Food, Mainly. Also, The Writer’s Test of OK-ness.

Good day, my fine friends. This morning finds me full of hope that you woke alert and pain free at a decent hour. I was in bed by eleven and since I forgot to buy wine the new year arrived in a very small, slumberish kind of way.

Yesterday, despite my good intentions, I never had enough free minutes to write to you. I’m sure you survived, and that is my consolation for failure.

I spent most of the day working on a story I wanted to get off to a contest before the deadline. It had to be postmarked by Dec 31. Now this story, Namara’s Head by title, is one I’ve been working on for about three years. I still have the first version; it’s about five pages long. The final revision covers 32 pages.

I did post Namara’s Head here once, then took it down a few days later. There’s a reason behind such erratic behavior.

Before Namara’s Head I’d never finished a story. Well, I’d finished the story about how a cabin of girls dye their hair white and take over the camp so as to rescue their ditzy camp director Stiggie from the clutches of Martha, the greasy boulder-like woman determined to marry him. I finished the story about the young quarreling couple who are brought together by a plague of ladybugs. I finished the story about the vicious rooster and…well, a few more. But all these stories were written in my teenaged years when I was rather more light of heart than has been my wont thoughout these terrible twenties.

So to amend my statement, I hadn’t finished a story since I was twenty years old. Twenty was the year I went to Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls WI and got my heart ripped out, one side grasped in the claws of Fundamentalist discipline and the other caught accidently on the coattails of a deliciously tragic seminary student.

I’ve written before about how I think I’m being “healed.” It all started one night at school when Scottie kept talking at me until I realized he liked me. “I like you, Alana” he said. I’ll tell that story sometime.

Point is, there are a certain number of accomplishments about which I’ve long thought, “When I can do X I’ll know I’m OK.” One was keeping up on my dishes. Check.

Another was finishing a story again.

So one night a few months ago I sat staring at Namara’s Head on my computer screen and imagining the day when it would happen. “I’m so close” I whined.

“Just finish it” Scottie advised. “Put down the first thing that comes to mind.”

So I did. I put in a pathetic ill-thought ending about how the husband forgives his first wife whose obsession for him has animated her gruesomely severed head for thirty years, and then all the problems go away. Piffle. And I put it up on the blog.

I spent the next three days in torment, knowing the story was likely being read. The silly ending was an itch in my mind. I kept wriggling away from it but I knew someday I’d have to scratch. One night Scottie agreed to take care of Johnny and the house while I wrestled with it.

“I know this story has an ending” I reasoned. “The first part of the story is too coherent for there not to be a perfect resolution waiting somewhere.” Scottie agreed. I tore the story apart, tracing the threads of events and motives. And at last I realized: all along I’d been misunderstanding who the villain of the story was. Such a realization is the perfect platform from which to write a twist ending, which as every lover of the genre knows, is practically necessary to the short story form.

So I wrote the ending and Scottie agreed the idea was perfect. The execution needed some attention.

I did not put the new version up on my blog becuase I knew I’d be sending it in to a contest. I continued revising and rewriting, and last night I finally sent it off.

But here’s the thing: my test of OK-ness was way off. Because you don’t ever finish a story. I found this out as I was standing in line at the post office.

Actually I was in Meijer’s gracery store, having read on the internet that they have a post office inside. When I arrived I found the alleged post office was part of their customer service department, and I had to wait in line with all the ungrateful wretches who were returning their Christmas presents. It was too late to go elsewhere. As I stood there I rifled fondly through the pages of my manuscript. Suddenly I saw the word “in.” Not an evil word in itself, but it signaled the start of a prepositional phrase that I now saw was completely unnecessary. Not only unnecessary (for I am a lover of luxury words) but it concealed the true shape of the sentence off which it was leaching. “Ding-dang-dimmity prepositional phrase,” I whispered, not wishing to cuss twice in the same week.

I mailed the manuscript anway. It was six-thirty by the time I was done, due to the long line and to the fact they didn’t sell envelopes in the so-called post office and to the denseness of the so-called postal worker who didn’t understand what an SASE is until I’d explained it to her perhaps twenty times. I was late for my mother-in-law’s dinner and it was time to go.

But this morning I printed Namara’s Head, sat down with my special-black-flowing-ink-glider-sweetgrip-pen and circled every single adverb, adjective, and prepositional phrase in the story. They abound. Many of them are beneficial and good. Many of them will be stricken or rephrased.

