It was a dark, cold, grey, January day in Manhattan. The city’s holiday shine had long faded away. Gone from the modern contemporary office lobbies across New York County were the trees, lights, and holiday decorations that made them sparkle. Now, they were more like a rich man’s trophy wife or girlfriend, beautiful to behold, but soulless and cold. At least that’s what went through fifty-three-year-old Clarissa Berman’s mind as she walked through the lobby of her office building on Lexington Avenue.
At 5’8, Clarissa wasn’t considered petite, but tall enough to be above average. A very curvy African American woman, she had big boobs, a generous butt, a smallish waist with a little more tummy than she’d like. Her long, curly, thick hair was a custom mix of Clairol light reddish and cedar red-brown, which played nicely off of the red undertones of her light brown complexion. To say Clarissa was a convert to the natural hair movement, was a bit of a stretch. She’d done so at the suggestion of Mary Ann, otherwise known as her mothership. A woman used to having her will be done, she now suggested things to her adult daughters who’d long discovered that her suggestions were the equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb, but it was still mutton.
From the moment Clarissa and younger sister Elena were able to understand their roles in the family, her mothership Mary Anne Stevenson made it clear that even when they became queens of their own domains, they’d always be the ladies in waiting to her. Growing up, the ‘I am the mother argument’ was the overriding element for almost everything. Everyone from her husband, family, and friends, were in the mothership realm, and therefore subject to her opinions, will, and advice.
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Publishing is an industry based on the dissemination of information. This information is available in newspapers, magazines, and books. One of the reasons the invention of Guttenberg’s Press is considered the greatest invention ever, is it made the written word available to many. Words equal knowledge, which means the written word has the power to change and shape cultural issues. This is why it behooves us to include as many voices to reflect the diverse world we live in. Unfortunately, this in an area the book publishing industry has struggled with.
The old saying, the fish rots from the head, is an old, but true statement. The lack of diversity in publishing begins in its own halls. According to Alison Flood’s January 30th, 2020, article in The Guardian, US Publishing Remains as White today as it was Four Years Ago, 7% of respondents described themselves as “Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander”, with 6% “Hispanic/Latino/Mexican”, 5% “black/African American” and “biracial/multiracial” at 3%. Native Americans and Middle Easterners each comprise less than 1% of publishing staff.
Sadly, the same lack of representation exists with their list of authors. In the New York Times Opinion Section, Just How White is the Book Industry, 95% of books were written by white authors. This goes beyond simple racial bias. Gender, sexuality, age, socioeconomic background, disabilities, and religion are also factors. Publishing needs more diverse writers/authors who can give voice and give readers a chance to learn about other people’s perspectives to broaden their views on a variety of topics and issues.
She Writes Press is a women-focused publishing house. In 2019, they were the first hybrid publisher to receive the 2019 Independent Publisher of the Year. Reedsy, the blog for writing professionals and publishers, defines hybrid publishing as companies that combine elements of traditional publishing and self-publishing. In other words, they function as a traditional publisher, with the key exception that their authors will subsidize the cost of publishing and will not be given an advance on royalties.
If you would like to know more about the differences between hybrid, traditional, and self-publishing, Reedsy or Publishers Weekly, can provide you with the details along with the pros and cons of each option.
She Writes Press takes the need for BIPOC writers seriously. So, as a way to address the need for broader representation in fiction and nonfiction, She Writes Press launched the SparkPress Toward Equality (STEP)contest for BIPOC writers in furtherance of its mission to give voice to more women.
If you have a project you would like to enter, the contest is open to fiction and nonfiction writers and submissions are open until July 5, 2021. If you’re a woman of color and a writer, you can check out their website for more information about the contest and their company.
Has anyone ever said, you’re so knowledgeable, you should write a book? Or maybe you were watching a movie or television show and thought, if I was the writer, I would have taken it in a different direction. Maybe it’s time to put your money where your pen is.
As an author and literary agent, I’ve heard something like this countless times. The only other question I hear more than that one is how do you start writing? As much as it pains me to say it like Nike, but it’s apropos, just do it.
