Monday, November 30, 2009

Beethoven and Wagner in one evening

I'm playing catch up a bit here. I have no good reason to have not blogged earlier, except that I didn't get around to it. On Friday night, Andrew and I went to our regular Friday Night Master's concert at the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. It's the first one in a while. For some reason there was no concert for the Master's series in October, so it felt like we hadn't been to the Winspear in eons. We made a nice evening of it, stopping at the Blue Plate Diner for dinner before heading to the show (it's conveniently located on route). I finally tried the veggie burger (good, but definitely not trying to pretend to be meat, which some veggie burgers do) and Andrew had the Indian platter (which was actually an appetizer, but offered ample food for a meal).

We arrived at the Winspear with plenty of time to spare and took our seats early, as we're dead centre and wanted to avoid having to crawl over too many people. We had lots of time to read over the program, which contained a number of intriguing facts about the guest conductor and preformer for the evening, as well as the pieces on the program. For example, the guest conductor, Mr. Eri Klas was once a junior lightweight boxing champion in his native Estonia. You don't find too many conductors who have that kind of experience on their resume. Musically, Mr. Klas also holds a number of awards, posts with orchestras and operas throughout Europe, and an honourary doctorate. It's not surprising that the orchestra sounded good Friday night. Katherine Chi was the guest pianist. It floors me the age that some professional musicians held their first recitals. Ms. Chi? She was nine. At nine I was maybe playing The Happy Farmer. At present she's working on her doctorate at the New England Conservatory of Music.

So, the music. During the first half of the concert the ESO presented Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, also known as the Emperor's Concerto. I think it's a fairly well known piece and if I could hum a few bars you might recognize it. It's the third movement that's best known, I think. I've definitely heard it on the CBC before. Mr. Chi was excellent, as to be expected. It also astounds me that soloists can lock such extensive pieces of work into their memory like that. Almost forty minutes of playing all by memory. I can't even manage a simple 3 to 4 minute song. The audience clapped for sometime after the piece concluded (although no standing ovation).

The second half of the show brought an orchestrated version of Wagner's Die Meistersigner von Nurnberg. Apparently this was Wagner's only opera that he did not base on myth or fairy tale. The orchestra grew significantly in size for this piece (Beethoven included only a small section of woodwinds, maybe a trumpet, I don't recall). For Wagner, it was close to full complement including 3 trumpets, several trombones, 2 tubas (although played by the same person), as well as a harp and a large percussion section. I liked the orchestration of Meistersinger von Nurnberg. I found it very flowing and relaxing at times, then exciting and lively at others. Again, the audience seemed appreciative of the orchestra and Mr. Klas. This was the first time the ESO preformed the arrangement.

Our next trip to the ESO won't be until January, but I expect it will be quite the show. Beethoven again, with his ninth symphony, Ode to Joy.



Monday, November 23, 2009

Crossing my fingers, holding my breath, saying a prayer and all that other stuff

Today I am mailing out a query letter to the young adult editor at Harlequin regarding my manuscript The Cure. I purchased some fancy resume paper and printed the letter and synopsis out on high (I used the draft setting on my printer even for school assignments). Who knows what sort of response I'll get. I enjoyed writing this manuscript, and I'm happy with the way the story turned out, but it all depends on whether or not I can pique the editor's interest enough to have her request a full manuscript (ideally I'd like a publishing contract, but I've got to take it one step at a time).

Initially I had intended to search for an agent (and that's the next step if Harlequin's uninterested) but some weeks ago I discovered that Harlequin's started up a young adult line. Now, before I go too far, I think many people have a very bad image of Harlequin. Most people think of the bodice-ripper style cover and terribly cheese titles, but they publish a wide range of books. Yes, there's Blaze (lots of sex), but they also have Intrigue (spy/action) and LUNA (fantasy) to name a few. They are the biggest publisher of women's fiction. So why not aim big?

When I first discovered their young adult line I was very excited then disappointed. Most of Harlequin's lines accept unsolicited submissions (part of the reason why I sent them my Cimawi's Bay manuscript); however as I read further on the Website, I discovered that this was not the case for the young adult line. Only agented submissions would be accepted. After some trepidation, I did the best thing I possibly could and emailed Maria Synder, a fellow alumnae of Seton Hill and a successful author with Harlequin.

