Michaeline: The Power of Writing

"Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases" says an old poster announcing a U.S. Public Health Service Campaign. "As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells -- Spread of Spanish Influenza Menaces Our War Production"

It’s said that the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic killed more people than WWI. https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/ Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I have to share this piece of writing with you. It’s a Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. 

National Public Radio (US) has an article on how the lockdown is affecting the lives of Chinese residents.  NPR reports that families in Wenzhou (a coastal city in China) have been told to stay indoors, and only send one person out every two days to pick up groceries.

The Reddit post does so much in a relatively small space. Redditor u/mthmchris explains how he and his partner are restricted to the apartment, and how the constraints in finding ingredients and the luxury of time have contributed to better cooking. There’s a brief reverie about the degeneracy of modern cooking, that he attributes to perhaps lack of time, especially now that he’s been living through a period of deprivation (although, not starvation) for the past few weeks. And then there are the dishes he’s made.

I suppose I’ve always been morbidly curious about “Robinson Crusoe” scenarios. So, it teases my imagination – what would I do if we were locked down on our farm with a COVID-19 outbreak in town? The post moves my sympathy for people who really are in the situation, it educated me, and taught me new things about the human experience. These are the things I would love to see my fiction writing do for people.

Japanese pork and pizza steamed buns in the package

This is what the steamed buns look like inside. (Photo: E.M. Duskova)

And in addition, I was inspired to try the fried steamed bun trick. I happened to have some ridiculously past-sell-by-date steamed buns in my fridge (three pork buns and two pizza buns). I sliced one into six slices (we have six people around the breakfast table, two who are semi-vegetarians, so feeding them the heels with almost no meat really worked out). I dredged them in a large egg, and fried them in a combo of olive oil and sesame oil. They were so delicious hot! I wish I’d thought to put some oyster sauce on them. (My husband came in late, when the last remaining slice was cold, so he just ate the other two pork buns zapped in the microwave.)

Japanese pork bun, also known as nikuman.

Pork bun in my kitchen, about to be microwaved. (Photo: E.M. Duskova)

For lunch, I’ll have the pizza buns fried with a drizzle of packaged Neapolitan spaghetti sauce (and that means pizza toast for lunch tomorrow!).

I doubt my stories are going to feed hungry people in countries around the world, but maybe I can do a little bit to bring some pleasure into other people’s lives. Maybe even some foreign resident in China, feeling a little homesick and weary, will read one of my shorts, and feel a bit better about life. Wouldn’t that be a nice full circle?

And since I’m spouting clichés (since I can’t really spout anything meaningful in the face of something like the coronavirus outbreak), every dark and terrible cloud can have a silver lining; every foul and nasty breeze can blow some good. I hope the whole thing is contained quickly.

(Link from caption: https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/.)

 

 

Pork bun slices in a skillet

Pork bun slices when dredged in egg taste like a savory French toast, but fluffier, thanks to the texture of the steamed bun. (Photo: E.M. Duskova)

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Happy Valentine’s Day or Galentine’s Day or Friday  or whatever your preference is.

I’m afraid the holiday has caught me a bit by surprise.  I usually like to do a little holiday-themed decorating, but this year the assortment of random sized and colored hearts never even made it out of the storage box in the garage.  To be completely honest, there are still a few random Xmas decorations up around the house.  Guess I’ll just go directly to Marci Gras or St. Patrick’s -whichever comes next.

Though I don’t have any Valentine’s decorations around the house, I do have my writing notebook and pen ready and waiting for me to put them to use.  I think I’ll start with today’s writing prompt and/or random words..

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Happy Valentine’s Day

Chaucer_HoccleveSt. Valentine is thought to be a real person, recognized by the Catholic Church, who died around 270 A.D. It is thought that he was beheaded by emperor Claudius II for helping soldiers wed. There is some question about this as there was another St. Valentine who helped Christians escape harsh Roman prisons who was then imprisoned himself, fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, and signed his love letters to her “From your Valentine.” There are about a dozen St. Valentines plus a pope. The most recent saint was beheaded in 1861 and canonized in 1988, and the pope of that name lasted about 40 days. Odd history for a romantic holiday – a lot of beheadings involved. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Celebrating Love

I was all set to post another installment today of what seems to have turned into “Short Story Wednesday” before I glanced at the calendar and realized that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  In the past, we’ve celebrated here by talking about favorite love poems, romantic gestures, and love letters, as well as with a few original short stories from Michaeline like Olivia, Jack and the Stupid Cupid and A Love Story for Valentine Week.

