29 Aug

Marketing hate

I have a thing to do. A very straightforward thing, really. I so don’t want to do it. So much so that even thinking about it makes me flee from my computer.

So Amazon has sort of changed the way that they format book info, making the info put into Author Central far more important than it used to be. The basic marketing blurb that one writes (with pain and difficulty, if one is me) gets hidden and requires a click for the reader to see in its entirety, while the Editorial Reviews section is much more visible.

The smart author — eh, it doesn’t even require smarts, it’s pretty basic Marketing 101 — therefore needs to put some info into Author Central in order to have it show up on their book page. (Grammar alert: I am choosing to use the plural pronoun as a gender-neutral pronoun, even though it causes me to cringe in editorial dismay. I’ll get used to it eventually and the world needs gender-neutral pronouns.) Ergo, I should do that. It’s really not hard — read some reviews, pick out some nice statements that people have said, perhaps write to said people and ask their permission if that’s possible, and copy-and-paste the info into Author Central. Within a couple of days, it shows up on the book page.

Easy.

Simple.

Trivial, in fact.

It requires me to read reviews. I don’t want to. I don’t like reading reviews. I like that they exist — I think it’s lovely that I’ve written things that other people have wanted to comment on, whether good or bad (although good is nicer, of course.) But reading them makes me feel exposed and raw and vulnerable, none of which are feelings that I enjoy, and so…

I can do this. Right? My goal for the day: to add content to the Author Central pages for my books. It’ll be pretty obvious if I succeed or not, since it’ll show up on the book pages, but since even thinking about it makes me want to clean my kitchen, take out the trash, do some laundry, and wash my hair… well, we’ll see.

In other writing news, yesterday was a zero-word day, so today is going to be better. In general, though, throwing out my plot and starting over has been good for me. I think the lesson I need to learn is that I’m not a plotter. The story works best for me when it heads off in its own direction. This one is doing that. I’m very much liking Grace. I thought I knew who she was and I mostly did, but she has more of a sense of humor than I realized before getting into her head. She’s the “good daughter,” but not because she feels the need to please people. She’s much more about taking care of people that she privately thinks are a little too incompetent to take care of themselves, and her family amuses her a lot more than I expected them to.

I’m not going to make myself do the Author Central thing before writing, because I suspect it would be more likely to mean no writing. Ugh, but I do need to figure out how to make myself do it. Bribery? Wine? Some type of reward? Some type of punishment for failure? Maybe an alert on my phone to go off every hour until it’s done… I wonder what I’d come up with after I’d been waking myself up for 36 hours in a row?

I think I’ll flee the computer for a while and think about this later!

22 Aug

Summer’s End

R headed off to school this week. That means summer’s over, right? But the Florida weather promptly rewarded me with the two nicest days we’ve had all summer long. Swimming was finally the kind of joy that it usually is in June, where the water’s warm and the sky’s clear and paddling around aimlessly feels luxurious.

I savored it, because obviously there’s not going to be a lot of those days left this year. Usually sometime in September the bugs get insane–it’s mating season for something we call lovebugs and if you try to sit outside, you wind up with them crawling over you by the dozen. Even when swimming you get bugs in your hair and face. And they die after they mate, so their little black bodies pile up everywhere. It only lasts a couple of weeks, but it marks the end of swimming for the year. This year is the first year that having a pool has felt much more like an expensive burden than a pleasure, so I’m glad to have had at least a couple nice summer days.

And I used them well. I took the computer and my laptop outside and alternated writing sprints with dips in the pool. It reminded me of how I wrote Ghosts, which was mostly written on the back porch, and made me wonder why I stopped doing that. I think because I have a different laptop now and its screen is less tolerant of sunlight than my old computer. And its battery doesn’t last so long. Oh, and for a while back then, I actually had a desk on the porch. Anyway, I don’t really know the answer, but it’s a good way to write. I’ll be headed out there again today, I hope.

