The Best Tomatoes for a Fast Yummy Sauce

Cherry tomatoes. I’ve been obsessing over them. Yes, I know I’ve written several blogs about home grown tomatoes, but not one specifically focused on cherry tomatoes. This year’s crop is huge. Usually I’m picking the cherry tomatoes while they are still a red/orange, anxious to pop them in my mouth, but this year we have so many tomatoes, they are staying on the vine till they approach a bright deep red.  Luscious and sweet, their abundance has prompted me to do a little research.

The description “cherry tomatoes” may lead some people to assume these lovely little tomatoes are the result of crossbreeding a tomato with a cherry. Not true. The name is based on the shape and remember that cherries grow on trees and tomatoes are a flowering plant.

Tomatoes, tomatl in Aztec, are thought to have originated in the mountainous regions of South America, primarily in today’s Peru and Ecuador. As the Spanish and Italians were the first European explorers to visit that part of the world, they were probably the first Europeans to recognize the cooking potential of the fleshy round fruit which came in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. The early tomatoes brought back to Europe may have been bright yellow or orange in color, as the Italians referred to the tomato as pomodoro, literal translation“golden apple.”         

Although logically one would think that the tomato reached the colonist via the Native American trade between North and South America, historians write that the tomato was introduced to the colonists via Europe. Thomas Jefferson raised them at Monticello in 1781. More prevalent in Southern cuisine than in New England cuisine, the tomato did not become widely popular in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century.

In 16th and 17th century France and northern Europe, the tomato was initially grown as an ornamental plant and not eaten, probably because botanists recognized its close relationship to poisonous belladonna and deadly nightshade.  It was, however, considered a very nice table decoration. The roots and leaves of the tomato plant do contain solanine, a neurotoxin, and should not under any circumstances be consumed.

The wild tomato was small in size and probably was just slightly larger than today’s cherry tomatoes. But bigger is better, and selectively tomatoes were cross bred with other larger tomatoes. From a commercial standpoint, a substantial tomato  with thick skin not easily bruised is an easier tomato to transport. Tomatoes that are uniform in size are also easier to price and pack. The result, unfortunately is a tomato with less taste, particularly if it is picked prior to full ripening. Ethylene gas (produced naturally as part of the ripening process) piped into trucks will cause tomatoes to turn red.  Thus by mid 20th century, tomatoes traveling long distances were picked green and “ripened” during transport. However, in order to obtain a sweet flavor tomatoes need to ripen on the vine.

But back to those little red tomatoes. The cherry tomato we buy in the food store today did not become popular until the 1970’s. The country that went to great lengths to cultivate, refine and promote the little bright red cherry tomatoes was the nation of Israel.  The story goes something like this: the owner of Marks & Spencer, a British grocery chain, was in pursuit of a miniature tomato that was both sweet and had a longer shelf life. Israeli seed scientists at Hebrew University in Jerusalem introduced slow ripening genetics. By selectively breeding plants that produced smaller compact fruit, they got a sweeter tomato. Marks & Spencer distributed and promoted the “new” cherry tomatoes and consumers loved them. Quickly they became an international success and tomato farmers around the globe started taking an interest in this new crop.

The sweetest tomatoes, whatever the size, are the ones you grow yourself or at the very least, the ones that are not picked until ripe. But because they are small, it is easier to transport a carton of almost ripe cherry tomatoes to market in a small carton and not have them bruise, than a box of almost ripe full size tomatoes. Thus, they continue to be very popular.

I love using cherry tomatoes in salads because they cut down preparation time. No slicing or dicing. In cooking, fresh cherry tomatoes are easier to use  to make sauces because no dousing in hot water to remove skin, and de-seeding is necessary. (Although some chefs insist on doing this even with cherry tomatoes).

Recipe for Basic Cherry Tomato Sauce

Ingredients You Will Need

4 tablespoons of Olive Oil

4 Garlic cloves finely chopped

½ cup of chopped onion

Fresh chopped basil

6 cups of Cherry tomatoes cleaned and washed

The provided amounts above are flexible. You’ll want to cover the bottom of a large cast iron pot with olive oil and start browning the garlic and onion in medium heat. Add the tomatoes. When they start to soften, you can speed them along by pressing them open with a spatula and then turn down the heat to low, add the basil and simmer. Your goal is to lose part of the fluid, so that the sauce becomes thick.

To this recipe you can add sautéed mushrooms, grated cheese, more onion, more herbs and spices—depending on whether you are serving this over pasta or over zucchini or over meatballs. And if you’ve made a lot, like I always do, you can freeze it and use it later.

Writing Prompt: Imagine your favorite tomato dish. Describe the smell, the taste, the texture, the appearance. What memories does it evoke? What do you hear when you are consuming that lovely tomato item– a song, a sound? Your meal is interrupted. How do you react? Try it with different characters. With different food items.

Thank you for reading. Please subscribe to my blog and follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Here is a flash piece I published last year in The Birdseed about regular size tomatoes. Enjoy.  

My Favorite Place To Shop

It doesn’t matter how many times I go to a Farmers’ Market it always feels like the first time.

And maybe it is the first time I see the fresh mustard greens or the bright yellow squash for sale that particular day. I stop at each booth. I ask questions. What is your favorite way to cook your oyster mushrooms? How much longer into the season will you have cucumbers?

I learn that mushrooms can be sprinkled with oil and baked until crispy. I learn that the best part of the rainbow chard are the stems.

I feel good, when I eat fresh beautiful things.

It feels good to meet the people who have grown the food I plan to eat.

I  bring my own bags and try to spread my money around, making purchases at as many different tables as possible. The work of growing things is labor intensive. The time taken to pick and pack. To load and unload. The worries throughout the season about the weather. The cost of transportation.

