Friday, May 05, 2006

Fire In The Pie Hole

I pride myself on being a good cook. Exceptionally good. I grew up in a kitchen. My mother worked nights as a nurse and as soon as I was able to work the stove without setting myself on fire, I began preparing meals for the family to take the burden off my mom a bit.

In all of my culinary life, I've had very few failures. The first year hubby and I were married, I attempted to broil some steaks. I'd never used an electric stove before---and the steaks ended up charred beyond recognition.

Last night I experienced yet another epicurean disaster. A month or so ago, I'd tasted something called "chicken tikka masala" that was being demo'd at that fancy kitchen store, Williams Sonoma. It was really yummy! Well, I can't afford to buy their $8.00 a jar sauces, so I decided I'd go to the local ethnic market and purchase some tikka masala sauce there and save myself some money.

Yesterday I cut the chicken breasts into chunks as recommended, mixed the sauce with some yogurt and slathered the chicken in it to marinate for several hours.

When it was time to cook the chicken, I threw in some carrots and potatoes and put it in a slow oven for an hour or so.

I served the CTM, as it's lovingly called in Britain, over steamed rice.

I took one bite and my nose began running like a faucet. After the second bite, I could no longer feel my tongue. After the third bite, I was afraid to talk because I feared I would be breathing fire.

I looked over at hubby and the Undeserving Relative. Neither of them were faring any better than I. I went to the kitchen and slathered everything with plain yogurt and they did the same but with sour cream. Didn't work.

I shook my head in disgust and took my plate to the kitchen. When he could speak, hubby declared that this was the first time in years and years I'd made something so horrible that it was completely inedible.

How about you? Any miserable failures in your past you'd like to share, culinary or otherwise?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rejections and Other Annoyances

A friend of mine recently got back yet another manuscript she'd sent in to a publisher. It was returned with a rejection letter. Said letter was a full typed page long, so you know the editor took the time to read at least the first part of the book, and made helpful suggestions on what my friend could do to "fix" what she perceived as "wrong" with the book. Basically, she'd have to gut it and rewrite the whole thing.

I have to admit, editors completely baffle me. They keep telling us poor saps they want "fresh ideas, new voices"...yet they reject the very books that have these fresh ideas simply because they are different.

I really liked my friend's story. Yes, there were some plot points that needed fixing, some contrivances that were a little too convenient, but for the most part, the story was an interesting twist of a familiar plotline that's been used several times--with great sucess--in both books and movies.

If my friend were to do what the editor suggests, she'd be writing the same old story, with the same old characters. How dull and unimaginative is that?

A few other things that frustrate the life out of me, as a writer, are well-intentioned readers/critiquers who pick a character and say "that's not true to life". Well, whose life are we talking about? Yours? Mine? Or the character's?

I've actually had people tell me this with regard to a character who is based very closely on a real person. "Oh, a woman would never, never in a million years leave her three small children to run away with a wanted criminal!" Wanna bet? My grandmother did just that.

Or, "people just don't use phrases like that anymore." Oh, really??? Take the phrase "My Lands!" for example. If your character is a twenty-something waitress from Santa Monica, California, that particular phrase might not be part of her vocabulary. But what if she's a forty-something Southern girl who was raised as a strict Baptist?

Stephen King says that he had a stack of rejection letters as tall as a railroad spike before he got an offer for Carrie. THAT is determination. He never let an editor, an independent reader or other writers who thought they were being "helpful", distract him from doing what he wanted more than anything in the world--and that was to become a published author.

So for any of you hopefuls out there (like my friend--and ME) don't sweat the small stuff. And that's exactly what rejection letters are...small stuff. Just read it, thank the editor for his or her time, and move on. Keep writing. My writing teacher said last night that if she knew that she'd never be published again the rest of her life, she'd still write. She writes because she must. Because writing is as important to her physical well being as breathing.

Carpe pluma!