The slow progress on Grace continues — still slow, but still progress. I’m at a point this morning where I’m thinking a) so far this book is nothing but conversation, is that a problem? and b) the current conversation that I need to write is really complicated, that’s a problem. But I’m reassuring myself by remembering that my beta readers are terrific and helpful and they’ll be honest with me if it’s too complicated. Not that I’m letting anyone read it at the moment, but eventually I’ll be looking for beta readers.

I released The Wedding Guests as a stand-alone story this week. I’ve got a bunch of bookmarks to give away which I intended to do at the launch, but… I was too busy. Maybe not literally busy, but I read a great article about emotional labor recently and it resonated. Not in that I do a lot of emotional labor in relationships — I think I’m pretty terrible at it, actually — but sometimes doing our own emotional labor is hard work. Anyway, I aspire to get organized about a bookmark giveaway, but I’m not going to think about it again until after Labor Day when the summer is truly over. Today and tomorrow and the next day and the next, my focus is going to be on writing Grace, eating well, doing yoga, and savoring the summer’s last few days of beauty.

Today’s meal plan:
Breakfast: Salad of arugula, avocado, strawberry, and smoked trout, topped with balsamic vinegar.
Lunch: Salad of cabbage, cilantro, red onion, avocado, mango, and garlic-sauteed shrimp, with a dressing made of lime zest & juice, pressed garlic, salt, and coconut oil. Possibly, if I’m feeling daring, a little hot sauce, because giving the shrimp a bit of a kick is sometimes worth the nightshade hit.
Dinner: Salad of mixed greens, orange segments, thinly-sliced pork chop, toasted pecan bits, and goat cheese, with a dressing made of lemon juice, olive oil, chopped mint, honey, and maybe a little white wine vinegar if needed.

Sometimes I think I should eat something other than salad. I did last night: baked pork chop and roasted brussels sprouts. It was good enough, but not great. I wished I was eating salad of mixed greens, honey-smoked salmon, radishes, cucumber, red onion, & kalamata olives, topped with balsamic. Such a specific wish, but while I was eating I was thinking about the perfect salad and that was the one I came up with.

All right, time to write. Grace’s difficult conversation isn’t going to write itself!

14 Aug

Reviews

R and I went to see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. today. Upon exiting the movie theater, I offered the typical, “So, what did you think?”

He replied, deadpan, “Not the best spy movie I’ve seen this week.”

I have not asked him how long he’d planned that line, but it made me laugh out loud.

We also saw Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation this week and that movie, upon leaving the theater, got from me, a “Wow. That was seriously not as mediocre as I was expecting it to be.”

So, two movies, two quickie reviews:

The Man from UNCLE is gorgeously filmed, stylistically beautiful, with set pieces that will make you want to applaud for the cinematographer and the editor and the set designer. And the characters lack charm. A little bit of warmth, a smile that reached the eyes, a few sentences that were self-deprecating instead of arrogant, would have gone such a long, long way to making it a better movie. As it was, eh. It was a pleasant afternoon with my son, but I bet I forget all the details within two weeks.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is your basic summer blockbuster fare, except almost impeccably delivered, and with a female character who is actually interesting and granted agency. Yes, it ran a little long, and yes, it basically suffers from the same old Smurfette syndrome of most action movies (why does Hollywood think the world only includes a single woman?) but the plot was interesting, the action sequences were fun, it made a car chase exciting — ticket to success: add motorcycles — and the payoff of the ending was perfect. Will I remember it? For longer than two weeks, sure. Did I love it? No, not really. But I was pleasantly surprised.

And now a third review… except that I’m not sure I can deliver on it.

Sense8.

OMG, Sense8.

It’s terrible, in so many ways. Really, in so many ways, it is… bad. But then there are all the ways in which it is good. And a fair numbers of ways in which it is wonderful. It took me four episodes to get caught, six episodes to fall in love, and then basically, I wanted to do nothing else but find out what happened next. And since then, I mostly just want to talk about it.

