Monday, October 29, 2012

Teaching Flash and Trying to Stay Cool

Sandy is currently working her way along the East Coast, and she's angry. She's scaring people, shutting down public transit, sending some into survival mode. If I had stocks, I'd increase in shares in companies that manufacture toilet paper and canned soups.

I have family in Massachusetts and friends scattered all over the East Coast. I am thinking of you all right now. I am thinking about how, here in S. Texas, everything is quiet and a little cooler than usual, but drought conditions are the same. The balance of nature is not always obvious. I wish we could take some of that weather for you all; I wish you all well.

This week, my creative writing class began, and I was thrilled to begin with a lesson on flash fiction. I linked to some of my favorite flash fiction sites: Smokelong, Wigleaf, Booth, and other journals that feature stories that are 1,000 words or less. I asked students to read three flash pieces and post responses, what worked and what didn't. Though I read all of the journals I linked, albeit irregularly, I now have a new appreciation for them through the eyes of my students. Many seem inspired. And, like in previous classes, I've found that the flash-sized fiction form is ideal for showing the value of a quick opening, a clear conflict and a tight and/or clear resolution. In flash, the mathematics of storytelling are easy to pinpoint, and this makes the form incredibly gratifying to teach and study.

As always, my students inspire me to write. Ironic how, when I have less time to do so, motivation seems to compensate for me. I've heard other teachers say this as well. So, I've been writing some flash myself. I do plan to return to the novel. I do. It's there, just have to dust it off. Perhaps I'm waiting for a reason to... or some small note of inspiration.

That's it for this weekend. I wish you all a good week, and if you're in Sandy's path, my love and all the positive energy I have is with you. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Realism and pseudo cheese

I will not post mush about writing today because I have no news from the week. Even my reading this week has been all business, but I do have a hefty (maybe hefty isn't the right word) amount of books that I've been compulsively buying on my Kindle recently. Amazon, you know my weaknesses and you've done well to entice and cash in. Kudos for such a swift-acting Buy Now button! Genius.

Well, in my desire to improve my dietary habits, I found myself trying a sort of raw, vegan cheese at a restaurant in San Antonio, Vegeria. I had to be convinced by a friend to go because I don't eat soy (it raises estrogen levels), and this restriction usually takes my vegetarian options at restaurants from one or two items to none. But, this sweetly-decorated, health-conscious diner was awesome! I highly recommend it, especially if you tend toward a generally healthy lifestyle already, or a strictly vegan lifestyle, or (and man, I'm impressed) a raw lifestyle. Well that, or you are well-off enough to afford very specific dietary ingredients just when you feel like it. I ate the "Flower Power" salad, which was $13 and filled with edible flowers, a variety of greens, and all ingredients were raw, including the aforementioned cheese which, in case you were wondering, managed to be vegan/raw by being made from cashews and a few other ingredients that made it the texture of Gouda  The server forgot the dressing that was supposed to go on my salad, an avocado ranch, but I didn't need it with that cashew cheese. The stuff was intense! I found a recipe for a similar variety, and I assure you, if I attempt this it will warrant a humorous blog post. So that might be coming.

The regular work week was tough, but that's all I'll say about that. Chris was out of town most of the week. But, I did manage to get a lot of errands run and got most of my To Dos for the week checked off.

Today, I opened up my creative writing class for the more eager students (just a day early because I would have appreciated such a thing when I was a student), and it looks like there are currently 27 writers in my class this term. This is a good number for a class with no TA. I had 33 last time, and 6 less means I'll have more time to spend with the remaining 27. I will never understand why a country founded on competition and innovation allows not only its teachers, but its students, to endure such stifling and blurring of academic conditions when we--the students as well as the teachers--invest so much to do what we do. Small classes = Better experiences for both students and teachers. This is a  fact (subjective, yes, but it's true).*

Okay, so, Argo was well done. Right down to the overly suspenseful climax, I stuck with it. It was very glitzy, not exactly realism, but again: well done. My mind wandered only once, and this was more an account of the fact that I forgot my phone was in my pocket and the vibration was startling than the fact that the movie was losing speed in a spot. I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars. Of course, that's my take.  

