Eleanor Sullo

Eleanor Sullo
So it's 104 in the shade and you want me to smile?

Friday, March 30, 2012


When I talk about editing I mean self-editing. The other kind, where smart people get an opportunity to hash over our words, phrases, sentences, grammar, syntax, chapters and big, whole messy books and get paid for it, goes without saying. It's a gift and a given. But the more we polish up our writing before it goes off to the poor overworked, trying-to-be-kind hard working editor, the happier we make her, and ourselves. Who wants to start practically from scratch after another human being has been witness to our mental chaos??
I’ve been fortunate to have some extremely talented and kind editors from several different publishers, and I’ve learned from them. So much so, I can now struggle through lots of self-editing before making a fool of myself on the up-and-down route to being published.
            I think of editing as three basic steps, such as the steps needed when  polishing a car, the family heirloom silver, or grandma’s hand-me-down buffet. If those metaphors are too antiquated for these modern times, think of it as applying facial cream or a special hair tonic you’ve needed for a long time and have finally gotten around to.
            Step One—Apply the gobs of polish. For me, this means reading through the entire manuscript—short story, novel, non-fiction piece or whatever-- and seeing if your narrative makes sense. (You don’t want gobs of unclear action or dialogue or whatever to impede progress as others read your masterpiece.) Wherever it doesn’t make sense, highlight the offending lines on your paper copy or add a colorful bit of highlighted underlining from your “Inert” tab on your computer screen, and keep reading on.
            When you’ve gone back and “fixed” those blobby elements with some basic clean-up, e.g., making the ends of your sentences the important or dramatic parts of the sentence, or being sure to leave a hook at the bottom of the page, the chapter, and wherever else it will keep people reading. Make sure to read over these corrections, including the previous paragraphs leading up to them, and the following paragraphs as well.
            Step Two—Smooth on the polish so it covers the whole item, i.e., the manuscript being edited. This is your basic, almost-everybody-needs-it kind of editing. Here’s where you replace your lazy verbs with stronger ones, delete most of your adverbs, minimize your adjectives but use plenty of sensory descriptors, especially hearing, smelling, taste, touch. I get so involved in my story sometimes I mistakenly assume the reader can picture the taste and feel of that crunchy apple without me mentioning it. Or see the hero’s cute but craggy profile, or smell the stink of a poor, half-abandoned neighborhood on a hot summer’s day.
            Step Three—Now that the overall polish is covering the whole work, it’s time to check the details, as you take a clean buffing cloth in hand, and start to shine that baby, while you check: your spelling and grammar, an easy thing to do if you’re using a computer; capitalizing uniformly; being doubly sure you’ve used the correct accent marks over any foreign words; calling your characters by the correct names—(I once changed Gerard’s name to Claude halfway through a novel and was shocked to find the error when I edited); check your timeline, in the case of fiction, and your research facts, in every case.. For a final touch of spit and polish, check for typos, enlisting a loyal but hard-hearted friend to do the job for you.
            Think you’re done? Is your manuscript shining now? Does it follow the guidelines spelled out by your publisher? Good. Give it a few days rest if deadlines allow, then go back for a final buff—and watch that writing sparkle!

Next Friday: Writing with Fork--Some Travel Dreams

Friday, March 9, 2012

HOW TO EAT IN ITALY--Writing with Forks

            A few years back, when a big anniversary faced us, my mojo and I knew a fancy pants party in a sleek and shiny commercial venue was not for us. Instead, we rented a villa (fancy word for a house with more than one bathroom!) on a beautiful hilltop in Umbria, Italy and invited the gang to come along, including our entire immediate family, our children, teen-aged grandchildren and a few of their significant others.
            We couldn’t afford to take all fifteen of us to supper every night, though, and we sure weren’t prepared to cook for the gang like we sometimes did on Sundays back home. How would we handle the food angle? Well, those Sunday dinners gave us the clue: here at home our son and his wife, our daughter and her husband, and we ourselves take turns each Sunday to open up the tables and let the plain and fancy food rip. Why not do the same thing overseas, giving every generation a chance to get in on the challenge by providing one nightly meal?
            Each couple picked a day and planned their menus, and every young person cooked, too, sometimes joining up with a cousin or a significant other on their chosen day. The menus came together beautifully: one couple made a rich, fragrant minestrone soup with the trimmings, including wine, another made lasagna, another a roast, potatoes and salad, and another, perhaps feeling a little homesick, hotdogs and hamburgers on the outdoor grill around the swimming pool.
On and on went the variety, and the excellent local meats, produce and pastas that went into it, and we were well-fed for weeks. Only once or twice did we pool our money and hire a local catering Grandma to come in and cook us a typically Umbrian meal that couldn’t be beat. Once we all dined out in a restaurant together. Overall, we couldn’t have asked for better or more delicious or more varied food.
And oh, yes, there was always dessert—homemade, bought, prepared by others—whatever, including tiramisu, Italian cookies, and gelato by the ton. Not to mention the infamously scrumptious bread, eg., asiago stuffed loaves I can still taste, from a nearby little known bakery we discovered by luck. And wine pumped into our own gallons at the local wineries. Bravissimo!
Planning a trip with a group, or an extended family? Try our take-a-turn-cooking method to relieve stress, share the wealth, and have memories to talk about from here to home again. Everything tastes better when someone else cooks. And handles the clean-up. And no one ever gets chopped.
Try it; you’ll like it.

Next Friday: Editing, Writing's Super-Duper Polish

Friday, March 2, 2012


Anne Burrell is one Food Channel Chef who makes me laugh while teaching me new techniques and flavor blends. So when I was planning the menu for over thirty guests for a party at my house, I checked out Anne’s new cookbook Cook like a Rock Star, from the library. I experimented with a couple of recipes of her “piccolini,” snacks or pre-appetizer-appetizers,  knew I had found just what I needed, and ordered the cookbook from Amazon.com.
These yummy sounding, easy recipes provided several dishes which would place the burden for serving on the eaters, and not so much on me—a winning quality to be sure. Fussy appetizers have never been my forté and even Anne’s fussiest ones could easily be adapted to bulk, where the eaters could put on the finishing touches, such as spreading the goat cheese and pepperonata on the crisped bruschetta.
A total of five recipes did me well when planning, and some of them could be partly prepared in the days leading up to the party, then assembled on the final afternoon. Here’s what we made: Said goat cheese spread on a large bowl, with a good sized batch of sautéed peppers, onions, herbs and spices mounded in the middle, and French bread toasts around the edges; olives, first marinated in olive oil,, spices and herbs then heated to the bubbling HOT stage and served with warnings; mortadella processed into a paté
and again surrounded with toasts; a corn-bacon-and chili mixture cooked up quickly and laid in a bowl with heated tortilla halves and bread chunks, and, the one that did require some individual attention, devilled eggs, seasoned with a bit of truffle oil, mayo and half of a chopped (canned) black truffle. (The local favorite.)
There were a few other treats at my party but Anne Burrell’s creations were easy to cook up while still drawing plenty of ooh’s and aah’s. This adventure from Cook like a Rock Star  reminded me that: a cook is only as good as her favorite recipes—and Anne’s are uncategorically among mine now, for sure.
If you’re a cookbook lover with a partiality for Italian food, try this book and its delights, and treat your family and friends!

Next week: Another “fork” presentation, about how to eat in Italy!