Thank you for bringing it here.

This is the season of the harvest moon. The season of fresh pressed apple cider and giant orange pumpkins.

Inspired by my purchases I finely chop up garlic to sizzle in the frying pan with onions, red peppers, chard and cherry tomatoes. The vegetables fill our plates.

A Writing Prompt: A old friend you haven’t seen in a while is coming for dinner. Write about what you will serve them and why.

Happy September

Thank you for reading and follow me on Twitter at SN Maril and by subscribing to this blog .

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Writers, Tired of Rejections? Try Penning a Hermit Crab Essay

A few months ago I started writing a series of rejection letters to myself. Just for fun, to take the edge off my depression over the extensive number of rejection letters from literary publications that arrive in my inbox, most around the beginning of the month. The common wisdom is that you have to submit to be accepted and I’ve found this to be true.

I’ve been fortunate to have my work published in more than a dozen literary magazines. They haven’t asked to read my work, and yet a reader, an editor, a committee, someone or several someone’s decided I’ve written something worth publishing.

But the rejection letters still hurt.  I got one rejection that thanked me for sending in my work because “It provoked a very lively discussion.” One rejection that really angered me was the time an editor specifically asked for revisions and I personally responded to them with the requested revisions, only to then receive a form rejection letter from an entirely different editor.

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My response was my little group of funny or not-so-funny rejection letters to myself. Example:

Dear Nadja,

We are sorry to inform you we will not be publishing “The Winner” in our upcoming issue.  Our apologies for our fifteen month delay in responding to you, but we are severely underpaid, understaffed, and unappreciated. Although we initially liked your story and had set it aside for possible inclusion in our upcoming issue, the new editor has a different vision. These things, unfortunately, happen. We hope you are able to find happiness through something other than writing, and wish you better luck finding a home for your story elsewhere.  

Cheers and Sympathy,

Barley Timid

I was writing (although I didn’t know it at the time) a Hermit Crab Essay. While a series of pseudo true letters may not  be what you think of when you hear the word “essay,” essays can take a variety of shapes and forms. Lyric, braided and triptych are three examples.

The Hermit Crab Essay is  a creative nonfiction form that has generated an explosion of unique  configurations.  It uses a borrowed device such as letters, lists, test forms, calendars, dry cleaning tickets, advertising pamphlets, etc.  to communicate stories and ideas. The possibilities are endless.

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra on Pexels.com

The Hermit Crab essay takes its name from the idea of a borrowed house. The Hermit Crab lives inside the shell of another shellfish, often a snail. When their home is too small, they exchange it for another larger shell.  The heart of the narrative is housed within something else. The house choice, however, imparts its own message.  

One way to start writing a Hermit Crab essay is to arbitrarily choose a form, your house so to speak, start writing and see where it takes you. For example, if I start compiling lists and those lists are grocery lists my essay may have something to do with food, consumerism or eating. As the content evolves I might decide that a recipe book might be better suited to house the heart of my story or I can stick with the grocery list form.

The second way to start a Hermit Crab Essay is to think about what it is you are trying to communicate and then choose a form that would serve best for your project. If I was a competitive athlete and I wanted to convey my physical training journey, I might choose transcripts of physician and PT  charts and reports as my “house.”

Fiction writers, if some of this sounds all too familiar, that’s because fiction writers use these devices frequently. Letters, telegrams, newspaper articles, diary entries, invitation lists and more can present different vantage points in a fiction story. One of my favorite children’s books was Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Remember the journal entries. More recently I enjoyed, “The Starlight on Ohio” ( The Largesse of the Sea Maiden 2018), a short story by Denis Johnson, told through a series of letter exchanges and journal entries.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the two writers, Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola who coined the term, Hermit Crab Essay. They did so in their 2003 book Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction. Helpful in understanding the form are examples. One fine example is Brenda Miller’s essay “We Regret to Inform You” published in The Sun.  Her essay “Shared Space Between Reader and Writer: A Case Study” published in Brevity explains her process in writing that particular essay. It’s a great read.

Here are two other good examples of Hermit Crab essays published in literary online journals.  “Lunar Chart, Lost Year” by Ann Winn in Tupelo Quarterly takes on the configuration of a lunar chart.  Published in the poetry section, the lines between poetry and CNF  have become blurred as more hybrid forms emerge, so beware of labels.  In Pinch Journal, “A Wrong Turning in American ____” An Essay in Parts by Maya Jewell Zeller  takes the form of a state of mind test with multiple choice selections.

Readers, please let writers know with your comments, when you are moved by their work. Writers write to communicate.

Thank you as always for reading. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and visit my website at www.Nadjamaril.com to read a few of my creative published pieces.

What Sunflowers Can Teach Us About Writing

Earlier this week I posted a photograph on social media of one of our sunflowers that had lost its head, literally.  One of our recent thunderstorms with high winds must have snapped off the bud.  However, this particular sunflower refused to give up. Seeking another opportunity to bloom, it managed to create several tiny sunflower blossoms erupting from the sides of its stem. I’d never seen anything like that before.  It provides a great visual example for how, even when obstacles get in your way, you can still soldier onward.

A big sunflower makes an impressive statement,  but those tiny little sunflowers are unique.  

My husband Peter, loves sunflowers and he has planted them at different times this particular season with varying success. An entire batch of seeds just didn’t germinate. His solution was to try again, this time by planting a few seeds individually in Solo Cups which we positioned near our garage. If rain was in the forecast, we moved the cups under shelter to prevent the cups from becoming flooded. The result was another group of sunflowers to transplant. Then he bought a third batch of seeds and planted again. We now have sunflower seeds to be harvested, as well as adolescent sunflowers just beginning to form their buds and everything in between.

