Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back On Track

I'm starting to experiment with the illustrations for the next issue of Swill -- I've got to have it done by the start of July...

As I mentioned before, I'm going to be taking samples from the print series I'm doing and rendering them as black-and-white images suitable for xerography. Here's the source of the above image.

Well, the missus is out of town for the next few days. Her mother fell and wound up in the hospital for a while; it's a worrisome situation but so far things seem to be going as well as possible.

Before the missus left we patched things up. I got two days of a serious cold freeze -- I tried to kiss her goodnight on Wednesday and the look she gave me convinced me that I should keep my face away from her mouth for a while -- but Friday morning she yelled me down from my studio and huffily told me that she needed me now so I couldn't be distant and sulky. I have to admit, two nights of going to sleep hated had, in fact, put me in the mood to be distant and sulky but I hadn't gotten the opportunity to act on the impulse.

(And in a neat about-face she went from pissed-off to overly-solicitous -- she realized that my transgression indicated that I've been unhappy lately. No shit, Sherlock.)

Being good meant attending some social functions associated with her daughter's graduation (a doctorate in biology from UC Berkeley is indeed worth celebrating) and making a nice dish to bring to one of them. Normally hanging out with that crowd leaves me emotionally strip-mined for days -- they're perfectly nice people and some of them are working scientists, but they're...

Well, not the kinda folks I hang out with. They talk about things like sports and stereos and awesome snowboarding. I feel as though I have nothing to say to them, no subjects of conversation. I withdraw and start hating myself for being a loathsome pariah. As I said, the emotional hangover from this usually lasts a few days.

But it didn't turn out that way. I was bored as hell, I didn't do a lot of talking -- but the self-confidence I've developed over the last year or so seems to have had an effect on me. I got out of there with my mood no worse than it was when I came in. Nice progress, oafboy. Keep it up.

And the food I brought seemed to go over quite well. It was a strata, a dish I think of as a savory bread pudding. Usually I use it as a vehicle for leftovers. Since it has dairy in it, the missus hadn't eaten any until this Christmas. (Dairy is one of her innumerable imaginary allergies. She's got personal definition of 'allergy' that doesn't have much to do with the medical condition.) I'd brought one to the celebrations at my sisters and it was the hit of the season and she's been fixated on it ever since.

So when the missus's older daughter commanded her to make a contribution to the party, she decided that her contribution was going to be having me pay for and make the damned strata. It wound using sixteen eggs, a very nice sourdough baguette, a half-pint each of heavy cream and milk, fresh sage, fresh ground pepper, shallots, roast red and yellow peppers, cauliflower, brocolinni, garlic, mustard powder, bacon, ham, breakfast sausage, Canadian white cheddar, Swiss Gruyere, and shiitaki and crimini mushrooms.

Everything that could be sauteed first was sauteed first so I could make use of the fond. (For those not in the know, the carmalized crispy bits that form a sort of crust in a cooking pan are called the fond. It is the mother and father of flavors. Go google Maillard reaction and prepare to have your world rocked, you ignorant scullion.) All the dry ingredients were mixed in a bowl, dumped in a pan, covered with the custard, and left overnight so the bread could totally absorb the custard.

Then yesterday part-way through the cooking process a little voice in my head said that this dish wasn't going to be worth a shit without a crispy cheesy crust, so I mixed up some cracker crumbs with some more aged chedder, some fresh-grated parmagianno reggianno, and a bit of havarti to make the whole thing melt together, then laid the resulting gratin down on top of my symphony of pork.

When someone at the party asked me what was in it I cut to the chase and said it was death on a plate.

I'm of the opinion that if food doesn't elicit little involuntary noises of pleasure it isn't worth eating. This is probably why the missus puts up with me.

Anyway, I got two good moments of abject pleasure from the whole debacle. One was when the missus was at the computer going over snapshots and she made a squeal indicative of hysteria. She called me over to look at the family photo. Since most of them are either Ashkenazi Jews, Phillipino, southern Italian, or some mix of the above they are a thumb-sized people. As result, the photo made me look like Gulliver in Lilliputia.

The second occured when the missus was complaining that her younger daughter was bullying her the same way her older daughter did. She did not appreciate my pointing out that they'd gotten that trait from her. She liked it even less when I started giving a point-by-point lecture on how she does the exact same thing to me but the evidence I presented was both detailed and overwhelming. A good overwhelming every once in a while is good for her, though. It's also kind of fun.

But the real reason I'm feeling as if I'm back on track is that I've gotten back to work on the novel. I've revised the single most problematic area, the start of the thing. I've clarified the lead character's mental illness and if what I've done works, the result is that his motivation -- what he thinks he wants and what the reader knows he needs -- is a hell of a lot clearer. I've also layered in a bit more backstory so hopefully he won't seem as mysterious/confusing.

And by rigorously getting rid of everything that isn't absolutely necessary I was able to combine the second and third chapters into one much shorter chapter.

The result is a much more direct narrative flow, but the emotional tone is a hell of a lot grimmer and much of the humor wound up being cut. I may need to go back and see if there's any way to funny it up. I've submitted it to both of my writer's groups and am now on tenterhooks waiting for reactions.

So today I'm going to at least start, and hopefully finish, going over the whole manuscript with multicolored hi-lighters and Post-it notes and so on, getting all the continuity lined up, figuring out where to beef up the protagonist's crazy, figuring out what foreshadowing is there and shouldn't be vs. the foreshadowing that should be there and isn't.

I'm really anxious to start my search for an agent.

And I'm gonna spend some time with my brother-in-law this evening. In an expression of her newfound concern for my emotional state, the missus made me promise to find some company while she was gone and I haven't seen ol' Aubrey in way too long. So when I get to quitting time I'm going to walk up to Telegraph and hang out with him during the last hour or so of his T-shirt sales, then who knows what'll happen. I'm gonna prep some pizza ingredients in advance (I'm thinking a bacon/gorgonzola pizza with buffalo mozerella and an herb & ricotta mix instead of tomato sauce) in case he's into coming here for dinner.

Heh. I may be a miserable bastard, but when I can get myself to eat at least I eat well.


Traumador said...

great to hear about the novel, and hopefully things iron out with the missus.

the prints are looking neat too ;p

Sean Craven said...

Thanks, Traumador. Yeah, things are fine now -- and I found my missing glasses.

They were jammed between the glass and the screen of the bedroom window. Booze is a source of mystery.