"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A New Way for Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

This one is specifically aimed at the parents out there who have a difficult time convincing their littles to consume anything green. A friend of mine made this recipe for me last night and I scolded her for not making more. It's ridiculously easy and I can almost guarantee it will get your kids (and my BFF) to eat their green beans.

It's also a great dish to make when you're busy in the kitchen, maybe preparing chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. Let's face it, you can only tend to so many pans at once. This one doesn't need tending. In fact, the less attention it gets, the better. If you stir it too often, your beans will fall apart completely and you'll end up with very tasty mush. The only reason you stir it is to get it to caramelize somewhat evenly.

This concoction is very much a southern dish. It's fried in a skillet and utilizes bacon grease, so it may not be an every week staple as is. My brain is already hacking at this recipe to make it more healthy and keeping it kid friendly, so I bet I'll have an alternative that you can serve guilt-free on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, however much you think you need when you make it . . . double that. We had five cans of beans collecting dust in the pantry, but didn't want to use them all up at once. Normally, three cans should be enough for six people, but we all wanted seconds and there was none to be had.

For now, however, I will stick to the recipe as it was given to me. Sorry, y'all! The beans didn't last long enough to take pictures.


Skillet Green Beans

4 slices (about 1/4 lb.) bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 to 1/2 medium-sized onion, chopped
3 (14.5 oz) cans cut green beans, drained
4 T butter
up to 1/4 c sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Brown bacon and onions in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat then remove
Remove all but 1 Tbsp of the grease if you find it excessive (or leave it in, it's up to you)
Add beans
Drop butter on top and allow it to melt on its own
Stir occasionally, and gently, with a wooden spoon, while you tend to other things
When you're almost ready to take it off the stove, return bacon and onions to the pan, then add sugar, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine
Give it another few minutes to let the sugar caramelize

Do not panic if the edges of your beans or onions get dark; they should. However, if at any time, you fear they're getting away from you, or cooking too fast, reduce the heat. It's ready when everything else is. Just remove it from the stove, and serve.

This recipe is also budget friendly because canned green beans are often on sale. My local mom and pop grocery store has at least one brand on sale every week. That's probably why they ended up in my pantry. (I've never been a big fan of canned veggies.)

If onions are a deal breaker for your kids, then leave them out or use onion powder instead. That will give you that sweet, oniony flavor and the kids won't see it.

Rest assured, I will be playing with this in the near future and figuring out a way to make it a bit more healthy without skimping on the flavor. We could probably start by switching out the sugar for honey or agave nectar. In fact, I bet honey would taste even better than the yumminess I tasted last night.

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I See You! (free crochet pattern)

Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know it's been a while since I've treated you to a new, free pattern, but I plan to make up for it. The prototypes for the book are basically made. The rough drafts of all the patterns are written. All that's left is a bit of spit and polish, and a whole lot fo high quality picture taking. Until then, you get to reap the benefits of a newly finished project:


The Blog Collection
Eyeglasses Case

Supplies:
small amount of Color A
small amount of Color B
size G (5.0 mm) crochet hook
smaller hook or yarn needle for weaving in ends

Note: All instructions are in American terms. This pattern is worked in the round which may make your beginning stitch travel (as when working amigurumi). Instructions are given at the best places to correct stitch position so that color changes are obscured. There is no need to join and ch at the end/beginning of each round.

ch 15 w/Color A

Round 1: sc in second ch from hook and each ch across, turn, sc in unused loop of each ch across (28 sts here and throughout)

Round 2: sc in each st around

Rounds 3-10: repeat Round 2

Lay your project flat. If your last stitch is not at the side of the pouch, add or remove stitches until it is. Change to Color B.

Round 11: sc in each st around

Round 12: sc in BLO of each st around

Round 13: rep Round 12

Round 14: [sc in BLO of next st, dc in BLO of next st] rep around

Round 15: [dc in BLO of next st, sc in BLO of next st] rep around

Note: Yes, at the end of Round 14/beginning of Round 15, you will work two dc side by side.