First of all, I wasn't sure if Maria would remember me. We only talked briefly once, and she never read any of my work (although I got to read a really interesting short story by her about a weather magician). Second, I wasn't sure if she would help me. As it turns out Maria is fantastic. In response to my first email she gave me the names of several agents who accepted young adult material and who worked with Harlequin. A few weeks later she emailed me about a new young adult publisher called Leap Books (which will be another avenue to try sometime in the future) and last week she emailed me about Harlequin. They would look at manuscript proposals from unagented authors. She gave me the name and address of the young adult editor and suggested I mention her name in the letter. See, Maria IS fantastic (her books a pretty good too!).

So today I'm putting my query into the mail. All I need to do is purchase the postage required to mail to the United States. What are my chances? Slim, probably. About a gazillion people want to be writers and only a small proportion of them actually get a break; however my chances are better than if I didn't submit at all. If anyone has a spare set of fingers to cross, cross them for me. Say a prayer or do anything else that might sent a little luck my way. And now the waiting begins.



Monday, November 16, 2009

My sourdough experience, expanding the repertoire

In the summer I blogged about my experience bringing to life a natural yeast, sourdough starter. I made several very delicious loaves of sourdough, but started to wonder if I could really make a loaf every week without growing sick of it. My dedication to feeding my starter dwindled, going from a once a week thing, to a week and a half, to "crap, I need to feed my starter before it dies." Now, thanks to Clotilde, the writer of the blog Chocolate and Zucchini I have added two more sourdough recipes to my repertoire (it was from reading her blog that I first decided to try sourdough).

Two weeks ago she put up a recipe for sourdough bagels. The tasty looking pictures convinced me that I wanted to give it a try and so last week I made my first batch. As it turned out, they were an awful lot like Montreal bagels. If you've never had Montreal bagels, you're missing out. They're delicious, even though they don't have fancy flavours like blueberry or garlic and herb. Andrew and I happily munched on my bagels all weekend (breakfast and lunch). And so, when I had lots left over starter this weekend I decided to make them again.

After the success of the bagels, I looked through the Chocolate and Zucchini archives and discovered a recipe for sourdough English muffins. I whiped up a batch of those, with a mix of whole wheat and white flours. They were all right, but mostly just tasted like nice brown buns. Still with lots of extra starter I decided to try them again with just white flour and a sprinkle of corn meal. They turned out much closer to the English muffins you can buy from the store than my first batch, although still not quite as porous. I'm going to have to try them again and see if I can get the timing from after the starter is fed, to the making the dough right.

At least if the librarian/PhD thing doesn't work out, I can always fall back on being a baker. I can already make fabulous white and whole wheat bread/buns, sourdough bread, bagels and English muffins, and any kind of regular muffin, cake, pie or cheesecake you could ask for. I just need to add a few more types of bread, maybe ciabatta, pumpernickel or rye bread and find a good cinnamon bun recipe and I'll be in business.



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A day to remember

Today is Remembrance Day. We here in Alberta have the day off. I intend to spend the day at home, working mostly, but I've got a poppy pinned to my hoodie and will take the time to stand in silence at 11:00 a.m. It's important to me to do something to observe this day and to reflect on the sacrifices made. I've always been interested in the history of the two world wars, although I've had less opportunity to study them than I would like. I hope to take a trip to Normandy either this summer or next and visit the landing beaches, especially Juno. I expect I will probably cry.

Some of my family members fought in the wars. I believe my maternal great grandfather fought in the first world war. From what I understand he was in Ypres. I have also been told he survived a mustard gas attack. Perhaps not to surprisingly he had respiratory problems the rest of his life. My maternal grandfather fought in the second world war. I think he enlisted fairly early on (1940?) and miraculously survived. If memory serves he spent time in Italy, but I don't know much more about his service. Like many men who returned from the war, he didn't talk about his experience to his family. I don't know anything about my paternal side. I expect they were involved somehow, but I don't know how.

So, remember to remember. Even if it's just a few minutes. Our lives would be very different if the thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives had just stayed home.

My grandfather Clark Eaton (right) and his brother, Jack at Trafalgar Square in London, England, 1942. (Sorry about the flash burst over my grandfather, but we don't have a scanner so I had to take a picture of the picture and was having light difficulties.)



