Due to popular demand...

...the Grammar Girl giveaway deadline has been extended to Friday, August 5.
My book group is about to discuss A Moveable Feast (which is, of course, delicious--especially when paired with Midnight in Paris--which you should totally see with a writer friend, even if you don't usually like Woody Allen).

So I find the timing of this especially amusing:

News: Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest Reveals Author’s Striking Resemblance to Santa

As promised: Ricotta!

In California, we said "Rick-ought-uh." Here, I've heard "Rick-oh-tuh" and "Rick-cut-uh" and everything in between.

So, I don't know how pronounce it, but it sure is delicious in just about everything. (I served mine over tomatoes with rosemary and balsamic.)

Granted, this isn't one of those projects that saves time or money. It'll end up costing about the same as buying it in the store, and won't taste hugely different.

But, if you have a kid around who likes science projects, or friends who will be impressed when you tell them you made the cheese they're eating--well, it's certainly worth doing once.

And it's easy and fun.

Time: 1.5 hours, start to finish--but an hour of that is "hang it up, set a timer, and do something else" time.

One half-gallon whole milk
One pint heavy cream
About 3/4 cup white vinegar


  • One giant (big enough to make a huge amount of spaghetti) pot that you don't care much about, as it will likely get burn marks from this exercise.
  • A colander
  • Cheesecloth--enough to line aforementioned colander. Available at most grocery stores.

Pour milk and cream into large pot and bring to a full boil over medium heat (any higher, and you will likely burn your pan and have overflow onto your stove). Stir every few minutes to keep it from sticking/burning. Covering the pan for a faster boil won't hurt anything, so long as you keep an eye on it.

While that's heating up, clear your sink and set up the colander with the cheesecloth in it.

When the milk mixture boils, pour in the vinegar. You should see everything start to separate into curds and whey. Yes, it'll look gross. If you're not sure it's done this, slightly more than 3/4 cup vinegar won't hurt anything.


Pick up the giant pot of hot milk and pour it carefully through the cheesecloth and colander.

When the hot whey has run down the sink (and it's safe to do so), carefully pick up the cheesecloth from the corners and tie it into a little pouch. No need to squeeze.

Hang the pouch so that any extra whey can drip off of the pouched mixture. You don't have to be especially careful--I've certainly tied up the pouch, set it on a tiny wire mesh tea strainer to keep it lifted, and put the whole thing into a big Tupperware (I was late for a picnic). It worked out fine. The ricotta wants to become ricotta.

Leave it hanging for about an hour.

After that time, open the pouch, and you'll have cheese!

Here are some suggestions for what to do with it: http://www.countryliving.com/cooking/about-food/fresh-ricotta-meals-0608


When your book gets a bad review, make lemonade [video]

You could do something like this this for rejections, too:


I can't help but imagine this video will improve book sales--even if just to compare the book to the review (as I likely will).

Should you like normal things turned into metal, there's also Vegan Black Metal Chef, Episode 1: Pad Thai. I like his reaction when he accidentally dumps in too much seasoning.
(In reference to the last post): Does that mean all manuscripts to be rejected, at this time at least, have received a rejection email from you?

Ha. No. I'm not that organized.

I do them in batches. Also, sometimes I like to give myself a little while to try to articulate for myself what isn't working. If I feel like I may have helpful advice--but don't know quite what that is yet--I'll let it sit a few days to see if anything surfaces.
So, I was all excited about giving you a rundown of what I read today and what happened with it.

But today was one of those, "Oh, you want to spend the day reading? Ha! Ha!" days.

Here's what today looked like:

10:00--Get off of the subway. Already 91 degrees. Whew. Read two manuscripts and some of a published thriller (good for summer) on the train.

10:15--Iced coffee. Make one for IFI, who comments on how they're always pretty. Why thank you, IFI. (I like putting the milk in first, so the hot coffee hovers over it in a separate layer. Coffee and heat rise!)



11:10ish--Organizing the manuscripts account. I'm not one to keep a pristine desk, but everything in this account must be in its proper place, and properly labelled.

11:15ish--Personal work email. I go over notes on an option book, scan the new version, correspond with the author.

11:30ish--Snack. Tell my boss about the nifty food memoir I requested.

11:40ish--Hand off a book I'm sending out tomorrow to IFI, who's seen all of its many incarnations. I've gone through several rounds with the author and want to make sure I catch everything. I tell her to pretend she's an editor. She glares, perhaps in concentration.

11:45ish--Check in with my boss about a manuscript I sent her yesterday. It's the second version--I requested a revise & resubmit--and I'm really pleased with how it turned out. The author took my suggestions and ran with them. I hover while my boss reads, answer her questions, and sort of bounce.

Noon-ish--Send check-ins to editors on a project I have out, and correspond with its author.