Round 16: [sc in BLO of next st, dc in BLO of next st] rep around

Note: Yes, at the end of Round 15/beginning of Round 16, you will work two sc side by side.

Round 17: rep Round 15

Round 18: rep Round 16

Round 19: sc in BLO of each st around

Rounds 20-21: rep Round 19

Lay your project flat. If your last stitch is not at the side of the pouch, add or remove stitches until it is. Change to Color A.

Round 22: sc in each st around

Rounds 23-24: sc in each st around

Stop here and slide your glasses into the pouch. You should have about ½" of space from the top of the glasses to the end of the case so your glasses don't easily slip out on their own. If not, continue to add rounds of sc until you do.

Lay your project flat. If your last stitch is not at the side of the pouch, add or remove stitches until it is.

Optional Hanging Loop: join w/sl st in next st, ch 10, join w/ sl st in same st, sl st in each ch back to first ch

Optional Button Closure: Find the middle front of your project and mark it for attaching your button. Find the corresponding stitch on the back of the project and mark it for the button loop.

sc in each st stopping at marked st on back of project, ch12, attach in same st w/sl st, sl st in each ch around loop, sc in next st and each st around

finish off, weave in ends

This pattern has been tested only by me. If you find a mistake, please leave it in the comments below and I will make the necessary corrections. If you need help, feel free to post any questions in the comments and I will get to them asap.

Any pattern I design and post here is my property. Please do not duplicate my patterns for any reason especially to sell. Instead, please link to my blog or to the pattern page when referencing one of my patterns.

You are more than welcome to offer finished items made from my patterns for sale. I see no reason why you should not profit from your hard work. However, I'd really appreciate it if you gave me credit for the design; please reference my blog or the pattern page.

If you do make any of my patterns, I'd love to see your finished items; please feel free to email pictures to me.

BigGirlJewelry@yahoo.com

Happy Crocheting!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Bloody North

Well, we've done it again. Tony Healey wrote it; I edited it, and now it's available for your reading pleasure. The first title in Tony's The Fallen Crown series, The Bloody North, is now live on Amazon. It's also only 99 cents for the e-book right now, so grab it! Anyhow, Tony has a bit more to say on the subject, so I'll let him do the rest:

ON WRITING 'THE BLOODY NORTH'

My first exposure to fantasy was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I saw the old BBC adaptation of it (which I still think stands head and shoulders above both the animated movie and the more recent Disney motion picture) and then found a copy of it in paperback at a car boot sale. I was about nine at the time. I spent months afterward trying to track down copies of all the others. I succeeded, never paying more than about fifty pence for each one. Eventually I had all seven Narnia books lined up on my shelf, each one from a different edition.

A year or so later, I found a box set containing all seven, with cover art to match their respective BBC adaptations. I used that as my excuse for reading them all again from scratch. I still have that same box set now.

In my teens, my uncle loaned me a copy of Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster, and I proceeded to bug him for the other five, tearing through them at a rate of knots. A few years back, I had the honour of having a short story of mine published alongside Mr. Foster. In that anthology (see: Resistance Front by Bernard Schaffer, Alan Dean Foster, Harlan Ellison, et al.) I dedicated my story to Alan, thanking him for Spellsinger.

If the work of C. S. Lewis had introduced me to fantasy as a genre (at the age I was when I read it, I honestly didn't pick up on all of the religious notes – it was just a good story), then Spellsinger showed me you could take traditional fantasy and inject it with facets of modern life.

From a very early age, we'd had three films on VHS I'd constantly watch, over and over again. The first was The Goonies – recorded off of the TV with commercials included. The other two were Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings.

After reading Spellsinger, my mind turned to those two cartoons I'd watched as a small child. So I read my way through Watership Down, and then tackled The Lord of the Rings at about the same time as The Fellowship of the Ring came out at the cinema. With Watership Down, I got to see world building on par with Narnia, but done in an entirely different way. Set in the world of rabbits, with their own language, their own beliefs, their own mythology. I found it completely fascinating.

