28 February, 2011

How do you stay organized?

There are only two reasons I clean my office:
  1.  because although clutter doesn't faze me, I can't stand dirt, and
  2.  when the clutter starts taking over the floorspace, it scares my Golden Retriever. 
This is why every six months or so I have to spend an entire day decluttering my office.  In between, I simply lift up the stacks, dust and vacuum under them, and put them back where they were.  Spotlessly clean chaos.  It drives my neat-freak brother crazy when he visits, but I can always put my hand on just the piece of paper I want, without hesitation. 

This morning we had had once again reached situation critical ,  the point where Clue just stands in the doorway, looking pitiful and whining -- a sure sign I needed to take action.

We're talking about a 10' X 12' room here, not a huge area. Some things have to stay: the desk, computer table, scanner stand, filing cabinet (one drawer dedicated to recipes, the other to expenses and important papers); and three bookcases, two overflowing with cookbooks and the third with my "to be read" piles. Those are a given.

It's the other piles that cause the problem: recipes I might want to try some day; print outs from courses/blogs/websites on writing; scraps of paper, index cards, and notebooks filled with ideas, dialogue and description for future manuscripts; pictures of people -- total strangers -- I might want to base characters on in the future; the pile of "to be shredded" papers (the ones with my SSN/bank account/etc. on them)... well, you get the idea.

Last time I had a clean out day, I bought boxes to sort and store the odds and ends, but by the time I'd read the first three or four, I'd been diverted to doing something else -- like writing a chapter in my book.  The boxes remain empty and the piles remain, well, where ever they were.

I did manage to fill 2 trash bags before I got side tracked this morning.  But then the mailman came with my copy of Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies, and it was all down hill from there.

Maybe tomorrow...

So how do you keep your research/notes/thoughts organized?

15 February, 2011

Can the Internet cause ADD?

Most of us can't write our mysteries without the inevitable research.  Since a living/breathing expert is not always handy, I often (most of the time) turn to the Internet for facts and figures.

It may be a flaw in my character, but I can't seem to stop researching once I get started. I jump from page to page, using those handy little hyperlinks the "experts" so thoughtfully provide.  And I swear I'm developing a new disease: Research ADD.

The other day I was researching Swedish towns, looking for a likely name to use in my current manuscript.  I found a site listing town names and from there, it was all down hill, at least in terms of writing productivity.

My navigation went something like this: town names -> country information -> things to do-> cultural festivals -> regional foods -> recipes -> gravlax.  Once I'd landed on recipes for this delectable treat, I felt compelled to discover gravlax's origins. 

It wasn't a total waste of 15 minutes -- you never know when I'll be able to work the fact that the word gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word grav, which literally means "grave" or "hole in the ground" and lax which means "salmon", thus gravlax means "buried salmon" -- but it only augmented my word count by 1: Borgholm (the name of a city).

Obviously, I have no self-restraint when it comes to research.  I'll happily follow links, red herrings, and footnotes for hours, and, by the end, I've usually forgotten what I started out looking for. 

Is it just me?  Or do others suffer from Internet-acquired ADD?

In case you want to ponder this question over a nice glass of wine and some hors d'oeuvres, here's how you make gravlax.

Homemade Gravlax

Gravlax is essentially smoked salmon, minus the smoke.  You can finish this recipe with a couple of hours (3-5) of smoking in your barbecue or smoker, but the salmon is delicious on its own.  Or with a bagel and cream cheese.

One 2-pound salmon fillet, skinned
¼ cup kosher salt
2 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1-2 bunches fresh dill (the more, the better)
2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

   1. Rub the salmon fillet all over with the salt and sugar, and sprinkle with the pepper.
   2. Place half of the dill, stems and all, in a glass or other non reactive container, big enough to hold the salmon flat (it can be cut into pieces to fit as necessary), lay the salmon on the dill, and cover with the other half of the dill. Cover with plastic wrap, and place a board or plate, large enough to cover the salmon, on top. Place bricks or heavy cans on the board to compress the salmon.
   3. Refrigerate for 2 days, draining off  the water that collects daily. Check to see if the salmon is finished after 2 days. The texture will change, and become denser, and it will look like smoked salmon when finished. If it is not all the way through cured, give it one more day of curing.
   4. Discard the dill, rinse off the salt and sugar, and slice on an angle, as thinly as possible, with a very sharp knife.

Gravlax freezes well so don't be put off by the amount of fish called for in the recipe. Portion it already sliced in the freezer and you'll be ready for drop in guests or Sunday brunch.