Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vegetable Dip


I can't convince myself this is good for you, even if you use all-organic ingredients. But it is very good, and especially useful as an appetizer or snack for holiday parties.

2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp prepared horseradish (or more, if you roll that way)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 scallion, chopped
Jane's Crazy Mixed-Up Salt* to taste

Combine the sour cream and mayonnaise, mix well. Stir in the lemon juice and horseradish. Add salt to taste. Top with chopped scallions.

Serve with carrot sticks, celery sticks, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, etc.

*No, I don't work for the company, but this stuff is great! And all-natural.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The President Buys Some Children's Books

How about that! President Barack Obama and his daughters visited the Politics and Prose bookstore on upper Connecticut Avenue in DC last Saturday and bought 21 books, one of which was Jinx!

I am, of course, stunned, thrilled, and honored. I've voted for several Presidents but this is the first time a President has voted for me.

The news story about this calls the President's shopping list "eclectic." Since that's not terribly informative, I'm going to take a look at each of the children's books the President and his daughters chose. (I'll leave it to someone else to do the adult books.)

Picture Books:

Moonday - by Adam Rex
This book, written and illustrated by the author of The True Meaning of Smekday, answers the question "What do you do when the moon lowers itself into your backyard?"  

Journey - by Aaron Becker
A lonely girl draws herself out of her room and into an adventure. A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2013. 

Harold and the Purple Crayon - by Crockett Johnson
Classic picture book about a boy who goes for a walk in the moonlight, creating a world as he goes with his purple crayon.

Books for newly-independent readers (grades 1 to 3, ages 6-8)

Lulu and the Brontosaurus - by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith
In this chapter book, a rather spoiled girl named Lulu seeks a brontosaurus for a pet. But when she finds one, things don't turn out quite as she expected.

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat - by Chris Riddell
Ottoline and her silent guardian, Mr. Munroe investigate the mysterious disappearance of several well-to-do dogs. Plenty of illustrations help tell the story.

Middle grade and YA (ages 9 and up)

Heart of a Samurai - by Margi Preus
In 1841, 14-year-old Manjiro and his fellow fishermen are shipwrecked off Japan, rescued by a passing ship and taken to America. This book won a 2011 Newbery Honor.

Flora and Ulysses - by Kate DiCamillo
Sucked into a vacuum cleaner and rescued by a girl named Flora, a squirrel acquires superpowers. This book was chosen as a Best Book of 2013 by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Amazon, and was on the National Book Awards Longlist.

Jinx - by Sage Blackwood
Abandoned in a sentient forest, a boy named Jinx must cope with wizards, witches, trolls, and his own mysterious powers. This book was chosen as a Best Book of 2013 by School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Amazon.

Half Brother - by Kenneth Oppel
13-year-old Ben bonds with the baby chimp, Zan, that his scientist parents bring home to raise, but his parents seem to regard Zan as just an experiment.

I assume these books are destined for young relatives and the children of friends. Some common threads run through the selection:

- There's a lot of fantasy here.

- Most of the books deal with venturing forth, often in search of something unusual.

- Many of the books have a theme of coming to terms with people or creatures different from ourselves.

- Change is a theme in most of these books, including coping with change, and our ability to bring about change.

Anyway, it's a great selection all in all (if I do say so). I hope the young recipients enjoy them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thank you, Charlotte Zolotow

Charlotte Zolotow was the author of Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present and Do You Know What I'll Do? and William's Doll. And scores of other children's books. She was a children's editor at Harper & Row when I submitted my first manuscript there.

This was back in the early Pleistocene Epoch. In those days, there were no blogs telling you how to write queries and how to get an agent. There were, in fact, no blogs at all. There was only The Writer's Market, in which editors were mentioned by name, often alongside their real, actual phone numbers. (I know because I called one of them, and she answered. I couldn't figure out what to say to such an august personage, so I murmured something and hung up.)

I had written a short story called "The Day Forsythia Went To School." It was about a girl named Emily and her goat, Forsythia. It was, though I say it as shouldn't, pretty funny. I typed it up on a manual typewriter and made photocopies, laying the pages down one-by-one on the glass pane of a library Xerox machine roughly the size of a small kitchen. I prepared a SASE (it was so embarrassing asking for double postage at the post office) and sent it off to an editor whose name I recognized: Charlotte Zolotow at Harper & Row.

