Five Good Things {No. 9}

We Are In Space

·Dallas Clayton‘s doodle wisdom lights up my social media.

·I’m on track to meet my deadlines for the Mechanica sequels. That doesn’t sound glamorous, but it’s good and important. I sleep very well at night when I get my word counts done.

·Mechanica made the 2016 Amelia Bloomer Project list of recommended feminist literature for young readers. I am super delighted about that, and Nicolette is in really wonderful company. Do check out the rest of the list!

·Eleven-year-old Marley Dias has started a book drive to gather 1000 books with black girl protagonists, since she’s “sick of reading about white boys and dogs,” and she is my new hero.

·I dance on Moffat’s sexist Doctor Who grave.

#NaNoWriMo: You’re Tougher Than Your Book

[I’m a municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo this year! This is the week two pep talk I sent to my region.]

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My dear, lovely Galway wrimos,

We’re here, in double-digit NaNo days! We’re a third of the way there! Pause for a mini dance party in celebration!

But hey, I know, we’re also deep in the throes of week two. Week two always reminds me of the Doldrums from The Phantom Tollbooth (that completely brilliant children’s novel about the imagination that, if you haven’t read it, ohmygodpleasedoit’ssogreat). That momentum and excitement you had at the beginning of the month might be wearing off, and you might find your novel-car puttering to a slow plod through an uninspiring forest, or even stopping altogether. It’s hard to see the top of that 50,000-word mountain from here. You might be falling out of that first blush of story love you felt a week or so ago.

(OK, was that enough mixed depressing metaphors for you yet?)

Yes, writing a novel is hard, and at some point finishing that draft always seems impossible, whether you’re trying to do it in one month or one lifetime. BUT. I want to tell you this right now:

No book is important enough to beat you.

I suffered horribly and anxiously over writing my third book, far more so than either of the previous ones, for all sorts of reasons: it was the first book I was drafting under contract, it was a sequel, I was going through all sorts of those personal crises that seem to wait to strike until creativity does. I felt so much anxiety about that stupid book that I avoided it with a passion, for so long that I turned it in to my editor painfully late. Like, I won’t even tell you how late it was. I can’t. It’s too embarrassing.

But I finished it. Late, imperfect, miles short of the masterwork I wanted it to be–I still finished that book. And when I sent it to my editor, the relief that washed over me was so unbelievably huge. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, even as I sat with the knowledge that the manuscript wasn’t nearly as “good” as I’d hoped it would be. It was done. I’d written the book I’d genuinely thought was impossible.

What made me finish it at last was exactly that knowledge that it wasn’t great. Because it wasn’t that dreamed-of masterpiece, well . . . I certainly wasn’t going to let some not great book beat me. If my book wanted to be bad, fine–I wanted it to be finished.

And I won.

This draft you’re heroically typing, this NaNoWriMo monster that’s entrancing and betraying you by turns–it’s not tougher than you. It’s not important enough to beat you. No book is. No book, ever, is.

I know week two can be tough. But every time you hit the keyboard, you get one word closer to showing your novel who’s boss.

And you get closer to week three. Which, trust, is way more fun.

You’re tougher than your book. Go prove it.

Love, Betsy

Five Good Things {No. 7}

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·My artist of the moment is Sara Falli, whose work I found Pinterest-diving for something to decorate my new editorial services page (more below). Her creepy-gorgeous gouache paintings are just lovely, and the one I’ve chosen only touches the surface.

·You can now follow my blog with Bloglovin! My new pen pal Polly’s blog, The Forest Mermaid, is the first one I followed, and I’m already enjoying all the seamless procrastinating I can do there.

·I’ve started offering editorial & mentoring services for writers, so you can hire me to review your manuscript or guide you on the scary journey to publication. Click the link for details. <3

·Ever since I learned about Cheryl Strayed’s tenure as Dear Sugar, I’ve lowkey dreamed of writing an advice column of my very own, and my latest hero of the genre is Bitter Butch. Her post on the importance of being out when bi, femme, and married to a cis dude is what drew me to her column, but this one about subtly undermining religious fanaticism is delightful and on point as helllll.

·Richie and I met on the Aran Islands three years ago this week, and our second wedding anniversary is coming up on the 24th. Awww.

Leaving Home

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As a teenager, I counted down the days to CTY each year. I waited desperately, 49 weeks at a time, for those three scant weeks when I would be home at nerd camp.