The sunflowers and their varying shapes and sizes remind me of my writing goals. We have some plants as tall as 14 feet and others  as short as 18 inches.  Part of the differences are due to the variety of sunflower and part are due to when the seeds were planted and the growing conditions.

I’ve been working on a novel and that is a giant sunflower. A large sunflower can take patience to cultivate. A number of storms have come through and knocked over some of our tallest sunflowers before they had the chance to fully open.  Sometimes a draft just doesn’t turn out and you have to rip it up and try again, plant a fresh seed and nurture it from the beginning. But as we saw with the sunflower that “lost its head,” smaller blooms can also present themselves, erupting from the stem. Perhaps not as important and grand, they are beautiful in their own way.  These tiny sunflowers are like the compressed pieces I write, less than 500 words. When I get frustrated with the long form, I write the short form. The finish line is shorter and the opportunity for publication is broader.

All those varying sizes of smaller sunflowers in our garden, I compare to  my  essays and short stories. Some varieties are more delicate than others and each has a different attribute to admire. I write every day, but I’ve found through trial and error that I’m a better editor of my work if I give a piece some distance. So, once I’ve finished the first draft I try to not read the story or the essay for at least two days. The optimum time is a week, but I have a tendency to grow impatient. Thus, the solution is to start another piece of writing.

Blogging for me is close to journaling, in that I write down what’s on my mind. I loosely edit, but immediacy is key. Whatever I decide I want to share is posted within 36 hours of conception. Unlike my other writing, which is labored over with hopes of formal publication, the blogs are entirely under my control.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the novel writing project. Writing a  100,000 word book worthy of sharing with the world takes long term commitment. The giant sunflower. I’ve been working on my current novel for four years. It’s gone through numerous iterations. At various times I’ve broken it up by chapter, hoping to treat each chapter like a short story, but the cohesiveness of the narrative arc makes one chapter dependent upon the next unless starting at the very beginning.  But all writing, even pages you decide to discard, is instructive. It is, after all, a creative journey. 

I recommend to anyone embarking on the writing journey, master the short/flash form. Also become comfortable with writing nonfiction. Writing the truth is powerful.  Many of my personal essays have taught me things that have helped improve my novel.

As every committed writer already knows, writing is hard work. There are no shortcuts. You just have to write. And read. Read as much as you can and if you don’t have the time to physically read a book, listen. We all experience the world in different ways. Challenge yourself. Don’t limit yourself to a few favorite authors, discover new voices.  Take time to admire the world around you, including the sunflowers. Thank you for reading or listening to my point of view and if you haven’t read my personal essay, “Voice Lessons” in Litro Magazine, here is a link. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril .

Coping Mechanisms for a Divided World

A gentle breeze caresses my arm as I reach for a cherry tomato. Gathering our summer harvest puts me into an altered state. It’s just me and the smell of the tomato plants and lavender. The chirps of birds and crickets are all I hear until a driver at the corner street intersection honks his horn.  The reverie broken, my eyes rest on a vine winding its way up several stems of lavender. The weeds are creeping into the garden again. I’ll need gloves and a trowel. Tomorrow. Maybe I’ll weed early tomorrow.

The small things, such as discovering a squash plant at the edge of our lot with two golden blooms, is a needed distraction from politics and world news. This squash plant got its start when soil from the composting pit was spread on the nearby bushes. An unexpected bonus, in another few weeks they’ll be more to harvest.

Meanwhile, I read and listen to a half a dozen or more news sources and learn the ice caps are melting at an accelerated rate and the majority of human don’t have room in their hearts and minds to care, because too many people are dying in multiple wars and the price of gasoline and food keeps rising.  In the United States, as many as one third of voters believe that the 2020 Presidential race was actually won by the former president. Although there is absolutely no evidence to support their belief, votes having been checked and counted multiple times and no successful court challenges, their response is that the entire system is rigged and corrupt.  They’ve stopped listening to any media sources except for Fox News, convinced that journalists are intentionally delivering “fake news.”

I  myself had serious doubts as to whether the 2016 election was a legitimate loss for Hilary Clinton. The reports of the Russians seeking to infiltrate social media accounts, individual candidate’s organizations, as well as vote counting software had me deeply concerned. But that’s in the past. Because I believe in the democratic system, when the winner was declared I accepted the results.

One third of Americans are evidently so enamored with the man with the orange hair, they can’t see him for what he is— a sociopath who cares only about himself. We are on the verge of having our democracy replaced by an autocracy if all the “2020  Election Deniers” currently on the November ballot  are voted into office. Their platforms basically promise their supporters,  We plan to work to reinstate the previous administration and if we don’t like the result of an election, the wrong people were allowed to vote.

The recent  hoopla about the FBI search of Mar a Lago, like all things connected to the previous administration, has been reframed as a witch hunt against a beleaguered noble leader. But regardless of whether you are a conservative or a liberal, presidential documents belong to the American People. They are not souvenirs to be kept by former presidents, they are historical papers that tell the story of each administration. Maintained by the National Archives, they are meant to be preserved for All Americans.

A clear record of court documents show that every attempt was made to retrieve missing documents (many classified) prior to going to a judge and requesting a search warrant.

Too intentionally rail against government agencies such as the Justice Department, and the FBI and to endanger the lives of FBI agents and their families is unconscionable.  Is that the kind of individual we want to lead our nation?

The thought that so many people think it’s quite okay to elect a selfish bully to the highest office in our land has me reaching for my gardening gloves. Maybe I won’t put off pulling out those weeds.

Thank you for reading. Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Here’s a link to another joyful distraction, written for Random Sample Review, The Simple Joys of Baking Cake.

