Thursday, 28 May 2009

Recipe - New York Baked Cheesecake


Just for something a little different, here's one of my favourite recipes: New York Baked Cheesecake. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

~ 1 1/3 cups fine cake crumbs (Madeira cake is good - needs to be soft)
~ 2 tablespoons of butter/margarine

625g cream cheese at room temperature (2.5 packets)
3/4 cup cream (light OK)
3/4 cup sour cream (approx 200 ml carton, light OK)
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

Method:

· Preheat oven to 160°C
· Coat 8-inch spring-form tin with butter (put foil or baking paper on base for easy removal)
Place cake crumbs in pan, coat sides, press gently into place
· Beat cream cheese until smooth at medium speed
· Gradually beat in:
cream (3/4 cup)
lemon juice (3 tablespoons)
vanilla
sour cream (3/4 cup)
sugar (1 1/4 cups)
beaten eggs (4X, 1/4 at a time)
[NOTE: I put whole lot in Food Processor and press go!]
· Pour mixture into prepared tin, rotating several half-turns to settle
· Bake in centre of oven until cake is set in from the edge, and centre is pudding-like
· 1 hour 15 mins for a creamy centre; 1 hour 30 mins for a cakey centre.
· Turn oven off, and let cake stand in oven with door propped open 8 inches for 30 mins
· Cool on wire rack to room temperature
· Remove sides of pan to refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours prior to serving.

YUMMY

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Another chapter down

After a week or so of my own personal WriMoFoFo I've written a chapter of 2600 words. I'm rather pleased with this, since I've achieved a whole chapter in the allotted week (well, OK, maybe one day over).

Despite the fact it's a little short of the nearly 4000 words per week demanded by the targeted 15,000 words in four weeks, I have managed to squeeze writing time in around everything else that's part of life. I still have some way to go in terms of re-prioritising, but I feel this has been a good start.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

New mantra: splurge then fix

I have embarked upon a private 'WriMoFoFo' (Write more for four) this week, with the aid of a fancy spreadsheet devised by one of the members of my writing group. Essentially you input the word counts into the right spot and out pops calculations of a) total numwords, b) average numwords, c) words left (out of 15,000), d) percent complete, e) how many words required the next day to maintain target.

I was lagging behind a bit, so decided to try a different approach. Since I am rewriting, this involves a combination of editing and writing completely new words. For the new words part, I am very slow and it's hard to meet the quota. So I decided to try the whole splurge technique, which is the normal approach for NaNoWriMo (national novel writers month, which requires you to write 50,000 words in a month or approx 1700 words per day -- eek!). Our WriMoFoFo targets are more modest than this, but nevertheless for me to write the required almost-4,000 words per week, I still need the proverbial tailwind.

So, back to splurging. Tonight I had a few interruptions, so didn't get to my novel until after 10. Perfect. Time was now at a premium (and my target was 536). This doesn't sound very many, but the way I write it can take up to three hours. But not tonight.

Tonight I decided to try the "splurge and fix" technique. This is a technique invented by me on my way home from work today. I was walking and pondering the story, trying to get into the zone so I could hit the ground running. And I hit on the notion that if only I could splurge out 500 crap words quickly, I could then go back and edit them, thereby meeting the criteria of both volume and quality.

So this I did. I worked out what was going to happen 'tonight' (in the scene) and splurged for an hour. This yielded almost 900 words. EXCELLENT! By the time I edit, they will probably be closer to the 500 required words, but this seemed to be a productive method for at least getting the words down.

This splurging is something I need to practice big time. One can simply not afford to spend 3 years labouring over a first draft which is then largely rewritten. Stupidity. So I am going to try to hone my skill in splurging over the next few weeks (my practice WriMoFoFo) and maybe it will pay off!

PS - Actually I don't think I invented this technique at all. I think it's what normal writers do.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Writing 'craft' and commercial fiction

My writing group had our brunch meeting yesterday, and although our numbers were a little down (being only four) we were in fine form on the discussion front.

One of the things we talked about was the definition of commercial fiction and its merits. So what is commercial fiction? Fiction that sells. Is it possible to have commercial genre fiction? Absolutely! The majority of fantasy out there on the shelves at the moment is 'commercial'. It sells very well. We may scoff at 'the quality' of much of it, but we have to face the fact that the general public is happy to read it. Sometimes, when we hobnob with other writers, critiquing each others' work, we can lose sight of the fact that maybe most readers just don't care about some of the things we agonise over for days on end.

Most of the writers in my writing group are purists -- we want to write the best we possibly can. Good story, original ideas and good craft. So far so good. None of that is specifically non-commercial. However, we are all aware that not all commercial fiction exhibits good craft. It's just not the key element in the equation.

Story wins every time, and I suppose that's fine. But what I want to know is why, if there are writers out there willing to hone their craft as well as all the other story-telling aspects, there's any need to publish fiction that is not well written. Surely that extra degree of finesse should make a novel all the more marketable?

I know the immediate comeback to this question is what I've already mentioned -- most readers don't care about craft. They simply can't identify when something is badly written. But to counteract this, I know plenty of people who can, and many of them are not writers.

And also, what about the authors? Why don't they care about it? Why aren't today's mega best selling authors taking the trouble to be the best they possibly can? Why do they sell out just because they can? If the writers in my writing group care about craft, why don't all the authors out there as well?