"It wasn't as good as the preview for the remake of Red Dawn," my husband said upon leaving the theater, but he thought it was "OK" (the highest compliment my husband gives a movie that is not Red Dawn or Terminator). 

Well, it's back to work for me. I wish you the best for the week! Enjoy it!  

*End of rant.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Too much sometimes

Personal Stuff:

I ran too far this morning. I woke up feeling a little slow. Figuring it was just allergies, I went for a long run, and 2.5 hours later, I felt like sleeping for a week. Only I couldn't sleep.  

In my stupor, I decided to watch Homeland. I just started watching it, and given the fact that the political climate is ripe and schizophrenia is a subject that I often write about, I was rapt. It's a good show. Claire Danes has been a favorite of mine since My So-Called Life, and she executes the role beautifully. And, I love Damian Lewis's range of expressions--killer smile lines!

Now, I'm slowly pulling away from my marathon TV day with a gateway show: Sons of Anarchy, another good one. This is holding my attention just enough so that I can write this as it plays. I feel better now (strong argument for allergies), but it's taken all day, and now my weekend is almost over. I want it back; it feels wasted, albeit pleasantly. Why do some of us have to feel sick just to have an at-home day? And why, when those people (me) take an at-home day, do they (I) feel illogically guilty?    

Truth is, I'm sure this little break is going to be needed. I start teaching next week, alongside my corporate gig, so if my posts come less often do not be surprised. I'll try to keep up, but I can't guarantee. I can't wait though... I have some  fun stuff planned for these burgeoning writers. And I have a dynamite set of readings for them. 

Writing News: 

I want an agent, but I'll be damned if I can find the right one. Not that I've tried hard. I tend to be of the school that a good agent, the right one, will find you. This might be too passive a take, but I'm going to give it another year just in case. 

I read some amazing work for PANK this week. I also read for my mentorship and finally got around to checking out EDGE front to back. Shout out to the editors, this is a beautiful issue. 

I had a few rejections this week, but I also had two acceptances, which felt pretty nice.

The Istanbul Review accepted one of my all-time favorite pieces of fiction. I am very excited to be a part of this literary journal because their mission is admirable. Go check them out, find out what I'm talking about. 

Skidrow Penthouse will be printing one of my shorter pieces in 2013. This is an experimental piece for me, so I'm both nervous and excited about the publication. I'm also especially excited because I get to work with awe-inspiring Stephanie Dickinson.

My NPR piece is still up, too. I don't think they'll play it on-air, but they might. Let me know if you hear it. And if not, please read it here: "Order Up".

Finally, and most importantly, I wrote. Very little, but a little is better than nothing. A little will keep me going this week, keep me from feeling too closed-in in my cubicle. Writing is my weekly vacation, my safe haven. It feeds the good and allows me to find humor in the rest.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

And... the recipe

Anita's Turtle Fudge Brownies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 box of chocolate cake mix and subsequent ingredients
1 bag of Kraft caramels
2/3 cup of evaporated milk
Chocolate chips

Unwrap caramel, melt with evaporated milk over low heat stirring frequently. Meanwhile, mix the chocolate cake as directed on the box.

Grease and flour a 9x13 pan and pour half the cake mix in pan and bake at 350 for about 12 minutes, till the top is firm-ish, then pour the caramel mixture over the top, sprinkle chocolate chips over caramel, pour the rest of the cake mix over it and bake until it springs back when you touch it (12-15 minutes).

When completely cool, ice lightly with chocolate frosting.  If you want, you can sprinkle chopped nuts into the cake mix or on top.

*Warning: These are ridiculously good, but you cannot be a calorie counter and eat them. I made the brownies for Chris, and I'm pretty sure I got diabetes from licking the knife after I cut him a piece. That said, anything this amazing is good in moderation.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Week End: Yes!

I am so tired I can barely stand. And yes, I stand to type. Odd, I know. I have a high-ish table that I stand at to do most of my at-home work and writing, but right now, I'm tempted to sit. Nah, I'll just keep this short.