The Chautauqua Experience

A summer camp for adults is how I described where I was going to anyone who asked, because I wasn’t sure if I said to Chautauqua, there’d be instant recognition.  How do you explain to someone who has never been to Chautauqua what it exactly is?  The word itself originated with the Iroquois Indians who named their lake in upstate New York, close to the Pennsylvania border, Lake Chautauqua. The Europeans who took the land, added the word to their vocabulary. The lake, narrow in the middle and ballooning out on each side, resembles one of the two literal translations— “two bags tied together” or “a pair of moccasins tied together.”

If you look up chautauqua in the Merriam -Webster dictionary, you’ll see it defined as “any of various traveling shows and local assemblies that flourished in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that provided popular education combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, and plays, and that were modeled after activities at the Chautauqua Institution of western New York.”

The site of the original “summer camp” is officially The Chautauqua Institute, but there is also a town Chautauqua, New York located seventeen miles northwest of Jamestown. The Chautauqua Institute is a 501 nonprofit education center and summer resort for adults and youth located on 2,070 acres. Over the nine-week season, over 100,000 people visit the Chautauqua Institute. Each week focuses on a specific topic, and every day there are lectures, classes and concerts. The week I attended with my husband Peter, the general theme was “The Vote and Democracy” and the interfaith lecture series theme was, “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Democracy.” The novel to read and discuss was Outlawed by Anna North. North gave a reading and discussed some of the book’s themes towards the end of the week, sponsored by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle( CLSC). Anyone can become a member of CLSC by purchasing a membership. Interested in starting a book group in your community to discuss the season’s selections then click here.

One side of the week’s schedule!

The lectures are just one component of the experience. On the grounds are schools of music, dance, theater, and art plus the Chautauqua symphony orchestra, Chautauqua theater company and Chautauqua opera company and Chautauqua Writer’s Center.  Recreational pursuits can include swimming, sailing, lawn ball or tennis. It all depends on how you’d like to spend your time, but spirituality and connection to others is at the heart of all Chautauqua communities—as there are others. While the Chautauqua Institute was the first and the largest, the Chautauqua movement swept across the United States during the final decades of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century. At one time there were two hundred Chautauqua’s, settlements of permanent buildings that hosted a seasonal offering of activities. While most closed during the depression due to economic hardship and a shift in entertainment interests to radio and movies, a handful survived.  The Chautauqua Trail is a nonprofit organization https://www.chautauquatrail.com/ that keeps track of the Chautauqua’s in North America, currently numbering approximately twenty.

Although not affiliated with a specific religious denomination, the first Chautauqua begun in 1874, has religious roots. Specifically started to provide education for Sunday School teachers on the site of a former Methodist Camp, founders John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller quickly expanded their concept.  Initially the protestant faith was associated with Chautauqua, but today, nearly every faith group. has a chapel or building on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institute. Spiritual practices of World Religions, Torah study, and Islam 101 were just some of the items on the schedule the week of my visit.   

 While the Chautauqua camp was seasonal, the thirst for knowledge was so great, the Chautauqua Institution expanded their adult education beyond religion into science, history and literature. A correspondence course  known as the  Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle gave working and middle-class people the opportunity to take college level classes. This was the inception of the idea of adult education and continuing education. Known as The Chautauqua movement, it was immensely popular. The Circuit Chautauqua brought speakers and performers to thousands of small communities where they could hear scientific lectures or attend a chamber music performance, perhaps followed by a chance to ask questions and discuss what they’d witnessed or learned.

Times and circumstances change and The Circuit Chautauqua fell out of fashion. The hard times of The Great Depression followed by World War II put people’s focus on basic survival. Post World War II provided opportunities for more people to attend college, including women, and the interest in “adult education” waned. But now with more people living longer, an adult learning renaissance is taking place. People of all ages can enjoy what a Chautauqua has to offer, but for those with a little more leisure, the offerings are substantial.

            Thank you for reading.  Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril and read one of my recently published flash pieces, “Cilantro”.

What are the Best Kinds of Endings?

It’s difficult to finish things. Jobs. Relationships. Home improvement projects. A manuscript.

A writer gets a fabulous idea for a story or a character and then they just don’t know whether they’ve said enough or too much.

 You work and work at something with fervor, and sometimes energy and enterprise fade out. You start asking yourself, what kind of story was I trying to write? Was it a sad story or a happy story? An inspirational story?

The best stories have components of all three. The reader laughs, cries, and empathizes with the protagonist. They understand what it is they desire. In the classic tale of Odysseus, the hero Odysseus just wants to get home. He is weary after fighting in the Trojan Wars, but his journey takes ten years. To be reunited with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus he must overcome numerous supernatural creatures and obstacles to reclaim his rightful place as king of Ithaca.

Photo by Maksim Romashkin on Pexels.com

The ending should underscore the story’s message, meaning or theme. In Odysseus, it’s decidedly perseverance. If you are writing a story about returning home, what makes your story unique?

Writers want their readers to care about the characters they’ve created, enough to keep thinking about them after they finished the last page. A good plot shouldn’t be predictable. It should provide surprises. At least, I think it should provide surprises.

Everything, every plot configuration, has been written about in what way or another. So, writers, how can you tell it differently?

Still confused? A story doesn’t have to be told in chronological order. Try starting at the end and then go backwards in time. Our minds often remember events thematically. Trying telling a story by focusing on specific objects or time of the day.

Thank you for reading. Follow me on Twitter. And if you’d like to read one of my nonfiction stories focusing on an object, here’s a link to “Admiration for my Grandmother’s Pitcher.”

Should Writers Pay Submission Fees?

Many years ago I had my fortune told. The psychic told me she saw me sitting at a table with another woman surrounded by stacks of books. It sounded like a wonderful future for an aspiring author. But before she commenced with her reading, she asked for a silver coin placed across her palm  and a twenty-dollar bill. 