My first words on walking out of UNCLE were “The Russian would have been so much better if the part were played by the actor who played Wolfgang in Sense8. He could have made that role so much more worthwhile.” R, who is halfway through the season, agreed with me.

On the way home, we were talking about something, and I brought up Sense8. This afternoon, he came in my room and asked me a question about my thoughts on the nature of time, and I tied it to Sense8. And now… he just started watching episode 7, so I have to stop writing now and go watch television.

But if you have a choice about watching any of these three things, invest the time in Sense8. The first four hours will feel stupid. Once you’re finished, you’ll want to argue with so much. There are so many things to complain about — so many! Stereotypes and tropes and gratuitous sex and boring background details and incoherent world-building… but I have to go watch television now so that I can see an episode for the fourth time because watching Capheus discover the clouds and hearing Riley talk privilege vs luck is a really great way to spend some time.

07 Aug

Four years

When my mom knew she was dying — early on, like maybe three days after she knew (which was probably a solid ten days before a doctor confirmed what she’d already deduced from a radiology report) — she said to my sister and me, “Your father will find someone, you be nice to her.” My sister said, “Of course.” I said, “No. Absolutely not. You don’t get to decide how I grieve and I am going to be grieving for a long, long time.”

Today is the fourth anniversary of her death and I spent it helping my stepmother unpack and move into her new kitchen. My mother would be proud of me. I know that. I can feel it. But, oh, I miss her.

She was so good at moving. I mentioned it in the eulogy I wrote for her, that was how important it was to who she was. When she moved, it was like a whirlwind of efficiency and energy, invisible 99% of the time, suddenly popped into existence to make the move painless, to turn it into a little subtle transition for her kids instead of the disruption that it really is. We’d move and a week later, it would feel like we’d lived in the new place forever. She was GOOD at moving.

I told someone recently that I’m only good at three things: editing, cooking, and writing (in that order.) And then I threw in a couple caveats about things that I might also be sort of good at. I forgot moving. I am very, very, very good at moving. Sometimes, though, moving and running are the same thing.

Today, I wish I was moving. But mostly, I think it would be running.

06 Aug

For Tim

I threw out my plot this week. Kept the characters, but tossed the outline & most of the ideas that went with it.

Ugh.

I had thought that when I finally got a beginning that satisfied me, I’d be able to use most of the 30,000 words I’d already written. Or at least a lot of them. Instead, I finally got a beginning that satisfied me and it changed everything. I’m simultaneously really pleased — I’d been wondering whether my imagination had just shriveled up and died and wondering what I was going to do with my life if I no longer had an imagination — and dismayed.

But so it goes. Onward and upward, right?

If you’d rather not be spoiled for a book that’s headed back to the drawing board, stop reading now, but for Tim (and anyone else who wants to see a rough draft of the new beginning) …

Chapter One

The voices were driving him crazy.

Crazier than usual, that was. After ten years of auditory hallucinations, Noah already knew he was insane. Today was worse than usual, but it was the circumstances, not the sounds.

He was sitting on a bench in the hallway of the courthouse, waiting for his turn in front of the grand jury. The investigation was calling in anyone who might know anything about AlecCorp, the military contractor owned by the late Raymond Chesney. Noah knew his testimony would be useless—working for a notorious criminal enterprise would be a black mark on his resume, but he’d only been there for a few months. It hadn’t added more darkness to his soul.

Still, he needed to hold it together. If he got confused, answered the wrong questions, the prosecution might get suspicious. He wanted to put AlecCorp behind him, not get dragged into the depths of an investigation likely to go on for decades.

He let his head rest against the wall behind him and closed his eyes. The courthouse was noisy, sounds echoing off the tiled floors, voices carrying. Could he filter the real world from the one his over-active brain insisted on dumping on him?

The woman speaking Arabic wasn’t real. She never was. He’d been listening to her, the little boy, and Joe since The Worst Day Ever, so they were easy to ignore. The worried woman wasn’t real, either. She hadn’t been around as long as the others, but Noah still recognized her voice. He’d heard it before, so he could disregard it.

