Bleak MidWinter Cures for the Novelist: Short-Story Recuperation

As a writer, it has been an exciting and productive year.  I’m now a contracted author with Pandamoon Publishing awaiting the publication of my debut novel, A Flash of Red in the Winter of 2016. I also finished my second novel, Dear Heart, and completed a working draft of my third novel, Child of Mine, during NaNoWriMo this November. Come the holiday season, though, I found myself exhausted and drained.  Although I love writing novels, the amount of research, plot structuring, and character development needed is estimable, to say the least.

To be blunt, I found myself needing a break, not from writing but from novel-writing.  Enter my talented fellow authors at Pandamoon. Many of them had recently published short-story works in various lit magazines and online venues and, after reading their captivating pieces across so many different genres and formats, I felt inspired to try short-story writing myself. Now, to all short-story authors out there who consider that their main creative outlet, I fully realize that novels and short-stories are two different animals.  But, as a novice short-story crafter, I can only say that the entire experience of developing a plot and characters in limited word-space (sometimes as limited as 100 words or even–whoa!–140 characters) has been revitalizing for me as a writer.

Without the burden of creating a complete and full world with an extended plot line that engages the reader for hours and hours of reading, I found myself experimenting with the written word in ways that I never expected. In the bleak midwinter of February, where everything surrounding us in the North seems gray and dingy, my inner writer’s life is more energized than ever.

Here are a few venues to check out (with links to some of my Pandamoon colleagues’ work for inspiration):

  1. Microcosms offers weekly prompts for essays limited to 100 words or less.  Check out their contests here. Then check out Dana Faletti’s (author of the upcoming novel Beautiful Secret from Pandamoon)  winning poem, The Maid’s Secret, here. It’s sure to inspire you!

Submission Grinder

2. Submission Grinder

If you already have a short story piece that you are looking to publish, in whatever format (essay, flash, nonfiction, etc.), then move on over to The Submission Grinder.

At this site you can search for submission calls for any form of writing FOR FREE.  Their listings are diverse and also offer stats on submission acceptance and rejection waits, along with response times for certain journals.

3. Short Fiction Break is looking for stories under 2,000 words and publishes a few each week. You can submit a general piece or submit to one of their monthly theme weeks.  There’s plenty inspiration to be had from the work already published here, but check out Pandamoon’s very own Jason Huebinger (author of Fate’s Past coming March 2016), whose story, The Monster Awaits, will give you a nice surge of adrenaline to get you going!

Newpages

4. NewPages offers fresh listings of submission calls from a variety of literary magazines, including both online and print formats. They update their site regularly and the postings often offer detailed info about the types of pieces that are being sought after.

5. 101 Word Stories is looking for just that, stories in 101 words. Exactly. They also have a contest for–you guessed it–a 101 word story with a deadline approaching on March 23rd. Jason Huebinger has published here as well–for an example of the stories they publish, check out his work, Another’s Ocean.  Proof positive that you can write a compelling tale in just 101 words. Exactly.

Submittable

Finally, there’s one other portal you should be aware of to help you manage and track who you submitted to and when.  Most (certainly not all, but most) literary journals and sites use Submittable to track submissions, acceptances, and any other activity for your submission.  I’m particularly fond of their ‘Status’ column, which tells you when someone on the other end has actually checked out what you submitted. Making an account is easy and allows you the capacity to monitor all of the places you’ve sent your work and, importantly, allows you to withdraw your submission if you submitted it to several venues and it is accepted elsewhere.

So, if you have an idea that just won’t leave you alone but you don’t have the energy to both generate enough body heat to combat winter AND write a novel, try a short story. You might just get hooked.

 

Chocolate Cake (is for) Lovers

Chocolate Cake Recipe

 

Cake

Cake Instructions Pink

Ingredients

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For the Cake:

  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa
  • 1 cup hot, strong coffee
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar

 Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9″ x 13″ pan.
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I use a lasagna pan for this cake, to ensure that the edges of the pan are high enough to hold in the delicious frosting.

To Make the Cake:

2. Melt the butter; stir in the cocoa and hot water. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, soda, and salt.

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It might take a little whisking, but the cocoa will mix beautifully into the coffee/butter mixture. If you want to avoid the extra effort (and don’t mind a few additional dishes) try sifting the cocoa into the saucepan to break up any clumps.
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Coffee makes everything better. . . especially chocolate flavors!
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It might seem unnecessary, but whisking the dry ingredients ensures that the baking soda and salt are distributed evenly throughout the flour and sugar, making the cake rise more evenly.

3. Pour the cocoa mixture over the dry ingredients, stirring to blend. Beat in the buttermilk or yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

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I like to make a well in the center of the flour/sugar mixture for pouring the cocoa mixture. This helps with whisking the two together evenly.
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Oohhh–vanilla! Mix everything until just combined. You don’t want extra air pockets in your cake from over-mixing.
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I love this part! And, yes, I lick the spoon when no one’s watching. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s just so delicious!

4. Bake the cake for 30 minutes, or until it tests done. You’ll smell the chocolate aroma, and the cake will begin to pull away from the edge of the pan. Remove the cake from the oven and cool it on a rack.

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We always want what we can’t have. Right, Jasper?
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Just waiting for its frosting now . . . make sure it cools completely before you start making the frosting.

 

To Make the Frosting:

1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in the cocoa and buttermilk or yogurt.

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I use the same saucepan that I used for the cake’s cocoa mixture. I don’t even wash it out (no need to)! This pic shows how the solids and liquids will separate at first as you make the frosting. Don’t worry–keep beating it and it will all come together.

2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove it from the heat and mix in the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth.

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It takes a little time . . .
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. . . but eventually it’ll be creamy and gorgeous. Just keep whisking until all of the clumps of sugar are broken up (or use a sifter at the beginning to break up the clumps).

3. Pour the frosting over the cake while the frosting is still warm. Serve the cake right from the pan.

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I like to use an off-set spatula for spreading the frosting, but a normal spatula works fine too.
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If you want to get a little fancy, use a wax-paper stencil to sift cocoa over the cake in any shape you like. Enjoy with your sweetie and a glass of cold milk or vanilla ice cream.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The foundation of this recipe comes from King Arthur Flour, who are the gurus of all things flour, sugar, and chocolate!