The “fortune teller” was a friend of a friend.  I hadn’t expected  to be charged for a “reading.” I wasn’t even certain of her psychic abilities, but I reluctantly opened my purse.

“To receive something of importance,” she said responding to my unvoiced thoughts that money dirtied our transaction, “You must give something precious. Money in and of itself has no value, but the things it can provide—food, shelter, entertainment—does. ”

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

What she said made logical sense. Her words repeated themselves in my mind when I started searching for literary magazines that might publish my stories and essays. The request for three dollars or five dollars as a required expense was unexpected, but it didn’t seem too outrageous. It costs money to run a business and the various platforms that help keep submissions organized for tracking are an added expense, particularly for nonprofit organizations. 

I’d invested time in writing the work I was submitting, but I also knew how much money it takes to run a publication. Hundreds of manuscripts might be read before the editors found work they wanted to publish, and reading all those submissions takes time. As long as the fees were under five dollars, I reasoned, I could fit it into my budget.

But this was before I realized the number of rejections every writer receives before they get that treasured acceptance.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been published fifteen times by small publications, but many of those publishing credits were the result of my persistently sending out a manuscript five, ten, fifteen times. Most small literary magazines have no budget to pay their writers. Many of their staff members are volunteers. Doing the math, meant that in some cases I was losing fifty or seventy five dollars for the privilege of a publishing credit.

And then there is the time I spend, creating my art. Occasionally some of the publications who have accepted my work have paid me $25 or $50 for a piece and I am grateful, but I’m not writing for the money. However, looking at the balance sheet, I’d prefer not losing money. Thus, after the first couple of months of submissions, I started specifically looking for ways to reduce my expenses.

On one end of the spectrum are the publications who make a point of not charging submission fees to anyone. Many of these newer publications keep their costs low by not using online submission software. You email them directly and you track their responses. At the opposite end are publications, such as Narrative Magazine, who request as much as $23 to submit a piece for publication consideration. In between are publications that waive fees for those who identify as belonging to a specific demographic or who waive fees for a finite number of submitters at the start of each month as well as publications who suggest fees and label them as a donation, rather than a requirement.

The positive attribute of investing money in a submission, as the psychic inferred, is that you are demonstrating confidence in your work. You think the story, essay or poem is your very best and deserves to be published.

So before you spend the money, ask yourself.. Has it been carefully proofread, properly formatted?  Has it been read by other readers and writers whose opinion you respect? Have you followed the submissions instructions the publication has posted. Many fine pieces of writing are immediately disqualified, according to editors, because the writer made a small mistake.

I don’t have any hard and fast rules for when and whether submission fees should be paid, but it is a good idea to do your research first. Definitely take advantage of free admission periods and opportunities. Set up a budget of what you are willing to invest in yourself. Occasionally you’ll want to enter something in a contest that might charge as much as $45 to enter. Investing in a contest can push you to work harder at refining your work. Do not be deterred by rejections. Many editors reject pieces they admire, because they just don’t fit in thematically with the other pieces they’ve selected for the upcoming issue. Particularly if you’ve gotten positive feedback, keep on submitting.

IF you are serious about getting published in literary magazines, or anywhere really, it is a good idea to read posted editor’s interviews.  If you invest in a membership with Duotrope ($5 a month), you can find  interviews on their website or just Google for literary magazine editor interviews and dozens pop up. Take note of what type of writing they are looking for and some of the common mistakes that irk them.

A new FREE source for locating magazine open to submissions, recently came on the scene. Called Chill subs it is easy to use and it is asking for suggestions for additional listings. What I like about it is that is has a filter where you can choose from six vibes that can range from “Very fancy, very impressive, very not fast” to “We’re Just Chilling here.” Also check out groups and announcements on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril and thank you for reading.

What Does Our Democracy Have in Common with a Cup of Coffee?

I’m not real excited about celebrating Independence Day this year. The two words that keep flashing into my mind are Why Bother?

If you’re ordering  fancy coffee, Why Bother?  is a phase to describe a decaf skim milk cappuccino or latte. Take away the caffeine and the milk fat and you’re sipping a faded imitation of what you’d really like to be drinking.  

Photo by Vitaly on Pexels.com

When I clap and cheer for the Star-Spangled Banner, I want to be genuinely proud to be an American. I’d like to think that those with the power to legislate and judge, our current Supreme Court, are open minded enough to let citizens make their own personal decisions for themselves. Instead, for the first time in the history of our country they have taken a freedom away from us. By overturning Roe vs. Wade, they have struck a dangerous blow against women’s personal freedom and control over their own bodies.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian novel that depicts a future America where women have no rights and exist primarily to bear children and provide service to men, was published in 1985. Currently it’s a popular series on Hulu. Season five starts up in September.  Our recent 2022 Supreme Court decisions just brought us two steps closer to becoming the kind of society Atwood describes.  In the future America, named Gilead, the decisions of the  “Commanders” are justified with Christian scripture.

 According to pew research done in 2021, 29% of Americans have no religious affiliation. According to a Gallup poll, done that same month, seven percent of Americans identify with a non-Christian religion. The Supreme Court decision affirming it is quite okay for a coach to lead high school football players in Christian prayers on the fifty yard line after a game, removes the separation of church and state on which our country was founded. I wonder how the conservatives on the current court would rule if the coach desired to lead his (or her) players in Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish prayers?

An America where the states have more power sounds good to some, but what I’m hearing is that many who feel passionately about the rights of the unborn and the right to carry a gun, will not be satisfied until legislation they concur with is nationally enforced. It won’t be just a few states, where every woman, regardless of the circumstances, will be forced to carry her pregnancy to term, without having the option to decide what is best for her and her family. It will be the entire United States.