But what about the other woman, the one speaking in a husky contralto? Noah cracked open his eyelids, peering through his lashes. The crowd mostly consisted of men in suits — lawyers looking sleek and polished, the ex-military AlecCorp staffers looking stiff and uncomfortable. Just across the hall, though, a redhead held a cell phone to her ear. Noah watched her for a minute, his eyes intent on her lips, matching the movements to the murmured words until she caught his gaze. He dropped his lids hastily. Yeah, she was real.

“So you just follow him around?” That voice was young, too young. It sounded like a teenage boy. And it was close, too, as if the teenager stood directly in front of Noah.

A babble of hallucinated Arabic answered him. Noah couldn’t pick out any words from the flow, but his mouth twitched with reluctant amusement when the boy’s voice replied, “That is so weird.”

That was one word for it. Noah might have chosen another. Nightmarish, maybe?

“You need help,” the teenager continued.

Noah didn’t flinch. He’d had the thought himself too many times. It felt like a slippery slope, though — one that led straight to a future of glazed eyes and slurred voice, drugged out on whatever anti-psychotics the VA was in the mood to experiment with. No, that wasn’t for him. Ignoring the voices worked. Or at least it had until there’d gotten to be so many of them. His lips tightened, a muscle in his jaw jumping as he clenched his teeth around the bitterness that wanted to escape.

“I know someone. She might be able to do something.” The kid sounded thoughtful. “Give me a minute.”

Multiple voices answered at once, in Arabic, English, even the mellifluous mystery language that Noah thought was his subconscious attempting to annoy him by pretending to speak Chinese. Noah hadn’t often heard spoken Chinese, but he’d heard enough of it to know that his hallucination was doing it wrong.

Eyes still closed, he raised one hand and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease the tension. He should think about something else, anything else. Focusing on the voices never helped, but it was impossible to escape from them.

“Excuse me.”

Noah blinked his eyes open. The redhead stood in front of him, her lips curved up but her eyebrows drawn down as if in doubt. She extended her hand to him, a business card in it.

Shit. She’d seen him looking. He hadn’t been checking her out, at least not the way she probably thought, but how would he say so without being rude?

He took the card, forcing a smile. Noah knew he’d gotten lucky in the genetic lottery and he tried not to be ungrateful. Plenty of guys would be thrilled to get hit on by a hot redhead. “I’m flattered,” he started.

Her eyebrows arched. “You are?”

He paused. What, did she have self-esteem issues? She wasn’t really his type – maybe in her mid-thirties, with the pale, almost translucent skin of a natural redhead, minimal make-up and hair drawn back – but the scooped neck of the t-shirt she wore under a suit jacket offered an enticing glimpse of cleavage. She was attractive enough, just not for him. “Of course.”

“Don’t be.” Her smile warmed and she held up her phone. “I’m just following orders.”

His eyes narrowed. “Whose orders are those?” He’d walked away from AlecCorp with no regrets. Taking the job with them had felt like a mistake from the very beginning. He needed to get away from the war, away from the past. But jobs for vets with no experience outside a combat zone weren’t easy to come by and AlecCorp had seemed better than nothing. He didn’t want to get pulled back in, though. He was done with military work.

“That’s a long story.”

“I’ve got plenty of time.” He glanced down at the card, frowning.

General Directions, Inc.
Tassamara, FL
555-347-9779
info@generaldirections.com

He flipped it over. No name, no scrawled phone number or message. So maybe she wasn’t trying to pick him up.

The door to the grand jury room had opened and the last witness was leaving. A woman in the open doorway called out, “Sylvie Blair?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t,” she said as a suit approached her. “I’m up, I’m afraid.”

