a study in futility: the dough that never ends (poem)

Before you read the poem, here’s why I wrote it:
A few days ago I decided to bake some meat pastries for the last day of Ramadan (fasting month for Muslims) and because my brother’s family would be joining us, I decided to make a bigger dough, added a few extra cups of flour, a few extra spoons of yeast. When I returned to check on the dough after I let it rise, I realized the meat wouldn’t be enough, so I took out the chicken breasts, diced them into little, smallish squares, cooked them with onion, garlic and some seasoning.
I began taking small portions from the dough, making little balls and placing them on a floured platter that I’d later roll and fill with meat/chicken. But evry time I was done with the 20 some balls I had made, I’d return to the bowl and find that the dough had risen anew and filled up the bowl yet again. At the end, I had to shred cheese to fill the remaining dough.
The poem below is dedicated to that stubborn dough that refused to end.

Once I decided to bake
Pastries to break the fast
Never would I have guessed
This dough would never end
The meat I seasoned into fragrance
The chicken I diced into squares
But never did I guess
This dough would never end
The yeast I used of plenty
The olive as virgin as Mary
But never did I guess
This dough would never end
Roll I did, once and twice
Filled in the meat, the chicken thrice
Added cheese and some spice
But never would I have guessed
This dough would never end
I took from the dough again
Rolled and leveled until it evened
Still cheerful I filled and filled
But never would I have guessed
This dough would never end
And on and on the platter grew
Until a mountain peaked through
And roll and level did I do
But stubborn dough grew anew
Never would have I guessed
This dough would never end
Murderous I took the entire dough
And in one piece I decided to roll
Meat and chicken together I dumped
And formed one single massive ball
Never would I have guessed it could
Grow and grow but grow it would
This evil ball of dough
That built and grew anew
Because the yeast had been too plentiful
And in the oven it couldn’t go

Jina S. Bazzar

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motivating creativity: baking for the imagination (brigadeiro – brazilian chewy bonbons)

Motivating creativity: Baking for the imagination (brigadeiro – Brazilian chewy bonbons)

This week we have a treat – also from my childhood. Easy to make, costs little, looks incredible in birthday parties and yum yum, tastes magalicious.
It’s a Brazilian sweet, common enough anywhere you go in the country, cheap enough that no one feels any sting over it.
And did I say yum yum?
The name is brigadeiro. Since I can’t think about a translation for it, I’ll call it chewy bonbons, because, that’s what they are.
But for those of you who are wondering what does creativity and writing have to do with chewy bonbons, let me tell you why:
Sometimes when I’m writing a particularly good scene, I lose myself in the story so completely; the world around me fades away. It’s a wondrous thing, to lose oneself in the make-believe.
Sometimes, those scenes come naturally to me, a slideshow of ideas that keep pouring in while I try to keep up.
Sometimes, those ideas contrast with each other, and I have to choose one.
Here, I stall.
What should I do when both ideas are good enough but completely different?
I follow the thread down the line. I think about the next scene, and how the follow up will eventually meet the ending of the book. I imagine both alternatives and play it in my head – dialogues and all – and choose the best one. Sometimes it’s a long process, and sitting on the couch distantly watching space while I figure it out scares the kids away.
So I bake – get myself busy in the kitchen.
Today I’m going to share that sweet recipe with you.
Enjoy!
Brigadeiro:
Ingredients:
– 1 can of condensed milk
– 3 tblsp – full – of bitter cocoa powder
– 1 tblsp butter
– About 7.5 ounces of granulated chocolate 200g)
Method: (that’s right, that’s all you’ll need)
Pour the contents of the can into a pan – large enough for you to tilt to check the bottom later on – add cocoa powder and butter. Mix in low heat until the cocoa and butter have dissolved. For beginners, leave the heat medium to high until it begins to boil, all the while mixing. Once it begins to boil, lower the temp, returning it to medium high every now and then. Don’t stop mixing. It will be ready once you tilt the pan and the entire content slide as one piece (without leaving boiling bubbles behind).
Pour the contents into a Pyrex to cool for a couple hours. Spoon into balls and coat them with granulated chocolate.
Yum yum
Ps: I’m having trouble uploading an image. If anyone tries it before I’m successful there, please leave a photo.