And when it comes to guns, if the efforts of individual states to try and curtail the possession of firearms by individuals who are mentally unstable, incompetent, or criminally dangerous is put in check by Supreme Court Decisions, we will continue to witness thousands of innocent Americans killed by firearms.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

When a few people think they know what is best for everyone else because they feel empowered by their religious beliefs, the system deteriorates into an autocracy. As in China and Russia, whether justified by communist doctrine or conservative Christian beliefs, a few people at the top seek to control what everyone else does or thinks.

What we should bother with, is reclaiming our personal freedom. Express your views, in a kind and civil way. Study the candidates who are currently up for election in the fall and support those who align with the democratic principles of fairness and honesty.

While I may be watching the fireworks, I will be thinking about the words from the Declaration of Independence calling for the guarantee of Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness. Everyone, rich and poor no matter their sexual orientation, religious belief, or the color of their skin, is entitled to the same rights and freedoms. We call ourselves a democracy, let’s act like one.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Remember when you were a kid and you’d lie about something small. I’d be called in from playing outside and my mother would ask, Have you  washed your hands?  I’d look down at my pink palms just before dinner was about to be served. They didn’t look dirty. I wanted to sit down at the table without delay, so I’d say, Yes.

She’d look at me, and maybe she could see the guilt on my face.  “Go to the sink right now and wash your hands,” she’d say, “With plenty of soap and water.”

Eventually I decided, it was easier to tell the truth. At least about washing my hands, but there were other times I continued to be dishonest.

We used to call small lies “fibs.” Small untruths, usually about ourselves. Yes, I did my homework and Yes, I cleaned my room. Little “fibs” were okay, we told ourselves as children, because they were harmless.  The only person hurt was ourselves.

Separating fact from fiction is something all children do, as they test what is believable.  If a lie was told for a good purpose, it was called a white lie.  Little white lies expanded to telling someone you were their friend, (to make them feel good) although you really weren’t their friend. or a teacher telling you they gave away the classroom pet when in truth the guinea pig died.

Maybe you told a little fib because you were embarrassed you’d never traveled  so you told someone at school, “Yes, of course I’ve flown on a plane” even though you’d never been to an airport.  These types of untruths, were okay you figured, because they didn’t do any harm.

But one day, when you took out the dog for his daily walk, you were lazy and didn’t pick up his poop which landed on the sidewalk right in front of your house. Instead of confessing your misdeed, you remain silent when your father accuses the neighbor’s dog. As time goes on, your parent’s dislike for that neighbor increases, all because you were too cowardly to admit it was you who neglected to scoop the poop.

We blame others for our mistakes all the time. Sometimes that blame is innocently placed because someone didn’t admit their error or someone tells what they think at the time is a small lie.

Fortunately, the majority of humans are truthful. If they weren’t, our society would quickly fall apart. People would lie about everything: what kind of work they do, where they live, who are the other members of their family, and whether they paid for the  entire bag of groceries they’re carrying out of the store or just a few items they decided to scan.

Our expectation of truth is so strong, that many people find it hard to believe that someone they like and trust might tell falsehoods.

What if you want something so bad, you’re willing to tell lies to gain your objective? We’ve all heard stories about someone who pads their resume to get the all-important dream job. What lies do politicians tell us to gain their vote?

Maybe, the majority of Americans won’t believe something outlandish like the Martians have landed. Well, actually many people did believe the Martians had landed when they heard the famous Orson Wells radio broadcast in 1938 of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds. But this is 2022 and surely we are not so gullible.

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

 Humans continue to believe lies that they think will improve their lives. A wonderful beauty product is developed that claims to be able to make you look twenty years younger. The company that made the product may be lying, but to people seeking the Fountain of Youth, they want to believe the lie and they buy the product.

A politician tells you they have a sure fire way to stop inflation and get you a higher paying job; all you have to do is believe that all the problems in the U.S. are caused by all those others who crept into our country to steal jobs and commit crimes. Simplify a complex problem and blame the other political party for negative outcomes has become the troubling behavior of our “leaders”.

Lying is a dangerous thing, but many of our politicians keep repeating lies over and over again. Donald Trump lost the 2020 election by thousands of votes. Not one court of law in the United States, many presided over by judges appointed by Donald Trump, found any election improprieties.  Instead of being  honorable and admitting defeat, he keeps lying about the election results and attempting to bully and intimidate anyone who doesn’t agree with him. That’s how a tyrant acts.

Whatever your political beliefs, conservative or liberal, a tyrannical autocrat should have no role in our government.  The ends does not justify the means when the cost is our democratic form of government. Accepting lies as truth is dangerous.

Thank you for reading and fellow writers, here’s a writing prompt. Try writing a scene that features one character lying to the other character. How does the liar justify their actions to themselves and to others? Maybe the person they are telling their lies too is also lying. Try different versions of the same scene from different vantage points. Before you know it, you could have an interesting story.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and check out some of my creative work on my website.https://nadjamaril.com/

Sports and Exercise the best cure for Stress

I was petrified, the first time I went downhill skiing. But it was great, because I realized after congratulating myself for making it down the mountain still standing, that I felt completely refreshed.

While one could chalk this up to adrenalin, I attribute this to something else. Challenging myself to learn an unfamiliar sport, took total concentration. Thus, I had no time to worry about anything else in my life and that made me feel good.

Sometimes we get so caught up in little petty things such as: Why I can’t get this computer app to load? Why didn’t that bill I thought I paid get paid? Why did a spot have to magically appear on the very pair of pants I was planning to wear tonight? Add some type of physical training, crunches or a 20 minute bicycle ride, and the world looks different.

I was reminded of all this when I waited for my husband Peter to finish the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, a 4.4. open water race across the Chesapeake Bay. He wasn’t expecting to place as a winner, he just wanted to get from Point A to Point B and that took a lot of training.  He practiced in the County pool several times a week and also did an shorter open water race The Maryland Freedom Swim across the Choptank  River in May to prepare for the event.

