Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Wired Writer: Submissions

I first began grappling with the Hydra which is getting published in 2000. Fresh out of college, I set about sending off my work in the hope of seeing my writing in print. Once a month I sat down to assemble submissions which in that day meant getting out my high quality yet plain stationary, looking up names and addresses, making sure I had plenty of stamps, and creating a query letter, sample, SASE combo to be sent out into the great wide world. Then I would enter the information (who, what, when, where) into my Excel spreadsheet and try to forget about all the submissions to keep from fixating. As rejections (or on rare occasion, revisions or acceptance letters) came in, I would update the spreadsheet. The next month I’d do it all again with different names and/or stories. It was the way of the fledgling writer.

Now, the world of the writer has been transformed into an entirely different animal. The internet has allowed niche, genre, indie, and online only publications to survive without the costs of having to physically print their wares. For writers, the submission process has evolved in our favor. Most publications accept at least email submissions; many have online submission managers that allow the writer to track the progress of their submission. Gone are the days of wondering if the work was ever received. Sending out simultaneous submissions is much more cost effective (basically the cost of your internet provider). Finding the right editor or agent to address your work to is a snap as most publishers/journals/agencies keep updated websites that guide the would be submitter. Many of those agents and editors also have blogs or FAQ pages where they talk about what they look for and provide tips on how to make a positive impression.

On the downside, email makes it more tempting to badger publishers and agents about the status of a submission. Most sites implore writers not to do this; they may even give a time period after which it becomes okay to query about the work. Email cover letters and submissions lend themselves to an informal tone and more typographical errors. It is essential to remember that even when emailing the rules of etiquette and grammar should apply. Always proof the email before hitting send, especially checking that the file is attached (if applicable). Having to send an “Oops! I Forgot the Actual Story” follow up email doesn’t make the strongest initial impression.

Despite all these advances, some things still remain the same. A writer must know the needs and tastes of the publication before they submit. Research is key: reading the journal or other books by that publisher, reading any interviews with the publisher, looking closely at their guidelines.

I have recently started using Duotrope, a free submission manager. What’s great about this site is that not only does it keep track of your submissions, it allocates much of the research needed to one place. There are overviews of thousands of publications, their policies, their current submission periods, and often interviews with the editor(s) of the publication. Especially helpful is the weekly email that tells who is now looking for what, what contests are open, what publications are defunct, and so forth. So far I have found it incredibly useful. For the moment I am still using my trusty Excel spreadsheet–it’s simple, but it works for me.

Categories: Write On | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Toddler Translations: Why My Son Sounds Like a Foul Mouthed, Racist Old Man

My mother loves to recount the tale of two-year old me standing up during a screening of The Black Stallion in a Salt Lake City movie theater and screaming “Hore, mommy, hore!” at the top of my lungs. Oh the shame that story has brought. Every time she tells it.

Which is often.

Like, she’s probably telling it right now, wherever she might be.

Alexander, our little tot-sized troublemaker, puts me to shame. He’s two-years old (don’t ask me months–I stopped counting months after his first birthday) and verbal, which would be great if he didn’t forget important letters or emphasize certain sounds when he speaks. We try to correct him, but some of it just doesn’t process.
I like to think of our family as being accepting, tolerant, and sensitive. Sadly, if you listen to my son talk, we are a racist, slur spouting group. To avoid building that reputation, please refer to the following translations when speaking to our son.

The Alexander Riley Slur to Actual Meaning Translator

He Says: “Crackr”

To the Untrained Ear It Sounds Like: “Cracka”

He Means: Anything making a crumpling noise that might contain food, including a person.

He Says: “Joo”

To the Untrained Ear It Sounds Like: “Jew”

He Means: Juice

He Says: “Mik”

To the Untrained Ear It Sounds Like: “Mick”

He Means: Milk

He Says: “Hompo”

To the Untrained Ear It Sounds Like: “Homo”

He Means: Hippo

He Says: “Crowk”

To the Untrained Ear It Sounds Like: “Cock”

He Means: Truck

So should you meet my son and he greets you with, “Want Jew?” and then tries to show you his, “Cock,” it’s okay to say yes.



Got Mick?

PS. Generation Cake is on Facebook! Make sure to Like the new page. It makes kittens and puppies instantly fall in love you. Really.