When I started teaching at the same program three years ago, a lot of that same excitement came back, but it was mixed with trepidation. Would I feel the same homecoming, the same magic I’d known as a lonely teenager?

0f0f60b463b82ef37a61316dda69d71fOh, I did. It was different this time: I was an adult (okay, I was twenty-three, but that’s in the ballpark), and I was as close to a Real Writer as I could have wished when I was an ambitious and idealistic thirteen-year-old. Both those things made the experience of CTY, in small ways, better than it had been before. I now had the power to create the loving, challenging, inclusive environment that had exploded my in-turned heart as a teen. I could give that gift to the kids of 2012 who were stuck in the same place I’d been in 2001. That was magic.

In 2012, I was still coming from a place I couldn’t quite call home. I had just graduated from the MFA program at Notre Dame, a school where I’d met some beloved friends but had felt overwhelmingly frustrated by the various bigotries both on campus and in Indiana at large. I’d felt physically and emotionally landlocked, and coming back to CTY–on a Los Angeles campus no less–was like diving into cool water after a hot day. The work of teaching wore me out, but my relief was huge.

Of course, shortly after my summer of teaching I left for Ireland. Here I found a new home. I meant to stay and research the sequel to Tides for a month or two and nurse my burnout and my broken heart, but (as you’ll remember if you read my first essay for Parabola) life had vastly different plans for me. Just over a year later I eloped and moved with my Irish husband into the stove-heated cottage that has been my heart’s home ever since.

Just under a week from now, I’m leaving this home to go back to CTY.

For the first time, I don’t want to go.

Of course I love teaching; of course I love my students, and CTY students most of all. I have a passion for teaching writing and for this program in particular that I can already tell will supersede a lot of my homesickness once I’m actually gone.

But it hurts to know that CTY isn’t my home any more. The fiercely lonely, fiercely loyal teenager who found kindred spirits there doesn’t want me to give it up. I still have the lanyards students were given each year, but I don’t keep my keys on them any more. That makes some part of me inexpressibly sad.

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Maybe it’s a universal feeling of young adulthood–not #YA like I write it, but the phase I’m in now, going on twenty-seven. Maybe we all have to mourn our first homes, wherever they were, when we realize we don’t live there any more. I know that happened to me when I left Smith, where I was a happy feminist undergrad for three and a half years. It happened when my high-school/college sweetheart and I decided that despite how much we cared for each other, we shouldn’t be together. It still happens to me sometimes, in quiet and complicated ways, when I find myself missing America.

5d3be755f65afc8ba0951182775b0863Richie (that would be my husband) often says that people don’t give themselves enough permission to mourn. If we’re happy about a change, we don’t let ourselves be sad for what we’ve lost along the way. I know he and I both mourned our singledoms when we got married. If we hadn’t accepted that sadness in ourselves and each other, I don’t think we could have dealt with it in the same way.

Part of me is sad that I’m not that CTY kid any more: the quiet girl who suddenly didn’t have enough minutes in the day to chatter with her roommate. The shy girl who sang in the talent show. The awkward girl who had her Perfect Teenage Moment (everyone needs one) at a camp dance. I miss being her, and I can look back and love her more kindly than she was able to love herself. CTY is part of what let me get to the loving adult that I can be now.

That makes me think that some future me is looking back and loving who I am today, too. Maybe she’s mourning something else that’s changed, even though I hope she’s happy with where she’s gone. I know my lonely thirteen-year-old self would be thrilled to hear where I’ve ended up.

So I might cry when I chaperone the dances this year, and I’ll definitely cry when my husband drops me off for my flight. But with that sadness–I can already feel it welling up–comes so much gratitude.CTY helped me survive in a pretty literal sense, and I know I wouldn’t be the same me without it. That place and time is not my home any more, but I get to help create it for other bright, lonely kids, and that’s something worth leaving my adult home behind to build.

I go from one happiness to another, counting down the days. And at the end of it I get to come home, and feel happy and safe for much longer than three weeks this time.

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Art credits: X X X X X

Recipe: Mango Almond Muffins

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There are a few things I couldn’t live in rural Ireland without. High speed internet is definitely first on the list, but then there’s: a good library system (the tiny local branch has a surprisingly good YA shelf, and the librarian is always offering to order things for me . . . I think I’m just about the only adult who regularly checks out books there), decent coffee, and several friends who’ve lived both here and in America. That ‘outlander’ feeling never quite goes away . . . and no, I’m not talking about this Outlander feeling. Tragically.

