Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are You Ready to Write Your Novel?

It's almost that time again. National Novel Writing Month is a mere 16 days away.  

The gauntlet has been thrown down, and I've picked it up again. Every year the good folks at NaNoWriMo invite novelists and wannabe novelists all over the world to write that novel they've been ‘gonna write some day'.

Not only do they challenge you to write the novel, but write it now or at least 50,000 words of it within the 30 days of November.  I've never had a problem with writing the 50,000 word first draft - Whether any of them qualify as a 'Novel' is another question entirely.  I have a few in a drawer somewhere that I edited from time to time.  The best of the lot was my 2012 novel written in early 2001 or 02, which I procrastinated into obsolescence. Yep I was still editing and rewriting when 2012 didn't happen

Ever the optimist, I'm taking a few of my characters from that 2012 novel and my Murder
is a Primary Color novel from last year and involving them in a mystery.  I’m bringing a lot of the backstory forward as it informs the characters. 

I’ve got a working title (Witch on a Witch Hunt); designed a quick cover on PowerPoint; and I’m clipping pix from magazines for my storyboard for different characters, rooms, locations, etc.  I need pictures in my storyline. 

A shout out to Nathan Bransford's for Blog post on the One Sentence, One Paragraph... Pitch.  I managed to construct one of my own and here it is.

Here is my one-liner: A real bewitched teams up with a Sam Spade wannabe to solve a series of anomalous murders in the year 2025.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Enchanted Realms

Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss. A book review by Perle Champion.

To call Theodora Goss’s book, Songs for Ophelia, a poetry book would not do justice to the stories that lie beyond the gossamer illustration gracing its cover.  This is a collection of hauntingly beautiful stories some new, some old retold – a storybook for grownups.

The term songs instead of poems suits this collection of prose stories.  It puts one in mind of the bards of old, who with lyre in hand, sang their tales.  In Songs for Ophelia, we accompany our own bard through enchanted realms, traversing the wheel of the year in the ancient way season by season, song by song.  Strewn through this collection are songs populated by names out of legend and myth whose stories we thought we knew full well until we read Goss’s deft retelling.  In her hands the stories are at once familiar and not.  She adds a depth as she explores and exposes possibilities giving each character and place a richer more well-rounded existence on the page
Reviewing poetry is so very different from reviewing a novel, so I’ve chosen to give a small glimpse of one poem from each season of Goss’s enchanted collection.

Spring: In The River’s Daughter, the river morphs from like a father to father in this homage to the death of a much admired writer. “She walks into the river/ with rocks in her pockets, / and the water closes around her/ like the arms of a father…”

Summer: In By Tidal Pools, Goss gives new dimension to Circe affair with Odysseus.  She elevates Circe from the flat stereotype of Homer’s telling to a fully imagined woman with real yearnings.  “At first she watched in case he should return/ by tidal pools…Does he lie on some shore/ where snails leave glistening tracks upon his eyes,/ or has he found his home?”

Autumn: In A Walk in Autumn, Summer becomes a maiden and slain.  Although I prefer to raise a glass to Persephone descending into hades, the imagery in this song is haunting.  “Her name was Summer – her hair the grasses/ her gown the forest’s leafy cloth… She lies unburied, exposed to weather/ in tattered garments the worse for wear…”

Winter: And lastly, there is The Last Night That She Lived.  Who has not pondered these lines in some variation? “When soul from form is rent,/ do streams run over stones/ in valleys of content?/ Or dust, on bones?”

Ray Bradbury once told me to read good poetry or an essay before turning out the lights at night.  He said he kept a good book or two of poetry or essays by his bed and read from one or the other volume every night. He said it turn the mind away from the noise and garbage of the day and prepared the mind for dream.

Since that conversation, I’ve followed that ritual with various volumes Gibran’s Sand and Foam, Leaves of Grass, and Rilke’s Book of Hours to name a few.  Each brings its own brand of dreaming. I’m adding Songs for Ophelia to that short list, perhaps to walk enchanted realms in dream. Thank you Theodora Goss.  

Perle Champion

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throw Back Thor's Day #TBT

It's Throw Back Thor's Day, and as I looked back through old photos, I was reminded of the pre-digital world I grew up in.

Yes, there were cameras, but not everyone had one. Our family didn't get one until around the time, we shipped out for England in 1955.  

Before that and even after that, we went to the local portrait studio. These studio trips were always reserved for birthdays and Easter and always required a new outfit. And then there's the one in the tacky flower girl dress.

The ones in color, were hand painted for an extra fee. Color cameras were neither readily available nor affordable to the public til mid to late 50's. We made do with the old Brownie and actually had an 8mm color movie camera before we got the Kodak color camera,  #TBT  

pic TBT 52-55

Monday, August 11, 2014

Figs, Figs, & Figgy Things

One of the many pleasures of my apartment is the fig tree in the back yard.  It is as old if not older than this 4-plex I live in which was built in 1938 according to county records.  That’s three quarters of a century.  It is bent and gnarled and many of its branches lie upon the ground, but every summer since I moved in the branches are laden with the largest figs I have ever seen. 