Categories: The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Vegan Chicken Fried Steak: Recipe and Review

The first vegan cookbook I purchased was Vegan Cooking for Carnivores by Roberto Martin. Perhaps not a household name, Martin does carry some star quality in that he is the personal chef of vegans Portia de Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres. Although some members of the vegan community have criticized the book for being too basic, too based on soy, and not necessarily healthy (which are all valid critiques), it is an excellent resource for someone just coming into cooking vegan, especially someone cooking for non-vegans. While I certainly wouldn’t cook every meal out of the book, it provides some great options for a variety of tasty meals.

On Saturday night, our family tried the Vegan Chicken Fried Steak Bites. You can find the recipe, sort of, on Ellen’s website. The directions are close to those in Martin’s book, although he gives a recipe for blackening spice, which I’ve included below. In addition, I made a few minor changes. We didn’t have cashew cream or even the cashews to make it. Since we are on a budget, I just used what was on hand to dredge and add to the gravy: almond milk. I also used plain vegetable stock in the gravy instead of faux chicken stock.

My daughter had a blast dredging the beefless tips–she felt like she was getting away with something making such a mess. After dredging I let the tips sit for about 15 minutes while I mixed up some vegan biscuits. Then we fried the pieces. I was surprised that the color came out so golden. While the gravy was thickening, I baked the biscuits and put some beans on the stovetop so everything was ready at roughly the same time.

The result was ridiculously yummy. The Gardein brand tips fried up tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. My husband told me afterward that he was nervous about eating the beefless tips and gravy because it wasn’t like anything he’d seen before. But after tasting it he wanted to know when we could have it again.

This is certainly a decadent meal that we won’t be having all the time; however, it was very delicious and appeased my meat-eater husband who happens to be a great sport about trying all these new foods. My picky eater daughter couldn’t wait to tell people about how she helped make the best dinner. To me, that makes this a winner.

By the way, one of my favorite vegan blogs in the history of ever, Vegan Crunk, just published a cookbook. It is on my birthday wish list. If anyone gets a chance to try it out, let me know what you think!



Blackening Spice Recipe

1 TBS paprika

1 tsp cayenne

2 tsp garlic powder

2 TBS onion powder

1 TBS dried thyme

2 TBS dried oregano, crushed between your palms

1 TBS kosher salt

1 TBS freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and store in an airtight container.

Categories: Feed the Belly | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Portraits of Artists: The Men

Earlier this year I shared my fascination with black and white artistic author photos, highlighting images of Eudora Welty, Katherine Ann Porter, Virginia Woolf, and Colette.

Finding images of male writers that compare to the women is difficult for me–most of them lack the intensity or are off in some way (Hemingway’s tendency to be photographed with guns, the obvious way Fitzgerald pandered).

Samuel Beckett. The Irish playwright has a fantastic face and there are a number of striking shots of him looking directly into the camera. The almost goofy nature of this image, his glasses on his forehead, shows that he is not all intensity. The Irish sense of humor is evident.

John Fowles. I happen to love pictures of Fowles because he, like me, always has crooked glasses. The rocky seashore, the isolation: he might have just stepped out of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Even though the photo is certainly posed, it looks almost as if Fowles was stopping to say something when the photographer snapped it.

Jack Kerouac. In pictures, Kerouac tends to read as an aspiring method actor–all intensity and stray locks of hair. Photos like this one are striking to me in that I can see the author caught unaware, working, as opposed to posing. His eyes are closed as if he is away from the physical world. Thinking? Listening? Creating?

Haruki Murakami. The Japanese writer is often photographed in guarded positions. His go-to pose is to lean his head on his hands. Sometimes he’ll cross his arms over his chest. In this image, the photographer either wisely gave him something to keep his hands occupied, or Murakami used the kitten as a crutch. Note the hand placement and the way he is holding it–is he protecting the kitten or the other way around? They seem somehow ostracized from the viewer, isolated. Thematically, the photo seems deeply connected to Murakami’s own writings.

Categories: Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Letter to New Teachers (Confessions of a Troublemaker)

Dear New Teachers:

Congratulations! You are about to become a member of one of the most verbally accoladed and financially minimized professions in history. Welcome to our fold.

In August of 2008 I was in your shoes, preparing for my first day of teaching at community college. I was nervous, naive, and excited. Having outlined my courses, I felt prepared. It turns out I was not even in the correct zip code for prepared. The past few years I have had what I generously call Growing Pains. Never did I intend to be a troublemaker; instead, I managed to stumble blindly into it, like some unfortunate girl at the core of a horror franchise. As a teacher at heart, there a few things I have learned I would like to share with you. These are not my normal diatribe against the system and the students, but four simple things that if taken to heart can hopefully make your new job remain your career.

