Present Tense Bursts into the Reading Room

 

I was in grade school when I first wondered why fiction was written in past tense.

I’ve read countless fiction books- virtually all in written in past tense- that were vivid, captivating, and magical. But I find reading past tense is invariably like reading about an explosion long after the detonation site has been cleared and repaved. The facts have been gathered and analyzed, and are a matter of public record. But in present tense the fuse is still burning . .

Will the bomb explode?

All other variables being equal, present tense can connect the reader to the narrator more intimately than past tense can. And if written skillfully, reading present tense is reading about something as IT’S HAPPENING.

Some people dislike present tense because it’s faddish and annoying, like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum while wearing a Hannah Montana outfit. And some people LIKE present tense because it IS a toddler throwing a temper tantrum while wearing a Hannah Montana outfit. It’s real and uncertain and in your face. Faddish? Charles Dickens, Jay McInerney, Margaret Atwood, Albert Camus, Tom Robbins, Nick Hornby, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Cunningham, Andre Dubus III, James Frey, John Updike, and Audrey Niffenegger all wrote best-selling novels in the present tense. Annoying? That’s up to each reader.

I write fiction in present tense because I find it perpetually fresh. It may be irritating, but trust me, your eyeballs will toughen up and soon you won’t feel the urge to blink and squint so much. It’s inevitable. SHEBAM ! POW ! BLOP ! WIZZ !

 

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Veg*n Hosts Meat & 3 Thanksgiving Recipes

After many years of my mother-in-law hosting Thanksgiving, I offered to host it this year. I don’t eat meat. I already knew my meat-eating in-laws had tried and don’t care much for Tofurky. They want actual turkey. Cooking meat is not a personal problem for me, as I cook meat for my husband almost daily. At my request, he ordered the turkey from a supplier who sells humanely-raised turkey.

I cook and serve meat in my own home because I accept the fact that my husband eats meat. I realize my family won’t stop eating meat just as they realize I won’t start eating meat. I don’t refuse to reciprocate the graciousness of someone else hosting Thanksgiving year after year.

I use my real-world experience of cooking, smelling, serving, and watching other people eat meat as a creativity tool. A main character in my (back burner, this month) novel I started a few years ago is a meat-eating glutton. While I don’t think of my meat-eating friends and family as gluttons, I do incorporate the sight, sound, smell, and feel of cooking and serving meat into my character description and into the meat-eating scenes.

So I feed my guests on Thanksgiving, and on Black Friday I write . .

On to the vegan Thanksgiving dishes:

 Cheesy Potato Muffins with Applesauce

5 Starchy Potatoes, halved

1 large Yellow Onion, diced

2 tbsp butter substitute, (such as Earth Balance) plus extra

1 cup shredded Cheese Substitute, such as Sheese

1 cup prepared egg substitute, such as Ener-G

2 tablespoons Nutritional Yeast

2 tbsp mixed Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

Crushed Black Peppercorns

sauce-making Apples, such as Gala

Water

 Quarter apples. Remove cores. Cube apples, and put the cubes in a blender with enough water to cover half-way. Whir. Pour the apple liquid in a pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a sauce consistency.

Boil potatoes until not quite soft. Drain and let cool. In the meantime, carmelize the onions in butter substitute until soft. Grate the potatoes. In a large bowl, stir together the cheese substitute, egg substitute, yeast, herbs, salt, and peppercorns. Add the potato and onions and gently mix. Heat oven to 350°F. Coat muffins pan cups with the butter substitute and spoon the mixture into muffin cups. Bake for 45 minutes, or until peaked with golden-brown. Muffins with be soft. Makes 16 muffins.

 

Spicy Pumpkin Cups

2 cups prepared (uniform consistency) Pumpkin

1/2 cup Coconut Milk blended with 1 tablespoon Cornstarch

3/4 cup Brown Sugar

1 teaspoon Blackstrap Molasses

1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon Powder

1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg Powder

1/4 teaspoon Clove Powder

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

Butter Substitute, such as Earth Balance

Water for tray

Heat oven to 350°F. Thoroughly mix all ingredients. Coat the inside of teacups with the butter substitute. Spoon the  mixture into cups, and place the cups in a shallow tray. Place the  tray with filled cups in the oven, and fill the  tray with about 1/2 inch of  water. Bake for 45 minutes. Top with espresso. Chill in refrigerator. Makes 4 servings.

