Friday, September 10, 2010

Conference Report: SCBWI LA

You might recall that about six weeks ago I headed to Los Angeles for the annual conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It was exhilarating, exhausting, inspiring, entertaining, and an all-around great experience (despite the horror story of my three flights home, which I won't tell here except to say that it will be a cold day in Hell before I fly American Airlines if I have another choice).

And really, I meant to share some of the things I learned from the experience; for instance, if you want to place in the costume ball, "subtle and classy" is not the vibe you need. (Okay, the heart deely-bobbers are not exactly subtle, but I thought the dress was nice and the wings weren't over-the-top.) At first, I thought I might actually blog from the conference, as I did in New York in 2009. But I was taking a great workshop that was held all four days of the conference, and we had homework every night. I had no time or energy to blog during my scant free time.

So I thought, maybe I'll write something up the week I get back. After my misadventures getting home, though, I felt like I was playing catchup, and I kept putting it off. Now that it's September and I've barely had time to revise my manuscripts using information I learned, let alone sent out any queries to editors or agents I met there, I've had to admit defeat. You are not getting a detailed report of my experiences at the conference. There was a lot of esoteric writers' stuff anyway, although I'm sure everyone could appreciate the line, "if you chase trends [with your writing], the vampires win!"

But do not despair! I still have something special for you from the conference, and that is proof of my talent for bad puns. You see, at every SCBWI conference, they have joke contests. They give you a theme, you write a joke, and if they read it aloud in between sessions, you get a prize. And I won not one, but two prizes! Here was the theme: you are an editor who can travel through time and thus acquire a memoir by anyone in history. What is the title and who is the author?

My first winner was pretty tricky, as it was read aloud and it really works better visually, so you should be able to get it right off. The book? Abridged Too Far, by Noah Webster. (Of dictionary fame. Get it? Abridged dictionary. Get it? That's bad, we love words. Get—oh, never mind. The SCBWI director loved it.)

The next one came the next day in a flash of brilliance. Another bad pun, but easily figured out: A Farewell to Arms, by Venus DeMilo. Okay, you have to know your iconic art for that one, but writers are a smart crowd.

My last joke submission wasn't used, perhaps because it really described the challenge more than met it. The joke setup was that we had to choose one of six words that some say are inappropriate for a kids' book (like boobs, butt, booger), and write a sentence with a silly substitute. The challenge inspired a limerick:

An author was given a dare
To choose naughty words with more care
She didn't know what
Could fill in for "BUTT"
Oops! Pardon my French, "derriere."

That one wasn't a winner, but it was my favorite. Because really, I didn't "write" this limerick, it was more like it attacked me while I was trying to get to sleep and I had to write it down before it would leave me alone. And that, as much as anything else I can tell you, is a conference in a nutshell: inspiration even when you're exhausted and overworked and trying to sleep.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Recipes from Fish Camp: Don's Broetchen

Has anyone ever met a carbohydrate they didn't like? Certainly not anyone in my family, and my uncle Donald is the king when it comes to making tasty, yeasty, yummy treats. Each Thanksgiving at least one person burns their fingers on his rolls because they grabbed them straight from the oven, and for the past two years his contribution to camp cuisine has come in the form of broetchen. "Broetchen" rhymes with "Gretchen," which gives a clue as to the treat's German origin. They're "little bread," or rolls, and they are tasty, good with jam or meats or any other way you want to use them.

Now, my uncle has been baking bread from scratch for years and years, so it's hard to communicate the "feel" of bread dough that is properly ready. That comes with experience, but in the meantime we have his rambling recipe to help us along. I've boldfaced the ingredients to help you pick them out.
  1. Begin with two cups of warm skim milk
    • I actually use powdered milk and enough of it (usually almost 1 cup) to make almost a quart of (reconstituted) milk, but in only the two cups of warm water; result: extra rich milk
  2. Add 1 package dried yeast  (or about 1½ tsp. dried yeast if you buy it in bulk, as I do)
  3. Let yeast stand in warm milk base for 5 minutes (or lots longer, for that matter)
  4. Add 1 teaspoon (or slightly more) salt
  5. Add 2 Tbl sugar ...... mix well, and then you are ready for flour
  6. Add approx. 3 cups bread flour; mix well (until you have like a thick slurry)
  7. Mix in 2 Tbl oil (corn or canola or olive or grape or whatever .... the batches I made for vacation in the UP even had a tiny dab of cod liver oil)
  8. Add  2 more cups of flour ... work it in as well as you can ... turn the mass out on counter top, kneading in more flour (up to maybe a cup more) until dough is is softly pliable, a mass which won't stick to your fingers
  9. Let rise for an hour (or longer; it doesn't matter)
  10. Punch the dough! Then cut the punched down mass of dough in half, and the halves in half, and those quarters in thirds ... until you have lumps of dough about the size of an extra-large egg (there should be about 12 of them)  
  11. Shape it into a very small loaf.
    • It's the feel of doing this which I can't give you.... You use the palms of your hands like a backdrop for shaping the dough-lets and your fingers to tuck the outside edges under and in; in shape they will be something like a miniature, misshapen football ... put them on a cornmeal sprinkled cookie sheet....let rise until double in size.
  12. Take a knife and gently, delicately mark a slash longitudinally ... bake at 340 degrees F,  about 30  minutes ... take them out, see if you can resist eating one on the spot.*
*Especially if you have one of Don's home-made jams to go with it! I can speak from experience.

An additional note: These little treats do just fine if you freeze them, then thaw them in a microwave for 20-30 seconds or so. Don brought dozens and dozens to camp, and we made regular inroads on his supply until they were exhausted and we were looking around forlornly for more.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Photo of the Week--9/6/10

We took a short trip to New York in June of 2006, and capped it off with a visit to the USS Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier that is now a museum. I think this photo was actually taken on our way out of the museum, and miracle of miracles, Boy posed for it without complaint. I'm not sure where he acquire this "gotcha," cool-cat pose (maybe from too many Bond movies?), but he liked to bring it out once in a while and was cheerful enough after a day with mechanical marvels to smile for the camera.