First, set up boundaries for yourself and others, both at school and at home. While the Hollywood view of education praises teachers who give themselves over entirely to their profession, this approach is not realistic in the long haul. It is admirable to want to give everything to your students; it is essential to keep something for yourself and your family. In the age of email and texting, students and even administration sometimes forget that teachers are not always “On Call.” The problem comes when there are no boundaries set for you and them. Yes, grading and responding to student questions can be done from home; it’s one of the perks of the job. However, you must teach yourself how to mentally (and often times physically) clock out. The email needing an immediate answer can wait until your office hours or conference period. The phone call can go to voice mail during dinner. As I recently told the committee in an interview for my new administrative position, my time has a price. Figure out how much your time is worth financially and emotionally, and then budget how it should be split between your work, your family, and yourself. You owe it to all three.

Next, realize you are a student, too. The moment you stop learning and growing as a teacher, quit. Every semester, every day, every class, I learn something new (often times merely patience). While I certainly don’t want to reinvent the wheel, I do want to move toward my better teacher-self. When you have a classroom observation, listen to the feedback. Read student comments looking for constructive criticism. Keep up with what’s happening in education and in your field of expertise. Most importantly, own and learn from your mistakes. Yes, you will make mistakes. Some on accident, some on purpose. You are a human being imparted with a difficult job. Of course you will make mistakes. It’s what you do with those mistakes that will define you.

My third bit of advice is compromise on anything but your integrity. No matter what you tell students, parents, administration, family, or even yourself, someone will ask you to compromise. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve said it, written it, or yelled it, they will want exceptions to your rules. Here’s the thing: some compromise isn’t a bad thing. Flexibility to a point shows willingness to adapt and grow. I compromise every day with someone because I have learned to pick my battles. That being said, I value my personal and professional integrity too much to ever compromise those. The way I view it, at the end of each semester I have to sign my name to the grade the student has received. I am saying that the grade accurately reflects the student’s performance to the best of my professional judgment. If the grade reflects something that wasn’t earned or a lack of standards on my part, I have compromised my integrity. Beyond that, the integrity of my courses is two-fold: I must challenge my students to work to their highest potential, even if they hate the work and me for it, and I must be willing to guide them on that path, no matter how frustrated or tired we all might become.

Finally, and this is sort of compilation of all the others, take care of yourself. Be smart in the way you do things. The world is full of wonderful students, some who just may not know it yet–you can help them. It is also full of students who will exploit you and/or the system rather than work. Don’t put yourself in the situation where that can happen because it can kill your career. Keep your boundaries firm, acknowledge and grow from your mistakes, and behave in a way that is befitting of the best of our profession. When the students say terrible things about you (and some will), don’t take it personally. Find friends who will commiserate or just listen. You are not alone in any of this.

I send you my deepest wishes of hope and gratitude as you embark on this path. It sucks, exhausts, challenges, rocks, transforms, consumes, and inspires.
Oh, before I forget, get a sense of humor if you don’t have one already. You’re going to need it.



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Shooting Fish with a Slingshot in the Dark: The Wisdom of Margaret Atwood

My deep love of Margaret Atwood is no secret. One of the great surprises I found in joining Twitter was her frequent and fascinating Tweets. Earlier this week, I got up early for a spot of writing, detoured to Facebook (hanging head in shame), and found this lovely list posted on her page, reprinted from The Guardian. Note how she couples her savvy advice with wit.

Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.

5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ¬essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10. Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

How lovely is the image of her sitting on an airplane, whittling a pencil with a nail file, scribbling madly on a piece oak that just happened to be handy?

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A Time to Build Up

Liliana: Official Kindergartener.

“There will be a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” ~Louis L’Amour

It is a time of beginnings and endings at Generation Cake. Last Thursday my daughter, Liliana, attended her last day of preschool. On Friday my husband’s job came to an end. Luxuries like cable and texting were turned off. Life began to transition.

While Liliana was bidding her friends goodbye on Thursday, I was signing a contract that makes me not only an assistant professor but a liaison for my division, a promotion in responsibility as well as pay. The pile of textbooks for Staley’s classes grows taller every day in preparation for his first day of class next Monday. Today Staley, Alex and I watched Liliana walk into Kindergarten (and no, I didn’t cry). We are in the process of shifting schedules, budgeting, and generally adapting to the next phase for our family.

