Jan 31, 2012

The Happy Medium

I've been thinking about this for a while. I can't honestly say I've come to any conclusions, but I'd like to understand so I'm throwing it to the Universe and you fine people.

Pop culture--popular fiction, television series and movies--is dominated with happy endings. Maybe not super happy endings, but ending in such a way as we can consider it a somewhat happy ending. Good for those two people who survived the end of the world. Yay, William Wallace's death wasn't for nothing, we have a happy(ish) epilogue bit. So, in my mind, and certainly by my tastes, a happy ending of some sort is all but required.

But not so much with music. Love songs? Most of these are not happy ditties. They're sad. Broken-hearted. Sometimes of the Good Riddance--You Suck Anyway variety, or the You Should Go Out With Me format. But, I can probably name all the happy love songs I know on one hand.

I don't know why. Is it due to the length of time these forms of entertainment run. We're only willing to commit 2+ hours to things that have a somewhat happy ending, but we can handle four minutes of heartache? 

I saw a documentary that likened the first human speech to birdsong, and I can only imagine how unbearably cheerful that would have been. Especially for delivering bad news. *happychirp*Grandma got eaten by a bear in the cave where she liked to finger paint!*chirpchirp* Did a thousand years of happy chirps irritate people so much we evolved to prefer the more melancholy melodies?

Okay, so maybe I'm being an idiot there at the end--I do that-- but really, I'd like to understand the psychological drive that wants happy stories and unhappy songs.

Jan 30, 2012

I Made Bread!

Out of my starter... and oh my GOD it was sour. The sourest sour to ever sour. I threw it away.  My starter just smells lovely, like baking bread, not sour smelling or acidic. The acid smell didn't come until I was baking it and then I knew something had gone very wrong.

Hey Google! Help, my sourdough is too sour! <-- lots of responses to those keywords.

With Google's help, I've come up with a new plan of attack:
  • Maybe I should, I don't know, use a recipe. Genius, you say? Such forward thinking, that. Because last night when I decided the starter was ready to use and whipped up dough? I just went, "Hmm, what goes in bread? I know, water, flour and salt!" TADA, SURE DOES LOOK LIKE DOUGH. La la la...
  • And, maybe only let it rise about two hours instead of, say, twelve. I didn't realize it gets more and more sour the longer it rises. Who knew? Not me.
  • If those steps fail to tone down the sour, then eat it with some naked salad. Then it will just seem like the veggies have been given a particularly sour vinegrette. Lettuce, bread, chewchewchew... THIS BREAD IS AWESOME.
I will inform again once I have baked again. Looking for recipes that don't call for dutch ovens or other strange oven crockeries I don't have.

I plot my stories like a mad woman, but think I can make homemade sourdough bread without a plan. I used to be sane. I think. Maybe. That one time. Before I devoted my life to being ridiculous :o

Jan 22, 2012

Starter Update

So, I have been tending my new baby starter made with the pineapple juice, and just not much has been happening with it. Twelve hours ago(at 84 hours), I decided that maybe it was my flour. It's whole wheat, but it isn't brand new, and it was purchased from a store where it was probably kept on the shelf a good long time.

I opened a fresh bag(from the big store with high product turn over) and fed my little cranky baby. And then I started two others, one with pineapple juice(as this one had been) and the other with water. Only twelve hours later, they're all showing signs of life. My 96-hour starter doubled in volume and was full of bubbles. The other two produced hooch and developed gluten after only twelve hours.

Lessons for the day:  
  • Catching yeast from the air is a myth. It comes in the flour, so it has to be the kind of yeast you want because all yeasty-beasties have a favorite food. The yeast that likes grain, comes with the grain(so long as it's fresh and not bleached to death). 
  • Flour has a shelf life--who knew! And if you want it to have many of those delightful little microorganisms, the fresher, the more intact it is, the better. I used a Kroger brand whole wheat flour this morning, but if I ever try to start my own starter again, I'm going organic stone-ground...

Jan 18, 2012

Natural yeast experiment #2

So, my starter was growing along, happy as a clam, and people in my house started freaking out. "BOTULISM BOTULISM!" was shouted. A few times.

So, sadly, I killed my little yeasty baby(which had just been flour and water), and started again with a safer method: pineapple juice and whole wheat flour. Something about the acidic nature of the fruit encourages yeast and discourages other little bacterial beasties. We'll see. I was hoping to bake bread today, but that seems to be put off for 5 to 6 days.

Will check it tomorrow to see if anything's going on. Hopefully there will be signs of life after 24 hours rather than 48. My patience is thinning, probably because I was all hopped-up on the idea of baking authentic wild-yeast bread today! Alas. Sad. Sad sad.

Oh well, if it grew once, it will grow again! And it will be even more awesome because of the wait.

Or something like that.

