Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What I'm writing

What I write for a living:
  • Blog posts and brochures about automated external defibrillators — from stories of rescues to updates on legislation mandating AEDs in schools, gyms, and public places.
  • Profiles of formerly homeless individuals, most of them long-time "street people" suffering from mental illness and substance abuse who now live in subsidized apartments. I interviewed two of the 10 men who had been costing the city and county as much as $1 million a year in police, hospital, and social services. Once they were in "housing first" communities, the local goverments saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Articles about business strategy, on behalf of a local CEO.
  • Humor columns about home, family, and community.
  • Websites for government agencies and large non-profits. Many of these are written in government-mandated "plain talk" — a style of communication so effective that one government agency tripled the rate of accurate responses to their letters to businesses and taxpayers.
  • ebooks and blog posts about the iPhone.
  • The WriterWay blog for my business.
  • PowerPoint and Keynote presentations — most of these are "social media audits" or short courses in matching social media tools to an organization's audiences and resources.
What I write for community agencies (on a volunteer basis):
  • Fundraising appeals
  • Web pages
  • Thank-you letters to donors
  • Marketing materials, press releases, and ads
What I write for myself:
Sadly, the science fiction writing is at the end of the list, even though it's the writing I often enjoy the most. I've started a novella, part of which will be critiqued at the upcoming Cascade Writers Workshop next month. And, as a part of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I'll be writing three short stories during July, using the "How to write a short story in 90 minutes" techniques taught by author Mary Robinette Kowal.

I'm one of 149 writers who've signed up for the Write-a-thon to raise money for the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Clarion West has come to be the gold standard for speculative fiction writing courses — it's a six-week program taught by the field's top authors, editors, and publishers. The majority of the 18 students selected for the program require scholarship assistance, and the Write-a-thon is one of the primary sources of funding for the scholarships and other program costs.

Please consider supporting me, or one of the other 148 participants (some of them quite famous!) as we write our way through the summer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mystery Menu

Doug asked for the menu for the easy-to-make summer dinner that fits most dietary requirements. The philosophy behind it is that these are three healthy, hearty dishes and most diets will allow two of them.

1. Grilled meat or fish

The first time, we did steak rubbed with olive oil, garlic, and herbs. The second time, it was salmon cooked in a non-stick fish basket. I think we're going to stay away from chicken because it's fussier on the grill, marinades and basting sauces are a pain, and skinless chicken comes out too dry for company

2. Grilled green vegetables sprinkled with oil and herbs (A large amount — it's amazing how people eat more grilled vegetables than boiled/steamed.)

We grill them in a "dish" of aluminum foil (though you could also use a grilling basket). Thus far, we've grilled green beans, asparagus, and thick-sliced zucchini (this last one sprinkled with oregano, basil, and parsley). If you've got adventurous guests, try cooking the green beans with anchovies, garlic, halved cherry tomatoes, and black olives (a Naked Chef recipe).

You can also do nice things to the veggies after grilling them, like sprinkling chopped marinated sun-dried tomatoes over the zucchini or a little lemon zest over the asparagus.

3. Steamed baby potatoes (the little white, red, and purple ones)

We cut these in half, steam them, and dress them in a vinaigrette. They're pretty! You can serve this dish hot or cold. Depending on the dietary interests of your guests, and how much time you have, you can go with a vegan vinaigrette, a creamy dressing, or a hot honey-mustard dressing with or without bacon. Chopped fresh parsley dresses this up nicely.

While working on these "company" dishes, I made an interesting discovery. I always get frustrated when I cook some cool dish and then discover the only serving dish it fits in is ugly. In this case, I put the vegetables, and the potatoes, into large, attractive serving dishes before I cooked them, and then cooked the amount of food that would fit into the dish.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Last week I was trying to write a humor column about summer in Seattle. The deadline arrived, and all I had were a lot of disjointed anecdotes about trying to cram a whole summer's worth of activities into the nine weeks of actual summer weather between July 4 and Labor Day.

I called the editor and wheedled a 24-hour extension, hoping that somehow inspiration would strike. It did, about five minutes later, when I got an email saying that the conference center where I had been scheduled to attend a workshop next month had burned to the ground.

"Fanastic!" my column-writing alter ego exclaimed as she crossed the workshop off the calendar. "Er, sorry, I hope nobody got hurt."

In real life, the workshop is probably going to take place anyway, at a backup location. But that incident was the perfect illustration of how out-of-hand a summer calendar can get.

Ours was pretty much filled by last week — but this week 8 or 9 new barbecue invitations arrived, plus some neighborhood cat-sitting assignments.

[Make than 10. No joke: Less than 60 seconds after I hit "publish" on this post, T. forwarded to me an invitation to a barbecue for -- tomorrow night.]

