No More Excuses

We were out to dinner with some friends last night (yes, our neighborhood bounced back from Hurricane Sandy pretty darn quick).  While we were waiting for our food, they asked how my writing was coming.  I proceeded to make noncommittal noises and launch into a stuttering explanation of why progress had been slow lately.  My friend winked.  “I’ve got about six months of excuses ready myself,” he said.

Light bulb.

He’s absolutely right.  I have been making excuses.

I was sick.  There was a hurricane.  My father-in-law died.  These might be good excuses, but they are still excuses.

There is very little writing advice that everyone agrees on, but one tenet I think most would say is reasonable is this:  you should write even (maybe especially?) when you don’t feel like writing.  If you only write when the muse strikes or the planets are aligned or life is good…well, you won’t get very far.  And lately I haven’t been getting very far.

Sure, I’ve set deadlines and made pronouncements, but those things have not changed either my attitude or my behavior.  It’s one thing to assert that you’ll finish your revisions by the end of the month.  It’s another to believe that’s true and act on it.  I’ve done the former but not the latter.

This brief conversation with my friend made me realize that I don’t need a bunch of sticks (or carrots) to get going again.  I need a perspective change.  I love writing, and I love the projects I’m working on.  Why am I letting a bunch of circumstances external to that love get in my way?  The things that have kept me from writing lately have nothing to do with insufficient time and everything to do with my state of mind.  Unacceptable.

So.  No more excuses.

Time to write.

(and, to my friend who probably had no idea his comment would have such a big impact on me…thanks!)

Cabin fever

Like everyone else on the entire Eastern Seaboard, the Suri household is hunkered down for Hurricane Sandy.  We’ve got enough food to feed a small army (actually, this one is fairly normal for us), the bathtub is full of emergency water should the power go out, our flashlights are at the ready, and — of course — we’re bored as hell.

Times like these should be a good opportunity to catch up on work and to enjoy the luxury of just being at home with nowhere to go and nothing to do.  But instead they feel like a waiting game.  You sit down to work on a project but the ability to focus is devastated by a need to get up and look out the window.  Have the winds gotten stronger?  Is that rain coming down just a little harder?  Maybe you should check the NYTimes live updates.  Is there more flooding?  Where?  Wow — look at those pictures from Queens!

Oh, right.  Project.  I should get back to that while I still have power…

The same thing happened last year during Hurricane Irene.  We even had friends staying with us who had to evacuate out of Zone A and all we could do was sit around and stare at our laptops and mobile devices, searching for “new information” about the storm.  It was almost funny.

What is it that makes us act this way?  Is it the unknown?  In a world where we have so much information at our fingertips, we can’t fathom situations where we really don’t know what will happen.

I don’t know.

I do know, though, that I have a lot of work to do.  With school likely to be canceled tomorrow (and a lost day last week because I was sick), my syllabus is in disarray.  I’ve also got a mountain of midterm exams to grade —  oh, and two novels that are begging to be finished.  So, I will do my best to stop checking live updates on the storm every five minutes and get down to it.

But…if you want to Google chat, or Skype, or text…please do.  I’m bored!

Writer’s Workspace: 10/17

Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  This month is my finish-ABSENT-come-hell-or-high-water month.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do.  Based on feedback from all my fabulous Beta readers, I’m working on the third (and hopefully final) round of revisions.  Honestly, progress is a little slower than I’d like, though–probably cause I’ve got a huge stack of midterm exams to grade 😦

Snippet from the screen:  “Reid Rencher stood in the hallway, the flickering bulb casting his handsome face half in shadow.  Emily stared at him, horrifically aware she’d neither brushed her hair nor changed out of the I heart New York T-shirt and pair of old boxers she’d slept in the night before.  Reid grinned, taking in the half-empty glass clutched in her hand.  “I know you’ve been avoiding me, but I braved the G train to get here and I didn’t come empty-handed.”  He waggled the wine bottle he carried.  Like Reid himself, it looked expensive.  “Can I come in?”