I’m at peace however. I know I’m going to be OK anyway and I will probably revise this story here and there till the day I die but that is the nature of reality and I have come to terms with that.

Besides, I just submitted my first manuscript! Maybe I’ll even get my first rejection slip in a couple of months. I’m coming along, people.

My  next big goal will be writing Colony of Justus, a story about a boy who was raised as a slave but must become a courtier, a girl who has to betray her father in order to remain loyal to her King, and a King who won’t rule unless his subjects capture him and imprison him in his own castle. I figure it will be about six hundred pages long and I may possibly finish it in ten or twelve years.


Why did I think this post was going to be mainly about food? Ah yes, I was going to talk about my discovery that local wine is much better than imported wine if the price is equal. I.E. an eight dollar bottle of wine from a local winery is likely to be really decent, and probably somewhat original too, while an eight-dollar bottle of wine from Germany or Italy or even California is going to be not worth buying and will probably be limited to Chardonays, Reislings, and Merlots. Ugh.

Also I was wondering if people wanted to share their favorite fasting recipe. A link is fine, too.

I don’t really have any yet. Except, I’ve found I love what my dear friend Emily calls “Ants on a Log” which, for the uninitiated, involves slathering peanut butter on celery sticks and then sprinkling raisins over top. Hey, it’s not like we were eating meat every day anyway. This stuff is ding-dang-dimmity good.

And for my non-Orthodox readers, I should clarify what fasting is for us. It pretty much never means going without food and drink. It’s a spiritual discipline in which you go without meat, or maybe even meat and dairy, or even more for those hardened to the difficulty of it, for a certain amount of time. It’s supposed to do you good. You find out you can control your appetites by subjecting them to your reasonable self and more importantly to God. This is an important excercise for purifying the heart (what Protestants call “weaning your heart from earthly things” except they don’t give you any excercises to do it with.) Fasting normally occurs on Wed and Fri, except during a feast. It also occurrs as a lead-up to a major feast. You fast before the feast, and then when the feast arrives you don’t fast for a while even on Wed and Fri. The Christmas feast is twelve days long, thus the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.

If God wills we shall speak again tomorrow.

So long dear ones,



  1. Your teenage years remind me of my college years. The Universe According to Ned was my story of a self-absorbed obsessive-compulsive nut who ended up on what the world thought was a UFO, but he didn’t know or care what it was. It turned out to be a couple of geniuses on an experimental craft playing mind-games with people.
    Ned, the nut, managed to destroy it purely by accident, and all of them ended up, somehow, on a much larger craft built by whales for exploring “outer Earth” (the sky). Of course, he managed to destroy this, too. One would never believe I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol in college.

    Ah, the rejection letters…. Have fun with that. I think the typical publishing company gets something like five-thousand submissions a year and publishes three. It’s not very encouraging, I know, but if you like what you do, then it’s worth doing for its own sake. Besides, where else can you go to find a talking head (besides the nightly news)? Seriously, I hope you beat the odds and become a well-published author someday.



  2. Thank you very much, my friend. I know the odds are bad but I have to try or what kind of tortured person would I become?

    All things considered, the college years are among the very best years not to drink a drop of alcohol! Ned sounds delightful.

    What I want to know is, where did this thing with whales in space come from? A lot of stories by Joel (Unknowing) have whales in space too and while I find it outrageously funny I just can’t fathom the mind that came up with it.


  3. By the bye, might I suggest the Australian (oh dear, or was is Austrian??) Malbec, a delightful red wine, fruity and gently spicy.

    And have you ever made mulled wine? Ah, the delicate richness, the unspeakable flavors vying for your taste buds’ attention, tartness followed by sweetness, the wonderful heady aromas filling the house with scents of Christmastide… well, let’s just say it’s really good!

    Here’s my take on a traditional recipe:

    2 bottles of red wine (1 Shiraz, 1 Malbec; but 2 Malbec would be even better!)
    1 navel orange
    2 lemons
    1 tablespoon mulling spices, or a little more to taste
    1 1/2 cups sugar

    Thickly cut fruit into heavy slices, then put all ingredients into a large pot. As soon as it comes to a gentle boil, cut heat and serve hot. Taste, and if desired add another 1/2 to 1 cup sugar.

    All the best to you in your writing endeavors. What an accomplishment to have come as far as you are now!


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