The suit was expensive. Well-fit. Probably Italian, Noah thought. It looked like something his brother would wear. The guy in it looked like someone his brother would know – also expensive, with the gloss of success over an easy confidence. With tanned skin and dark hair, he could be Italian, too, but something about him said Eastern European heritage, maybe Russian, to Noah. Or Irish, Noah thought, when clear blue eyes took him in with a quick, incisive glance.

“Ready?” the suit asked, touching the back of the redhead’s upper arm with a gentle brush of his fingertips.

The two of them exchanged a long glance, before her lips crooked. “As I ever will be, I suppose.” The intimacy was unmistakable. If the suit was her lawyer, he wasn’t charging by the hour.

“Remember what we talked about with Jeremy. You’ll be fine,” he said.

She nodded, before shooting a last glance at Noah. She gave a flick of her finger in the direction of the card he still held. “You’ll need that,” she said. “Tell Akira that Dillon sent you.”

Akira? Dillon? Noah had no idea who the redhead was talking about, but she was already moving away, the suit walking next to her. And his voices were chattering again, all speaking over one another. Noah couldn’t catch the words, except for Joe saying something like, “How did you do that?”

“Fraternizing with the enemy?” The question sounded disgruntled.

Noah almost ignored it before realizing that it came from the man sitting on the bench next to him. “What?”

The guy nodded toward the doorway. “That’s her. The one who killed Chesney.”

Noah glanced back but it was too late. The redhead had disappeared into the grand jury room. His brows rose. She hadn’t looked tough enough to be a killer. Looks could be misleading, though.

“Lost us all our jobs and put us here,” the guy continued.

“Pretty sure that was our boss working for the drug cartels,” Noah replied. He kept his voice mild. Some of his former co-workers struck him as unreasonably bitter given the circumstances. It wasn’t like they were all innocents. Some of them must have known what was going on.

“Allegedly,” grunted his neighbor.

Noah didn’t answer. The redhead must have confused him with someone else, he thought. He looked at the card again. General Directions. So many rumors had been flying around in the wake of AlecCorp’s implosion. What had he heard about General Directions? But the rumor, whatever it was, wouldn’t come back to him.

It didn’t matter. Whatever the redhead wanted, Noah was done with AlecCorp. All he needed was to get through this day and he’d be moving on. He didn’t know to what, he didn’t know to where, but he didn’t care. Anywhere but here worked for him.

“You should rip that up. Throw it away,” his neighbor said.

Instead, Noah slipped it into his pocket. He wouldn’t call, but he didn’t take orders from ex-AlecCorp employees.

**************

Unedited, obviously, but — compared to how much I have hated every previous beginning — I’m feeling pretty okay with this. Noah feels right to me and the ghost mob comes across as it should, I hope. In other words, not an overwhelming list of characters for a reader to remember but a sense of Noah as a man surrounded by sounds he doesn’t understand. I hope I can hang on to being satisfied with it long enough to move on!

22 Jul

1000 Reviews

I don’t know if those extra reviews came in faster because I mentioned them, but I reached that milestone much more quickly than I expected. Woke up this morning and Ghosts was at 616, and the total for all titles was 1000. I added it up twice to be sure, then — in a ridiculously grade point average motivated spirit of celebration — made a spreadsheet and totaled up the individual ratings. Worked out to 93.5% positive (4 & 5 stars), 4.5% neutral (3), and 2% negative. I hope I can now let go of my numbers obsession for a while.

I’m not sure I can express how guiltily gratified I feel about this — it’s like getting an A when I willfully didn’t follow the instructions. That never happened to me in school, because I always followed the instructions. I would never have dreamed of not doing the assignment exactly as told. The only point was the grade, right? But that wasn’t the point of Tassamara or Fen, not even close, and to have so many people find them and enjoy them … well, it’s a lovely feeling. Thank you so very, very much to all of you who enjoyed the books and wrote reviews (or otherwise told me so) — you’ve brought me much joy and I’m very grateful!