For Generation Cake all these changes signal a transition as well:

  • First, thanks to Amy Cerka for the new logo and header.
  • I am trying to persuade Staley to write monthly updates on life as a full-time student and daddy. Fingers crossed I can wear him down.
  • Generation Cake is now!
  • Biweekly posts are the new order of the day, with topics like: What else have I learned at my random jobs? What happens when someone with a disdain for bureaucracy becomes part of the machine? How does an off-kilter mom grapple with stress of being a private school mom (the activities calendar I got last week gives me hives!)? What other landfill bound materials can find new life as jewelry? How does a primarily vegan family eat on a budget?

For the answers to these, and many other questions, stay tuned.



PS. Don’t miss a post! Become a Cakester!

PPS. Help me pressure Staley into writing posts. Sound off in the comments!

Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Makes A Classic?

I was recently at a chain bookseller and came across what they term their “classics” collection. The usual offerings with their arty covers peaked out: Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, Lolita, The Great Gatsby, 1984, Lord of the Flies, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . . . all those classroom staples that have also usually done some time on the challenged book list as well.

My creative writing students probably want to punch me in the face as I constantly harp on the necessity of reading these classic books to give them a foundation in the trappings of the novel. The question this begs, however, is what defines a classic? Longevity? Notoriety? Imitation? Do all so-called classics deserve the title bestowed upon them?

To the latter, I would say that some titles are questionable. The prime example that comes to mind is James Joyce’s Ulysses. Often topping lists of best novels ever written, Joyce’s tome is the prime example of modernism with stream of conscious narration, Greek influence, game play, and humor. It is the bridge between the modern and postmodern period. It is also nearly impossible for most readers to get past the first 100 pages. I will admit that while I have read the work, it has been in bits and fragments over a series of years. Which brings me back to the question of my title: what makes a classic?

Ulysses is considered Joyce’s most important work. It contributes to the structure and history of the novel, providing influence and breaking ground for a new view of what it means to construct narrative. Despite these weighty accomplishments, it’s difficult to read and lacks the accessibility of say, The Dubliners, a collection of stories that to me are much more deserving of the classic label. This is not to dismiss the value of Ulysses; it is to question if a classic must appeal to the non-literati to maintain that title.

Another question is how does a book become a classic? Will there come a point when Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex will find its way to that list? John Gardner’s Grendel? Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood?

This week I picked up Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five again. The deserved title of classic is evident in Vonnegut’s complex themes, structure, and style:

“There are no characters in this story and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”

I turn the question to you, readers. What makes a classic? What has the title that shouldn’t? What books will or should become classics?

Categories: Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Practical Crafts: Lend Me Your Ears

Making upcycled jewelry is pretty addictive. I find myself looking at things around the house and picturing them reconfigured into various baubles. My mother recently asked me to throw out her old, broken VCR; ten minutes later she caught me next to the trashcan on her porch, prying open the VCR with my bare hands, searching for gears and wires to salvage. She just shook her head and went back inside.

I love a dangle earring, but having a variety of fun earrings can get pricey, even if they are costume. To fill my need for fabulous ears, I have been constructing a variety of different styles.

The Safety Dance

Safety pin earrings might conjure visions of early 1980s London and the Sex Pistols. Mine aren’t quite that vibe. These are made from the small safety pins, jump rings, and beads.

For those not feeling the bead vibe, these are just safety pins and jump rings.

Oh Snap

I have a drawer full of snaps, buttons, hooks, eyes, and other closures that have long since lost touch with their garments. Thankfully they can find love again as earrings. The pair on the right features two sizes of snaps, tiny glass beads off of a shirt, and jump rings. For the silver pair, I used jump rings, beads, and eyes.


Nifty Gifty

My daughter loves gift card bracelets; I’m digging the earrings. I traced a couple of circles on a Starbucks card, cut them out, and then filed the edges with an emery board to cover up my poor cutting skills. A few punched holes and jump rings later, here’s the result:

Don’t hate my ears because they’re beautiful (and eco-chic). Sadly, this week marks the departure of the Practical Crafts weekly feature for the time being. To everything turn and for Generation Cake, the return of the school year marks a new season. Next week will see a new look, new features, and a few surprises. Become a Cakester so you won’t miss a thing.




