Saturday, January 15, 2011

On My Back Porch Looking . . . For a Place to Stay Cold

You know you live in Canada when . . .

You use your back porch as a deep freeze.

The past week Calgary has been bouncing from a lovely -23 all the way up to a balmy -16 with windchill. This has made life fun whilst driving to Cochrane on a snowy, windy night and catching the train at 7:30 every morning. The adventure that takes the cake this cold spell however, happened at home.

Tuesday afternoon I went grocery shopping. Among my groceries was a box of chicken to stick in the freezer. When I got home and realized that there was positively no room in our fridge freezer for said chicken, I found myself in a pickle. Our deep freeze is in the garage that is kept very secure with a padlocked door. One roommate parks in this garage, so naturally when her garage door opener broke she took the key for this door and kept it in her car for a while. When her opener was fixed, she repeatedly forgot to bring in the key. When I was unpacking my groceries, she was at work.

For the first time since the snow began to fall, I was genuinely thankful for this temperature. Any other time of year I'd be running the risk of wasting 2 kg of chicken. That day, I plunked it down on my back porch and there it staid perfectly frozen until we were able to coordinate the return of the key yesterday.

Reason #54 to love winter.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Miracle of the Corn Starch

I love to bake and cook. For some reason I have never been able to fully explain, I have always been weirdly fascinated with watching as sugar, butter, flour and eggs can combine into something delicious.

One of my favourite parts of cooking is adding that one ingredient that makes the insignificant looking mixture transform and start to look like what it's supposed to be. Like when you cut the lard into the flour mixture and it starts to look like pie crust, or when the coconut milk gets mixed in with the paste and it actually starts to look like curry, or the cornstarch is added to the pudding and it starts to thicken and bubble.

In my writing life I have been working my way through my second draft; a project that has been in the works for over a year. My story has improved dramatically from the first time I finished it in April 2009, and I have learned a lot since then. Characters have been added, protagonists have improved, I've changed from first-person to third-person omniscient and the story has received much more substance.

Yet, try as I might, I hadn't gotten it to that point yet. It wasn't what it was supposed to be; it was still just eggs and sugar. In fact, it had been stuck in the confusing not-sure-what-this-even-is stage for what felt like an eternity.

The week before Christmas I had an unexpected afternoon off. As Janine was done exams she was home as well, and we visited while she wrapped presents. As often happens when we hang out by ourselves, I started talking about my book.

My concern was this whole lack of key ingredients. I was proud of what I had, it was well written, but it was just fluff. I couldn't think of why anyone who was not related to me would care about my story, and I couldn't think if how to make it compelling.

My sore spot that day was one scene that didn't make sense. As I went over what I was considering changing with it, Neen gave a few suggestions to shape all my ideas into one good one. When writing notes, I was astonished that this solution solved several other small problems I had noticed. From there we came up with more ideas as to how this new and improved scene would tie into everything else, and from there it was like connecting the dots. No sooner had I fixed one scene than I came up with the way to solve the plot.

I had my corn starch! The plot thickened and actually became pudding rather than sugary milk with lemon zest. I started writing, spent my Christmas break plotting, and can't wait to get into my third draft.

I'm amazed now this idea didn't occur to me before; it seems so obvious, but I suppose that is just another way good ideas are like corn starch. Without it things can be tasty but never what you want. Then you add that little white powder and suddenly everything falls into place and you wonder how you ever missed it in the first place.

Can not wait to do my writing today.

NOTE: I understand this blog or any blog about my writing would make much more sense if you knew about the story in question. For those who are wondering, know I do not talk about the contents of my book here for intellectual property purposes.