The Chesapeake Bay Swim event is limited to six hundred and fifty qualified swimmers. For two years, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the event was suspended as swimming practices and leagues lost opportunities to practice and large gatherings were discouraged. I’m not certain how many swimmers participated this year, but four hundred and eighty-five swimmers, which is closely monitored by legions of volunteers in boats and kayaks, finished the course.  

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

The wind and water currents make open water swimming a challenging exercise. When Peter practiced swimming in Cape Cod Bay I worried about sharks. In the Chesapeake Bay there’s jellyfish, Vibrio (flesh-eating bacteria), and too much sun. It doesn’t matter how much sun block he slathers on, several hours in the water will wash it off.

The ages of the competing swimmers ranged from thirteen to eighty. The fastest swimmer, nineteen year old Matt Fallon from St. Petersburg, Florida  crossed the bay in one hour, thirty minutes and 32 seconds. The slowest swimmer crossed in three hours, fifty-six minutes and two seconds.  Friends, family and onlookers cheered for the water logged men and women who quickly looked for more water—water to drink and a hose from the firetruck to clean their swim gear. The variety of wetsuits ranged from full body with hood to shorty suits and what are called “farmer johns” full legs and a partial upper torso. Scores of swimmers opted to forego the wetsuit, claiming it impedes their strokes. Everyone, however, wore swim goggles.

Next up on my husband’s challenge list is the Annapolis 10 mile race that takes place August 28th. Originally a track runner in high school, he has been running the Annapolis 10 mile for several years, although he spends more time swimming.

I used to also enter into some races. The longest one I’ve done, however, is a 10k. Some previous damage, a horseback riding injury and auto accident, causes me to gravitate to slower activity.  My physical challenge is to push myself to do a 20 minute mat work-out on those days I don’t have a Pilates studio class.  (That’s me hanging upside down.) Always, I prefer walking to driving and I have a dog that loves her long walks.  

Writers, we all have a tendency to sit in our chairs. It goes with the profession, or does it? Some of my best thinking is done while moving. And if you are creating a scene and your characters are on the move–in a car, on a nature walk, bicycling up a mountain—the activity energizes the story.

So here is a writing prompt, for those who wish to exercise their writing muscles. Think of a situation that takes place with one character on the move. Use action verbs and challenge your character to get somewhere or accomplish something such as deliver a package.  What happens? Try it again with different ingredients. How will the scene change if another character appears?

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and here’s a little something for your reading pleasure about a mother/daughter shopping trip. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Describing Home. Do you Hear it or Smell it?

The dog is digging a hole in the sand. After chasing and fetching her ball numerous times, she has decided to bury it. It’s a game of make it disappear and find it again, a game she can play all by herself while I sit and listen to the waves slapping against the shore. I love this sound. It doesn’t matter where I am, if I’m near water coastline I’ll find a beach. The sounds of water soothe me. And I’m not alone in craving water sounds. A babbling brook, the torrent of a waterfall, the crash of ocean waves: are sounds that both inspire and invigorate.

Of the five senses—sight, smell, touch, sound, taste— one of the five will often be more prominently experienced than the other four. And this can change, depending on the situation. I find, when I tap into my memory bank, that sound is most frequently my touchstone. I think of a scene and I hear it. The rise and fall of the voices, crickets chirping, the sputter of an outboard motor, heavy breathing.

A classic writing exercise is to describe the place you call home.  If you are truly honest with yourself, the exercise will force you to select the place you long for, if you’re not already living there.  In order to describe it, you’ll be choosing the details that pop out in your mind.  The exercise provides a short cut, so to speak, to grasp what you value most.

Fiction writers, you can use this prompt to channel you directly into the characters you create. Where do they feel most secure? It can tell you a lot about a person.

For me, home is the beach. It’s a happy place where I can walk for miles, build sand castles, swim in the waves and float on my back with the sun in my face. During childhood it was the Provincetown beach at the end of Kendall Lane. Today it is Cornhill beach in Truro a few miles away. The first glimpse of water and sand, the sound of the waves pushing into the shore, the smells of salt and seaweed, the wind against my face; I am home. From both beaches, if I look eastward I see the very tip of the Cape Cod peninsula curving around, creating a sheltered harbor. Out across the bay is Long Point Light Station.

When following a writing prompt or exercise, allow your thoughts to freely flow. Do not self-censor while writing. Once, you’re finished you can cut words, sentences or entire paragraphs. But if you analyze every word you select, you won’t get very far.

The subsequent step after spending twenty to thirty minutes writing a description of “home” is to read what you’ve written and look for patterns. Does one sense, such as smell, dominate the prose. Are there duplications of the same idea that cloud the focus? Challenge yourself to deepen the scene by adding action or dialogue.

Whenever I’m “stuck” and looking for a fresh something to write about. I challenge myself by creating a prompt or borrowing a prompt idea from another writer. The ideas are out there, you just need to make the time and have fun with what you create.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. And read some of my creative work by accessing the landing page of my website at https://nadjamaril.com/

The Juxtaposition of Life and Death Has Its Consequences

They call it God’s Country, open space where the sky is solid blue and the leaves on the trees a vibrant green. Birds sing outside my window in our Maryland home, but my mind is clearer, more open to their melodies while sitting in the Cape Cod woods.

Memorial weekend provides a time for reflection. A time to do anything other than work. At night we hear the harrumph of a bullfrog. Before breakfast, we take the dog for a walk on the beach and I stare at the shapes created by departing waves. I think of my father, Herman Maril, and his paintings of sand and sea, the yellow of a sand bar beneath the blue water creating a shadow of green.