Fiction or nonfiction, it’s up to you
The first thing to consider is what do you want to write about. If you’re a person who loves to read particular genres like mystery, romance, science fiction, and fantasy, to name a few, then you’re interested in fiction. Think about what kind of fictional story you’d write, then outline the characters, setting, and extrapolate what the overall story will be about in a paragraph. I know it sounds like a lot to do, but it will pay off big in the end.
Perhaps you’re in business, maybe you’re an educator or just someone with a hobby that you are passionate about. Nonfiction can open doors for you to grow your business, demonstrate and market your expertise, or share your love of knitting, cooking, restoring cars, etc.
You know what you’re going to write about. Now what?
This is when discipline is key. Recently PBS aired Hemingway, a documentary by Ken Burns. In addition to being perhaps America’s second literary treasure alongside Mark Twain, the documentary explored Hemingway’s talent and how disciplined he was when it came to writing. Now, he didn’t have to deal with a house full of children. His wife created a space for him to work. Find a way to create one for yourself.
Just as your body recalls movements through muscle memory, your mind will do the same once you develop a routine. Design the routine around the time of day or night that works for you. Don’t try to make a schedule that doesn’t jibe with your internal flow. That’s a recipe for failure.
Once you have figured out the particulars of when and where you’re going to write, comes the hard part. You have to get others to respect your space. If you are like most women who lead full lives with spouses, parents, children, grandchildren, coworkers, bosses, friends, boyfriends, and partners, this may prove to be tricky. Writing is a very solitary thing and writers may be islands in and of ourselves, but it will take diplomacy to carve the time you need without hurt feelings.
When do you need a professional editor
If I had a nickel for every time someone said they were good in English, or had a relative who is an English teacher, or someone who reads a lot edit their manuscript, I’d be wealthy. The fact is there’s a difference between editors readers who edit (proofreaders)
What is an editor, copy editor, or proofreader?
An editor focuses on the meaning of your content. They focus on your writing to be sure your ideas are being communicated clearly. Editors ask the questions authors might forget to think about. Conversely, the also keep writers from inundating themselves with unnecessary lines of dialogue or description. They are all about the meat of the project
A copy editor proofreads text and corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. For nonfiction, they verify the factual correctness of the information, Additionally, they check text for style and readability.
Proofreading almost always happens for the final copy of the manuscript or proof. If you are still in the submission stage for agents or publishers, this is the person who makes sure the manuscript is clean. In every case, proofreaders do some light editing to be sure the final text is homogeneous.
I do encourage you to have people you trust read over your manuscript and give you some feedback. As writers, we are too close to the project. Therefore it’s hard for us to be objective. Another pair of trusted eyes is very helpful.
Ask yourself if you are one of the few, the brave, the non-onion skinned
A common anxiety dream is one where you walk into a public situation like work or a classroom naked. I don’t know anyone who would want to make that dream happen in waking life. However, writing is sharing a piece of yourself with others who may or may not understand. While it is true that everything is subjective, it doesn’t mean it won’t sting. Make sure you’re ready to hear criticism as well as compliments. Rejection and critiques are a part of any creative’s life. Some of today’s top selling writers faced their fair share of rejection and critical ire.
If you are ready to make your dream of writing the next great American novel, or a reference book that will launch you as an expert and raise your profile, then start writing. Good ideas are always welcome, but remember to try to strike a balance between persistence and patience. It will be worth it and I can tell you as an agent, it’s appreciated as well.
Want to learn more?
We’re beginning a series about writing on the Still A Chick-Lit podcast. A new episode will be available on May 3rd. Check back for updates. Email us with questions or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week’s bonus Baking, Blogging, and Writing recipe is Blueberry Streusel Muffins
Blueberry Muffins by Baking A Moment adapted by Chamein Canton
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (vegan butter) 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum flour, sweet or brown rice flour) 1/4 cup granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed fine) 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum flour, sweet or brown rice flour)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed fine)
1/2 tablespoon baking powder 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (unsalted vegan butter) 1/2 cup sour cream (Greek yogurt or buttermilk* can be substituted) (dairy; light sour cream, plain low-fat yogurt, Plain Greek yogurt) (non-dairy: almond, coconut, and soy milk yogurt) 1/8 cup milk (dairy: whole, 2%, 1%) (non-dairy: almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk) 1 large eggs (2 tablespoons Aquafaba, ¼ cup silken tofu pureed with 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, 1 flaxseed or chia seed egg, or egg replacer) 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 cups fresh blueberries (or 1 1/2 cups frozen wild blueberries)
TO MAKE THE STREUSEL CRUMB TOPPING:
Toss the melted butter, flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest together with a fork, until crumbly.
