Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food for Thought (and other Creative Work-outs)

My husband and I are vegetarians. Which doesn’t mean we don’t like chocolate, red wine, foreign food, exotic cheese… In other words, we don’t live on lettuce alone, much to the surprise of our meat-eating friends who constantly ask: “But how do you SURVIVE?" 

The whole idea of survival must have been on my husband’s mind the other night when I came home from writer’s group only to be greeted by the words: “You have to save Josh’s life!” After my initial scare (What? CPR? Give blood? Huh??) I learned he was referring to the 12-year-old son of a good friend. Josh has apparently made the decision to go vegetarian (yay, Josh!) but his family has no idea what to feed him. The poor kid is bored to tears for lack of yummy meals, and his mother needed a list of quick and things she could prepare alongside the rest of the family’s meat dishes. 

As I was making my list, I couldn’t help but think about how often I am asked how I juggle writing, work, and cooking dinner every night. One answer is that I keep things pretty simple on weeknights, mostly preparing the meals I suggested Josh’s mother try. Then I thought you might like a copy of the list too. Not only does a vegetarian diet save a ton of time in both preparation and clean-up (thereby allowing for more writing/creative time), but I believe it’s the perfect diet for what is, let’s face it, the writer’s sedentary lifestyle. So here’s what I sent Josh’s mom,   


1. Salad made up of dozens of things, not just lettuce. In fact, leave out the lettuce sometimes or use spinach instead. Good ingredients are canned pinto, kidney, garbanzo, or green beans (just cold from the can); bell peppers; radishes; cilantro; parsley; celery; roma tomatoes; grated carrot; grated or sliced cheese; walnuts; pecans; raisins; cottage cheese; cooked beets. Use any kind of dressing. 

2. With a main meal salad you can then include: boiled, mashed, roast, or baked potato. Can do the same with sweet potato. French fries (sweet potato ones, too). Hardboiled egg. Fried or scrambled egg(s). 

3. Any kind of pasta with any kind of bottled sauce that doesn’t include meat. There are so many,  from tomato sauces to Alfredo/mushroom recipes, etc. Plain pasta tossed with a little pesto sauce is good. Or gently cooking some garlic in olive oil and then pouring hot oil over the pasta. Top with a spoon of peanut butter (!). 

4. Frozen cheese raviolis or tortellini are excellent to always have on hand. For a change after cooking the usual way, lightly fry them on both sides to turn them crispy. 

5. So many great veggie burger/hot dog brands. My favorites are Morningstar Prime Grillers and Tofu Pups. With the Tofu Pups you can slice them lengthwise and just fry them. They become almost like bacon. (I like to treat all these in the same way you would prepare a serving of meat with sauces, gravy, vegetables, salad, etc.) 

6. Omelettes/frittatas. For one portion, just use 2 beaten eggs with a spoonful of water and dash of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (a healthier alternative to soy sauce). In a small frying pan, stir fry either chopped zucchini, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, spinach, left over cold potatoes (or any combination) until cooked. Then pour the egg mixture on top. Cook until lightly set; top with sliced or grated cheese and put pan under the grill until cheese is melted. If you make a larger portion using more eggs and a larger pan, cold omelette can be kept in the fridge and either reheated or eaten cold, even sliced up for a sandwich filling. 

7. You can add extra vegetables such as carrots, onions, zucchini, or celery to Progresso Lentil Soup for an amazing casserole-type meal. Serve with rice or potatoes. Same with any brand of vegetarian baked beans, or vegetarian chili. Of course, any one of these is just fine on its own without added ingredients. 

8. Quesadillas. I just put salsa or similar on a tortilla, add cheese, any leftovers, top with another tortilla (or fold a single tortilla in half) and cook on hot griddle (no oil).  Take it a step further and you can make any kind of bean/cheese burrito or enchilada depending on your type of tortilla and choice of sauce. (Note: use vegetarian refried beans; the regular ones have lard.) 

