La Guardia. No, JFK. Right. JFK.”
I’m off to Paradise Lost in San Antonio, the grass-roots offshoot of the Viable Paradise Writing Workshop, a retreat dreamed up and planned by graduates, for graduates. Three days with a bunch of awesome writers, exchanging critiques, listening to advice and lectures from John Joseph Adams and Jay Lake, and – I hope – drinking plenty o’ beer in the summer sun.
I’ll try to post some updates while I’m away. In the meantime, keep calm and carry on.
…the end of the semester, that is.
33 research outlines to read and grade.
1 “midterm” exam to write (e.g. a pre-finals exam).
2 review sessions to prepare.
And that’s just for tomorrow. What happens during Finals Week shall not be spoken of yet, because speaking of it means thinking about it, and that means tears.
One day at a time. Light at the end of the tunnel and all that bullshit. And, yes, I know it’s even harder on my students.
At least I have a writing date to look forward to this weekend. In the meantime, I enter the end-of-the-semester meat grinder. See you Friday, hopefully bloodied but unbowed.