The Lord of the Rings was a slog most of the time, but I have happy memories of the experience. It was a long work to tackle in my teens, but I managed it, just about. A recent attempt at a reread failed miserably. I simply lost interest. A lot of that comes from the books I am used to reading now as an adult. They're faster, more concise. To my mind, Tolkien's opus is a must-read for anyone. But I don't think many will delve back in for a second go. It's a huge undertaking. The Lord of the Rings is a classic work of fantasy that truly established a gold standard for the genre at the time. And there have been many attempts by other writers at recreating Middle-Earth in their own work, to varying degrees of success.

Coming out of my teens, The Dark Tower series and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter were hugely influential to me. What Stephen King accomplishes with The Dark Tower is something he has tried often and succeeded at rarely. That is, telling a long story and holding the reader's attention from start to finish. Some – novels like The Stand and IT – have worked brilliantly. Others . . . ugh. But for whatever reason, The Dark Tower grips you from the first tantalizing sentence ("The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed . . .") and never lets go. It's a little crazy, it's a bit of a mash-up of multiple genres and sources, but that's okay. You take it in your stride. The Dark Tower is King's greatest work. A rich, hugely entertaining epic.

The very same can be said for Rowling's Potter series. I read them one after the other (luckily the last, The Deathly Hallows, was just coming out as I finished The Half-Blood Prince). My habit with those was to sit on the kitchen floor at night, cup of tea by my side and read into the early hours. I lived in a house with six other siblings at the time, so really the kitchen at night was about the most peaceful place for reading.

She did a fantastic job of world-building, of plotting each book out so that it was its own self-contained story, yet progressed the overall plot piece by piece. Readers were literally spellbound (forgive the pun) by the interactions between the characters and the relationships that developed along the way. By the progression of a plot that grew steadily darker and darker – and by what had happened in the past, before the books take place. Certainly the greatest, well-rounded character of the series is not Harry Potter himself, but Severus Snape. Dumbledore's machinations become somewhat omnipresent by the end, whereas Snape comes into his own in what is a truly heartbreaking series of revelations.

Recently, I found myself browsing the kindle store for something new to read when I came across The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. I got the sample, devoured it in one sitting, and bought the rest of the book.

The next day, I found myself in town buying the whole trilogy in paperback and proceeded to read them one after the other. Abercrombie takes the conventions of the genre and turns them on their head. First of all, he does away with the stilted writing of the past and brings his contemporary voice to Fantasy – complete with swearing, sex, and some of the most complicated characters I've ever come across. Each and every one of them broken in some way.

Glokta, broken in body but not in spirit. Logen Ninefingers, broken inside as he tries (in vain) to turn away from the man he used to be. These two characters begin the story broken and end up whole by the end (though not necessarily better people as a result) whilst the character of Luthar begins whole and is steadily broken first in body, then in spirit. Abercrombie writes a kind of fantasy that critics and readers alike have come to coin "Grimdark." I guess it had its beginnings in the work of Robert E. Howard way back when, and I reckon there were the seeds of it in the dark deeds that went (mostly) unseen, in the background, throughout The Lord of The Rings. If Aragorn and company spent the majority of those books fighting nameless, faceless hordes of Orcs with little repercussions for their deeds, Abercrombie makes every kill resonate.

Men fight men, with all the horrific slaughter and detail involved. And when the fight is over, when most of them have died, the survivors are left with their guilt and their shame and their hurt. Left to deal with it all on their own.

It's no wonder, in Abercrombie's fictional setting, that Logen turned out the way he did.

But what some reviewers of The Blade Itself have criticized it, and its sequels, for is its lack of hope, and I have to disagree there. I found plenty of hope in The First Law trilogy. It's there, trust me. What Abercrombie does is to counter-balance these moments, these flashes of characters achieving the positive, with the darkness. If a character is winning in one chapter, the next time we meet them, their luck has taken a turn for the worst.

Is that fair? Probably not. But is it realistic to what we experience in real life?

Yeah.

I took a similar approach in The Bloody North, by having a character consumed with grief to the point where he'd almost stopped living. He just existed – until, that is, his company is slaughtered in front of him and he's left on his own. What ensues is a bloody path of vengeance as Rowan comes to terms with all that he's lost and his quest to destroy the man who took it all away from him. Along the way we get to know some of the world in which The Fallen Crown series takes place.