9. Macaroni cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches with extra things inside like corn or tomatoes, or smoked/roasted chilis. 

10. Pizza without meat. You can make individual ones with a Boboli base from the grocery store—they have small sizes. You can do all kinds of interesting things with them just with vegetables and cheese. 

11. For added texture with all these meals, rough grainy bread can help a lot for something to “bite.” Add cream cheese spreads to make great vegetarian sandwiches, especially when you add sliced tomato, cucumber, or pickles.  

12. For more easy ideas, Sunset Vegetarian Cooking is the best vegetarian cookbook ever written. It’s filled with recipes that are sensible and don’t require difficult-to-find ingredients. 

Tip of the Day: Eat your veggies! I find a meat-free diet helps avoid that “heavy” feeling after eating that can interfere with creativity, making me want to sleep or read instead of write or draw. Even a few meat-free meals a week can make a big difference in your energy levels.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review; The Tropics, by Mary Deal

I love finding books by sheer accident. Sometimes I luck out by focusing solely on the lower shelves at the library, or by hunting up and down the bargain aisles at Borders or Barnes & Noble. But finding a book via the Internet is a new one for me, and that's precisely how I found author Mary Deal. I'm so glad I did. 

I discovered Mary's website while I was researching how to write a novella, a form I feel suits my current WIP. When I put "novella" into my AOL search engine, Mary's site came up almost right away. The wealth of information on the site intrigued me. Not only did I learn more about writing novellas, I found all kinds of great pages on poetry, nonfiction--well, any genre! Just as valuable were the links to Mary's books, the first being The Tropics: Child of a Storm - Caught in a Rip - Hurricane Secret, a series of novellas published under one cover. I ordered the set immediately, and then of course had to read them even more immediately. And I haven't been quite the same since.  As a reader and a writer, I absolutely loved these stories for the following reasons: 

1.  Mary Deal writes with an exquisite sense of place. Whether it's Puerto Rico or Hawaii, "I was there." The rain, the wind, the ocean: I lived through these stories so intensely I was truly lost in a storm--for hours, for days. 

2.  If it's true that a novella should be about emotional intensity, then Mary Deal should win a prize. Each of her separate novellas contains a strong core of emotional conflict that is never far from the surface and haunts every line. The sense of dread coupled with hope is powerful. 

3.  The external action mirrors the internal emotion. The stories never go off onto unrelated or unnecessary tangents. Every story event is connected and vital to the overall theme. 

4.  Along with the plot lines, the two main female characters, Ciara and Lilly, are unforgettable. They are such a study in emotional contrasts and needs that I still cannot separate from them. 

5.  A good book should be a page turner and I found myself unable to put The Tropics down. At the same time, I wanted to savor the story, not just gulp it down--but I was so torn. At times I read fast, then slow, then I'd read it all over again. The characters were drawn so well I began to dream about them. 

6.  Alongside the various story events, there were always deeper questions that made me want to journal, collage, and contemplate the answers and apply them to my own life. They were the kind of questions that are also perfect for book club discussion, too. 

7.  When I was finished reading, I couldn't stop crying. Okay, that is a very strange reason to recommend a book. But I once heard someone say that when a piece of art or writing makes us cry, it is because those images or words are true. Mary has written such a profound work of “truth as fiction" I was knocked sideways. The Tropics is a book that is always going to be with me. And isn’t that always the best kind of book? 

Tip of the Day: Check out Mary's website for great writing tips and to learn more about her other books. I've just bought two more of her titles: The Ka and Down to the Needle. I can't wait to start reading!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Write Your Memoirs--You're Never Too Young to Start

You don’t have to be famous to write your memoirs. Neither do you have to pass some kind of age-related test that pronounces you “long-lived and qualified to tell all.” In today’s book market where nonfiction sales still outrank fiction titles, there are lots of good reasons to consider writing your life story. Some of these reasons include: 

  •  Leaving a record for family and friends.
  • Surviving a traumatic experience and wanting to share how you coped or  managed.
  • Encounters with fame and/or fortune and the impact that had on you.
  • A unique adventure—on the road or right at home (We Raised Lamas in the Bathroom!).
  • Self-discovery through a spiritual or creative path.
  • Desire to pass on a valuable life lesson.

