Happy New Year!

This has been a wonderful year for me, though not at all in the way I expected or hoped for, but that’s the way with good years, isn’t it?  I had just finished one novel with promising prospects, and was into another I had high hopes for.  The marketplace shrugged at both.  I shrugged back.

Then I literally was called back to teaching fiction writing in February, receiving a call a few weeks into the semester asking if I would take over an advanced fiction writing class for an ailing colleague.  I’m not sure how effective I was, but I had a great time and met some wonderful young writers.  That led to a summer workshop and two in the fall, and another this spring.  I want to thank my students for showing me a wonderful time.  The experience has energized my short fiction as well.  I don’t know the publication date yet, but I just sold a story to Lightspeed Magazine which was particularly gratifying because it’s a new, ambitious piece that represents the kind of work I most want to do now.  Besides, Lightspeed is totally cool.

I’m looking forward to attending ICFA this year again in March and returning to Readercon in July.  I’ve been asked about other events, but nothing is confirmed yet.  Now that I have finally licked the muscle pain that plagued me for a couple of years, I can travel again—not to mention sit comfortably for a panel discussion.

About that pain.  I had made the rounds of physical therapists, acupuncturists, spinal injections, etc., and though it would get better for a while, it would always come roaring back.  Finally, my new cardiologist asked if I’d tried going off statins.  I was taking Crestor at the time.  I had, but had had the idea nixed by other medical professionals.  When I quit, the results were dramatic.  Within a few weeks of being off the statins, my pain steadily retreated.  As I have stated elsewhere, I also changed my diet in response to my heart ailments instead of dosing it and I feel infinitely better.

Another reason this has been a great year is yoga.  I have always hated any kind of exercise classes.  It was only through Sarah’s persistent suggestion (some would say nagging) that I gave it a try.  (Thank you, Sarah).  When I found a really good instructor, Viktoriya Kosta, I quickly became hooked.  Mind and body both are better for it.  Namaste, Viktoriya.

I’ve started another novel—I can’t help myself—and I have a half-dozen stories in various stages of completion.  For the first time in years, there are no doctor’s appointments looming in my future.  Sarah, Ethel, and I plan on lots of walks to the river.  Life is good on Maplewood.  I like 2013 already.


Another Muffin

By popular demand. Well, a neighbor asked. I promise the next post will have something to do with literature and writing and all that. In the meantime:

Cocoa Cornucopia Muffins (makes dozen)

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl:
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
.5 cup Grape Nuts (or generic equivalent)
.5 cup rolled oats
1 T. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
.25 t. nutmeg
5 T. cocoa

Wet ingredients in another bowl:
2 egg replacers (2T. flax seed meal + 6 T. water; mix first, allow to turn gloppy)
.75 cup orange juice
.25 cup maple syrup
.5 cup soy milk
.5 cup raisins
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup shredded zucchini
zest from an orange
1 t. vanilla

Add dry ingredients to wet and fold together. It should be thicker than cake batter, but wetter than cookie dough. Fill nonstick muffin pan. Bake 30-40 min. at 375 degrees. To test doneness, first listen. If you can still hear them noisily cooking, give them more time. Test with toothpick. Tops of muffins should be firm. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 or 15 minutes before removing.

If you have only zucchini or carrot or a lopsided ratio, the recipe will still work but allow for the fact that zucchini is slightly wetter than carrot. Honey or molasses can replace the maple syrup.


I promised recipes, and I’ve been on a muffin kick lately.  The carrot muffins are more for dessert or snack—they’re healthy enough to have any time.  The cornmeal muffins make a nice companion to chili or beans.  The jalapeños speak to my Texas roots.  Use nonstick pans or muffin cups.  Muffins are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow muffins to cool in the pan a while before attempting to remove them.

Carrot Cake Muffins (makes dozen)

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon, .25 t. each cloves, nutmeg, ginger or to taste
1.5 cups unsweetened apple sauce
.25 cup (or less) honey, maple syrup, molasses, etc.
1 t. vanilla extract
1 egg replacer (T. flax meal + 3 T. water)
2 cups shredded carrots
.5 cup raisins

Combine dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients. Fold together. Bake 30-35 minutes @ 350.


Corn Meal Muffins (makes dozen)

1.5 cups cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. soda
1.5 cups unsweetened apple sauce
1 cup soy (or almond, oat, etc.) milk
2 egg replacers (2 T. flax meal + 6 T. water)
.25 cup chopped jalapeños from a jar with 1. t. of the juice (optional)

Combine dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients. Fold together. Bake 25-30 min. @ 375.