TO MAKE THE BLUEBERRY MUFFINS:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and lightly mist a muffin pan with non-stick spray.
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk to combine. Set aside.
Whisk the melted butter, Greek yogurt, milk, eggs, and vanilla together in a large liquid measure until well incorporated.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and stir together with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, just until ALMOST combined (you should still see streaks of flour).
Add the berries, and fold carefully. (Overmixing will cause the berries to bleed and the muffins to be tough.)
Divide the batter equally between each well of the muffin tin, and top with the reserved streusel.
Bake for 5 minutes at 425 degrees F, then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees F (without opening the oven door) and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of a muffin comes out clean.
Parenthesis- Ingredients are for substitutions to make the recipe gluten-free, sugar-free, no sugar, or vegan/dairy-free
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
President Harry S. Truman
President Truman seemed like the kind of man who liked to take charge. He believed the buck stopped with him. While it might seem like a bit of a stretch to relate this philosophy with creativity, it’s worked for me, in the reverse. When I find my brain is short-circuiting while I’m in the midst of writing, I go into the kitchen to re-wire my thinking, and my first inclination is to bake.
For many people, baking is mysterious and difficult. Cooking allows chefs and home chefs to think outside of the box and add a little of this, or a pinch of that. Whereas baking is a science. The formula is set in the recipe. There is no deviating. It’s that sense of order that calms me. Artists tend to live in their heads, and that’s truly seen in writers. The thought process involved in creating characters, plots, and dialogue, mixed with outside research, could drive anyone bonkers. So, it’s important to find something that aids you in this process. It doesn’t have to be cooking, baking, or anything in the kitchen. Just do something that works for you. It also works wonders if you have a presentation or report due for school or work.
I’m currently working on a novel and a couple of cookbooks. I have a few other fictional works in my queue, but I only work on one novel at a time. Doing more than that, is a recipe for disaster and it’s biting off way more than I can chew. I have begun the process of putting slides together for the cookbook and I hope to have another test kitchen to take photos for the illustrations. It’s why lamination was the way to go for me. The busy work of all the components for puff pastry keeps my hands busy and my mind focused. I figured out the layout I wanted and my family had fresh turnovers for breakfast. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Puff Pastry recipe by Dessert for Two adapted by me
In a medium bowl, add the flour and salt. Stir to mix.
Next, cube the butter and then add it to the flour bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the dough. It will be very crumbly, and you’re done when the butter is in uniform pieces all about the size of peas.
Next, make a hole in the center of the dough and pour in all of the water. Using a fork, stir to combine the dough.
Flour a cutting board, and add the dough. Pat it into a rough square. You will still see chunks of butter and it will seem too dry, but do not add extra water. The dough will come together with each roll.
Flour the rolling pin, and roll the dough out in front of you into a rectangle about 10″ long. No need to be too precise here.
Fold the bottom third of the dough over the middle of the dough. Fold the upper third of the dough on top of the middle too. Rotate the dough one-quarter turn, and repeat. Use additional flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
Roll out, fold, and turn the dough at least 6 or 7 times.
When done, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour, or overnight. Dough may be frozen, too.
A day in the life of a writer can be filled with many things. We have appointments, errands to run, kids to raise, meals to cook, and dry cleaning to pick up. Mix in a day job, career, or business to run, and we have more than enough to keep us occupied. However, I have discovered that in the midst of it all, I find time to write. Most of the time, it’s a welcome relief and a way to put the worries of the day out of my mind. Then there are times when literary inspiration comes at a bad time, particularly when I need to focus on something else that’s pressing. Nevertheless, I’ve got that figured out for the most part.
The most difficult aspect of writing is when we have to cool our jets waiting for an answer once we have had our work submitted to an agent or a publisher for review. No matter the subject, fiction or nonfiction, writers pour a piece of themselves into every page. In fiction, we know every character intimately, the emotions in every sentence, the setting, and every verb. For nonfiction, we have researched the subjects thoroughly, done our due diligence, used our experience in an authoritative yet approachable manner. The work put into it is all about love. Writers love to write and we accept that all the time we put into our writing, may or may not be rewarded with an offer to publish.