Memoir styles vary from the tragic to the humorous and anywhere in between. A good memoir, however, goes beyond “I remember…” Rather than looking solely into the past, the well-written memoir propels readers into the future, inspiring them to change or live in a new and meaningful way. For me, the best memoirs celebrate life—no matter how difficult that life may have been or will continue to be. If you’re interested in sharing your life story, here are some tips to help you get started:

1. It’s never too early to begin writing. If you have something important you want to say, start writing in your journal as soon as possible. You can always edit, revise, and change your point of view later on. The thing is to get your first thoughts and fresh impressions down on paper, even while events are still happening.

2. Age has nothing to do with memoir or autobiography. Look at Miley Cyrus and the dozens of other young people who have written about their journey onto the world stage. Young lives, big challenges.

3. Sometimes the best place to start is from a particular memory—not just the date of your birth (and how many of us really know what happened that day?) How about your first memory? Your favorite? Your worst or most embarrassing?

4. Rather than explore and divulge your entire life, choose a theme: holidays; recipes; travels; movies; books; cars you’ve owned, clothes you’ve worn; classes you’ve taken; people you’ve met.

5. Employ fiction techniques and strategies to enliven your story. I’m not suggesting you make things up, but that you simply look at events through a novelist’s eye. For instance, how have you changed from the events in your life? Looking back, how did Event A create Event B and so forth? Pretend that your story is fiction and you are the main character: What did you want more than anything; what prevented you from achieving your goal; and what did you do about it? How does that angle change your viewpoint?

6. Before you begin writing, decide what it is exactly that you want readers to know, learn, or feel when they are finished reading. Do you want them to be uplifted, more careful, or motivated in some way?

7. A “memoir” doesn’t always have to be about you. You can always write about someone else, even using that individual’s voice with first person point of view.

8. Break the mold: a memoir doesn’t have to be in the form of a book-length work. Perhaps all you truly want to write is an essay, a series of vignettes, or a children’s picture book. And who says you have to go to print? A memoir blog or website could be the perfect medium for your message.

9. That said, why limit yourself to prose? Memoir poetry could open an entirely new perspective for you and your voice.

10. Stuck? Don’t know where to start? Take an object that you have had for a while, ideally something from your childhood or an ancestor, or a special gift you received. Hold it in your hands. Close your eyes and sit with it for several minutes. When you are ready, start writing about that object. First describe it in detail. Then try to recall everything about where it came from and why it has significance for you. Capture the feeling associated with that object. Try this several times with various items.

11. Another way to tackle the memoir is to intentionally embark on a fresh adventure or experience you have never had before: travel to a foreign country; going back to school; starting a new career; becoming an empty-nester; experimenting with a new diet. Take detailed and daily notes as you go along. These will become the foundation if not the entire manuscript of your memoir.

12. While you’re writing, don’t overlook the importance of collage and other forms of artwork when trying to gather and collate your memories. Family photos and documents creatively arranged on a board or a wall in your writing room can be a constant source of inspiration. Having them close by can help you to stay focused, and who knows—they may even spark a new direction for yet another type of memoir.

Tip of the Day: Read a few memoirs to get a feel for how other authors have attempted the genre. Then explore your own background and see if there is something special and/or unique for you to focus on and write about. It may help to start in small segments rather than attempting a book-length piece.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review of Zigzag Paz, A Memoir

My favorite books share two essential qualities: they make me feel “I was there” and they make me feel I’ve been changed in some meaningful and important way when I’m finished reading. The new memoir, Zigzag Paz by first time author, Pamela Anne Zolkov, is no exception.