12:15--Reject a flurry of manuscripts. I've written most of the rejections already, but I prefer a "division of labor by process" method, where I write the rejections, save the draft, and actually hit Send a little later. All of the ones about to be rejected have a little beige "Waiting to reject" tag on them. There are at least three really good, useful rejections in there. One author writes back, and I tell her another agent who would, I think, also be a good person to try.

12:30--Start reading a YA/contemporary. It's good, and the writing's great, but I don't love it. It gets the dreaded beige label. (Worse, I suppose, than the Blue Screen of Death.)

1:00ish--Start Googling some of the facts in another manuscript, to see if the world is real or imaginary. According to Wikipedia, it's real.

1:05--Check in with an author whose work is out on submission.

1:10--Lunch. Homemade pizza. Last night, I realized that all of the spoons were dirty and decided to finger paint ingredients (sauce, chopped garlic, rosemary) on instead. I explain all of this to IFI, who looks nonplussed.

1:40--IFI's comments on the manuscript are ready, and I go through accepting, rejecting, and tweaking her changes. Manuscript officially ready to go. Send it to author for his approval. He approves.

2:15--One of our authors calls and tells us about a conference she went to and everything they said about agents' future roles in e-publishing. My boss and I chat about the possibilities.

2:30--Tea time. Iced mint-green. We're out of black, so I just use two teabags.

2:35ish--Start putting together a list and letter for the work going out tomorrow.

3:30ish--More tea.

3:40--Complain about wanting snacks. Search GrubHub. No one delivers pastries. Drat. I'll just have to dump half a box of sugar into my tea.

3:45--Start in on that food memoir. Hooray! Speedy delivery.

4:15--Start loading up Kindle. If I can't read much today in the office, I'll read later tonight.

4:25--Stare at pictures of pretty pastries. More general work email.

4:45--Realize I'm going to be late for my evening appointments, knock over a cup of water, mop it up, do dishes, and run like mad. Oh, and hit Publish Post.
Sometimes I think I should live blog from my query/manuscript stash and Kindle notes. I've always been curious about that "Tweet/share" button near my annotations. That could be fun.

Today's query notes:

Here are a few lines from my favorite query today: "My manuscript can't become the 21st Century American Literary Icon that it deserves to be, until it gets published...In my case, the editor not only has to have visions of sugar plums, but also of Pulitzers."

Be careful with the phrase "I am a published author"--if you don't elaborate, depending on your query, I may assume you're self-published. A lot of writers try to gloss over self-publishing in this manner.

Anything that can be pasted into queries to multiple agents doesn't count as a truly personalized opener. It's better than "Dear Agent, Here's my book"--but, yes, I look for this. Even if you say something that seems detailed, like "I love the books you represent" or "After extensive research into agents, I love your interests..." doesn't count. The true test is whether it would work for more than one agent.

On the other hand, a personalized first line made up for a very obvious, otherwise rather embarrassing error today. That query got not only a request, but a personalized one.

When you get a request from an agency, it's best to address your manuscript to the person who requested it (ie, "Dear Ms. ______, Thank you for your request") versus "Dear [highest-up agent at that agency], [other agent at your agency] sent a request for this manuscript. Can't wait to hear from you!" Note that whoever requests the work is likely the first (perhaps only) person to read it.

I'm counting on you to check in. I promise I'll be nice--so long as you wait more than two months to check in on your manuscript.

Be consistent. A query today went from sweet and demure to so crass my eyebrows shot up--all for one line, for no apparent reason. I was all set to request that work, but now I'm getting a coffee (iced--it's hot in NYC today!) and thinking about it. If you're going to be crude, 1) be sure there's a good and obvious reason to do so, and 2) at least put that sentiment in a clever sentence.

Try not to query right before you go on vacation without internet access. I'm all for vacations, but I also like to get the requested manuscript within a day or so--and it helps you, since I'll remember why I requested it and be psyched to read it.

Rather than "I have queried a number of agents and publishers about this work"--as one querier put it today, making me wonder if that means they all rejected the work--just note that it's a multiple submission. Unless otherwise noted, however, I will assume it's a multiple submission.

Be careful with your formatting. If everything comes through in one giant cube, it looks less appealing. If you're on Gmail, starting in Plain Text mode, putting in your line breaks, and then switching over to add your italics, etc., seems to work best.

Sample pages, even just two or three, pasted into the body of a query--these can make all the difference. Yes please!

Ask before sending revisions unless you receive a specific invitation. Don't just--especially if it's only a day after I gave you suggestions and a non-request rejection--turn around with, "Here's the new version you requested!" I may feel put-upon--and any good revision takes more than a day. I'd rather you take your time and do a great job, unless I specifically mention that your subject matter needs to sell soon.

Today's themes: blood-based dystopians (blood types/groups that consume blood/vampire-like creatures that are not vampires), 1960s YA, Sri Lanka (I know--random, right?), financial thrillers, mermaids, and great writing with terrible, overdone concepts.