One Novel, One Month, One Pain in the Task

Me: I have a 50,000-word novel due at the end of the month.

Sigo: What happens if you don’t get it done?

Me: That’s not gonna happen.

Sigo: But what happens if you don’t get it done?

Me: Well, that’s not gonna happen, but if it did, let’s just say the universe would end at that point. So I’ve gotta make sure that doesn’t happen.

November is National Novel Writing Month. Participants commit to starting, finishing, and submitting (for an official word count) an original novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. It doesn’t have to be a good novel, or even a properly written novel with clean spelling, punctuation, and structure. It just has to be at least 50,000 words of “novel.”

On the first of the month I put my current novel-in-the-works on the back burner and signed up as a NaNoWriMo neophyte. I hoped to use the pressure of NaNoWriMo to finally bust out of my self-editing OCD. And writing a novel in one month would be pretty incredible too.

My first couple weeks were full of procrastination, and I adapted this Three Stooges skit:

Pal: Hiya, Pal!

Me: You call me pal?  Why, I haven’t heard that word for years. You know bub, I once was a naïve author like you.

P: Oh congratulations!

M: Ah, but it wasn’t always thus; I can look back to the days of yore when I was a very happy naïve writer. Then one day, that rat came and destroyed forever the all the naïvety I’d ever known. I’ll never forget that day, I just sat down at my computer after a full day of not writing, and there was an open invitation in my inbox. 

P: What did it say?

M: Oh it was one of those cold-blooded invitations: “Dear Writer: Write a novel in one month.” I was obsessed with the idea that I could do it. The trail led me to Twitter; I found I missed starting by three days when I got there. And I swore right there on Twitter I’d do it and have my glory; now on with the chase. Wikipedia, Facebook, WordPress. And then I came face to face with the rat that had taken over my life, it was in “NANOWRIMO,” “NANOWRIMO!” Slowly I wrote, and step by step, inch by inch, I walked up to it, and I smashed it, I hit it, I bonked it, I bopped it, I mashed its face and I wrote the words down!

P: Ooh, ooh! Take it easy bud, take it easy!

M: Excuse me kid, it’s that word, “NANOWRIMO,” Every time I hear it tears me apart!

 

So what have I learned at the half-way mark? . .

1. Writing 1,667 cohesively sensible words a day is hard.

2. After not writing 1,667 words a day, writing 2,000 cohesively sensible words a day is even harder.

3. Sub-plots set in bars and night clubs are fun and easy to pound out.

4. A 50,000+ word novel written in one month is the same as a 50,000+ word cartoon written in one month, but also includes weariness-induced spelling, grammatical, continuity, and logic errors.

5. Heed T. S. Eliot’s advice.

 

And now I must NaNoWriMo . .

 

11-30-10: I’m a WINNER with 50,002 words!

0.999… = 1 ?!

stgabss.net

A few days ago I read an article about math-comprehension enhancement through electrical stimulation of the brain. I saw the word “dycalculia.” Oddly enough, I think that was the first time I had seen that word (Wiki’s “Dyscalculia” page has been heavily edited since I wrote this post, and now gives little useful info about dyscalculia. I am, however, leaving the link as I am fairly confident the information will be corrected and expanded.) even though I now know I am dyscalculic. I did some research, and now my life-long math anxiety makes sense. Dyscalculics are people across the IQ range who, regardless of traditional schooling, don’t have a solid sense of numbers or how they interact. Dyscalculics also usually have difficulty mentally fixing their own bodies in space, interpreting spacial relationships in general, and ordering events in time.

School was surrealistic for me. In grade school I was at the top of my class in reading and spelling. But I struggled with multiplication tables. I simply could not memorize them, even under the threat of a paddling in front of the class. I was always the last in my class to finish in-class math assignments. On the school bus, I would ricochet off the seat edges while walking the aisle. I learned to tell time well after the other kids, and I took remedial math classes during the summer. My piano teacher was embarrassingly kind. She every week she sat through 50 minutes of  1-minute songs that each took me about 5 minutes to play. I didn’t understand how the dots and lines and spaces on the music sheets fit the keys on the piano.

autism-help.org

In high school, I flourished with vocabulary and reading comprehension, but math was rotten. In algebra, I used the same pre-filled-out “show your work” paper for each homework assignment when the teacher walked the aisles to check our homework.  He would always pause at my desk while I sunk in my seat. But he always wordlessly moved on. I frequently forgot the order of my classes and my locker combination. Running a straight line for track practice was impossible. In chemistry, my teacher went to grandiose lengths explaining the definition of a “mole.” To this day I have no working conception of it, even after re-reading its definition. My chemistry tutor patiently re-explained how to set up and calculate chemical equations every week until we both gave up.