And then there’s food. I hit maximum potato saturation some time ago, and I would have gone absolutely mad by now if I didn’t have access to my trusty spice rack and a few specialty shops around Galway.

Before I had a car, I could usually only go food shopping in a tiny local rural market, and their flavorings on offer were salt, pepper, “mixed herbs,” and “mixed spice.” I realize that there is a whole epic history of reasons why Irish food tends to be so unadorned, and I have gone on my share of rants about how the potato famine was actually genocide, but . . . I was still sad about the lack of spices. As soon as I got my car, you can bet I stocked up.

To be fair, there are plenty of natural and specialty food shops within even a ten-mile radius of our rural cottage, and even more in Galway City itself. Ireland is basically a big green cornucopia of amazing fresh produce and some of the best meat and dairy in the world, too, so I really have nothing to complain about.

But whenever I bring home blue cheese or cardamom pods or some non-native fruit, Horseman still laughs at me fondly, because why do I need all this weird stuff? He’s always appreciative of my cooking, but food is essentially just fuel to him. I kind of envy that, in a way–a combination of no food issues and the highly physical work of training horses means that my husband is ridiculously fit in a way that I, writer and emotional eater extraordinaire, will never be.

But on the other hand, good food is a sensual joy for me, one that I don’t think he experiences in the same way. I wouldn’t want to give that up, not even for a six-pack of my very own.

I think.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I baked muffins the other day. Even though they’re fairly basic and hardly exotic by most people’s standards, they’re really, really good. So good that I want you to make them, too, and I’m posting the recipe here.

Enjoy.

MANGO ALMOND MUFFINS

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Perfect Blueberry Muffins)

5 tablespoons butter, softened (I used Dairygold, the best butter in the world)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
1/4 cup whey (or buttermilk, but I always have whey left over from cheesemaking)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoon (7 grams or 1/4 ounce) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 fresh mango, diced

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well, then yogurt and whey. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add half of this mixture to batter. Mix until combined. Pour remaining dry ingredients into batter and mix just until the flour disappears. Gently fold in mango. Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full and dust each with a little more almond meal. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out mostly clean (there may be mango juice). Let cool on a wire rack, except don’t do that. Eat them warm.

 

Sugaring Primroses

I want to be a village witch.

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Like, a (mostly) benevolent, indeterminately aged woman who lives in a quirky cottage where there are always weird bundles of things drying in the kitchen, who spends a lot of time prowling the hedgerows for wild herbs. Who dresses a bit like a mori girl or Baba Yaga. Who may or may not have a private back room used for magic (or writing, or magical writings).

Happily, that’s pretty much me right now, except for the aspirational fashion. Today I’m a village witch dressed in muddy rain boots, worn-out jeans and my “Kiss Me, I’m A Lyons” t-shirt.

Oh well.

10574224_983832240200_3621566522745670471_nWhen I was eleven, I read a book about natural skincare products and spent the next year attempting to make my own bubble baths, lotions, and powders. For one of my first projects, I took the petals off of the roses from a wilting dance recital bouquet and submerged them in sweet almond oil in an empty spaghetti sauce jar, screwed on the top, and hid them in the back of the bathroom closet. The book assured me that in a few weeks I’d have rose oil, and I figured the parts about sterilizing the jar and using only organic flowers were, you know, optional. Rose oil sounded like magic potion, and that was enough for my baby-witch heart.

Of course, being eleven, I promptly forgot about the jar. Many months later,  my mother found it while rummaging through the shelves for ipecac to rescue one of the dogs. What she found was rank and festering, limp brown petals nesting in layers of gray mold and globby oil. It popped like soda when she opened the jar and unleashed a truly foul stench into the air. She probably could have fed the dog my rose oil instead of ipecac and yielded similar results.

Mom forbade me from doing any further ‘experiments’ outside of her supervision. But supervised potion-making was not nearly so satisfying, and I eventually gave up experimenting altogether.

tumblr_nkdk9txmhH1rvy3ulo1_500Now, though, I live in a stove-heated cottage along Ireland’s wild Atlantic way, and the urge towards hedgerow witchery has come back to me. That does include actually paying attention to Old Irish holidays and rituals and other quietly Pagan and Druidic things, which I hope to write about as I learn more about them.

tumblr_nmamwuImn41rvy3ulo1_500Mostly, though, my witchy practices involve gathering edibles: sorrel, strawberry leaves, and elderflowers this time of year, field mushrooms (which I am so neurotically careful about) and strawberries in the summer, and hazelnuts, elderberries, rose hips, and sloes in the abundant fall. Goat’s milk soap, cheese, and caramel sauce are my most common potions, because each of my goats can produce nearly two liters even when they’re only milked once a day, and I don’t want a drop of it to go to waste.

