Deep Edits and Black Bean Soup

Cleveland Immersion Class, 2017

For the last several months, I’ve been looking forward to the first week in September. I hosted an immersion master class with the incomparable Margie Lawson and eight of my NEORWA friends. We followed the immersion with Margie presenting at NEORWA’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference. I learned how to use power words, have memorized rhetorical devices, and can deep edit like a boss.

Now that it’s over, I’m feeling energized and ready to take on the literary world by storm. Okay, maybe not–I’m still too tired and Margie would give me a frowny face for the cliche–but I certainly now have more tools to polish my manuscript.

If you’ve never done an immersion class or attended one of Margie’s workshops or online classes, I do hope you will. And in the meantime, here’s my recipe for vegan black bean soup (we ate a lot of soup), modified from Jonathan Waxman’s original meatier version (which is divine and which you can find in his book, A Great American Cook, on page 62):

Immersion Black Bean Soup
Serves about 8 hungry writers, or 10 less hungry ones

3 cups dried black beans
1 red onion, minced
cloves from 1 head garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bay leaf
1 to 2 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (remove seeds from chile if you prefer less heat)
3/4 cup fresh cilantro (including stems), chopped, reserving a couple tablespoons of the chopped leaves for garnish
8 cups vegetable broth
freshly ground pepper
Kosher salt
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
Tortilla chips
Creme fraiche or sour cream, Greek yogurt, or coconut milk yogurt

Rinse beans and soak overnight in a large pot of cold water. (You can also use the quick soak method–boil beans in a large pot of water for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool for an hour.) Drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and saute until onions are golden. Stir in the soaked beans, chipotle, cilantro, pepper (don’t add the salt yet!), and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, or until beans are very tender. If soup is too thin, simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes. If soup is too thick, add more broth or water.

Discard the bay leaf and add salt to taste. Use an immersion blender to coarsely puree the soup (if you don’t have an immersion blender, you should get one, but in the meantime, you can puree the soup in small batches in a regular blender, then return to the pot). Reheat.

Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt or creme and the reserved cilantro. (Unless you’re me, and you forget the cilantro.) Serve with a lime wedge and tortilla chips.






In Praise of Deadlines

As you all know, given how loudly I shouted it from the rooftops, I recently signed a contract for my first book. This week I received a flurry of emails from the publisher and my editor, with tons of business-related stuff, marketing tips, and–ta da!–my first round of edits.

I have been told by published writer friends that the moment you sign that first contract you’re no longer writing on your own timeline. You can’t just write whenever you feel like it any more. Once you sign, you have–cue dramatic music–deadlines.

I have to admit I actually like deadlines, since I am fundamentally lazy. If I know that someone is waiting on me to do something, I will do it. If no one particularly cares when I do something, I will often put it off–especially if it’s icky or hard–until someone does care. This is not, perhaps, my finest trait.

So when my editor gave me a deadline, I was very happy. First, because it was a reasonable one–she doesn’t want my edits next week, she wants them next month. Second, because it will motivate me to do what needs to be done, in a timely fashion. Hopefully I will not wait until the night before the deadline to finish…

The other good thing about deadlines is they make me do things I don’t particularly want to do, inevitably allowing me to discover they weren’t as bad as I feared (most of the time, anyway). I was terrified to open that document with the edits. What if she hated my book? What if she wants me to change everything? The more rational side of my brain told me she didn’t hate it–if she had, she would have rejected it and I would not be writing this post–and that she wouldn’t want to change everything. But I was nervous, so I waited hours before I opened it. But once I did, of course, I discovered her changes only made the book better.

What do you think about deadlines? Do they motivate you? Annoy you? Tell us your best (or worst) deadline story!

Sweeping Away the Cobwebs

Everyone who has either lived or worked with me knows that I am a slob. I would love to say that my house is an excellent example of organized chaos, but that would be a lie–it is simply chaos. The dishes are clean, the floor is generally swept, and although I am not a candidate for an episode of Hoarders, there is quite a bit of clutter. Thank goodness my husband does the laundry, or I would be in serious trouble. 

Even so, when I woke up this morning, I stumbled around the dogs in the dark and had no idea where to find a pair of pants. They could have been in any one of a number of drawers, or in the laundry, or in a pile on top of my dresser. After flinging a few things to the floor I did manage to find a pair of capris, so I headed to the kitchen to make my tea. More chaos–unwashed dishes from yesterday’s late night cookie baking, and boxes of assorted teas piled precariously on top of one another–an avalanche waiting to happen. Ignoring all of it, I dug out a teabag, opened my laptop, and started to work on my manuscript. Again, chaos–when I imported the latest Word version into WriteWay, it somehow reorganized some of the chapters, and the middle is now near the end. It will take me hours to rearrange.

This was the last straw. Silently screaming in frustration, I closed the laptop and started cleaning with a singleminded fury that I think my family found a little bit scary. I reorganized the pantry. I cleaned the kitchen. I reorganized my dresser drawers. I filled two trash bags, two recycling bags, and assembled a sizable pile of clothes for donation. I found a favorite earring I lost weeks ago. All before breakfast. Even I was scared of me. 
But eventually the storm blew itself out, and by the time I finally ate breakfast at 11:30, my house and my head were clearer (although my office is still a mess). I know that when I sit down with my MS this afternoon, I can put everything in its proper place and continue my edits. At least for me, sometimes it takes an utter breakdown to get everything reorganized and to give me a fresh perspective. 
What about you? Are you cleanliness-challenged like me? A neat freak? Or somewhere in between? What do you do to sweep away the cobwebs in your house or your head?
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