The Coven Circle of Revising


All chapters lined up to be put in circle.

All chapters lined up to be put in circle.

I’m all for mind magic, imagination, flights of fantasy, intelligent alter egos, and inviting muses, guardian angels, and ghosts. I’ll take my help from a gifted teacher, luck, a chance remark by a waitress, or a homeless person with something meaningful to say.

Especially at this point in writing a book-length manuscript. Here’s where I’ve been so far in this tumultuous historical fiction relationship.

There was a flash of inspiration. (Is that heaven or hell?)
It fermented to obsessive size.
I semi-organized thoughts and notes and wrote it. Three hundred eleven pages.
I am now overwhelmed by the changes, details, and story flummoxes that need fixing.

This doesn’t feel like the holy grail of fun novel writing. It feels like washing and waxing a Greyhound bus after a hurricane. On a hot summer day. In the sun. Alone.
It is book #5 and this is what works best for me at this point.

Hail in the muses! Invite ghosts and sprites of intuition. Ransack! With intent, pillage creativity. Make every word, idea, and scene justify itself to survive.Tell fear, exhaustion, impatience, and the nauseatingly prim Mistress of Time Management to vamoose.

Welcome to the Coven Circle of Revising. The steps:

Circle arranged.

Circle arranged.

1. Paperclip all chapters separately.

2. Arrange in circle.

3. Step in circle and commune. After judgment is gagged and tied in a dark basement or thrown over the fence to neighbor’s yard, open the heart and mind. Invite the chapters to chat amiably, productively, without my interference. Let them discuss the matter privately while I go about my life. They are as free as I am. They are to consider their combined future, I am to enjoy life without them. Eavesdropping only happens in night dreams. Let chapter discussion continue uninterrupted for a minimum of three to seven days.

Left to their own devices.

Left to their own devices.

Full moon is preferred, but the Creator of All Things does not require a puny night light to work.

4. Step into circle and proceed to listen to best points of discussion. Make note.

5. Revise.

Posted in Not the Grocery List, Writing and Creativity Outpost | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

Anya von Bremzen
Crown Publishers, 2013

9780307886811_custom-1007aebba5cbb497b76e89b257c398a450929429-s2-c85This book circled back to me because I gave it to my mother for Christmas. She traveled to the USSR in 1978 and she loves travel and cookbooks. It seemed like a slam dunk present and it was. So much so that she wanted to share it with me. She loved when von Bremzen wrote her family story that takes the reader from the 1910s to the 2000s.

Every chapter is a decade that combines history, family story, and of course reminiscences on food, or in this case, often the lack of it. Don’t expect a reference book anywhere near Julia Child’s iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The title is misleading as an attempt to slide in under Child’s fame, which is too bad because it also is unnecessary.

The book has a merit of its own. It is a generational recap without the messiness of a soul emptying memoir that includes ample politics and history to give a clearer picture of history no one ever learned in high school. Simplistically, the U.S. has a history of only a few centuries that has been defined by westward expansion and the power of individualism. For thousands of years, Russian history has been defined by a long series of despot leaders who took advantage of an uneducated and hungry people.

Von Bremzen comes from a family that at times struggles to survive living in a state-

An iconic Russian photo aspiring home cooks were to imitate.

An iconic Russian photo aspiring home cooks were to imitate.

owned apartment the size of a trailer with several families though her grandfather is in the respected intelligence work during the Cold War. Mother Larisa came from a loving, relatively secure family, though not many American memoirists with the same description could tell of grandma’s walking trip to claim a philandering grandpa and inadvertently spend the night in a battle trench with frozen amputated arms and legs. Von Bremzen’s father grew up as much on the streets as he did in the apartment where his cheery, lovable prostitute mother lived.

Mom Larisa was the dreamer who as a child believed there was more and someday she would experience it. It took until 1974, when von Bremzen was a young teenager, but at last the two of them emigrated to the U.S. The memoir is sketchy at this point but there is good information about the shock of American food that is equally divided between awe and disgust. No longer in the country of potato peel pancakes and millet, she was appalled by bad bread and flavorless strawberries.

Anya von Bremzen

Anya von Bremzen

More than a book of food and history, this is a peek into Russian character. There is a wicked sense of humor and six interesting paradoxes of “mature socialism”. They start with “There’s no unemployment but no one works,” and ends with “No one is satisfied, but everyone votes yes.”

Don’t read this book for the recipes though there are a few tucked in the back as an afterthought. A few would be worth trying out of curiosity. The nostalgic childhood invitation to Russian food is as if I told you about a childhood 4th of July picnic. I’d love to be there enjoying it with you, but I don’t need to make it. Instead, enjoy the book as a brush-up on modern Russia, food history, and an emigrant’s life who made good.

Posted in A Book Stream Review, Eating is for Everyone | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins
Wordsworth Classics, 1993 edition

Unknown-1“I liked to see her hearty indignation flash out on me in that way. We see so much malice and so little indignation in my profession.” London Lawyer Vincent Gilmore was given the words, but every character in The Woman in White is generously written with bright, well-drawn personalities that move the story along, make them all memorable and are sociological comments for a reader to learn from over a century later. First published in 1859 this early mystery that is designated a classic became a television movie in 1997, though it was only recently that I had ever hear of it or the author.