Total queries: forgot to count, but around 120 or 130.

Total requests: 

Memoir: 1
Food memoir: 1
Popular fiction: 1
Women's fiction: 1
Literary fiction: 3
YA/dystopian: 1
YA/contemporary: 2
YA/mystery: 1

Of those, 3 had obvious flaws but I was curious enough to ask for more.

Zero were requested because I knew the author or otherwise had a personal connection.

Zero were requested because of platform.
Ever wondered what Stephen King, Mark Bittman, Mario Batali, Peter Kaminsky--and many other well-known, excellent male writers--have to say about cooking for their families?

Here's your answer:

Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families

I picked this up at a Workman BEA party (which, yes, had excellent food--fancy gelatos, especially, including salted caramel, lavendar, and lemon zest), and finally got around to reading it.

It's great. 

And could, perhaps, double as one of those "hint, hint" books to leave laying around the house.

"My dears: it is bated breath. Not baited breath" OR: A GK/Grammar Girl Giveaway

One of my cleverest writing pals put this up as her Facebook status this week, inspiring a stream of clever and cringeworthy replies:
  • Also it's the reign of terror. Not the rain. 
  • I got an email yesterday saying "bare with me."
  • I once had a student, thinking of royalty, write "Your Hinus," which made me think he was referring to...
  • I find "baited breath" is entirely appropriate relating to fishing stories that feature a worm-eating protagonist. 
  • It's important to get this right. After all, it's a doggie dog world out there.
I've said many times that few (in fact, I would reckon, no) agents will reject you for a misplaced comma on, say, page 57. Your first few pages should be perfect--but, once we're into the story, a tiny error won't bother most of us--it's easier, after all, to fix a comma than a concept. You should do your best, but ultimately these are relatively easy changes.

That said, will we respect you more if your prose is not only artful but--well--technically perfect? If we know we won't have to go line-by-line over your work before it's ready to send out? 

You can bet your baited breath.

Happily, Grammar Girl--perhaps you've seen earlier posts where I've praised her wit and helpfulness--has generously offered three books to GK readers:

But wait, there's more! (Yes, I double as a game show hostess.)

Included with your book, you'll receive treats from NYC. I'll send a questionnaire to better guess your tastes, and you'll get not only a useful book, but a treat to eat while reading.

First prize: First choice of the books, plus a small NYC goodie bag.

Second prize: Second choice of the books, plus a treat.

Third prize: Third choice, plus a treat. 

Here's how you win (and Snarky, assuming I can pull him away from his Maker's, and I will be your judges):  Tell us a true story (in the comments) of an amusing written error. Doesn't have to be your own. With your entry, include your preferences (in order) for the books, and a link to a post (either Twitter or on your blog) linking to (and commenting on) a GK post of your choosing--anything since the humble beginnings of this blog three years ago. Include your email address in person (at) domain (dot) com form.

Deadline for entries is Friday, August 5. Winners will be announced the following Monday.
Yes, GK's been remiss in her blogging.

What can I say? There are so many lovely things to do in summer (today, ice cream in the park with an editor; tomorrow, the world).

But--there's about to be a fabulous giveaway of books perfect for aspiring authors.

And I'm working on finding a method of throwing in some edible GK creations. Yes, I'm one of those people who can't help but want to give everyone food. I'm working on it. In the meantime, certain contest winners will benefit--just as soon as I figure out how to get the USPS to make all of this possible.

Hope you're well and enjoying your summer.
Should you be interested in the super amazing Pretty Little Liars (which you really should watch from the beginning), season one is now available on Netflix

Fair warning: you will want to watch them all at once.

With or Without You

You know those books that (literally) make your heart pound when you read them?

I've noted the following while reading this book--lip biting, brow furrowing, eye dampening, and one inadvertent gasp. Most of that on public transit.

I'm not usually one for watching bad things, cringeworthy things, difficult things happen to characters I care about.

But I can't stop reading this book.

I'd been on a bad (published) books diet--not purposely, of course!--and have discarded about 10 books after the first 20 pages in the last week.

But I read the first 100 pages in 12 hours. I'm now about 2/3 through. And. Cannot. Stop.

In fact, I'm at work, and thinking of it now.

Note that it takes a few scenes to really get a sense of the scope of the world and what the author is setting out to accomplish.

Plus, it's written by the wonderful Brian Farrey, also an editor at Flux.

Highly recommended.

One of my friends has promised to show me how to make ricotta.

As someone who eats it with a spoon (and sometimes as a giant scoop on top of a salad), I'm very excited.

I'll let you know how that goes.

This reminds me a little of Customers Suck (yes, from back in the days of LiveJournal--and there should be a name for that--vintage internet? Antique internet?), but in a bookshop: http://jen-campbell.blogspot.com/2011/05/weird-things-customers-say-in-bookshops.html