Jina S. Bazzar

motivating creativity: baking for the imagination (chewy brazilian bonbons)

Motivating creativity: Baking for the imagination (brigadeiro – Brazilian chewy bonbons)

This week we have a treat – also from my childhood. Easy to make, costs little, looks incredible in birthday parties and yum yum, tastes magalicious.
It’s a Brazilian sweet, common enough anywhere you go in the country, cheap enough that no one feels any sting over it.
And did I say yum yum?
The name is brigadeiro. Since I can’t think about a translation for it, I’ll call it chewy bonbons, because, that’s what they are.
But for those of you who are wondering what does creativity and writing have to do with chewy bonbons, let me tell you why:
Sometimes when I’m writing a particularly good scene, I lose myself in the story so completely; the world around me fades away. It’s a wondrous thing, to lose oneself in the make-believe.
Sometimes, those scenes come naturally to me, a slideshow of ideas that keep pouring in while I try to keep up.
Sometimes, those ideas contrast with each other, and I have to choose one.
Here, I stall.
What should I do when both ideas are good enough but completely different?
I follow the thread down the line. I think about the next scene, and how the follow up will eventually meet the ending of the book. I imagine both alternatives and play it in my head – dialogues and all – and choose the best one. Sometimes it’s a long process, and sitting on the couch distantly watching space while I figure it out scares the kids away.
So I bake – get myself busy in the kitchen.
Today I’m going to share that sweet recipe with you.
Enjoy!
Brigadeiro:
Ingredients:
– 1 can of condensed milk
– 3 tblsp – full – of bitter cocoa powder
– 1 tblsp butter
– About 7.5 ounces of granulated chocolate 200g)
Method: (that’s right, that’s all you’ll need)
Pour the contents of the can into a pan – large enough for you to tilt to check the bottom later on – add cocoa powder and butter. Mix in low heat until the cocoa and butter have dissolved. For beginners, leave the heat medium to high until it begins to boil, all the while mixing. Once it begins to boil, lower the temp, returning it to medium high every now and then. Don’t stop mixing. It will be ready once you tilt the pan and the entire content slide as one piece (without leaving boiling bubbles behind).
Pour the contents into a Pyrex to cool for a couple hours. Spoon into balls and coat them with granulated chocolate.
Yum yum
Ps: I’m having trouble uploading an image. If anyone tries it before I’m successful there, please leave a photo.

Jina S. Bazzar

motivating creativity: baking for the imagination(chocolate cake)

Motivating creativity: baking for the imagination

This week I’ll share a chocolate cake recipe my mother used to do for us when we were little. It tastes of childhood, of innocence, of little mischiefs.
For those who missed the previous post, let me explain what baking has to do with the imagination. Sometimes when I’m writing a particularly good scene, I lose myself in the story so completely; the world around me fades away. It’s a wondrous thing, to lose oneself in the make-believe.
Sometimes, those scenes come naturally to me, a slideshow of ideas that keep pouring in while I try to keep up.
Sometimes, those ideas contrast with each other, and I have to choose one.
Here, I stall.
What should I do when both ideas are good enough but completely different?
I follow the thread down the line. I think about the next scene, and how the follow up will eventually meet the ending of the book. I imagine both alternatives and play it in my head – dialogues and all – and choose the best one. Sometimes it’s a long process, and sitting on the couch distantly watching space while I figure it out scares the kids away.
So I bake.
Today I’m going to share that recipe with you.
Chocolate cake
Ingredients:
– 2 cups flour
– 2 cups sugar
– 1 cup cocoa powder
– 1 tblsp baking powder – full
– 1 cup oil
– 3 eggs
– 1 cup boiling water
Method:
In a large bowl mix dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder) make sure there are no lumps. Add oil and eggs and beat well, then start adding the boiling water while it’s mixing.
Pour batter into floured cake pan and bake in preheated oven – 375 f until toothpick comes out clean.

This cake is excellent with a cup of coffee.
Enjoy!

the poison and antidote of an agent’s rejection

The poison and antidote of an agent’s rejection

 

Every writer out there is familiar with the “unfortunately I’m not interested at the moment” line. Every writer, including famous ones. If you check the bio of your favorite author out there, you might even read an article where he/she confesses how hard it had been for them to get their first novel published. No matter how fascinating you believe a book is, not everyone will share that opinion. Same goes with the agents.

