Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Risks of a Novel Told in Stories

I'm not the sort of reader who skips short stories in a collection. I read them straight through. I am the same with magazines, reading them cover to cover, one page at a time. In this regard, I am not what one would call a "rule breaker." I dabble in skipping about in literary magazines, but I always feel guilty afterwards.

It is for this reason that I find myself stalled on my summer reading. I don't want to start something new, but I'm not into the next story/chapter up in Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I believe is not labeled as a novel-in-stories but very much feels like one to me. 

It's not that the story is poorly written, as Egan is a masterful craftswoman. It's not that the premise is bad, as its a neat twist in which a fake news article is used to further the plot/characterization of the novel. No, I'm just not in the mood to read an entertainment magazine article at the moment, real or fake, but I can't in good conscience skip it, nor do I want to put the book down and read something else. I want to finish Egan's book first. This is my dilemma.

This is the risk you run writing a novel-in-stories type of book. It gives the reader these changes in genre, character, verb tense, and narrative distance, and each change risks turning the reader away. This is what I'm learning about my chosen book structure as I read more and more books that use a similar setup. Does it doom a book to failure? No. Some of the best books I've read in quite a while are told through stories, but the structure does carry its risks. I'm learning that and hope that my future readers, when they hit a change that takes them aback in my novel, will have the same patience with me that I am currently providing to Ms. Egan.

Because this book is fantastic (just like all of her other works), and I'm not giving up on it just because it's making me work for the payoff.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The unveiling

The man is now the husband. It's still a bit surreal to say that. "I have a husband." I thought that this change wouldn't really affect much, other than the fact that I am now obligated to wear at least one piece of jewelry every day. We've been living together for three years. He takes care of my son. We were spouses already, but something clicked into place after the wedding. I'm not sure how to explain it. We're just more complete somehow, like saying how we feel (through the vows written by our dear friend Jolynn) in front of a bunch of people we know made it more real, more permanent. Maybe we're just high on leftover wedding cake.

Either way, I walked down that aisle and I am ecstatic. I had my borrowed and refitted temple white wedding dress and my homemade ivory veil. I got a lot of compliments on the veil from those that knew I made it. It didn't seem to matter that it was not the exact color of the dress. I tried peroxide-based bleach. Still no change. I tried whitener. That swatch felt like a brillo pad by the end of the process, even if it was whiter. I tried bluing. It turned the swatch vaguely green, though it did look a little whiter against the dress. In the end, I decided just to leave it alone.

My maid of honor Kristin insisted that really, it looked just fine together and the veil was pretty and took so long to make that I should just let it be and move on. A lot of my relatives knew I was making the veil and they all had compliments. Two cousins who did not know asked my mom: what's up with the veil? Not that it looked bad; they just know there had to be a story, which my mom shared. The response: it was perfect, because I'm a different sort of person and it made the wedding mine that there was something "unique" to it. I can live with that. And you know what? I loved my veil and that I got to say "Yep, I made that."

The niece loved her shawl too. Despite the 90 degree weather outside, when I presented it to her, she insisted on wearing it all over the non-air-conditioned house.

Already fashion savvy, she found several unique ways of wearing her shawl: as shawl, as scarf, as headdress. I'm waiting for her to discover it would make an excellent pair of butterfly wings.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The June Garden 2012 and Black-Eyed Pea BBQ

The garden is off to a solid start. The summer squash, zucchinis, and one eggplant bush are flowering. One of the tomatoes has two green starter fruits.

So far, only one of the pepper plants has been attacked by wildlife. We unleashed enough garden fencing to cover the perimeter of the main garden plot. It stands maybe one foot off the ground. I was thinking chicken wire might do the trick but this fence was already hiding in the garage. We figured: why not? Hopefully it works.

While waiting for the veggies to grow, the supermarket still has to serve as the main veggie provider. The last time we were in Michigan, Meijer had a sale on peppers and mushrooms. The man went a little overboard: three bell peppers (yellow, orange, and red), two cartons of baby bella mushrooms, and a six-pack of portobellos. The caps were grilled up and eaten like burgers on buns with cheese and ketchup. For the rest, there was stir fry.

We had the wedding shower a few weeks ago, and one of the gifts was a set of prep bowls. I was thinking they'd work perfect for my one-serving of breakfast cereal in the morning. The man had more grandiose ideas. I got home from work to the peppers and mushrooms, plus carrots, all chopped and waiting in a few of the prep bowls and the rice already done in the cooker. I felt like I was on the cast of Americas Test Kitchen as I dumped the veggies into our clearanced-out giant Emeril saute skillet.

First, I stir fried the mushrooms separate so they could stay on the flames long enough to caramelize.

While the veggies fried, I got to thinking that they needed a little something extra, so I added a can of black-eyes peas. I added a bit of teryaki to start, but I've done so much with teryaki stir fry, I just didn't want to same old, same old. For good measure, I plopped in a fair amount of barbeque sauce. It left the veggies sweet but tasting like themselves and gave them some sauce that would add pep to the rice.

It was my first forray into black-eyed pea territory. I quite liked them. They tasted like a hybrid between a black bean and a chickpea. Come to think of it, they probably are. The meal was quite tasty at the dinner table but really didn't keep well for lunch the next day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Write. Submit. Wait.