I've talked a bit about MR on this blog recently, with most of the reader comments tending towards the sentiment: would you really want to write like him? Of course the answer is no. But why does HE want to write like him?

Looking at my writing group again, I think most of us are writing (or trying to write) fiction that is fairly commercial. Only a couple of us have a distinctly literary style. Most of us are trying to tell a good story in moderate language that will appeal to most readers of our chosen genre, whether traditional science fiction, epic fantasy, horror or a variation thereof. But unlike many of the published 'commercial' SF authors out there, we do care about craft.

And this is because we are readers too, and I for one am sick of reading commercial fiction that scores high on the story front, but bombs out when it comes to craft. Sure, sometimes I can overlook when something is badly written and still enjoy the story. But why should I have to?

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Charged and determined; discipline to follow

No posts this week because I've been writing writing writing -- and gee it feels good! I feel as though I'm starting to get my momentum back. However, I must admit that I've been working on a single scene since Sunday. It's the 'intimate moment' scene, which desperately needed rewriting from the first draft, and although it's taken quite some time to yield a result I'm happy with, the effort has been worth it.

I've spent most of this evening reading over the original draft of the next little section, and trying to figure out which bits I think will stay and which are likely to go. I've decided that a sizable chunk of it is still OK and will require only minor editing -- but that means that the chapter(s) I rewrite preceding it need to end up in the right place to allow that to happen. I can't take it off in some different direction that will render the use of those scenes impossible. This is actually quite a challenge in some ways, but at least it will help give my rewriting some direction.

I've just planned out a gruelling schedule for the next five months. Basically I want to try to get through a chapter a week, which should have me finished this year. It's ambitious. Really ambitious. But I'm going to put a lot of stuff on hold to try to get it done. Frankly, the whole thing has been going on long enough. It's time for some closure!

I have two milestones to meet in the next couple of months. One is a submission to the latest Hachette Australia manuscript development program, for which I need a better synopsis and first chapter. This is due July 24th latest. The other is the cutely named 'WriMoFoFo' (write more for four) challenge some of the members of my writing group are going to attempt. The deal is 20,000 new words in four weeks, or 15,000 words of rewrite/editing. Since this is about the pace I'm going to have work at anyway, it'll help me get into the groove! The dates for this are 13 June to 12 July.

I'm feeling quite charged actually, and determined. I hope I can find some discipline as well, because without that, all the best intentions will come to naught.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Halfway there

Had a good weekend at the island with two of my writing buddies. I spent the time working on chapters 21 and 22 of my rewrite. These chapters will each end up a combination of new words and existing -- it's satisfying that some of my previous draft remains relevant!

We also spent some time discussing synopses, and other aspects of submissions. There's another manuscript development workshop coming up, and all three of us are planning to apply, so we need to get our synopses and first 50p into shape. I've decided to modify my existing synopsis (it's too complicated), plus attempt a completely 'out there' version, taking a creative and non-linear tack. Then I'll get some feedback on the two from my brunch group. Twill be interesting!

I'm probably about halfway through my novel rewrite at the moment. It's taken 18 months to get this far, which is really NOT what I had in mind when I started! I'm hoping I can leverage a lot more of the remaining existing material in order to finish the whole thing by the end of the year. That means about 20 chapters (~60,000 words) in 6 months. That's almost one per week. Possible? Hmmm. I'll give it a go :-)

Friday, 8 May 2009

Happily retreating

I'm happily retreating down to the island this weekend for a couple of days of writerly focus. The past few weeks/months have been considerably patchy -- here it is May already! I'm supposed to have a revised draft complete by the end of the year. Yikes!

The last thing I wanted was for 2009 to be a repeat of 2008 -- where basically the only times I wrote were down at the island. But unfortunately that's the way it's panned out so far. Need to arrest that trend pronto!

But I do like going down there nonetheless. This weekend I plan to have a toasty fire, with lots of hot chocolate. Mmmm.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

At that moment . . .

OK, so I didn't think I was going to continue on with a certain icebreaking novel by MR set in Antarctica, but I have. The story eventually sucked me in, although I still cringe every 10 paces (since I'm listening to it as I walk).

Anyway, I've decided that MR has a shortcut key for the phrase 'At that moment'. He uses it in just about every paragraph, frequently accompanied by a superlative-infused repetition - i.e. 'At that moment, at that terrifying, amazing, stunning moment, yada yada yada . . .' It's a pattern I've become hyper-sensitive to.

I could never get away with such writing. My writing group would tear me to shreds. Why are we so hard on each other, when MR is a mega multi-millionaire?

Go figure.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The spaces between

Thought I'd better check in again -- although it's still not happening for me. Most of the anger is gone now, to be replaced by . . . nup, can't think of another 'a' word. Let's just say I'm really busy! Work again, but only temporarily I hope.

All I have at the moment are the spaces between. These are the times spent en route to work (either via car or walking), lying in bed at night after the light is turned out etc. At these times, my characters prise open my mind and call to me. At these times I can hear them, cries faint from neglect. And their stories haul themselves out from behind all the other junk and clutter.

Thank goodness for the spaces between, because otherwise something precious (to me at least) would wither and die.