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses has been surly lately and retreated to the bedroom.  At least it looks like he’s having sweet dreams 😉

On the iTunes: Tangled up in Blue by Bob Dylan

In my mug: a cup of Harrods #14 tea

Out the window: Fall.  It’s officially arrived in Brooklyn, replete with browning leaves, a chilly wind, and cloudy skies.  Sigh.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone:  well, that’s not really true, but whatevs!  Here’s a post from Amy Sundberg taking a frank look at social media and writer priorities.  Check it out.  Also, an interesting look at the whole Reddit thing from John Scalzi over at Whatever.  And, finally, because who doesn’t like a cookie that’s really a brownie (or a brownie that’s really a cookie?) a yummy looking recipe from Food and Wine.  If you’re going to waste time and procrastinate, at least you can have some baked goods to show for it.

Worth 1000 words

Whether it inspires a story or just serves to make your day more interesting, here’s an image to start the morning with:

Art by Debbie Criswell

Food for Thought: Butternut Squash Soup

Fall is officially here, and so is squash season.

I, personally, can think of no more soul-satisfying meal than a hot, creamy bowl of butternut squash soup on a chilly fall day.  Best of all, the bulk of the work in making this soup it is waiting for the squash to roast.  All that downtime is perfect for getting a little writing done.

So…get cooking, and writing!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon and Crispy Sage

serves 4

2 large butternut squashes, cut in half lengthwise and cored (or, 2-3 cups cubed butternut squash)

8 large strips of smokey bacon

1 bunch fresh sage leaves

Olive oil (3-4 Tbs)

Maple syrup (3-4 Tbs)

Pinch of cayenne pepper


1/4 cup Heavy cream

4 Tbs Mascarpone or Creme Fraiche


After cutting the squash lengthwise and scooping out the seeds and stringy pulp, rub the exposed flesh with olive oil, sprinkle with cayenne pepper (just a tiny bit!) and salt, and drizzle with maple syrup.  Place the squash on a roasting sheet or in a roasting pan and lay 1 strip of bacon on each of the squash (reserve the other 4 strips).  Roast for 1 hour in a 400 degree oven, or until the squash is fork tender.  If using cubed squash, toss the squash in a oven-proof dish with the olive oil, cayenne, salt, and maple syrup and lay all the bacon on top of the squash.  Roast as directed.

While the squash roasts, fire up your laptop, open your current WIP and get to work.  The delicious smells wafting from the the kitchen should inspire you 🙂

Once the squash is tender, scoop out the flesh, discard the bacon strips, and puree the squash and any juices in a blender.  Add a little water as needed.  The final result should be a very smooth, very thick (think baby-food consistency) puree.  Transfer the puree to a pot and bring to a low simmer, adding water, salt, the heavy cream, and maple syrup as needed to adjust the thickness (my preference is for a thick soup that coats the spoon but is pourable) and seasoning.  If the soup tastes a little flat, more salt is probably needed.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining bacon into a fine dice (quick tip: freeze the remaining bacon strips — they are easier to cut if frozen) and fry them until crispy.  Remove the bacon from the pan, but reserve the drippings.  Coarsely chop the sage leaves and fry them in the reserved bacon fat until they are crispy as well.  Drain the fried sage and bacon on paper towels and set aside.

Once the soup is the desired consistency and flavor, spoon it into serving bowls.  Top each bowl with a dollop of either mascarpone (for a creamy/sweeter flavor) or creme fraiche (for a tangier flavor) and sprinkle with a little of the fried sage and bacon.

Bon appetit!…and happy writing 🙂

Next Big Thing

Nicky Drayden tagged me in her Next Big Thing post and told me to talk about my WIP, then tag other authors and ask them to talk about their WIPs.

So…here goes!

Ten Questions for the Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

The working title is ABSENT

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

Well, I teach archaeology and one semester I had a student who was always asking what this or that would be like if we had a time machine.  It became a sort of running joke in class and when I was casting around for novel ideas in advance of NaNoWriMo I thought, “gee, what would happen if I accidentally sent my students back in time to the places I’m lecturing about?”  From there, the idea for the book was born.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I actually struggle with this a bit.  The novel is set in modern day New York City, Ices Ages Wyoming, and an archaeological excavation in 1925 Iraq.  It’s part police procedural, part mystery, part romance, and part time travel adventure.  Oh, and there’s magic, an immortal Sumerian king, and antiquities thieves.  So, I have no idea where it falls – other than clearly being spec. fic.