It isn’t the book within fault, or you, or the agent, but whether if the three together can be combined and mixed. Like a puzzle, each of the three pieces has to meet and fit to produce a cohesive whole.

The trick is to keep trying.

The problem, however, is that many writers who have been stung with the rejection poison once too many let the venom spread through his/her brain, often convincing themselves that the problem lay within the manuscript.

Often, the writer is wrong.

Many writers, after experiencing that wonderful journey of putting together those paragraphs, those scenes, those chapters that form the beginning and the end of the book and build up the courage to query an agent, only to receive a polite rejection, often feels dejected enough to consider his writing nothing more than a fool’s errand. Those many rarely write again.

Who hasn’t ever seen that line in their inbox “unfortunately, I’m not interested at the moment” before? Which one of you, after reading those rejections decided the manuscript wasn’t good enough? Which one of you tried writing something else? And which one of you thumbed your nose and went ahead and self-published?

In my opinion, there are three types of writers who branch from that line of rejection:

  • The dejected, depressed, the one who believes his/her book was so bad he/she didn’t even get a partial request.
  • The indifferent, the one who shrugs then puts his manuscript aside and resume his life, forgetting about the manuscript altogether.
  • The persistent, ambitious, the one who would raise their chins and continue trying.

Often, from the third type, there comes two:

  • The one who decides that maybe the book wasn’t good enough and starts writing a completely different book, genre, or revise the entire manuscript all over again. Sometimes, a second rejection for a second projects stings and the third type falls back to either of the first two
  • Sometimes though, the third type decides his book was good enough and either that agent was telling the truth and the book really didn’t fit his interest at that time, or that agent was just plain mean, and the author decides he can take care of his own book and goes indie.

So why won’t the first two types do the same?

Simple.

Traditional publishing (acquiring an agent to represent your book) takes some of the weight off the writer’s shoulders and helps the writer in such a way that many writers believe that they can’t do it without the help of an agent. It’s true that now-a-days an agent requires that the author comes ready to market his own book – even demanding it before the writer can submit a query letter, making it clear in their bio/submission page that if the writer doesn’t have any interest in helping market his/her own book then that agent isn’t the right fit. Still, traditional publishing – though much slower, helps boost a writer’s career – helps with the editing, refining the manuscript down to a t, helps with the cover and more importantly, the marketing. A lot of writers out there believe that the rejection of an agent means that the public won’t be interested and that going indie would only embarrass themselves.

That is not true.

Self-publishing has become more popular with the age of technology, giving the writer who doesn’t mind pushing up his sleeve the opportunity to do it himself. It’s laborious work, yes, but often very satisfying.

Here, aside from writing and editing a book, there’s more editing, then doing the cover – or paying someone to do it – formatting, and marketing.

Unlike with traditional publishing, independent writers sign no contracts, aside from the one they commit with themselves. There’s another plus for the indie writers, and that is the fact that the book starts selling after 4 to 72 hours after you publish it. With traditional publishing, however, it takes time. There are all the months – weeks if you’re lucky – of querying for an agent, then all the time it takes for the agent querying the houses, then possibly a year before your book starts selling. Plus you lose a lot of the say in what happens to the book and the format and so on.

And yes, you may acquire that agent after months of querying left and right, only to get rejected by the publishing houses.

Lately, I’ve been reading more and more about authors who do both, signing with an agent for a series and self-publishing a different one, or selling the rights of a book in a particular language in some particular countries, then self-publishing that same book in other languages and other countries.

Independent writers go through all that on their own. So if you’re the type who wants to write only (though you still have to edit your book and present it as polished as you can to an agent if you want to be taken seriously), then traditional publishing is your best fit, but I advice you not to feel down when the rejections start piling. It’s natural, it’s inevitable. Query as many agents as you can. Someone out there has to like your writing. Keep in mind you just need to find that someone.

For those who like the indie concept but still feels like the work is beyond you, you can always pay someone to do the cover and edit the book, format and proof read, and help market it later on. But beware of sharks, because the internet is full of them and you don’t want to find yourself getting skimmed for a service you never receive or worse, getting your book published under someone else’s name – though I haven’t heard about this one yet.

It’s a lot to take in, I know, but if you do it right, the satisfaction of seeing your book out there selling and getting read by others . . . won’t that be awesome?

 

Jina S. Bazzar

Self-publishing vs traditionally publishing: choosing the right fit

 

Writing has evolved to a new level of professionalism.