One ray of hope for the summer social schedule:

Last week we had friends over to dinner and I served a three-dish menu that worked perfectly. It was fun to cook (two of the dishes are done on the outdoor grill), tasty, and, if you considered the dishes in pairs, the menu works with meat-eaters, vegetarians, low-carbohydrate dieters, or people who prefer a Mediterranean diet with carbs and vegetables.

This solves my perennial summer problem of what to cook for guests. This menu will be repeated throughout the summer with slight variations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Disaster strikes!

I thought my week was off to a rough start. My major client had yet another leadership change and now we're back to square one with a number of projects. The new person I talked with there was horrified to discover they haven't paid my last three invoices.

Then, an email arrived that put things in perspective.

It was from the writing workshop I'll be attending in July: The conference center burned down!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Somebody's going to pay

There are two ways to do this:
1. You write, and I'll pay:
I’ve joined Kate Schaefer and Vonda McIntyre in a Clarion West Write-a-thon challenge: 
To help get the Write-a-thon underway, we have each pledged to donate $5 for each participating writer, up to $500, if 100 writers sign up for the Write-a-thon.
Here’s more information:
2. Or, if you like, I'll write and you pay:
My goal for this year's Write-a-thon is to develop three new stories using the techniques from Mary Robinette Kowal's workshop on writing a story in 90 minutes. My fundraising goal is $250 for Clarion West. If my friends' support gets me to that goal by July 30, I'll match the $250, dollar for dollar.
To sponsor me:

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Off to a great start

Note: Identifying information has been changed in this story for reasons that will become apparent.

At the top of my task list this morning was solving an ugly little problem:

One of the organizations I work with, a volunteer group, had put out a flier with a number of contact phone numbers. But one of the numbers is wrong.

Jody, the person whose number was supposed to have been on the flier, called me late last night to point that out.

"People will call and disturb some stranger," she said. "And they won't be able to reach me to get information."

Of course, some of these fliers have already been distributed, and huge piles of them have already been printed and are ready for distribution in the next few weeks.

My task this morning was to call the designers and tell them we needed to correct Jody's contact number and reprint hundreds of fliers. Big fun.

As I contemplated the problem I decided it might help if I figured out first just whose number was on the flier. Perhaps it was the designer's girlfriend, and the whole thing had been a Freudian slip at his end — in which case I could take some high ground around the cost of reprinting the stuff.

I was curious — plus I realized it was an opportunity to warn this poor soul that they might be getting some strange phone calls later in the summer.

So I dialed.

"Hello," said Jody.

"Hi," I said, quickly recovering. "Hey, good news. I think I've solved the problem of the wrong phone number on the flier."

"Really?" she said.

At that point I lost it and began giggling hysterically.

"," I choked out. "And you...answered!"

Jody was flabbergasted.

"I have another number?" she asked. "I need to call the phone company and..."

She caught herself quickly. "No, I think I'll wait until the end of the summer."

May all of today's problems be solved this easily and amusingly.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

This old cat

I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning because Obnoxious Cat was pawing me with her claws. I had a choice: Pull the covers over my head and ignore her and wait until Timid Cat began clawing the cat scratching post and Tornado Cat began yowling and throwing things off the counters in the next room, or just get up, go downstairs, and feed them.

I fed them. The flavor of wet food Tornado Cat currently favors was not in the cabinet, so I went down to the basement to get a can of it. But Tornado cat did not like the wet food, and tried shoving the bowl off the counter. I caught it, and gave her freeze-dried salmon instead.

Obnoxious Cat wanted to go out. I put her out. Tornado Cat began tearing around the house, leaping onto cat trees. She tore into the bathroom, nearly flattening Timid Cat, and I turned on the bathroom faucet for her before she had a chance to pull down the towels and throw the soap into the sink.

While she drank, I went into the kitchen emptied the dishwasher.

Went to turn off the bathroom water, but found Tornado Cat was gone and Timid Cat was now having a drink. Went back to the kitchen and found Obnoxious Cat waiting at the door to be let in again. Let Obnoxious Cat in. Obnoxious Cat promptly devoured the wet food Tornado Cat had ignored.

Timid Cat appeared in the kitchen, and I went to the bathroom and turned off the water.

Horrible glorping sounds from living room. Found Tornado Cat sitting in cat bed and barfing on cat bed and floor. Got spray cleaner and paper towels, cleaned up, and took cat bed down to the laundry room to be washed.

It was now 5:30. Went back up stairs to find Intelligent Cat had appeared from her secret hiding place and was now sleeping on my side of the bed. I crawled in beside her and went back to sleep for three hours.