Moreover, even if a writer gets a literary agent who is going to represent them to publishers, there is more time built into that proposition as well. Publishing is notoriously slow when it comes to reviewing manuscripts and that’s not a dig about editors. These days the business of publishing in terms of reading manuscript submissions is something that happens outside of business hours. That is true of literary agents as well and I can speak to that as an agent. I almost never have an opportunity to review a submission during business hours. I read in the evenings before and after dinner. I also spend weekends reading as well. This is an industry filled with hurry up and wait
I understand the frustration from both sides. I try to let writers know that the best thing they can do is to keep on writing. It’s also a good idea to incorporate other creative outlets to help ease anxiety. Cooking, baking, painting, sewing, or drawing, are just a few things that let you focus creativity and nerves in a productive way. I have several personal projects happening at the moment and if I stay too focused on them, I will drive myself crazy. As it is the winter, it’s not like I can go out and take a walk like I do in the warmer months. I use my kitchen as my ashram and experiment with different recipes or work on adapting recipes to make them healthier, gluten- free, or no-sugar. It keeps my mind busy. It wasn’t long before some story issues I couldn’t figure out, became clearer and I picked back up writing again. So, time does have its advantages
My advice to writers is always to write. However, when your mind needs a break, use the time to do something else productive. That said, spend time with the people you love, that helps. A little face time with a nephew or a daughter can do wonders. Attend your family’s next Zoom, call a friend, grab a coffee, bundle up and take a walk if it’s a nice, moderate day. Just take a couple of beats. It won’t derail you, but it will help you take your eyes off the clock.
Working on recipes is what I like to do. I also like to share them.
Pasties Pastry Recipe Recipe from New Orleans Kitchen Queens
1 cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)
In a large bowl combine the flours with the salt. Dice the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture. With the back of a fork press the butter into the flour until the butter is incorporated (there will still be small pieces of butter in the mixture). Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the ice water. Gently blend the water into the dough until it forms a solid ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least on hour before rolling.
Chicken Filled Pasties Recipe adapted from Healthy Nibbles
½ pound chicken breast or tenderloins, cubed
1 large- sweet onion or 2 medium sized onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large Russet or Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium sweet potato, diced
1 teaspoon ground thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
generous pinch of salt
1 large egg, whisked (or 1 tablespoon Aquafaba plus 1 tablespoon water, whisked)
Add diced Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes to a sauce pot. Cover with water, then add a pinch of salt. Cook the potatoes on medium-heat until they are fork tender. Drain and set aside.
In a large skillet, add oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the carrots and onions. Cook until the onions begin to soften, and the carrots are getting a little tender.
Add the garlic in, and cook for thirty seconds. Stir in the cubed chicken and cook stirring until no longer pink and cooked through.
Add the potatoes. Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the chicken mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook through until heated adjusting seasoning as needed
Let the chicken filling cool before filling the pasties.
Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into 4 or six pieces on a well floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll into discs about 8 1/2-inch circles. Turn the dough over frequently to prevent it from sticking to the surface. You can roll all the circles out at once, or do it one at a time, depending on your counter space. If you choose to roll out one at a time, refrigerate the dough in between in circle. Cold is essential for flaky, crumbly, pastry without soggy bottoms.
Take a small handful of filling and place it in the center of the rolled out dough. You want to make sure that there is about an inch of clear space around the edge of the dough. Brush the egg white along this empty space.
Fold the dough over the vegetables to create a semi-circle shape. Do this with confidence! Seal the pastry. You can crimp the edges with a fork or fold it like I did. When I folded the edges of the pasty, I brushed some egg along the edge so that the folds stayed put. Brush some of the egg wash over the entire pasty. Repeat these steps for the rest of the dough.
Place the prepared pasties on the baking sheets and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pasties are golden brown.
You can make these vegan. Just omit the chicken and replace with more vegetables. Feel free to add traditional swedes (rutabagas) or other vegetables you enjoy.
I’ve tried this with shortening and it doesn’t come out the same. It’s a little heavier. Stick with vegan butter, even non-dairy margarine is a good choice.