This just the first small chapter in a truly epic story. If you think The Bloody North sets the stage, well . . . wait till you read Book 2. Boy, oh boy, is it going to blow your socks off.

Next level doesn't cut it.

Thank you, Tony.
Happy Reading!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

To Beta or Not to Beta. . .



That's my question.

I'm not a big user of beta readers when I write. My editor is the toughest critic of my work, next to me, so when I'm soliciting feedback, the most important opinion is his.

That said, if I send out a beta copy of my own work, I'm not usually looking for editing advice; I'm simply asking for a review.

But most of the writers for whom I edit are quite different from me. One doesn't use betas at all. He puts out a "call to arms" on twitter if he needs reviews, so he doesn't always get the same readers. One uses betas solely for review purposes and generally ignores any other suggestions. But one. . .sigh. . .seems to be afraid to make any sort of move without approval from a few excellent beta readers with whom she's worked for several years.

It works for her. She is by far the most successful author I've edited. But at what cost?

The others are so free, creatively. However, she worries herself sick over some of the tiniest little details.

I do that as well sometimes, but that's my job. If a book sucks, many readers these days blame the editor.

Perhaps I'm overthinking as my latest editing project sits in the hands of beta readers.

Writers: I'd love your opinion on this one.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Local Flavor or Culture Shock?


Oh my gosh! I'm writing about editing for a second week in a row. I can't explain it. I suppose I just felt the need. Anyhow...

I talk to my clients quite a bit about "vernacular." Basically, what that means is the way locals speak in their day-to-day lives. It's the less formal, regional speech.

As writers and/or editors, we need to be careful of how much local flavor we inject into our stories or we risk alienating readers. Let's face it; if a reader doesn't "get" what a writer is saying, all may be lost.

If you read last week's post, you already know that a writer with whom I work once (okay, maybe more than once) received a review that demanded I be fired for the numerous spelling errors in his book. You also know that the same book was written in the Queen's English, not American English, because the writer is British. Situations like this, I can not, and will not, change. I believe if an author is a Brit, then he should write like a Brit. Besides, the writer in question is fairly successful and becoming more popular. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

However, there are times when too much is simply too much. Especially (but not exclusively) with American writers. You see, this nation is so large that regional dialect can be as difficult to understand as when one moves between nations in Europe. Our ears must become accustomed to dialect, and even varying expressions, before we can fully understand our neighbors.

For an over-the-top example of local dialect, try reading Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence. Lawrence, in my opinion as both a reader and an editor, seriously overused the less educated accent in Oliver Mellors speech. I found the dialogue quite difficult to read. So much so that twenty years later, I still hold it out as a bad example. (I'll save Lawrence's misogynistic views for another time.)

We need to be aware that not everyone will understand our own vernacular and that we should inject it into our stories with some restraint. If your story takes place where you've lived your entire life, you will fully understand all of it, right? But think about the visitor to your home.

I'll give you some examples:

  • In New England we call a particular dish "Chinese Pie," but most of the rest of the world calls it "Shepherd's Pie."
  • "Goulash" or "Macaroni and Beef," in most of the country, is "American Chop Suey" where I come from.
  • Order a "Sub/Submarine Sandwich," or a "Hoagie," or a "Grinder," and you'll get the same thing in various parts of the country.
  • Do you know the difference between a "Shake" and a "Frappe"? There is none, except location.
  • And let's go across the pond for a cup of "Rosie Lee," then return to the States for a cup of tea.

Although food choices are the easiest to spot, they do not hold an exclusive, for instance:

  • In Oklahoma City, "Putting your boots on in the street" means you're rushing out of the house or on your way to your destination. In Boston, it means you're homeless.
  • In Pittsburgh, something that "needs fixed" is broken and needs to be fixed.
  • Most of the American South is "fixing to" do something, but the rest of the country is just getting ready to do it.

My point is that local flavor is a beautiful thing, but too much of a good thing will give your readers a belly ache.