Conveniently enough, today is also B’s anniversary, so we get to celebrate both things at once. I invited my niece over for the weekend, so she’ll get to provide the extra hands helpful for taking two dogs out for ice cream, plus do something fun with me. I’m thinking water, of course — beach, kayaking, inner-tubes? — but she’s not much of an outside sort of kid, so it might be movies instead. I wonder if my son would forgive me if I went to Ant-Man without him?

Today, though, it’s back to Noah. Progress is still ridiculously slow, but at least it’s movement.

20 Jul

Two years

In two days, it will be two years since Bartleby arrived in the backyard. Given that I got to spend $400 last week running liver tests on him because he has some elevated enzymes — liver tests which found basically nothing except, yep, his liver enzymes are too high — the pessimistic vet who predicted that he would be a very expensive dog to own was not wrong.

On the other hand, the ridiculous little dog has brought me joy and snuggles, just the way dogs are supposed to. I’m feeling as if I’d like to celebrate his anniversary with me somehow, but I’m not sure how. He does not need chocolate cake or pizza, my two favorite celebratory foods. Maybe I’ll take him out for dog-friendly ice cream. My only hesitation is that I’d have to bring Zelda, too — no way does B get to come out for ice cream when Z does not — and juggling two dogs and two doggie ice cream cones, while driving the car sounds just a little unsafe. Okay, a lot unsafe. But it’s not until Wednesday so I’m going to figure out a way to accomplish it. It’s a nice plan.

Today’s plan — words, words, words. I took the weekend totally off. Read a lot, swam some, did useful house stuff. I actually felt pretty damn proud of myself yesterday when I’d finally finished dragging all the bougainvillea branches out to the curb. Bougainvillea is such a mean plant. I never manage to cut it back without losing some blood in the process. (Although, as my nephew pointed out last week, if I wasn’t chopping it down, probably it wouldn’t be making me bleed… yeah, point taken. But if it didn’t grow so fast and have such harsh thorns, I wouldn’t have to chop it down!) Anyway, the garbage guys — justifiably — require that it be tied up in neat piles to be disposed of and I’ve gotten satisfyingly good at getting big branches of thorny viciousness out to the curb in neat little bundles. So it wasn’t word count, but I still got to feel accomplished.

Today, though, it’s time to be all about word count. I was looking through past posts, trying to find the exact date B appeared, and then curious about other Julys, and at this point in July 2013, I was 25K words into Time. In 2011, I’d spent months writing the first five chapters of Ghosts, and finally had a first chapter that satisfied me. It was a good reminder that I’ve been stuck before — repeatedly — and still managed to produce a satisfying book in the end. Although I really hope that once I break loose on Grace, I don’t need to agonize quite as much as I did on Time because I remember that autumn as being… difficult.

In entirely random other numerical notices, I added up the number of reviews I have on Amazon.com yesterday because it occurred to me that I was pretty close to a milestone, and my books have received 996 reviews, not including any reviews from the anthology. (The only one of the anthology reviews that mentions Guests, though, described it as “super fun, sassy” which pleased me so, so much – sassy, in particular, is really endearing to me.) Anyway, 1000 reviews also feels like something to celebrate so I’m going to have to think of something nice for me, too, although it probably be another couple of weeks before I get there. Nothing food-related, so maybe I’ll do another kayaking day trip. I bet it’s really damn hot right now, though. Maybe I can steal a kid or two — my niece, maybe? — and go inner-tubing next week. First though, words. Lots of them.

Fingers crossed that Noah is obliging!

15 Jul

Words vs Imagination

Writing today and I got bogged down on the phrase, “opened his eyes a sliver.”

Seriously, bogged down as in staring at the words, wondering what they mean, whether anyone would understand the image in my head, debating other options — peered, peeked, peeped through his eyelashes? Ugh, just stuck in the mud of self-critical English language analysis.

So stuck that I googled and yeah, the phrase has been used 33,000 times so I think probably I’m safe to assume that readers will understand it. But I cannot google every random phrase, because that one line — and not even a very good line — is all I accomplished in my twenty minute writing sprint.