Writing News: 

I wrote "Order Up" and submitted it to NPR's Three-Minute Fiction Contest a few weeks ago. The prompt was to write a scene that has the president in it (either the current president, a past president, or a fictional president). I went with a fictional president, forgot about the story, and then early this morning I saw it was one of the staff picks and is up at NPR's site:

I'm pretty excited just to be up on the site and to know that Brad Meltzer will be even considering my piece for the win. I won't know until November, and I doubt I'll be able to forget about it again, but I'll try because this is the way to be mentally healthy--to not dwell.

Also, I wrote and revised 20 pages of one of two novels I've been toiling away at for years now. This one, the one based on my grandmother's stories, is starting to come together. The Wallace novel is too, but right now I'm in a space to put energy toward the grandmother piece.

You know, for you writers out there, having two big projects to work on--if you're intimate with your material--is wonderful. It takes the pressure off, and if your main characters are wildly different, as mine are, you have a project to suit the mood. At least this is how it works for me.

Other News:

The corporate week was incredibly long and incredibly short. That is all I'll say about that. In my "free" time, I'm revising my final coursework for the Flex II I'm teaching this term. The reason I'm overhauling the course is that we're now (at Alamo Colleges) using Canvas instead of BBV. I love it, but I didn't love the fact that I had to find the time to train and learn a new program. Ah, technology and the fleeting nature of its mastery.

I can't wait to begin teaching again. Teaching brings me so much joy, probably partially because I'm now doing it part-time, which allows me to appreciate more and not get close enough to see or get caught up in the unavoidable and often painful politics of academia. As a sort of teaser, the beautiful, sharp and ever-humble Melissa Studdard invited me to speak to her class, most of whom had read my short story collection. It was so wonderful to meet with them, virtually, and encourage them in their addictive beginning writer energy... to only glimpse that again: magical.

This weekend, I will be attending a Spiderman-themed party for a soon-to-be three-year-old (how many hyphens can I use in one sentence?); I will be eating dinner somewhere moderately fancy so as to celebrate the week; and most importantly, I will be giving my dog a bath (this is a big ordeal) and making my husband turtle fudge brownies (if my mother comes up off the recipe for me). If I get the recipe and make this happen, I'll post it. In the meantime, here's a similar recipe I found (ours adds chocolate chips and grinds up those pecans):'s Caramel Turtle Brownies.

Finally, we're winding down Banned Books Week. I'll read to that, and reading is another end goal for this weekend! To me, celebrating banned books means reading what you want to read, what you connect with, not what others tell you is good. So go do that with me. And enjoy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

And then

I should be reading instead of writing this as Dexter plays in the background. I'm not paying attention to Dexter, which means I'll have to watch it again later. Oh, and I shouldn't be writing. Not now. I should be reading because I'm currently two stories into the divine collection Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman. Let me just say, I read a lot. And though I review many books briefly on Goodreads, I rarely feel compelled to mention the merit of a single book, especially by an author I do not know and have not heard of, outside of this one venue. But wow. If you are a fan of literary fiction, read this book. Read it. Read it. Read it. That is all.

Tomorrow, I am meeting (virtually) with a class of Lone Star College students who are reading To Begin Again for their creative writing course. I am excited to speak with these students but I also find it always a little strange, delightfully so, to discuss my book as a text. I've done it a few times before and though it's flattering and an amazing honor, it's also rather odd--I think because the role of visiting writer as opposed to writer reading, writer selling a book, or teacher teaching is so precise. It's somewhere in the middle, but keenly there in the middle, where you have to be subjective (can't be avoided with one's own work) and objective (open to questions not expected and interpretations unprepared for). I dig it.

The a on my laptop is sticking. I really have to pound the pinky for a good a right now. And this is another reason I should be reading right now as opposed to writing. Come to think of it, I wrote a story about rats and reincarnation a few days go (still on the animal theme... what gives?), and I should probably check it for missing as. Just to be sure. This piece is the first short thing I've written in months, and I'm thrilled by it. Short is good. Short fiction can come out in one sitting and be almost exactly as it should be. Often it is dampened by rigorous revision, unlike longer fiction. In my experience, anyway.

I'm rambling, so I'll check back in on Saturday. Enjoy your week.

Observations: Dublin Vacation

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