Happy Writing!



Sunday, June 15, 2014

I Fired a Client Today


Three times in my career, I have told authors to remove my name from their books. Actually, for those of you who may not "get" that statement, let me back up for a minute...

When an author publishes a book, he or she generally gives a nod to the editor with a short sentence on the copyright page or in the acknowledgments. Some writers will even list the editor on their Amazon page, so they share the byline in a search. For an example of that, click here.

The advantage for me is that good writers read. A lot. The hope is that they will read a book I've edited and seek out my services. The advantage for the writers with whom I work is that some readers actually care about the quality of what they read. A lot. The hope is that those readers will search my name on Amazon and find other writers with whom I've worked. Maybe the members of this small network can help each other.

THAT, my friends, is my motivation for maintaining high standards. I have a reputation for being a tough as nails editor with a singular focus: churning out the highest quality product of which the writer with whom I'm working is capable. My reputation is everything to me. I will not forgive poor quality or laziness.

If a writer hires me, it's generally because they know they will be pushed and challenged to do their best. However, I let them have a very long creative leash.

I will always forgive poor grammar if it means a passage reads better. I encourage using local vernacular in dialogue, but never in narration unless it's a first person POV. Even then, I keep that vernacular to a minimum. Too much flavor is simply too much.

So when a writer refuses to make changes, what do I do? That depends on the project and the writer.

Most changes I suggest are simply that: suggestions. Things like, "that seems a bit out of character for this guy," or, "this is worded awkwardly, can we try..." are really up to the author. I'm simply a practiced eye for what may or may not work.

Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are generally non-negotiable. If ever I'm unsure about a grammatical error in a manuscript, I look it up. I do not stick to one specific style guide, although I do rely heavily on The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (yes, THAT E.B. White). There's some wiggle room in those areas, but not enough to throw out the book. I'd rather have a good read than one with perfect grammar. An avid reader will call a writer out on poor grammar and spelling errors, but will generally forgive a few "mistakes" if the prose reads well.

(I once had a reviewer insist I be fired because of the plethora of spelling errors in the book he had just read. What the reviewer did not realize is that the author, and the language used in the book, was British.)

I don't normally butt heads with writers over these minor issues. I simply ask that if we are going to use toward, rather than towards, that we are consistent throughout the book, or the series. The strength of my insistence is based on my relationship, my history, with that particular writer.

I have worked extensively with certain authors like Bernard Schaffer and Tony Healey. Their edits these days are pretty much one quick pass that pulls out a few grammatical errors. They are more like proofreads than professional edits because both men have so richly developed their personal styles as writers, and I've watched it happen. I can spot any mistake either of them makes at a thousand yards. That's not to say we don't ever debate over content, but it doesn't happen as much as it does when I'm working with an author who is still green.

My job is to challenge the writer, to help him or her produce the best work possible. I am tough on all of them. And I will not "settle."

So, back to my original statement: Three times in my career, I have told authors to remove my name from their books.

The first was an author who hired me and refused to make any changes at all. The story was crap, underdeveloped, unrealistic, poorly written, and just plain bad. I called for what amounted to about a 90% rewrite. When I sent back the changes, she asked me when I was going to do the editing. Her publisher (a friend of mine who had referred her to me) and I tried to explain that I HAD done the editing.

No amount of back-and-forth could convince her that that was what editing was all about. I thought she expected me to make all of the changes. Turned out she was completely clueless and thought all I would do is proofread. (A freaking computer program can proofread, not as accurately as a human, but still...) I told her to make sure my name was nowhere near her book.

The second was a piece that was very good, but not quite ready. The author rushed to publish and put out what I considered to be sub-standard work. I knew he (we) could do better, but he didn't send the manuscript back to me. On the day I expected to find it in my mailbox, I saw his tweet announcing the release of the project. I sent him an email demanding my name be removed.

We worked it out and he made some additional changes. All is now well between us and he has agreed not to rush through projects just to publish. We now work with a set deadline for each project and if it's done early, great!