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An Amateur Who Didn't Quit: What I Learned from Women's Best Travel Writing

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” –Richard Bach

Last week on my lifestyle blog, Generation Cake, I wrote about what I learned from working at Victoria’s Secret in college. My point was we take away so much for our experiences, whether we realize it or not. Last October on the suggestion of my friend, Katie, I submitted a non-fiction piece to writer/editor Lavinia Spalding for consideration in the upcoming Travelers’ Tales anthology, The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 8. Last week, roughly 10 months later, the book was published with my work included, representing my first major (and paying) publication. The experience taught me much, especially how to put into practice the things I’ve been told about being a professional writer.

  1. Always be writing. The story I submitted did not just burst into existence as soon as I heard about the project. Earlier in the summer, I had done a series on Generation Cake (back before I started this blog to focus on writing) transcribing some of my travel journals. One of those pieces seemed right for the project and required revision rather than starting from scratch, making me feel more confident about submitting it.
  2. Know your potential publication. Although I had read Spalding’s Writing Away several times, I had never read any of the Women’s Travel anthologies she edits. Reading the most recent one (quickly) was my first course of action. It gave me a clear feeling of the level of diction, point of view, and tense that seemed common throughout the work. Because I was preparing my story for this publication, I needed to keep that in mind in revising. I played with tense and diction to make it a better fit.
  3. Revise, take two, and revise in the morning. It was roughly a week from the time I found about about the project to the time I submitted. The night before I sent it off, I was pretty certain I had a clean, articulate, and strong piece. But I let myself sleep on it. The next morning I did a final once over and found a few other minor errors that I was able to fix. Certainly there were some things I missed, but overall it was a something of which I could be proud.
  4. Sometimes you beat the odds. I honestly did not think the piece would even be considered. Past volumes contained stories from professional journalists and travel writers, university professors and women who sat on boards of literary magazines. Their stories were about things like spelunking into previously undiscovered South American caves. I’m a nobody with a few minor writing credits and some blogs who wrote a story about climbing the Great Wall of China with her grandfather. My story was one of hundreds read and, I figured, forgotten. When I received an email from Lavinia Spalding in mid-November, I assumed it was a rejection.
  5. Be open, flexible, and receptive to constructive criticism. Lavinia’s email was obviously not a rejection; it was an email telling me how much she liked the story. Attached was an edited version for me to correct before she submitted it to the publisher. Over the next 72 hours, Lavinia and I shot emails back and forth. Most things were minor things easily fixed (a missing hyphen, an overlooked comma). Two images were tweaked for clarity. The crux of the matter became a single metaphor. Lavinia saw it as a mixed metaphor; I understood her perspective, but I also saw it as a different reference. I could have argued the point, explained why it wasn’t really a mixed metaphor, and dug in my heels. But I knew that I had apply Stephen King’s advice and kill my darling because even though it made sense to me, it wasn’t obvious to everyone. She wasn’t asking me to change my story, my theme, or my style. Thus about 48 hours of those emails were us literally volleying verbs back and forth.
  6. Be patient. In mid-November I signed off on my final draft and was told I would be informed in about six weeks if it was accepted. I counted out the weeks and then tried to forget about it. Six weeks came and nothing. Eight weeks came. Ten weeks. Nothing. Katie occasionally asked for updates. I told her it was probably a no go because it had been so long. It never crossed my mind to contact Lavinia or the publisher, badgering them for an update–I thought of how many things I had read telling writers not to contact agents/editors/publishers demanding an answer. Then in mid-March I received an email from the publisher with a contract attached. I gleefully faxed my contract and approved final draft. Silence resumed. The book became available for pre-order on Amazon. Katie and I thrilled at the vague mention of my story in the promotional information (“Climb the Great Wall with a 9-month-old and a 91-year-old”). In July, I received an invitation to a contributors group and launch party along with some promotional materials. I pestered my Twitter followers and Facebook friends with coming soon teasers. Now, with the official release last week, I am checking my mail daily for my contributor’s copy. It may seem silly, but I want to hold it in my hand.
  7. Keep an eye to the future. This is something I have wanted since I was a little girl. As thrilling as it is, it is one story, one credit. I have to keep writing, keep challenging myself, keep submitting, and keep putting myself out there. Who knows? I might just beat the odds again.

I feel somewhat weird plugging my own work, but it is my own blog, so why not? The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 8 is now available for purchase. Buy it, read it, love it.

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