In college I took what was described as a basic math class. The professor spent the first couple weeks teaching matrixes without quizzing the class. I tried to mentally pound the numbers into my brain, but they would crash and smash instead. The look of utter confusion on my face was so obvious, the professor called me into his office and asked me why I wasn’t “getting it.” I didn’t have an answer, so I dropped the class and finally swore off math for good.

Now, as an adult? . . I can’t immediately recall my own telephone number without the act of writing it. I still sometimes forgot how to do basic division and still transpose numbers. The few money-handling jobs I’ve had were nightmares. I don’t drive. I don’t think I’ll ever write another check. Hotels and shopping centers spontaneously morph into mazes, and I don’t know north from a hole in the ground. Even though I have perfect vision, I still sometimes run into walls while turning corners, or trip on chair legs. Keeping score in card games is baffling. I love science- except for the math parts. I know math is the language of the universe. Math is magic. But I’m not a magician.

I used to think I was just “numbers lazy.” That if I just tried hard enough, I would “get it.” Now I am relieved to know it’s not laziness, but a physical brain difference. Dyscalculics are often strong in language, perhaps to compensate for their math deficiencies; or perhaps the same mechanism which weakens math ability strengthens language ability. I don’t “get” the language of the universe, but I revel in my own language. I think I wouldn’t change a thing.

0.999… = 1 ?!

Strange Face Illusion & 3 Fall Recipes

Here’s a spooky illusion that can also be a writing prompt:

You need a room lit only by a dim lamp (25W bulb) that is placed behind you while you gaze into a large mirror placed about one and one half feet in front of you.

Sit still, and without moving your eyes, gaze at your reflected face in the mirror. Usually after less than a minute, you will begin to perceive the Strange Face Illusion.

What you see could be the basis of a poem, or story, or add fuel to your imagination and spill out later. Let it churn and simmer and stew . .

I tried this on Halloween night. Here’s what happened . .

I propped a full-length mirror against a piece of furniture and looked at my reflection. My cat Stubby saw that I had rearranged part of his kingdom, and began the required sniff inspection. He jumped onto the furniture supporting my mirror. I continued to stare into the mirror. Then Stubby leapt onto the top edge of the mirror and immediately sprang off when he realized the edge was less than one paw’s-width wide. The mirror almost crashed down on me and I needed a couple minutes to recover.

It took about a minute before I noticed the bottom of my nose was glowing in the mirror. At that point my face didn’t look overtly strange, just my nose. It was hard to keep from focusing on my nose, and every time I accidentally focused on it, the illusion disappeared. Then I figured out the light behind me was highlighting and shadowing my face in an odd way in the first place, and my mind was simply exaggerating these differences in my relaxed state.

To keep from focusing on my nose, I let my vision blur a bit. Then I had 2 noses. I blinked and I had 3 eyes, 1 nose, and 2 mouths. I blinked again and I had 1 eye and 2 noses and no mouth. Another blink and my mouth appeared along with a couple extra eyes.

I was letting my vision blur too much. So I gazed at my forehead. My face started to change, but each time that happened I couldn’t help but snap back into clear focus, and the illusion would disappear. In those brief instances, my face didn’t exactly look like my own, but it did look anthropoidal. Similar to this guy, but without the fur.

************

Onto the recipes:

Fungal, Vegetal Stew (very spooky)

For this recipe you will need a large cauldron, unless you want to scale the recipe to a more manageable volume. You do the math- I’m more of a word person. If you’re more of a word person too, find a mathematician, or someone who can do fractions. As a last resort, guesstimate- the edibility of this stew is not dependent on precise ratios.

