Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ham Produce & Seafood Inc

Punctuation is important.

I have to start taking the camera with me when I drive to town. I want to get a photograph of this one truck I see sometimes. On the side it says, "Ham Produce & Seafood Inc." It makes me wonder what the heck ham produce is. Or seafood inc, for that matter.

My daughter came up with another example of punctuation power earlier today. She was so proud of herself that she ran downstairs with a whiteboard and marker to show us:

No more than that.

No, more than that.

One little comma. A world of difference.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pre-Flight Safety Checklist

My Dad's a pilot. He knows there are a few things you can't afford to go wrong at 10,000 feet, so he has a pre-flight safety checklist. Doesn't matter how many times you've checked before, you gotta do it again before you take off. Same thing with my manuscript. It doesn't seem to matter how many drafts I've done, there are a few things I have to check before I submit.

1. Chapter Breaks
Are the chapters numbered consistently? When I begin each chapter, do I have the same amount of space at the top of the page? And most importantly, did I end each chapter with a good hook?

2. Punctuation Dialog 
Yes, I know the rules. Tags get commas. Beats get periods. No good telling that to my wild horses of creativity as they gallop through a first draft. Instead, I check every line of dialog just before I submit. This is a good thing. It gives me a chance to make sure all the dialog snaps and sparkles.

3. Word Abuse
I've got some words I like to use too much, so I have to go back through my manuscript and look around for them. Like, back, look, and around... about half the time these are filler words that don't mean anything. They bog down the prose. Out they go.

4. Grammatical Tics
It's/its, try and/try to, there's/there are, and putting an s on the end of words like toward and anyway. I'm blind to these things when I read through, so I have to use the "search and destroy" feature on my word processor. I love that thing!

5. Final Read
I have to read the whole manuscript one last time. Just so I know exactly what I'm sending out.

Safety check complete! Time to taxi down the runway.

What's the last thing you do before you submit?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to Make Cheese

This morning I unscrewed the cap on the milk jug and took a whiff. A certain sour tang told me it was past its prime. You know what that means.


I'm serious.

I learned this trick back when, as a young mother with a husband in graduate school, I signed up faithfully each year for the WIC program. I always appreciated the cheese, juice, and breakfast cereal, but they practically drowned us in milk. My children simply didn't enjoy drinking it. Though I tried to keep up, there was often a jug at the back of the fridge that went a little bit off before we opened it.

So I decided to make it into cheese.

It's totally easy. People used to do this in their own homes for centuries, before they invented Walmart and Costco and things like that.

1. Pour a gallon of milk into a big pot. Add a teaspoon of salt (the salt is optional).

2. Heat the pot on the stove until the milk is not quite boiling.

3. Take the pot off the heat and add a quarter cup of vinegar (you can use rennet if you know where to find it. I sure don't).

4. Stir the pot until the curds separate from the whey.

5. Pour the contents of the pot through a sieve lined with either cheese cloth or a flour sack towel.

6. Put the curds, still wrapped in the cloth and sitting in the sieve, in a larger bowl. Put the bowl in the refrigerator and let the curds drain for a few hours.

Now you have a nice lump of crumbly cheese that makes a great substitute for Ricotta. I'm using it for lasagna tonight.