Jan 16, 2012

Baking bread

I am a baking enthusiast. I especially like baking bread. Having grown up in a family full of women terrified of yeast, a couple years ago I rebelled by shunning quick breads and purchasing my first packets of yeast. With the rapid-rise yeast, I've baked white breads, and whole wheat breads, dinner rolls, sweet breads and cinnamon rolls. I'm pretty good at it, and there's something about the process of kneading dough that is almost meditative for me. I get my best creative break-thrus in this state. Except, the other day, my kneading made me wonder how people made bread before they could pop down to the supermarket and pick up some yeast.

Since I've been online, I've become utterly incapable of wondering about something without asking Google to enlighten me. How did pioneers make bread? Yeast is in the air, it's all over the place. You can cultivate your own yeast with flour and water, and there are all different kinds of yeast and they all have food preferences. The kind of yeast you cultivate depends on the type of flour you use. The yeast that likes rye flour is different from the yeast that likes wheat flour, and who knows what that stuff in the packets likes... I'm completely amazed by this discovery. So, a few days ago I mixed-up my own bread starter. Today was Day Three, and the first day I had to feed it(equal parts flour and water) since it was born on Saturday. I think it will be ready for the initial batch of bread on Wednesday.

I'm completely blown away by the process and now feel ridiculously empowered. Empowered but somewhat ashamed to admit... my first thought after seeing the process working? Now, in case of a Zombiepocalypse, I can still make bread! Oh yea. Carbs: 1 -- Zombies: 0!

Jan 13, 2012

Book Review: Writing for Emotional Impact

First book review! So, feeling my way here. Be patient!

Title:  Writing for Emotional Impact: Advanced dramatic techniques to attract, engage, and fascinate the reader from beginning to end
Author: Karl Iglesias
Published: 2005 by WingSpan Press

Reasons I purchased:
  • Recommended by a trusted source
  • Screenwriting book -- I'm into these lately, thinking of them more as STORYTELLING books 
  • Subject -- Emotion is a tricksy beast that is hard for me to verbalize.
  • Many good reviews on Amazon
Since I've started reading craft books, new insights have trickled off. That first book on writing is jam packed with new and exciting information. The second book(and every book after that) tends to say the same thing in a different way, and that can be helpful at the start too -- when you hit on the wording that makes sense to you. But the epiphanies trickle off fairly quickly. I'm 20-some craft books into my writing education, and this book was full of epiphanies. The difference is: WfEI = Film School, basic craft books = High School Drama class.

If it only contained Chapter Six -- Story: Rising Tension, it would still have been worth the full price. Ever been torn between how to reveal something big in your story? Should the reader know before the character? Should they find out at the same time? Should the character know something the reader doesn't? Chapter Six will help you decide, first by explaining what each of these situations do to the reader, and the pros and cons of each so you can decide what is best for your story.

Chapter Ten -- Dialogue: Vivid Voices, another chapter worth the cost of the book.

Other chapters include help for:
  • Refining your concept
  • Fascinating the reader
  • Creating compelling characters
  • Understanding subtext and its importance
  • Description: how a few of the right words can go a long way
  • What a Theme is, and why it's important
  • The difference between Plot and Story
  • How to craft brilliant scenes
  • The last piece of the Conflict equation so often overlooked by beginning writers. (Hint: It's more than 'Two dogs, one bone.')
I know I have a tendency to gush over craft books, but I really can't say enough good things about this one. Within the last month I also read Story, by Robert McKee, and while I will say is brilliant, is also very difficult read. Very thick. Difficult to understand. I got way more out of Writing for Emotional Impact. It's littered with examples and will be a mainstay on my keeper shelf. I don't think I could even loan it out yet. I might NEED IT.

Jan 10, 2012

New Year -- Return of Enthusiasm

I have finally recovered my ZEST for writing. And it's right back to romance, those are the stories I get excited about, even if they aren't the stories that come in my dreams.

Reasons for The Return of the Happy:
  • Got my critique partner back! She was MIA for half a year, being a mom and a student and a new-job-go-getter and a NINJA. But she's back. YAY.
  • Time to just let myself step back and examine my wants and my goals without putting pressure on myself to produce
  • New craft books. I know, I am the worlds biggest nerd, but I love craft books. I love learning how other people build their stories, keep track of what, come up with new twists and all that. The one I'm still working on is amazing. Unlike the proliferation of beginner screenwriting books out there, this one is definitely next level and I'm learning a heap. Will give a review when I've finished it and know what I absorbed.
  • Success stories of friends who, while also aiming for publication with Harlequin, are finding success with other publishing houses.
  • Got to the six months mark Monday on my submitted full manuscript with the London office of HQN, sent an email to check status. It's just an email to check status, but it still feels like some kind of forward momentum.
  • I think part of my malaise had to do with the fall. I always get blue when the leaves fall and the air goes cold, but January feels *new* and full of possibilities, and that always reinvigorates me. 
  • Starting a second blog with another writing buddy, details to be announced later. For it, I get to draw turtles. I love turtles. That is all. 
Back soon.