And then I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the author whose books I’ve been obsessed with lately and the reason I’ve been obsessed with her. It’s not because her words are perfect. They are so not. Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, mixed-up which and that, random commas, even the occasional flat-out error. Even the stories–her early plots wander, ideas are introduced and then dropped, characters’ names are too similar and there are way too many of them… But when I’m reading, I don’t care. Because her imagination is incredible.

The words aren’t as important as the story behind them. Noah’s story is great. I love Noah’s story. I love Grace’s role in Noah’s story, I love Rose and Dillon. So it’s time to let go of this crazy perfectionism and just tell the story. I need to trust that the right readers — the ones like me, the ones who are going to love the story — that they’re out there. And if not, that that’s okay, as long as I have fun telling it.

More fun, less perfectionism. My new goal. First draft rule — tell a story that I understand. If it’s missing details, unclear, whatever, trust that beta readers will let me know.

14 Jul

The Unified Theory of Salads

I’m somewhat obsessed with salads at the moment. Some day recently I came home to a close-to-empty refrigerator, or empty by my standards anyway. I think it was after I got home from PA, so I’d been away for a good chunk of the previous two weeks. I had plenty of things that normal people, aka my son, could have eaten — pasta and rice, eggs, even some chips and cookies. But for my needs, it was pretty barren, because there wasn’t much in the way of vegetables or fruit. Some mixed greens still looked edible, though, and I had part of a leftover red onion. I wound up eating greens topped with chopped dates, goat cheese, smoked trout, red onion, and balsamic vinegar. It was crazy delicious.

My previous favorite salad had been arugula, smoked trout, avocado, and strawberries with balsamic. The date salad came close to knocking it out of its place. I’ve also been very big on salads with cucumbers, radishes, and kalamata olives this summer. Also salad with anything as long it also includes a honey salmon from CostCo which is yum, yum, yum. And when I was in PA, I was topping a lot of my salads with blueberries because my brother grows lots of them.

So, yeah, I think I’ve become a salad aficionado over my almost-year with AIP. And I’ve learned a lot, so I’m developing a set of salad rules. A theory of salad, in fact.

First rule, the perfect meal salad — the one that you’re going to eat to sustain you for hours, not a side salad or just a little extra color on a plate — has to include a reasonable amount of protein. Back when I ate grains and legumes, the difference between a meal salad and a side salad was usually whether it contained beans, chickpeas, pasta, quinoa, or some other similar ingredient. But when I’m making mixed green salads my main course, they need to include protein.

My favorites are the fish: smoked trout from Trader Joe’s, flaky smoked salmon from CostCo, leftover sauteed trout or salmon, even canned tuna or salmon. I’ve tried anchovies and sardines, too, but… let’s just say, they aren’t regulars on the meal plan. Leftover chicken from a roast chicken, slices of leftover grilled pork chops, roast beef, all also good options.

Second rule, the ideal salad needs a mix of textures. It wants something creamy. I used to get that from dressing, but now I can’t, so my perfect regular choice for that texture is avocado. Goat cheese is a good runner-up. Salad also wants something with crunch. Radishes are great for crunch. Celery, carrots, nuts (which I can’t use)… all also good for the crunch. Cucumber isn’t either creamy or crunchy, but it’s definitely a texture food. So are artichoke hearts. I’d call them slimy, really, but they add a different texture to the salad.

Third rule, the mix of tastes. A salad where all the ingredients are from the same flavor family is a very boring salad. It’s one of the reasons why I seldom eat a salad with greens, celery & carrots. It’s not like those three things really taste alike, but they fit together. All the bites have a sameness to them. That’s comforting in soup but deadly in salad, in my opinion. And some foods, like avocado, obviously have a flavor, but it’s more bland, less distinctive. I’m happy to eat to avocado for lunch, but generally with added salt or lime juice. I don’t know that I’d call it a flavor as much as a delightful base for different dressings.