There are so many fine points to Zigzag Paz that I hardly know where to begin and I don’t want to spoil the story by telling you too much. What I can say, however, is that the book is about a journey, but it’s not just any old travel story; it’s about a mystical journey of the mind and soul and heart, leading ultimately to the synchronizing of those three entities. Perhaps more importantly, the book as described by one of her earlier readers is “a love song to life,” and according to Paz it is the ultimate spiritual and mystical love story. 

Throughout Zigzag Paz, Paz shares the many experiences she has gone through to understand and accept the challenges Life wants her to learn from; things that are often just as beautiful, glamorous, and exciting as they are disappointing. But rather than accept defeat from her setbacks, Pam tells her story in such an optimistic way you know this is a person who will always conquer rather than be defeated by obstacles. Pam’s journey is honest, inspiring, and hopeful. While reading the book I constantly had the impression that she was speaking directly to her readers with compassion and kindness.

Much of the writing and especially the descriptive passages of Africa in particular read like poetry. On just about every page I could hear, taste, and feel the various countries or cities Paz has either lived in or visited. I’ve always enjoyed the classics Out of Africa, West with the Night, The Flame Trees of Thika. Zigzag Paz definitely follows in this line-up. Five stars from me!

Tip of the Day: Get a copy of Zigzag Paz today! Ordering information can be found at Lulu. While you’re reading, consider attempting your own memoir. Next post we’ll explore some suggestions for getting started.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

12 Reasons to Try Script Frenzy

Today marks the start of Script Frenzy, another 30 days of nonstop writing fun and madness, only this time the emphasis is on screenwriting. Unlike National Novel Writing Month (the inspiration behind Script Frenzy) and its required 50,000 words to "win," Script Frenzy asks only that you write 100 pages of movie, television, or theater script.

This is my second year of going for 100. My first year was also the year Script Frenzy launched and back then it was held in July. Regardless of the season, I loved meeting with my writing buddies and staying up late as I drank one ice coffee after the other and plowed through my first attempt at romantic comedy, a genre I had never tried before. This year I'm looking forward to much of the same except this time I'm writing a suspense-drama with the working title, "Day Moon." I'm also a lot more prepared than I was several years ago. Besides having already made my story boards to illustrate the various scenes I want to write, I've also got an outline and some character bios pre-written to help keep me on track. So I'm ready to go--all that's missing is you! Here are my 12 top reasons of why I think you should join me for one of the best writing months you'll ever have:

  1. This is your big opportunity to write that screenplay you've always had in the back of your mind--whether it's adapting your latest novel or fleshing out an idea you've had since 12th grade.
  2. Even if you have no interest in screenwriting, this is a chance to re-envision your WIP and give it an entirely new twist.
  3. Script writing can give you a brand new perspective on what Beginning, Middle, and End really means when you write strictly to a 3-act structure.
  4. Scripts teach you to write tight. Screenwriting is lean.
  5. Your WIP can benefit from a visual storyboard and outline.
  6. S-T-R-E-T-C-H! Trying a new genre or form builds creativity muscles.
  7. You might discover a whole new interest and talent you never knew you had. One you absolutely love.
  8. And you might even be able to take that talent to the bank. Sure it can seem difficult to catch an agent or producer at first, but you can't sell what you haven't written. "Luck" awaits those with product.
  9. No matter what you write--good, bad, or indifferent--there's nothing quite like being part of a world-wide writer's group of 16,000+. And you can have all the ice coffee you want.
  10. You only have to write 3.33 pages a day for 30 days. 3.33 pages with lots of blank space on them!
  11. Get new respect from your peers. For the entire month of April you can tell everyone you're a screenwriter.
  12. At the end of the month you can consider yourself a success. You can be proud to have another full draft under your writing belt. Hurray for you!
Tip of the Day: What are you waiting for? It's not too late; sign up for Script Frenzy today.