Friday, April 04, 2008

Scene mapping

It's amazing what the right format can do for my writing.

I've been plugging away at my children's novel but as the document got longer, I've been having trouble with the organizing part. I felt like I was spending way too much time scrolling up and down in the document trying to find where the part I wanted to write fit in the work as a whole. I tried listing scenes in a separate Word document, but again, that left me scrolling up and down until I was getting dizzy. I tried using an Excel spreadsheet to map the scenes and the action, but it didn't work for me. Maybe I have too many mathematical associations with Excel (that's what I use for our budget tracking) for it to feel like something I could use to organize a creative project.

So yesterday, once I got the little people off to their various schools, I decided to hell with technology! I cleared off the dining room table, unrolled the huge roll of paper that I bought a while back at the Scrapbox for kid art projects, and got out some multi-colored post-it notes. I assigned colors to major characters and locations (I'm working on a parallel universe scenario so being able to see where they are is important) and drew some long, horizontal columns on the paper (yup, basic linear organization where the upper left is the beginning of the novel and the bottom right is the end). Then I printed out my document and got to work transferring what I have already written scene-wise to the sticky notes and where it will fit in the narrative as a whole.
And the great thing was once I filled in the spots I had written, I could see where I needed new scenes and additional material, where previously existing scenes should be moved, and what part of the book I really haven't approached yet (see that big swath of white...?) I was on a great roll, jotting down ideas for plot developments and scenes when the alarm went off to remind me to pick my son up from his school (yea, I've tried remembering to get him without an alarm and that didn't go so well...). So I rolled up the paper and stuck it in a corner of my office where (hopefully) the little people won't find it and start re-organizing the stickies.

So, here's my question. What organization method do other the writers out there use to visualize their work as a whole?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Well, the food and company were good...

I haven't finished the last two books that my book group selected. Naughty naughty Kate. But seriously the last two books have bored me to tears. The first no-finish was Kiran Desai's novel, The Inheritance of Loss, which has very pretty writing but nothing happens and the latest was William Poy Lee's memoir, The Eighth Promise, which is so unfocused that I'm still not sure whose memoir it was supposed to be (Lee's? His Mother's? His younger brother Richard's? Unfortunately, I think it was supposed to be his and his was the least interesting of the three possible stories).

But hey, the food and company were good! For the Desai book we gathered at Meg's and ate some lovely Indian food. To start were some addictive Sev Puri that Ami brought. Ami's co-worker, Sangeeta, coached her in the assemblage of these flavorful mounds of potato, chili's, onion and various chutneys (assembly instructions/recipe below).

Then we moved on to plates loaded with stewed chickpeas, turmeric spiked cauliflower, raita and biryani rice.

And we finished our meal with cardamom creme brulee. I'm pretty happy whenever I get creme brulee, but the cardamom imparted an even lovelier finish to the richness.

For The Eighth Promise we indulged in a massive quantity of Chinese takeout from Tk Wu, because none of us has a big enough wok supply or stove space to do the cuisine justice (ok, it was also March and we were sick of Winter and just needed a damn break.) I know, the picture to the right looks like a mess, but it was a tasty mess, particularly the tofu with black mushrooms. I also love their dumplings which are served with a vinegary, non-soy based dipping sauce.

And then for dessert, I made something that had nothing at all to do with the book: puff pastry with almond cream and winter fruit compote. The picture in the NY Times magazine was so appealing that I was willing to simmer, steep, whip and bake up the various components. The most limiting factor for most people to make this recipe is the requirement that the winter fruits (kumquats, dried figs and dried apricots) be simmered in verjus, which is sour juice from unripe wine grapes, which retails for about $18 for 25 oz. Tightwad that I am, I don't often spend that much on a bottle of wine, much less on the juice from un-ripe, un-fermented grapes. But then I hit Wikipedia and found out that verjus is also called husroum in Arabic and is used in place of vinegar or lemon juice in Middle Eastern cuisine.
So I trotted off to one of the many Middle Eastern grocery stores in our area and poked around until I found, for $4 for 32 oz, Momtaz Sour Grape Juice!

It did impart a nice level of acidity to the compote, though I still don't think I'd spring for $18 bottle. I'd probably eliminate the sugar in the recipe and substitute white grape juice and a good squeeze of lemon juice. I still have a significant amount of verjus left in the bottle so I think I'll freeze it and when summer comes around, I may use it in this recipe for verjus mint sorbet.

The next book we will gather around is one I've already read and which I know is good, Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl (my review from last year here). I'm hosting the meeting so I need to try and figure out what to cook for the main course. Welsh cuisine? Is there such a thing? Suggestions welcome!

Sev Puri

Flat Puris (thin crackers) – 1 bag
Fine Sev (thin lentil crunchy stuff) – 1 bag
Small chili peppers – a handful
Sweet chutney (made of dates and imli) – 1 jar – preferable Swad brand
Cilantro and chili chutney – 1 jar – preferable Swad brand
Cilantro chopped fine
Chaat masala
Garam masala
Roasted cumin powder (optional)
Red chilly pepper (optional)
Yogurt (optional)
Potatoes (boiled)
Onion chopped fine
  1. Boil potatoes until soft, cool, remove skins and mash.
  2. Add to potatoes a teaspoon or so of chaat masala and garam masala and pinch of salt. Set aside.
  3. Chop all cilantro, peppers and onion. Set aside.
  4. Mix up cup or so of yogurt with chaat masala and garam masala and salt (season to taste)
To assemble:
  1. Spread crackers on a platter.
  2. Add tablespoon or so of potato (as Sangeeta told me, don't skimp on the potato) on top of each cracker
  3. prinkle chopped onions and peppers on top of potato mound (careful with those peppers!)
  4. Spoon generous teaspoon of sweet chutney and cilantro chutney on top of potato mound
  5. Spoon generous tablespoon of yogurt/masala mixture onto potato mound
  6. Sprinkle lots of Fine Sev on top of everything
  7. Sprinkle cilantro on top of everything
  8. Enjoy