A few decades ago a successful writer meant a person with a clever imagination and the right set of words to describe a scene colorfully. Today, a writer – to be successful needs a lot more.

Do you know why?

Because the competition has increased so colossally that an exceptionally well written book can be overlooked if the writer doesn’t possess the right set of skills to call the right attention to the manuscript.

Things like blogging, a catching bio, the right agent – and let’s not forget good timing.

Why good timing? Because if you’re writing about something everyone out there have been writing about for a good while, the publishing industries start demanding for diversity, making your book indistinguishable from the next, causing the agents or publishing houses to push your work aside, searching for that diversity among their slush pile.

So why would they choose your work instead of someone else’s?

Sometimes, having a unique voice and a clever dialogue makes the difference, and we get the next NYT bestseller, even if the plot theme is a typical one. Consequently, if you write about something different, original, or weird enough , with a good plot and a good protagonist, then your chances of success are higher than most.

Still, the publishing industry is still evolving and competition is growing exponentially and it’s hard to find an original out there that no one – or very few – have written about.

For that reason, aside from writing a very good manuscript, you should also push up your sleeves and help the work get done.

What? How? And more important: What else is there to do besides writing?

There is Editing, then editing and more editing. And let’s not forget, there’s editing. Until you’ve memorized every comma placement in that 500 page manuscript and there’s nothing else to add or delete or correct.

That, my friend, is very, sadly, extremely important.

But the editor . . .?

Due to the increasing demands of publishing, most editors no longer have time to edit book the way they used to before. So when you present that very good manuscript full of typos, spelling and grammatical mistakes, poor margins and so on, the agent frowns down at it and starts wondering about your level of commitment to your book.

And just like that, there’s a very high chance your manuscript will be sent back with a polite apology.

That’s if you’re trying for an agent. But if you’re self-publishing?

Well, imagine that great book full of typos and spelling and grammatical mistakes. Now imagine yourself paying a few dollars for a book – only to find it full of cringe-worthy mistakes: wide or weird margins, bad format, spelling and grammar mistakes, punctuations that don’t make any sense or cut a sentence in two.

Would you buy the next book by that author?

Most wouldn’t.

Moving on, you have that social networking issue. Are you willing to help promote your book or do you think that’s a job for someone else?

Since the early 2000’s, digital stores began shouldering their way to the top, making it a highly demandable industry. Many writers have forgone the entire agent/publishing house step and moved directly to the kindle stores, publishing their own books. Do they succeed?

Certainly. Even the bad books – the ones full of mistakes – do occasionally sell exceptionally well.

Do you know why?

Social media.

A lot of e-books out there have gone viral simply because the author has a large social network with lots of traffic. You know that thing about word of mouth recommendation? People do that on the social media, get others curious about that extra-ordinary book so and so couldn’t put down.

I actually once read a book full of typos and grammar mistakes that sold over a million copies in just a few months.

I know, I was incredulous too. But such is the worth of social media.

Accordingly, Agents, editors and publishing houses know that promoting yourself and your book are on par with success and so they encourage writers to do it – some even demand it.

Discouraging, huh?

A person might be out there, piling incredibly excellent manuscripts in a drawer just because the book fits a tired industry or because that person lacks the right set of skills to catch the eye of that particular agent.

So what do writers do?

They self-publish.

Even if self-publishing still demands that social media thingy, the writer has more control over his book there. The book will sell, though it would be according to the writer’s ability to network and promote.

And that is why self-publishing books have skyrocketed these past years.

Not because of the social skills, mind you, though in some cases that’s exactly it, but because it’s more expedient now-a-days to finish a manuscript and self-publish than spend time researching and querying agents and waiting for a response, then a request, then a possible rejection – only to start the process all over again. It’s nerve wrecking, and a lot of times depressing. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes a few weeks. Like I just said, it takes time, and for some, catching that agent is worth all the waiting. Sometimes though, it’s frustrating to realize you’ve found that perfect agent to represent that incredibly good book, only to get a prompt rejection because the agent – or because the publishing house – found something that didn’t interest him/her in that query letter.

In my opinion, if you’re determined to find an agent, keep querying. But if you’re sure your book is pretty good, then don’t let the rejections stop you: keep querying – or just – do it yourself.

 

Jina S. Bazzar