Here are some ways I use my bounty – recipes follow post with a secret at the very end –Enjoy.

figs in bowl garden

  1. Fresh:  Sliced onto my almond butter sandwich for breakfast or lunch, quartered and tossed in salads, minced into a balsamic vinaigrette, added to balsamic reduction relish w/red onions.
  2. Frozen whole: Freeze many whole in Ziploc bags. They make great ice cubes for white wine or champagne, which once they thaw are a tasty treat.fig tree 1
  3. Fresh and Frozen Raw Jam Spread: Use blender or food processor to make a fresh raw fig jam spread. I make some chunky and some pureed, and some plain fig and some spiced up (recipe below).  Store the amount you will consume within a week in a sterile jar.  Freeze the rest in ice cube trays. Store them in the freezer Ziploc bags.  The cubes come in handy as natural sweeteners for:  
    1. Oatmeal and other cereals – 1-2 cubes 
    2. Spread on toast. 
    3. Stirred into yogurt.
    4. Added to cookie, cake, bread recipes in addition to honey and molasses or whatever sweetener you use. 
    5. Stirred into spaghetti sauce. 1-2 cubes add an interesting flavor note, fiber and valuable nutrients without being overpowering or readily identifiable. 
    6. Added to mole and other sauces in lieu of sugar or chocolate.
    7. Added to various salad dressings
Today, as my freezer is maxed out, I’m adding a new recipe to the list.
  1. Fig Butter/Jam made in the crockpot.  
I don’t particularly like to cook my fruits. I think nutrients are lost in the process, but I’m out of room in my freezer and I have many figs to go, so Fig Butter or Jam seemed like the next best way to go.  I will store them in the fridge, however instead of the pantry.

I found several recipes on-line that are almost what I want, and I’ve taken a little from each and made my own.  I always say, if you don’t cook, follow the essentials of a recipe exactly.  But, as any true home cook knows, if you know the rules, you can break them, change them, tweak them and make any recipe truly your own.

I object to over use of sugar in our prepared foods today especially in fruit that is already sweet on its own.  That is usually the first thing to go in any recipe of mine.  My oatmeal cookies are sweetened with a purée of golden raisins softened in hot frozen concentrate apple juice and alittle molasses for flavor and nutrients.  You get the point.

fig to jar
I love the flavor of maple syrup or organic wild honey which both marry well with figs, so I’m making my first batch with  1/2 cup Maple syrup (Grade B is more nutrient dense and flavorful than Grade A).  I’ll probably be picking more figs later in the week, so I’ll do a later batch with raw honey, but I’m out of honey at the moment.

My little crockpot only holds about 5 cups really packed in of chopped figs, so here’s my recipe:

Easy Crockpot Fig Butter jam
Makes: Approx. 4 – 8oz jars
  • 5 cups figs washed, stemmed, halved then quartered
  • 1/4 cup orange juice, or apple juice or white wine
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t vanilla optional – all the recipes I read called for vanilla; I personally consider it non-essential.
  1. Toss all ingredients in bowl to mix ingredients then and put into crockpot. 
  2. Cook on high for 2 hours, checking from time to time to mash down with potato masher and stir.
  3. Turn crockpot to Low; crack lid to let steam escape for duration of cooking -  6 - 7 more hours.
  4. Remove lid occasionally, shake of condensation off lid into sink, stir and mash figs.(I prefer chunky jam consistency; if you prefer buttery smooth, use immersion blender in last hour of cooking)
  5. Fill hot sterilized jars with hot fig butter, put on reusable canning lids and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes. Let cool.   
If you have a cool pantry, store there. I prefer to refrigerate or freeze in portions (when I make room in the freezer).

This recipe only makes about four 8-oz jars, but as it’s so easy and I work at home, I can do a batch a day without too much effort.  If you have a larger crockpot (wish I did), larger batches work just fine. For those working folks, it’s a good weekend or overnight project.

Raw Fig Jam (chunky) Butter (pureed)
Makes: Approx. 1 1/2 cups
  • 20 - 25 fresh, ripe figs
  •  1/8 cup water or white wine (more if liquid needed
  • 1/8 cup orange or apple juice (more if needed)
  • 2 T honey or maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract optional
Process all the ingredients together in a food processor until the mixture is desired consistency.  I like chunky (fig jam); some folks like smooth (fig butter). 

 Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups of Jam – Store in clean preferably sterilized Mason jar and keep refrigerated.  Lasts up to 2 weeks as long as only clean utensils are used to scoop out.
Freeze in ice cube trays or pan and cut into cubes, store cubes in Ziploc bags for future use.

Here’s my secret. The freezing and blending are a piece of cake, but truthfully, after the 2nd or 3rd crockpot batch (mine is small and holds only 5 cups of cut figs), running low on honey or maple syrup, I simply tossed cut up figs in ½ cup frozen concentrated apple juice and 1 tsp cinnamon and then cooked as above.  They are just as sweet and just as good.