Friday, November 6, 2009

It's that time of year again. No, not Christmas, but NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The always reliable Wikipedia tells me that NaNoWriMo began in San Fransisco in November of 1999 with 21 participants. This number has increased to over 119,000 participants in 2008. The goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words in length during the 30 days of November. I have mixed feelings over this event. First, 50,000 words does not a full-length novel make, unless you are writing a young adult story, and even then it's a bit on the short side. Second, and more importantly, I feel that NaNoWriMo encourages mediocrity.

I agree that NaNoWriMo motivates people to write that novel they've always wanted to; however, the whole focus is on getting those 50,000 words done in 30 days. If you work or have other commitments that limit the amount of time you have to spend on writing, it means you have to write fast, almost without thinking. On average you have to write 1,666 words a day to complete the challenge. That takes a while. When I'm on a roll I can pound out a little over 1000 words in an hour, but that's when my fingers and my brain are really humming. If not, it can be a struggle to get 500 or 600 words out, which means I could spend two or three hours or more after dinner sitting at my computer not talking to, or interacting with Andrew.

I attended a NaNoWriMo session in Edmonton a couple of years ago and honestly I found it scary. They held "races" where a timer was run for 10 minutes and whoever wrote the most in that time frame won, they might have even received a prize. When the time was up people claimed to have written 100s, if not over 1000 words. I thought, how can anyone write something worth reading in that time frame? Quantity does not equal quality. The other thing I don't like about NaNoWriMo is that is encourages people to just write, don't bother with the editing until later. True, I tend to write a first draft completely and then go back to edit, but I often will fix or tweak passages as I go along. This isn't even encouraged with NaNoWriMo. It's just full steam ahead until you get your 50,000.

I'm also worried that writers may, upon completion of NaNoWriMo believe that they now possess a publishable manuscript. That's simply not the case. I don't think every completer necessarily feels that way, but many people want to be (published) writers, and few people actually are. One month of frantic writing does not make a person a writer, much less a published one. It takes years of dedication and a little bit of luck.

Issues aside, I have participated in NaNoWriMo, although only once officially. My first time was accidental. In 2005 I spent the month of November in Dresden, Germany. Andrew was there to conduct research and I had nothing to do between 9 and 5 when he was at work. Since I don't speak German I didn't go out much on my own except to the grocery story, so I filled my mornings by writing 3,000 words every day. Later when I told someone about the amount I'd been writing they asked me if I was NaNoWriMo-ing and I said, what? I think I wrote over 60,000 words that month. There's something about being in a foreign country, with nothing else to do that really gets your creative juices going.

I actually signed up for NaNoWriMo in 2007. I went onto the Website and created a user profile and even set up the app in Facebook. I worked on Cimwai's Bay that year and even toted around my little AlphaSmart 3000 to choir a couple of times. I had stayed on track pretty well, but around November 22nd I decided I'd had enough, I'd written over 30,000 words. It's tiring to write every day after a full day of work. I did of course go on to finish (complete word count: 103,000) Cimwai's Bay and submit it to Harlequin. For now it sits collecting metaphorical dust on my hard drive until I run out of new ideas and decide to rework it. Last year I knew I wouldn't have the time. With 4 courses, plus working 14 hours a week I knew I couldn't make the target. I did, however, make an effort to write whenever possible and managed around 14,000 words.

This year, I'm "feeling lucky, punk." I don't have any school work due until the end of the month, so my thinking goes something along the lines of this: if I time manage carefully, if I get in a couple of really good days on the weekends, if I don't burn out, I might just manage it. Since Sunday, I've written 11,292 words for my second Nora MS, The Cause (technically you're suppose to start with new material for NaNoWriMo, but I'd rather complete the MS I'm working on rather than starting something fresh). In some ways I'm glad for NaNoWriMo. Nora's story had gotten stalled by school. Now that I'm gunning for that November 30th, goal I'm writing her everyday--something that makes me happy. I guess that's the most important thing for me, writing, it makes me feel more-or-less whole.

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, charge on, but edit carefully afterward.



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Last call for writers to participate

Lovely Readers,

I've only have four responses and I'd love to get a couple more. If you write, please take a few minutes to fill out my questionnaire available in the post: Why do you write? It's all for the sake of curiosity, which thankfully will not kill me (i.e. I am not a cat).

Many thanks.