My latest village witch endeavor, though, would really have delighted my child self: sugared primroses. Doesn’t that sound like something on which a good witch or a fairy queen would feast?

Well. Let me tell you something.

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First I gathered the individual flowers from within a half-mile radius of my house, which was appropriately charming and fairylike, even if my hands started to freeze when the late afternoon turned suddenly and uncomfortably cold as it slipped toward evening.

1551613_10100159775949570_1322217410860763494_nAs soon as I got home, I beat egg whites (from my own hens, Flora and Elfine, for that thorough cottage aesthetic experience) and poured caster sugar into a bowl. I shook my primroses carefully to dislodge any creepy crawlies; washing would wilt the delicate petals. I picked up a small, flat paintbrush and a teaspoon.

Then I spent four hours painting each flower, front and back, with egg, dipping it carefully in caster sugar, and using the teaspoon to pour tiny streams of sugar onto any surface the brush-and-dip had missed. I placed each flower painstakingly onto the wire rack that I had purchased especially for this occasion.

Finally, the flowers had to dry in an oven, set to the lowest possible temperature and cracked open, for an indeterminate amount of time; just “until thoroughly dried.” In this foggy, cool, densely humid place, that meant the primroses in the middle of the rack caramelized while the ones on the edges were still damp with egg white.

But fine. Whatever. They were sugared flowers, and wasn’t that just magically delightful? And hadn’t the recipe claimed they were breathtakingly delicious, that in fact you couldn’t make them with small children around because they’d gobble them all up in a flash?

tumblr_nn5k1z7NL61rvy3ulo1_500Well. If your definition of “breathtakingly delicious” is raw-tasting sugar and egg white glued to tissue paper, then, OK. But that is literally what they tasted like: thin paper dipped in egg and sugar and allowed to dry.

Which is, basically, what they are. I know, I know.

I actually liked the burnt, caramelized ones better, because at least they tasted of something. (In fact, as I write this I am munching on a few of them, and they’re . . . fine. The way thin, grainy caramel paper is fine. But clearly I’m still eating them, so, you know, make your own choices.)

Still, I have to say that they were terribly underwhelming, and far too fiddly and involved. This game was not worth its candle.

My recommendation, should you wish to feast on wildflowers (and who doesn’t?), is to gather your primroses and sweet violets, but keep them fresh and toss them in a salad. A plate of mild, fresh, colorful flowers, drizzled with the simplest lemon-and-oil vinaigrette: now that’s the feast for this village witch.

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And the best thing about primroses and violets is this: the more you pick, the more they bloom. That seems like magic to me.

(Photos from my Instagram feed.)

Five Good Things {No. 3}

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·Seal madeleines. Selkie cookies! Staaaahp. I can’t handle it.

·The Marriage Referendum is coming up here in Ireland, and this letter in the Times (among other things) gives me hope that it might actually turn out right.

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·I did my first Mechanica-centric author interview for the last day of this year’s #FairyTaleFortnight. You can read it, and enter to win an advance reader copy, here. Interview highlights: Dragons vs. krakens, obscure fairy tales, Smith College, and the Disney villain I like the least (even though he’s technically supposed to be a good guy).

·Speaking of Mechanica, the first early blog reviews are starting to trickle in! They’ve ranged from “the most innovative adaptation of a fairy tale released in a book for a long time” to “the most awful Cinderella retelling ever written” (both on Goodreads),  but the majority have been pretty great. One librarian gave five stars and said it’s “perfect for fans of Gail Carson Levine,” which obviously made me happy-cry. Read more early review excerpts on my Mechanica page.

tumblr_nmo5p2TC4R1qaufopo2_r1_400·RTE (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) has decided to look down upon us in mercy and show the new Outlander episodes on Tuesday nights, mere days after they premiere on cable in America. My husband knows to bring me ice cream and shut the fuck up when this show comes on, because I can’t have the brawny yet sensitive Celt I live with interrupt my viewing of the brawny yet sensitive Celt on my television. Did you SEE that opening scene from this week? No wonder the AV Club called it “the best sex on TV.” (Source of that gif is here and definitely not safe for work.)