I mentioned in the cover letter that I was sixteen. In those gentle times, this wasn't regarded as a pitiful plea for special treatment. It was regarded as a perfectly reasonable request for special treatment. I imagine that most editors back then took care to write kind, encouraging rejections to young writers. Actually, I imagine that many still do that today.

Charlotte Zolotow did more than that. She took me seriously. She asked to see the rest of my novel.

Not having been prepared for such an eventuality, I hadn't actually written the rest of the novel.

So I took a few months and did that. In retrospect, I have to say the thing was not a novel. It was a type of children's book that was at that very moment becoming extinct: a series of humorous but only slightly-related episodes.

The manuscript came back months later, rejected, but covered with initialed notes from Ms. Zolotow and other Harper & Row staff. One of these notes said "Change to 3rd person, a la Charlotte's Web?" It was my impression at the time that this had been jotted by Ursula Nordstrom, the editor of that spider-based classic.

The rejection letter was long and detailed. It told me just what I needed to work on, and encouraged me to keep writing. I'm very glad that a couple years ago I had the chance to get in touch with Ms. Zolotow through her daughter and thank her, and tell her I had.

Charlotte Zolotow died today. I'm crying as I type this. I'm grateful that Charlotte Zolotow took the time to encourage young writers.

Let us go and do likewise.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Tale-- DO try this at home!

As hopefully a bit of encouragement to those typing away madly this month, I submit my NaNoWriMo success story.

I drafted Jinx during NaNoWriMo of 2009. Before that, I spent several months drawing pictures of the characters and the Urwald. I was exploring rather than planning. I'm not one of those who plans out every scene before writing. I like to let the story tell itself.

I had also made a couple attempts to write what I thought was going to be the opening scene. In this scene, the wizard Simon was supposed to strangle Jinx. But Simon wouldn't do it. He refused. That was important. It's always helpful when characters get all up in your face and tell you who they really are. Pay attention.

Anyway, November 2009. A friend in an online writing chat coaxed me into participating. I didn't sign up for NaNoWriMo on the site... I just did it. 2,000 words a day, more or less, with a couple days off here and there.

Typety type type type. What else can I say?

After every 10,000 words, I went out to lunch at the Mongolian barbecue. I have very fond memories of the chef, who did not know he was providing my NaNoWriMo reward, as we lacked a common language.

November 30th, 2009: done! The finished product was not a finished product. Whole scenes were missing, with italicized notes saying what needed to happen in them. Extraneous scenes were all over the place. There were places where the text read What are you trying to do here? Never mind, just say something. Write something. Write anything. Keep writing.

It also lacked, and I feel this is important, a plot.

But it had 50,000 words. I gave a small nod of satisfaction and set it aside for a few weeks. I looked at it again and recoiled in horror. I rewrote. I rewrote again. I showed it to a few people. And rewrote again.

It was seventeen months after NaNoWriMo that Jinx was ready to go out on submission. By that time, nearly all the scenes from the original NaNoWriMo draft were gone. The 50k words had become 75k, on the long side for middle grade. The manuscript was acquired by HarperCollins.

This could happen with that thing you're working on. Why not?

As you can tell from this tale, writing is 94.4444% revision. But without drafting, you have nothing to revise.

So get out there and draft! Write something. Write anything. Keep writing.

Chana Masala

This is one of my favorite winter recipes... quick and easy to make, and one of the few Indian dishes I've found that will come out tasting right using ingredients available at yr avg American supermarket. With rice and a salad, it serves two to four people.

1 T olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 15.5 oz (439 g) can organic* chickpeas-- do not drain
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cinnamon
pepper to taste
a pinch of salt (optional)
juice of 1/2 lime

(To be served over basmati rice, with chutney and chopped purple onion as garnishes.)

Put the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Saute the onions until translucent. Add garlic, lower the heat, and saute one minute. Add the tomato sauce.

(You'll want the heat to be low enough, before you add the tomato sauce, that you don't get little orange splatters of tomato sauce all over your nice clean stove.)

Stir. Add the spices and salt. Add the chickpeas, including the liquid from the can. Add the lime juice.

Cook, uncovered, until liquid thickens to a sauce. (About 15-20 minutes.)

*because they don't contain disodium EDTA