The third took place this past week. This author and I passed his manuscript back and forth for three months. During that time, he made minimal changes, and ignored numerous suggestions I made to improve his story. Because I told him his formatting was a mess, he made it plain that he expected me to fix it.

I spent hours researching for him, which is not my job. He had obviously done zero research into his subject matter. I even gave up a few hours of personal time to try to teach him how to edit in Word because he didn't know how.

When he sent me his final document, I emailed him back with (paraphrasing), "If you think this is your final draft, then please remove my name from your manuscript. I refuse to take the blame for its shortcomings."

So why am I airing my dirty laundry here on the blog?

I'm doing it because I feel it's important for newer editors to know that some things can't be fixed and it's okay to walk away from a job when you are feeling taken advantage of, or when it's putting you in a bad position. I'm also doing it so any writers might see the other side of the editing process.

That's not to say we, as editors, should strong arm our clients into doing our bidding, but sometimes there comes a point in any type of relationship when it's time for both parties to go their separate ways.

What are your thoughts on the editing process? Shout them out below.

Happy Editing!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I'm Turning into a Hippie

Okay, so maybe it's not that bad, but I've become addicted to making my own yogurt and granola. I've been crocheting like a maniac, working on projects for myself and projects to share with you.

Today; however, I'm sharing my much-experimented-with recipe for basic granola. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I must tell you that this granola began as this recipe from Stephanie O'Dea. I've made it several times, and not quite the same each time. I've tweaked it to change the top flavors while leaving the base the same. This is one of those recipes for which I always have the ingredients in the pantry.

Currently, in my crock pot, sits the tasty goodness that will become white chocolate cranberry. Tomorrow's experiment will be blueberry almond, and ready to go the next time I have the desire is the same combo I've been eating for the past two weeks. It contains pistachios, almonds, mixed berries, and dark chocolate. It's very loose, so it's great for cereal in the morning or stirring into a cup of plain yogurt, but I especially like it with about a half cup of ice cream.

In this recipe, I leave three key ingredients up to you. I've listed some of my favorite flavor combinations below.

Okay, enough talk. Let's get down to earthy, crunchy business...

Convertible Granola

5 c rolled oats (NOT the quick cooking kind)
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c nuts of your choice*
1/2 c shredded coconut
dash salt

1/4 c oil
1/2 c honey

1/2 c dried fruit of your choice*

1/2 c chocolate chips, flavor of your choice*

Dump first group of ingredients into (5 or 6 quart) crock pot and mix thoroughly.
Add oil and honey, and mix to coat dry ingredients.
Cook on high for up to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
When there's only about 30 minutes left on your cooking time, add dried fruit and stir.
Remove granola to a cookie sheet/jelly roll pan to cool.
Once cooled, add chocolate chips, stir, and place in an airtight container.

Granola will stay fresh for a couple of weeks. I keep mine in the refrigerator so it will keep a little longer.

Notes:
Every slow cooker is different, so cooking times will vary. I always set the timer on my crock pot for 3 1/2 or 4 hours, but often finish earlier than that. End the cooking when you decide the granola is browned to your liking. Sometimes, I need to stir more often, or turn down the heat as I near the end of cooking.
To make the honey easier to get out of the measuring cup, I add the oil first, then use the same 1/4 cup measure for the honey. The oil coats the cup so the honey pours right out of it. It makes cleanup easier too.
It doesn't matter whether your nuts are whole, chopped, or sliced; it's your call.
You can use either sweetened or unsweetened coconut. If you choose sweetened, watch that it doesn't burn.
Don't skimp on the oil, but do consider the flavor of the oil you're using. I usually use sunflower oil because it has hardly any flavor. Do not use olive oil; the taste is too strong.
I find the chocolate chips add some sweet without a ton of extra sugar, but I try to use dark chocolate since it adds some antioxidants to the mix.

*Mixtures of mix-ins:
pecans, cranberries, and white chocolate
almonds, blueberries, and dark chocolate
almonds, extra coconut, and milk chocolate (sound familiar?)
walnuts, apricots (chopped), and dark chocolate

My next experiment may involve agave nectar instead of honey.

Happy Crock Potting!