Heart Advice

As a heart attack survivor, stories of heart attacks among friends and colleagues of friends come my way with growing frequency, sometimes tinged with the fear that they might be next since they can’t seem to diet, and they don’t have time to exercise. Let’s say there’s clearly a growing demand for the information I repeat here.  So put down those cheese fries and listen.  You can feel better.  You don’t have to die of a heart attack.

It’s been a bumpy road, but I’ll cut to the chase: Heart disease is a food borne ailment. Here are the dietary rules I follow (after Dr. Esselstyn’s diet):

1. No animal products of any kind (including fish of any kind, fish oil, egg whites, all dairy, even yogurt).  Low-fat vegan milks (soy, almond, oat, et. al. are okay).

2. No oil of any kind in preparation, or added in dressings, etc. (including Saint Olive Oil).  Saute in small amounts of added liquid or the expressed liquid from the vegetables themselves.

3. No nuts or avocados. This includes peanut butter.  If you don’t have heart disease, walnuts in moderation are okay.

4. No fruit juice.

5.  Avoid added sugars.  Sweeten sparingly in recipes.  No sweetened drinks, jams, etc.  No artificial sweeteners of any kind.  Some vegans are sugar junkies.  Kick the habit.

6. Eat lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens like collards.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, kale, potatoes, yams, mushrooms, corn, brocoli, carrots.  Raw, steamed, pureed, stewed, baked.

7.  Eat legumes.  Every kind imaginable from garbanzos to pintos to lentils.  Mexican, Indian, Italian, American—all my favorite cuisines have delicious bean-based dishes.  I never worry about getting enough protein.

8. Eat whole grains, including whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa.  Whole grain cereals without added oil or sugar like shredded wheat and Grape Nuts are fine.

9.  Eat whole fruit.  Apples, oranges, bananas, berries, peaches.

People say to me, “I don’t think I could give up cheese.” (or butter or name your addiction).  Really?  As for me, I don’t think I could go back to feeling like crap all the time.  I feel infinitely better now than I did ten or fifteen years ago in training for a heart attack.  I have more energy in every way.  I eat all I want, and I never gain weight.  Once your palate adjusts to not being constantly assaulted by sugar, fat, and salt, you’ll find you can taste the food.  Not only do I not crave these things, but the typical “treat” strikes me as fairly repulsive like a salted Crisco milkshake with bacon sprinkles.

As for the exercise you don’t have time for, don’t you have stairs where you work?  A block you can walk around?  If you can’t spend a half hour a day walking, maybe a priority check is in order.  If you get on the diet, you’ll feel more like exercise.  I walk a lot to school and back, and do some yoga.  You don’t have to torture yourself, but you can increase your activity.

I recommend, as with fiction revision, killing your darlings one by one.  Meat, cheese, sodas, oil, added sugar, starting with the most evil and ideally working your way to the Esselstyn diet.  Not diet in the sense of this weird eating regimen you go on until you can start having crap again because you’ve lost a few pounds, but a permanent change in what you eat and hence who you are.  I know too damn many otherwise smart people who are discriminating as hell about the matter they put into their minds, checking sources, getting second opinions and degrees, but who will fill their bodies with shit as building blocks and act like fate or genes or age has made them sick and fat, who will eat desserts called Death by Chocolate and think it’s a joke.  Tell it to your heart.  It has this delusion it’s in charge, that when it stops, you get to do without everything from butter to thoughts, like it or not.  There is a rational alternative.

Interested?  Check out Esselstyn’s website, as well as his son’s.  Live long and prosper.  Please.

Delightfully Busy

A couple of intense summer classes and the last-minute assignment of a graduate workshop starting Tuesday have left me too busy to blog, but I’ve been having a blast.  The summer workshop was unbelievably good. A couple were so good I invited them to take the graduate workshop, and one has taken me up on the offer. I’ve met most of the members of the graduate workshop, and they are a smart, energetic, committed group.  I can’t wait.  Twenty-five years after moving to Richmond to take the VCU graduate fiction workshop, I’m teaching it.  Not a bad way to celebrate my 65th birthday.  Besides Medicare, of course.

A Little Hemingway

My fiction writing class is a very talented bunch with a range of styles and interests. Since a couple of stories have made fine use of narrative restraint, I thought we’d take a look at Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” No one does minimalism like Hemingway. The story is available in a variety of formats on the web.  Here, for example.

Karen Joy Fowler Story

I’m posting links to stories I’m recommending to my creative writing class here for everyone’s enjoyment.  I wanted to point the class to Karen Joy Fowler’s “Always,” but alas that link has lapsed.  Another Fowler story will do, however.  I’m not keen on vampires, but find her “Younger Women” irresistible.  Enjoy.  While you’re there check out the other fine stories at Subterranean Online.