As a contemporary of Charles Dickens and Herman Melville there

Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales

are similarities with time period, story intricacy, style, and character development. Collins stands alone as a writer, however; he doesn’t need borrowed light from contemporaries. Inside a cavernous, well-appointed castle in the British countryside, by a village and a women’s insane asylum around the bend, he peoples a stage with characters that would explode most contemporary books.

Detail in Cardiff Castle.

Detail in Cardiff Castle.

There is a nauseatingly funny uncle charged with the care and marriages of two nieces (one smart, the other beautiful and prone to vapors), a large inheritance (of course), a soppy, altruistic but poor artist with true love, a manipulative well-connected man with huge debts in the neighboring castle, and his ever entertaining sidekick, an Italian count with the mind sharper than a razor.

The book’s title refers to a chance meeting of the soppy artist with a

British countryside.

British countryside.

delusional woman dressed all in white on her way to London. Collins used a similar meeting he experienced to inspire his complicated, interweaving story that takes the reader to London, Italy, and Central America as secrets are kept, marriages are promised, an evil, penniless scalawag (help me please, I’m falling into 1800 language) hides his bastard birth so he can marry the vaporing beauty who in a fit of honesty declares her love for the soppy artist but insists on carrying through with the wedding so she can please her dead father. What’s more, there is a secret that threatens to unravel everything, greed, an Italian Mafia, charming “foreigners,” and devious women.

Harper's Weekly

Harper’s Weekly

Oh yes, this is silly by today’s standards, but what Collins deftly did is force the question on women, “Why are you allowing yourself to be hemmed in and quashed by men?” The book was originally published as a serial in Harper’s Weekly and was meant to be read aloud. That makes it a bit repetitive as each installment must have digressed to bring the reader to date, but the story has merit as an early mystery novel. Besides, when was the last time you read a book that has a mountebank?

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Oprah De-Clutters, I Caretake

Ulrich SignatureOprah has raised millions of dollars for charity and had thousands of articles created in her honor as she de-clutters her life and possessions. All very laudable. I can understand wanting to breathe free of all those things. She’s gotten rid of vases, furniture, clothing, jewelry and memorabilia like a photo with MC Hammer. Maybe my signed 1990 paperback of A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a sorry comparison.

I was sure she was to be only admired on this topic. After all, de-cluttering is a new byword and I’ve seen newspaper articles telling exactly how to do it tucked right between department store ads for dinner rings and newly released $70,000 automobiles.

Then I saw this one page article in her March 2014 magazine and I stopped. There is a

Oprah's Italian tub!

Oprah’s Italian tub!

photo of Oprah’s prize possession. The divinely inspired bathtub, made for her and only her by Italian stonecutters who carved it from one piece of onyx. It sits, as you can see, in her bathroom, too beautiful to even pierce for water faucets as they sit to the side, waiting for a goddess.

She describes a last effort to save her prize possession as “facing down a design crew,” of thirteen people standing in her bathroom reminding her of the all white new bathroom she had approved. Picture this: There is Oprah with thirteen people in her bathroom that could fit how many? Forty? As I was writing … and she quivers in favor of her goddess one-of-a-kind tub in the whole world.

I knew then and there as I read that I would have a green tub in a white bathroom. What does she do?

Oprah answers, “Okay, take it out. That’s it. I’m done. I’m letting go.” We’re all supposed to clap here before commercial but not me.

Two months later she has an epiphany after talking with the evil de-clutterer Peter Walsh. She realizes she commissioned the tub when she felt like she had truly made “it” and the tub made her feel special. Now she knows she’s special and doesn’t need the tub.

My cabinet has a shelf and drawer on either side.

My cabinet has a shelf and drawer on either side.

Well, duh!

To explain why I am not Oprah and have a limited appreciation for de-cluttering, let me show you a treasure of mine. This cabinet was found in an antique store going out of business and I paid $725 for it. It is five feet long, twenty-three inches deep, and three and a half feet tall. I don’t know what kind of wood it is, but I was told it was made in the early 1900s. Oprah felt special owning her tub. I feel lucky and sure I live with a beautiful thing (as is my husband, but that’s a different story).

If I sold this there would be nothing to replace it with because I would have sold it to save

The handle.

The handle.

my granddaughters’ lives or to serve my husband a last meal that did not contain dog food because that’s all we had been able to afford since I had sold my signed book by Ulrich who coined the phrase “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” a phrase I’m sure Oprah appreciates.

Dear Evil De-Clutterer Peter Walsh and Very Rich Person Oprah, do you ever consider average people caretake? They hold the beauty others created to make a peaceful home with the few valuable things they can afford and when their life is over they want a daughter-in-law or a granddaughter to care about it, and if they don’t they want them to find another caretaker. Please don’t cavalierly say you are now past the attachment when you are merely replacing one beautiful thing for another. Is someone else caretaking that green onyx tub? Can I?

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