4 starchy Potatoes

Bog Water (may substitute Non-Bog Water)

1 large Yellow Onion

Several bunches of mixed Mushrooms

2 handfuls of chopped Broccoli

2 handfuls of chopped Cauliflower

1 sheet dried, shredded Laver

1 scant, flat palmful of Sage powder

1 scant, flat palmful of Garlic powder

1 scant, flat palmful of cracked Black Peppercorns

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

scant pinch of Zombie Dust (except where illegal)

Olive Oil

1 – 2 black cat sneezes (depending on force of sneeze) [can substitute other colors] {this ingredient is optional}

Catnip (optional)

 Locate cat(s). Bribe with catnip as needed. Set aside.

Dice onion and carmelize in generous oil in a skillet over medium-low heat until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally.

Dice potatoes, put in cauldron, and add enough water to cover. Add laver, salt, and dust, and simmer on low.

In the meantime, dump the onions into the cauldron. Put the mushrooms into the oiled skillet and add enough water to cover half-way. Carmelize the mushrooms, covered, until uniformly soft, then add them to the cauldron.

 Dump broccoli and cauliflower into the cauldron.

Simmer uncovered at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add sage, garlic, and pepper, and stir thoroughly.

Ladle into bowls.

Float catnip on soup, cats will put face over soup bowl, and steam will induce sneezing (in theory).

I experimented with a couple Pumpkin desserts.

My good clean food-loving friend Liam posted a link to this Pueblo Pumpkin Candy recipe on his blog. Thanks, Liam!

I’ve adapted it here:

Pueblo Pumpkin Candy

(This recipe is from the Native American Pueblo Indians. Traditionally, the strips of pumpkin were soaked in water and wood ashes.)

1 Pumpkin (2 – 3 pounds)
1 ½ teaspoons Baking Soda
2 ½ cups Turbinado Sugar
½ cup Water

Water for soaking and simmering

Ice

Optional Ingredients-

juice and zest of 1 Lemon

3 – 4 sprigs fresh Cilantro

extra Turbinado Sugar

Peel and seed  pumpkin (save the seeds for the next recipe). Cut pumpkin flesh into rough palm-sized pieces. Stir baking soda into water and add pumpkin pieces. Let sit overnight, at least 12 hours.

Drain and rinse pumpkin pieces. Bring a pot of water to a boil and carefully drop pieces into pot. Simmer until just tender, but not soft, about 4 minutes.

(When I got to this point in my go at the recipe it looked like my pumpkin pieces were going to dissolve into mush. I persisted anyway, and after the simmering, separated the intact chunks from the floaty bits. I strained and saved the bits to make pumpkin pie.)

Remove from heat and drain. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Carefully drop pieces into ice water. When ice has melted, drain.

Combine sugar with ½ cup water, the (optional) lemon juice and zest, and the (optional) cilantro in a saucepan. Heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Slow-boil, without stirring, for 10 minutes. Add pumpkin, cover pot, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Spread candy on the covered sheet and dry overnight, at least 10 hours.

(optional) Roll candy in additional sugar.

 Eat. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

Pumpkin Seed “Brittle”

roughly 2 cups oven-dried unshelled Pumpkin Seeds:

Put fresh pumpkin seeds in a bowl, and cover with drinkable cold salty water. Let soak overnight. Drain the seeds, spread them on a baking sheet, and bake at 250°F until they are crisp and slightly golden, about 1 and 1/2 hours. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container to preserve crispness.

 1 cup Turbinado Sugar

1/2 cup Maple Syrup

1/4 cup Water

1 teaspoon Blackstrap Molasses

1 pinch Cayenne powder

1 pinch Cinnamon powder

1 pinch Sea Salt

2 tablespoons Vegan Margarine (such as Earth Balance)

1 teaspoon Baking Soda

candy thermometer

Line a baking sheet with parchment, and place in oven. Heat oven to 300°F.

Put dried pumpkin seeds, cayenne, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl and stir to combine.

In a medium saucepan, mix sugar, syrup, salt, and water. Clip thermometer onto side of saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Stir while boiling until mixture reaches 300-310°F.

(I didn’t bring the mixture all the way to 300 when I tried this recipe. Maybe that’s why my “brittle” was not exactly brittle. I had the burner turned all the way up and the temperature plateaued under 250. It still came out good enough to give to my mother-in-law for her birthday, which happens to be on Halloween. Spooky!)

Stir in seed mixture.

Melt margarine.

Remove from heat, stir in melted margarine and soda, and pour onto heated, lined pan.

Gently tilt pan as needed to spread candy. Cool completely.

Break into pieces. Eat. Store leftovers in an airtight container.