I'm trying to get the submission train rolling on the writing career front. I've submitted one of the novel stories/chapters to One Story (if you are going to aim, aim high). I plan on submitting to Glimmer Train in July/August, whenever their standard submission month is in the summer. I also took a peek at Midwestern Gothic, because it seemed perfect for my writing style. Alas, they are only open to photo submissons at the moment. On the plus side, I take a lot of pictures, and nothing feels so satisfying when waiting for potential writing submission rejection as having a photo accepted by a lit mag one day after submission. It's called Michigan Grassland. I took it in 2006 in my parent's backyard. My three year old son makes an appearance in mismatched outerwear.

Does that make me a published author yet?

As for actual writing, I have not made much substantial progress. Still no story ideas to be had. I do have two entries in my faux leather post-MFA journal, a fairly terrible poem and a definition I found amusing from the Webster's New College Dictionary. The defintion will inspire a less terrible poem in the near future, if all goes well.

In the meantime, I have heard back from an agent whom I sent a query and first chapter of the novel. I was beyond thrilled with the e-mail requesting the rest of the manuscript, which I did yesterday. I know that getting the whole manuscript read does not equate to a book-deal or even an agent, but still, this being the first agent I queried, I take it for a good sign. Now, the waiting. I'm not sure if Tom Petty is right. I'm pretty sure the waiting is not the hardest part of this particular scenario (try writing/revising a novel and see what I mean), but then again, it sure isn't easy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Crochet that Knit, or how not to get whites their whitest

My For the Flowergirl shawl (the Eliinas pattern) is off the needles, but like the veil, I won't be revealing what it looks like in full until after the wedding. Let me tell you, this little shawl is a trickster. The first repeats go by so quickly, with plain stockette and two patterned yarn overs every other row and a row of yarn overs every 14 rows at row 11.  I didn't have to even glance at the chart. The pattern called for 10 repeats, but as I only had 1 ball of yarn to use and the recipient is 6, I figured 6 repeats was plenty. Fortunately for me, I glanced ahead at the math involved. Turns out I needed multiples of 10 plus a few stitches for my new stitch count to work with the second chart, so it ended up a little shy of 6 repeats for the first chart.

Then the trouble began. Doing that last chart once took longer than going the first chart 6 times. Don't get me wrong. It was beautiful when all was said and done, but sheesh. I tinked and stumbled and stared at that chart like my life depended on it. If anyone so much as breathed funny, there was a chance I'd make a yarn over in error. I admit to yelling at the kids for banter that was totally normal and 100 percent allowable on any other day but complex lace-knitting day. Such is the life of the youthful offspring/relative of a knitter.

Yesterday was the bind off. It was a new one for me, called the crochet chain bind off. The directions were a bit vague, so I searched google for a more illustrated explanation. Soon, I was crocheting away. It involves crocheting a certain number of knit stitches off the needle (in my case, an alternation of 2 and 3) and then single crocheting the loop formed from crocheting the knit stitches together into the loop that is already on the crochet hook. Then chaining a certain number of stitches (in my case, 9) before crocheting together the next set of knit stitches. It looks like it will be very pretty once it's blocked, but the edge is very messy at the moment of bind off. It also took far longer than a what a normal bind off would take. By the time I held a finished shawl in my hands, it was already bedtime (10 pm).

However, I admit, it was a lot funner than a normal bind off, which I find tedious and awkward no matter how many times I've done it. Knitting needles just don't like to lift stitches and move them over other stitches. I like the idea of this style of bind off, because it takes advantage of what crochet does best. As a knitter who also crochets, I'm keen on mixing crochet and knitting, and one day, I plan on playing around with pattern ideas that do that (and maybe creating a few of my own). I may be ready to get going on this venture, as a matter of fact. While perusing for the crochet chain bind off instructions, I also found a suggestion for a crochet bind off that works like a normal bind off but replaces the left needle with a crochet hook. It's supposed to be stretchier that normal too. I may have just found my bind off method of choice.

In the meantime, the wedding approaches. The dress (originally purchased by my sister for a wedding she didn't have and thus not my size) came back from the seamstress taken in a bit on the sides and several inches in the hem, as she is tall and planned for heels and I am not tall and have already purchased my ballet flats. A new trouble awaited when I did the full try-on: dress, shoes, and veil. The veil, you see, is in a vintage white yarn I purchased before I knew that the dress was available. The dress is temple white. I was not overly concerned, as perfect matchy matchy has never been my likely state of dress (except for those sweaters with the matching scarfs, which I love). However, the off white  looked yellow against the dress white. Problem. I googled for answers and sampled with lemon juice and peroxide, neither of which did any good after the light dips I gave my test swatch.

It was the fiance who noted that the room we were in with the dress had yellow lighting. We brought the dress and veil out into natural light and I felt quite a bit better. The veil was still not the same white as the dress, but it no longer looked canary. I still have a few experiments to try out: bluing, laundry whitener treatment, and a non chlorine organic bleach (in other words, better peroxide), not to mention the fact that I have since found sites with better directions. Apparently, the yarn is supposed to soak overnight in the peroxide, not five minutes. I am hopeful, though not confident, that one of these options will work. If not, the veil will just have to be the off white it's always been. At least it won't look neon.