So for me, the best mix of flavor options seems to be sweet plus tangy plus … well, I think I want to describe the final flavor as having kick. It can be salty like smoked trout or have the zing of a radish or red onion, maybe even the bitterness of arugula or roasted brussels sprouts, but it’s the surprise flavor, the one that wakes you up when you taste it.

Some options, then. Sweet: dates, pears, mango, strawberries, blueberries, apple, raisins, dried cranberries? Tangy: goat cheese, kalamata olives, pickled anything? Kick (spicy, salty, bitter, umami): radishes, red onion, smoked fish?

And, at last, my theory of salads. The perfect meal salad (based on greens) should include one protein, at least two textures, and at least three distinct flavors. But not necessarily six ingredients, since some foods, like goat cheese, can be both a flavor and a texture. And more has potential too, of course. Our Key West salad had double sweet — both mango and strawberries — which just made it doubly delicious.

Hmm, but maybe the sweetness of the mango made the strawberries seem like the tangy flavor? Because flavors do kind of change in relation to one another. Heavens, I’m finding loopholes in my new theory already. But that’s okay — the only purpose of my theory is to use the base concept to find some new and interesting mixes. Trying to eat ten cups of greens a day means eating an awful lot of salads. That’s fine when the salad is yum, delicious, different, but much less cool when it’s the fourth plate of greens with cucumber, radish, & kalamata olives in two days.

So anyway my quest is to find other foods that fit the characteristics of things I want in my salad (creamy, crunchy, sweet, tangy, kick) but that it hasn’t yet occurred to me to try in salad. I’m pretty much at the stage where I’ve tried most anything in my fridge on greens (sauerkraut, yes, capers, yes, finely-sliced lemon, yes… although note that none of those ingredients are included in any of my favorite salads, ha!) but the unexpected deliciousness of salad with dates has inspired me to look farther afield.

Alas, all the things immediately occurring to me aren’t AIP-friendly. I can’t eat nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs (or, technically, goat cheese, but it’s so good that I’ve been pretending I don’t notice that I’m more congested than I used to be). Still, I’m going to wander my grocery store with my goal in mind and see what else I can discover!

13 Jul

Monday mornings

Walking the dogs this morning, my brain kept cycling obsessively around the question of whether I should sell the house. I’ve answered the question for myself so many times — not now, not yet. But apparently I haven’t convinced myself of the rightness of this answer because the debate keeps coming back. Finally, I forced myself away from the house question and started thinking about A Gift of Grace.

I have been so, so, so stuck for so long. I know that’s part of the reason for the endless house ruminations. Writing can’t just be an endurance contest for me. If it’s not fun, then I should be doing something that is. Life is too short to not spend as much of it as possible in flow states, but I haven’t had a writing flow state in… well, it feels like forever, but obviously, it’s not. At the very least, 2014 held an intense and lovely two months of flow while A Lonely Magic poured out of me. But I’m not there now.

And then, while forcing myself to think about Grace and Noah, I had a moment — a brief, fleeting, glimmering moment — where the pieces started to line up. This thing, followed by this thing, and then this angle to introduce this moment… It was so exciting. I tugged on the dog’s leash to hurry her along. I knew I had to get home and grab the words while they were tickling me.

But by the time we got home, and I fed the dogs and myself, the words had faded away. The tickle was gone. By the time I sat down to the computer — after washing the dishes and doing a little vacuuming, I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’ve been getting about writing lately. I think that feeling is dread.

But how can I dread writing? Why would I dread writing? I dread going to the dentist. It’s going to hurt. Writing, though — it’s not supposed to hurt. I’m trying to convince myself right now that the dread is worse than the reality — nothing to fear except fear itself, right? — but apparently the best I can do for the moment is to write a blog post. At least it’s words.

Talking B to the vet, then going to yoga. I’m going to spend my time at yoga filling myself up with as many “I” power statements as I can to see if I can meditate myself into loving writing again.

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