Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fact in Fiction Workshop with Kelly O'Connor McNees at Story Studio


      This past fall I took a course at Story Studio Chicago in writing for children and young adults. Writing classes inspire me and motivate me to keep writing as well as teach me about the craft. It was a good class, but not inexpensive. Instead this winter I thought I’d take some one day workshops to keep me motivated.
    The Fact in Fiction workshop seemed an obvious choice, since I’m writing a historical novel. I wanted to know how to seamlessly weave research into my fiction. Kelly O’Connor McNees, who ran the workshop, is the author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a fictional novel about a real woman.
     Ms. McNees was well prepared, receptive to the attendees questions and had wonderful nuggets of wisdom to pass on during the thursday evening class.
     She stressed the importance of using specific details to create an authentic voice, how to balance putting in and leaving out information and the importance of keeping the facts in service to the story. 
    When she was in school, she told us, teachers always insisted that you “Write what you know”, but with historical fiction it’s different. She likes to change the old adage to “Write what you want to
     That rung true to me. My novel is set in ancient egypt and I’ve done lots of research for it. During the course I took last fall, when it was my turn to be critiqued, Molly Backes, the instructor, said that it was obvious that I’d done a ton of research OR I was an egyptologist in a former life. That was good.
      Ms.McNees listed some things that one might need to research for a historical novel, including thecity, food, clothes, geography, medicine/science, furniture, money, social customs, etc.
     We did a couple of writing exercises. First, we created a scene from some excerpts of non fiction books. Then we analyzed some examples of successful (and unsuccessful) historical fiction. All in all an interesting workshop and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Healthy Changes

     In the last few months we've been making some changes in how we eat in an effort to be healthier. We bought a bread-maker, which has been wonderful and easy, once you get the hang of putting all the ingredients together. I have a book of bread-maker recipes, although I tinker with almost all of them.     
     One of our favorites is the Banana Cherry loaf. It's not a dessert bread, but more of a hearty wheat loaf. The banana's inclusion gives it a denser texture. The original recipe called for raisins but I altered it slightly, adding chopped up dried cherries instead, to give it a bit of tartness.

The Donvier Yogurt Making Machine. Not high tech at all.
     We've also been making our own yogurt, with organic milk, which is also easy and tastes great. My husband takes a little jar to work every day with a spoonful or two of some jam mixed in. I first got the idea from the book French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano, which is actually not a weight loss book, but a book about eating healthy.
      It seems extreme, but it's actually a pleasure to have fresh baked bread and fresh yogurt on hand. With practice it isn't that much of an effort.  It becomes natural. Does anyone else make their own staple foods?

Cherry Banana Loaf (for a small bread maker machine)

1/3 cup Milk
1 Egg
1 1/2 tablespoons Butter
1 mashed ripe Banana
1 teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 tablespoons Honey
1/4 cup rolled Oats
1 1/2 cup Bread Flour
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/8 teaspoons Dry Yeast
1/2 cup dried Cherries (chopped)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Party at Dutch Bike Chicago

The yellow cargo bike is particularly cool
     This past Saturday my husband and I rode our matching dutch bikes to Dutch Bike Chicago on Armitage. They had set up a little mid winter gathering for Dutch Bike folks, so that dutch bike riders could hang out and get to know one another.When we arrived we were greeted by the cheery sight of dutch and other european city bikes parked outside the shop. There was even a couple of Bakfeits cargo bikes mixed in.

Dottie of LGRAB next to a Fat Frank tire
      Inside the warm and toasty shop, there were snacks and wine and lots of good company. Dutch bike riders are a nice bunch. Obviously the folks who turned up to this party in freezing january temperatures on bikes were also winter riders, which is a sturdy breed all of it's own. Dottie of the Let's Do Ride a Bike blog, one of the first dutch bike riders we'd ever met, was there.  There were also lots of new people to meet.

Dean chatting with Maria of PoCampo, who was showing some of her lovely bike bag prototypes
    We met Dean and his wife Martha, who both ride city bikes. (Martha was recently featured on the blog Bike Fancy with her Oma Workcycles). Dean rides a Batavus. Another city bike couple, Yay!
     Steven of Steven can plan was also there, hanging out on a Bakfeits that was doubling as a beer cooler, and saying hello to visiting dogs.

     It was a fun get together and I'm looking forward to more such gatherings in the future. Does anyone else find that getting out in the winter helps them get through it better?
Having these excursions is helping me get through my annual mid winter blues and I have to thank my trusty dutch bike for getting me out and about.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Get Thee to a Nunnery

      This past weekend I went to a writing retreat, which happened to be taking place at a religious center on Fullerton avenue, called The Cenacle Retreat. It's run by the Cenacle sisters who also live there, and so I like to think of it as a nunnery, as it's more romantic sounding.

          Since it wasn't very far from my home, I loaded up my Oma Workcycle and headed out. I have to give a shout out to my fabulous panniers. They are Fast Rider Cane Panniers in a cheery bright yellow that makes me smile every time I look at them. I can pack tons of stuff in them, but even so I packed an extra little black bag and secured it to the back rack with the incredibly strong straps. Perhaps you can see the snow on the black bag, as there were some light flurries as I headed out.
      After I arrived, the Cenacle folks let me keep my Oma in a closet in the lobby, which was super nice, but meant that I had to carry it up two small sets of stairs. Ouch! This is not a light bike. I'll say it again, no need for a gym membership when you travel by dutch bike.

     It was quiet and relaxing and there was even a giant wall of a stained glass window to help inspire anyone who cared to climb the circular stairs in the chapel up to the choir loft. They'd converted the choir into a lounge space complete with bean bag chairs, perfect for relaxing on a sunny saturday afternoon.
    There was lots of writing and meeting other children's authors, and  I got lots of work done. There was still time for a walk in the park to enjoy a bit of nature, but I stayed in my room and clattered away on my computer most of the day.
Outside the Nature Museum

    Saturday night I went AWOL and left the nunnery. I took the Clark street bus up to Andersonville. Can anyone tell me why the Clark street bus is always so nutty? But that's a story for another day.
    I was going to join my husband for the Dutch Club's New Year's Dinner. We went even though we aren't dutch. But we have dutch bikes!
A lovely night at Vincent
      The dutch menu was fabulous. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of the giant sausage with mashed potatoes mixed with kale, the seafood stew, or the apple pie. Jon Carl, the chef of HB HomeBistro as well as Vincent, is of dutch descent and a friend of ours. He outdid himself with this meal!
        I went back to the nunnery that night and the next day was another productive day of writing. Later in the afternoon I headed home, taking the scenic route home through the park. Ahh, I feel refreshed. Now if I could just keep that nunnery vibe while at home and continue this writing streak. But maybe my husband wouldn't like that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Introducing... “Janet Art of the Week”

You'll see this in the sidebar with the title.

    I've enjoyed sharing my experiences and stories on my blog so much it occurred to me that it would be a great place to share my artwork as well.
    So I’m introducing a new element in the sidebar. It's called “Janet Art of the Week,” and every week I’ll post a piece in the sidebar from my extensive collection of artwork that has been sequestered in my flat file. It’ll be nice for it to see the light of day.
     It could be anything. An illustration from my middle grade novel, The Adventures of Marcus Tuttle, or a print from my days as a printmaker. Maybe it’s a sketch from my sketchbook, a hand bound book or it might be something I’m working on.
    If there’s an entertaining story that goes along with the image, I’ll include it as a blog post, but otherwise I’m going to change the image every week without comment. I’m hoping that at the very least it’ll liven up the side bar.