This time around I found myself in the mood to read a novel set on or around Valentine’s Day.  After a quick perusal of my own bookshelves I could only find one that fit the bill. Continue reading

Jeanne: Is That a Light I See at the End of This Tunnel?

Depositphotos_176350754_s-2019

Megan, my secret-guarding novelist

This morning I went looking for the date I started on my current work-in-progress. The oldest document I found was a Scrivener project dated September of 2015 (?!). It says:

So the idea is that this book would contain three couples:

Lilith and Samael

Gabriel and Angela

Human1 and Human2

Each couple would have history that leaves them reluctant to re-engage with one another.

Lilith and Samael are charged with keeping Human1 and 2 from getting back together.

Gabriel and Angela are charged with getting Human1 and 2 back together.

The three stories play out against each other.

This, clearly, is just the kernel of an idea. I was still working on The Demon Always Wins at this point, and hadn’t even started The Demon’s in the Details, but I wanted to get the idea down on (electronic) paper before it got away. Continue reading

Jilly: The Big Step

It’s been months since I worked on a new story. I’d almost forgotten how it feels 😉

I had a solid draft of The Seeds of Power finished by summer last year. Then I spent the rest of 2019 dealing with edits, more edits, proofreading, formatting, and uploading the book. Not to mention setting up author accounts, claiming author pages, writing blurbs, bios, and all kinds of other indie publishing stuff.

It was interesting and oddly enjoyable, rather like my desk job back in the day. I was pleased with the final result, but it’s only now I’ve started working on the next Elan Intrigues story that I realize how much I’ve missed writing.

I’ve started a novella that links The Seeds of Power with the next full Elan Intrigues book. The point of view character is Prince Daire. He was the most important secondary character in The Seeds of Power, but he didn’t have a point of view in that book, so the reader never got an insight into his head.

Even though I had a pretty good understanding of Daire, it’s taken me most of the last month to find his voice. Now, finally, I’m getting there. Here’s the key to Daire: his family motto is The Price of Privilege is Duty, but his personal mantra is Whatever Happens, Smile.

It’s early days, and it’s only a novella, but I can’t overstate the thrill I get from feeling that I finally got inside Daire’s head. He’s a fictional character, but suddenly he’s become real to me. I care what happens to him. I’m excited to tell his story. I want to solve his problems. Don’t tell my husband, but I kind of love him 😉

I know it won’t last, but right now I want to write the next scene, and the one after that. I go to bed thinking about the story and wake up raring to write. It’s wonderful.

I said at the beginning of the year that my watchword for 2020 would be WALTZ, symbolizing my efforts to balance writing, publishing, and marketing. I realized this week that a waltz may comprise three steps, but they don’t have to be equally weighted. You can take one big, swooping creative step and then balance it with two smaller, stabilizing ones. I think that may be my kind of waltz.

It’s been a good week here in London. What gives you that excited, buzzy feeling?

Michaeline: The robots are taking our jobs!

Robot carrying grocery bags for a lovely young housewife; a bag has burst all over her stylish car.

Oh, no! Has the robot ruined dinner again? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Ever since the term “robot” was coined in 1920 (popularized by Karel Capek’s play, R.U.R. — Rossum’s Universal Robots), someone’s been worried about robots taking over their jobs. A few years ago, there were some National Public Radio (US) stories about programs that could write news stories. (One here: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/05/20/406484294/an-npr-reporter-raced-a-machine-to-write-a-news-story-who-won.)

I’ve read a few of these stories – honestly, there are only so many ways to report the weather on 90 percent of the days. Or to report on the stock market. In the vast majority of cases, you can randomly select a template, and plug in the numbers and adjectives for that day, and you have readable information.

Some artificially generated fiction can be strangely moving and seemingly full of thought. That’s because the reader is expected to do some of the work in fiction – she searches her brain for the source of allusions, or makes the connections that make the subtext clear. Is there so much difference between certain types of highly experimental fiction and vague robotic meanderings? As far as satisfaction goes, I think they both can deliver. Not every piece, of course. It’s Sturgeon’s Law that 90 percent of any genre is dreck. I think that goes for non-human writing, as well. Computers, over the short term, generally do better than an infinite number of monkeys plonking away on typewriters.

However, the inputs still matter. Today on Twitter, Janelle Shane shared some of her results from a neural net. Continue reading