alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions

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The NaNo Novel: One-Month Stand or LTR?

Tomorrow is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. Many of you will open your blank page of choice and inscribe the first words of your epic genius. It’s a heady moment; thrilling, exhilarating, and full of possibilities–like falling in love.

Photo by Epiclectic via Flickr

Photo by Epiclectic via Flickr

In those dreamy first days, it’s all chocolates and long walks on the beach (or screaming fights and great make-up sex, YMMV). But have you ever wondered what happens after? What if you and your novel want to stay together for the long haul? Can you make it work?

Just like in a human relationship, you’ll have to put in some effort to keep that author/novel flame burning. Not every day will be consumed by the fiery passion of your literary brilliance. Some days you’ll wonder why you ever returned this novel’s calls. Surely, it didn’t always have that bloated section in the middle where the protagonist runs around in circles and whines constantly? And why did you never notice that “chuckled” is used in every dialogue tag in Chapters 7,8, & 13?

Not every novel is a keeper, but if the romance is still there, there are steps you can take to keep the relationship strong.

  • “Me” Time – Yes, you love your novel, and there is a danger in only writing ‘when you feel like it’. But you don’t want to spend so much time together that you’re sick of the sight of your literary love. Taking judicious breaks–usually between drafts–clears the novel out of your conscious mind and frees you to have a fresh and generous perspective when you return.
  • Clear Goals – A novel goes through many drafts before publication (6-8 is an average number). One of the worst things you can do is try to work on too many drafts at the same time. If this is Draft #2, be clear about what you want to accomplish. If you’re fixing the plot, don’t worry about the prose. If you’re clarifying character motivations, don’t worry about the pacing. After all, you’ve got to save something for those other drafts.
  • (Semi-) Public Commitment – Stand up in front of your friends and family and proclaim your dedication to your novel. This doesn’t mean rushing out to buy a pound of gold-infused Stilton for the holiday cheese board because of course you’ll be getting a six-figure advance. For me, it meant contacting my beta-readers and asking if they’ll be ready to read by a certain date, because that’s when I intend to be done.
  • Manage Stress – The biggest challenge I faced in beginning the next draft was holding back the panic. Once I got a clear look at the problems and gaps, the job before me seemed enormous. I had to get that hysteria firmly stamped under a boot heel or I wouldn’t be making any progress. Step One was referring back to those Clear Goals: I didn’t have to fix everything with this draft; I just had to make it better than the previous one. Step Two was writing down a couple of phrases that made me feel better (“Better to fail than give up”; “You won’t know for sure until you finish”) and sticking them on the bottom of my monitor. Step Three: 10-minute guided meditations. I’m not a pan-flute kind of person, but I started listening to guided meditations to get through the stress of Clarion West, and the habit has (sporadically) stuck with me. Try the free ones from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
  • Support Network – Writing a novel takes a long time. You need people who know what you’re doing and how hard it is. Celebrate successes with friends. Turn to them if you’re having a bad day. When I was having a slump, I asked, “Tell me why I’m doing this again?” The answer: “Because its going to be awesome.” My writer friends have read early chapters, and they want me to write it. They want me to succeed. Feelings like that can carry you a long way.
  • Write – You’ve heard this one before. Writing a novel means having to write. It means butt-in-chair and fingers-on-keyboard. Whatever tricks you have to play to romance your muse or quell your rowdy two-year-old, you do it. Then you sit down, and you write. And then you do it again.
Sticky pep-talks

Sticky pep-talks

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October = Pie


Colder weather makes me want to bake. This year, that urge resulted in an apple pie. But I can’t just leave it there. I need embellishments. Like cranberries. And ginger. And a classic Pennsylvania crumb topping (cribbed from the cookbook I grew up with, The Mennonite Community Cookbook)

The pie was a big hit when I took it to a dinner on Sunday night, and a couple of people have asked for the recipe. So if crisp weather also makes you break out the measuring cups, give it a try.

Apple Cranberry Ginger Crumb Pie

One 9-inch pie crust
You’re on your own with this. Use store bought, your favorite recipe, etc. Mine was half-butter, half-Crisco.

approx. 4lbs of SweeTango apples, peeled and cored
2-4 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2-4 Tbl minced candied ginger
2 Tbl flour
2 Tbl corn starch
1/2 cup + 2 Tbl sugar
cinnamon, nutmeg, 5-spice powder
pinch salt

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Oven: Preheat to 425F

The Apples: I used “SweeTango” because they had 4-lb bags at Sam’s Club and they looked like a good idea. They’re a cross between Honeycrisp and Zestar (which I’ve also never heard of.) They worked well in the pie, and were delicious for crunching up while peeling. You can probably also use Honeycrisp, Fuji, Pink Lady, Jonagold, or any other crisp, flavorful apple. You may not need the whole bag. I had one apple left over, and probably ate another while peeling.

The Filling: Slice apples thinly and cut slices in half. Toss in a large, non-reactive bowl with the lemon juice, cranberries, and minced ginger.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cornstarch, sugar, spices, and salt. Sprinkle flour mixture over fruit and toss to combine.

Crumb Topping: Mix flour, sugar, & cinnamon in a medium bowl. Cut cold butter into flour mixture and rub together until crumbs form.

Assembly: Lightly grease pie plate and fit with crust, trimming edges and pressing down with the tines of a fork. Prick the bottom of the crust all over.

Pack apples into pie shell, mounding high. If you’re strategic and place the apples in a handful at a time, they will (almost) all fit. You may choose not to add all of the juice that has collected at the bottom of the apple bowl if it seems like too much.

Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the apples. Press lightly to firm.

Bake: Put the pie plate on a foil-covered baking sheet in the middle or lower-middle oven rack. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for 40-50 minutes. Watch the crumb topping for over-browning during the last 20-30 minutes, and cover with foil if necessary.

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The Wanderer King at Podcastle

My short story, “The Wanderer King” is now available at Podcastle for your listening pleasure.

We steer clear of the mines–that’s Fixer territory. The Wanderers are dangerous, too, ever since they came fighting back around Day 30. But there’s always been less of them–less in all, and less because they scatter through the woods on their business instead of fixing to the towns and mines.

We step along to the city, fitting the crown on all we come across. We sleep in the darkest part of the day when the sky dips to dark blue. At first, in the country, there aren’t many heads to try. But we come up on the city, and we slow. We even try it on Fixers because Pansy says the King is the King and it doesn’t matter whose body he’s in. “The King is for all,” Pansy says. “Anyone can carry the King.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 9.01.42 AM

For those who like to hold a book in their hand, “The Wanderer King” was originally published in Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix 4.