4. Which actors would you chose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I can picture Kristen Bell playing Emily Blake, our spunky heroine with a hot mess of a personal and professional life.  She’d nail the balance of self-deprecation, humor, and determination.  Or maybe Jennifer Lawrence.  For Detective Nick Martin, the slow-to-trust NYPD cop who investigates the disappearance of Emily’s students, I’d cast Richard Armitage.  I mean, the dude does brooding too well not to cast him.  If you haven’t seen the BBC miniseries North and South, go watch it now.  You can thank me later.

Ryan Reynolds would be my choice for the d-bag, golden boy Assistant Professor who starts all the trouble in the first place by casting a Sumerian spell on Emily, and either Romola Garai or Carey Mulligan to play Alexa, Emily’s quirky, punk BFF.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

After accidentally sending her students back to the Ice Ages, archaeology professor Emily Blake becomes the prime suspect in the NYPD’s missing persons investigation and must race through time to prove her innocence and rescue the students before they become trapped in prehistory forever.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Once the novel is ready, I’ll be seeking agency representation and traditional publishing for it.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I started this project for NaNoWriMo and though I didn’t net the full 50K in 30 days, it set me on a good course of forward momentum.  I’d say I got the first full draft (about 80K) written over the course of 4 or 5 months.  Revisions…well, that’s another matter.  I’m currently on the 3rd round of revisions.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Uh…not sure.  I mean I guess there’s some obvious parallels to Crighton’s Timeline, but my novel mashes up a lot of styles and sub-genres.  I like to think it’s an original 😉

9. Who, or what, inspired you to write this novel?

That student, who shall remain nameless, who was always on about time travel in my archaeology class.  Thanks, kid!

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, despite its spec. fic. flavor, I’m writing about what I know – academia, archaeology, and prehistory.  So for anyone who’s wondered what it would really be like to travel back in time to the Ice Ages, or what it’s actually like to be a professor or work on an archaeological dig, this book is for you.  Also for those who loved Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, my novel recreates that same 1920’s expedition at the site of Ur in Iraq–albeit from a very different angle.  Plus, there’s giant bears, avalanches, and an encounter between Emily and a 10,000 year old Sumerian king.

Include the link of who tagged you, and an explanation for who you have tagged.

The incomparable Nicky Drayden tagged me — go check out her blog and her hilarious short fiction.

I’m also tagging the following writers to take up the torch and discuss their current WIPs – check their blogs over the next few weeks to see their projects written up for the Next Big Thing!

Cath Schaff-Stump

Peter Sursi

Micah Joel

Sean Craven

A month without travel

Normally I’d consider a month without travel akin to a month without sunshine, or food, or episodes of Dancing with the Stars.  But nothing about the last few months has been normal and the fact that we aren’t going ANYWHERE for a whole four weeks feels, quite honestly, awesome.

Our most recent trip (to London) was rife with highs and rather awful lows, and all I want to do right now is stay at home in Brooklyn.  In fact, we have a party to attend on the UES tonight and even that feels like an unreasonably long distance to travel 😉

What will I do with all the the extra time?

Well, midterms are looming, so there’s exams to write (and then exams to grade).

There’s lots of soccer to watch, and plenty of writing to do.  My goal for the month is to finish the current draft of ABSENT and if I’m going to make that deadline, I’ll need to knuckle down.

Also, I’ve been offered a temporary (Spring semester) position as a Visiting Assistant Prof at Queens (I’m currently working there as an Adjunct).  This is deeply awesome, but it also means more work — most notably in the form of developing a new course on the Archaeology of Identity.  That shit ain’t gonna prepare itself.

So, time away from travel doesn’t mean I’ll be lolling around eating bon bons and bathing in champagne (well, except on the weekends).  And, of course, it’s only temporary.  In November I’ll head to San Francisco for an anthropology conference and to New Orleans to spend time with my mother-in-law, and then there’s Christmas in Seattle and a writing retreat in Vegas.  So, never fear, your favorite always-on-the-road writer will be back to her old tricks in no time.

For now, though, I’m happy to be home.