The sand dunes change shape from season to season, as sand erodes and deposits itself on distant shores. The beach is always changing, but beauty is a constant.

Grateful to be here, I feel joy and gratitude until I see the flag at half-mast. Shamefully, it takes a moment before I remember the reason. The losses. The deaths.

At an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, nineteen dead children. Two dead teachers. Seventeen wounded.

In Buffalo, New York at a supermarket, ten dead and three wounded.

Five months into 2022 and already 214 people have died in mass shootings from gun violence. More than 17,300 people have already lost their lives this year to gun violence. And the carnage continues.

Politicians point fingers at each other. In Uvalde the distraction is focused on why didn’t the police enter the classroom sooner, instead of how can we prevent another horrific event like this from happening.  

My question is why did an eighteen-year-old have the ability to purchase an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle which is specifically designed to kill people quickly and in large numbers. Why do the American people continue to vote for politicians who are too cowardly to make changes to gun laws because they are more concerned about filling the coffers of their campaign chest. This has nothing to do with the second amendment, this has to do with common sense.

If we are going to continue with weak gun laws, can communities take on more educational initiatives on a local level to discourage bullying and racism? In states where women are no longer allowed an abortion, those that aide them are in some cases criminally liable. What about relatives and friends that have foreknowledge of a possible mass shooting? What about the private person who sells guns or ammunition to someone they sense is emotionally unstable?

The Uvalde shooter sent private messages online about his plans to someone. Were those messages reported immediately to police?

My husband Peter is training for a several mile open swim. He dons his wetsuit to swim in the Bay parallel to the shore, despite the chilly water. A little boy wearing water-wings walks towards him, eager to jump in to splash, float and kick. His excitement makes me smile until I remember the dead, all those ten-year-old lives that have been cut short. We have to do better. We will, we must.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and please vote in the mid-term elections.

How to Find Your Audience

As a small child I used to hide behind my mother’s skirt, when introduced to guests. Shy, the answers I gave when questioned by strangers were whispers.

Alone in my room, while playing dress-up, I’d prance and sing. Pretending to be someone else gave me the freedom not to worry about making mistakes.

Writing words on paper gave me an outlet for expression. The ability to create a permanent means of communication is powerful.  Thus, my love of writing was so great that even before I could adequately spell out the words, I dictated a play to my older brother to type out my manuscript. What a thrill to share copies of the mimeographed manuscript with a few selected classmates. I still remember the storyline. Not entirely original, the plot featured a fairy princess and a clever mouse ( I was the fairy princess) who traveled  to an underground magical kingdom to rescue a human princess held in a dungeon by an evil witch. 

Photo by Rada Aslanova on Pexels.com

At that time, not many second graders wrote plays, so I had everyone’s full attention in the classroom. An audience was not hard to find. Fast forward to adulthood 2022, and I am one of thousands of writers hoping to be read.  I am pleased if I get one or two comments on my weekly blog post.

I understand, everyone’s busy. There’s so much to read out there online and in print, and only so much time. Each week I receive dozens of newsletters announcing the latest issues of literary magazines, announcements of newly released books, and must-read blog posts. If I read everything, I’d never have time to write.

According to Statista, in 2020, 44,240 people identified themselves as professional authors and writers. This number doesn’t even include many of the “part-time” writers, people who are writers, but pay their bills by working in another profession.  With so many talented writers in the world, the competition is intense.

Back to the subject of shyness and who is reading what you write. Some days I like to fantasize that someone in the future will come across a file of my unpublished manuscripts and decide they’ve discovered a treasure trove. In the year 3013 I’ll be a famous author.  Then I ask myself, will there even be a world at all, when most likely our descendants will be either burrowed living beneath mountains to avoid the hazardous heat or too busy avoiding storms, and floods to have time for literature. The reality is no one,  other than my descendants, is likely to read my old manuscripts or peruse my old computer files. What I don’t get published in this life is probably not going to get read, so I need to do the best I can to make that possible.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Self-promotion for me is hard. In my previous career as a magazine editor I had a knack for marketing, but I’m not comfortable continually hawking my work. On the other hand, one does not get ahead in this world by being modest.

 I know of many mediocre artists who support themselves handsomely by telling the world they are great. Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes believable. I’m a truth teller. But maybe there is a middle ground. Even if as a writer, you don’t want to sing your own praises, one thing you can do is make your work accessible.

Writers, you need a portfolio—an online presence to showcase your work. Maybe you’ll never have a printed book published or maybe you’ll have several, but you can showcase that as well on a website. 

Readers, if you have a few precious moments to read an essay, short story, or blog, what a precious gift to make a comment to the writer.  It’s one way you can let them know they are being heard.

Every day I spend a little time checking out new literary magazines and platforms, to see if they might be a good place to send my work for possible publication. Some sites are beautifully designed and easy to navigate. Others are unappealing and difficult to access. I also visit other writer’s websites and am disappointed when information is old and outdated. One of my new year’s resolutions for 2022 was to see if I could get my own website where my blogs were posted updated.  It’s taken a lot of work, but with some professional technical help, I’ve accomplished my goal for the time being. So please visit my new website and tell me what you think. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. And thank you for reading.

Lies, Secrets, and Ozark. Does the Ending Fit the Crime(s)?

We all have our secret vices, and one of mine is watching various less than stellar shows on the streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Pure escapism, the various series usually feature detectives, spies, and likeable criminals trying to stay one step ahead of the law. My most recent addiction, that recently aired its last episode, is Ozark.

 I’ve got plenty of company. This week Ozark is the most watched series on Netflix and by estimates, the last week of February had four billion people streaming episodes in just one week!

But I have to admit, several of the episodes gave me nightmares. And I was very disappointed in the way the series ended. So first, I have to explain for anyone who has not watched it, what I think the show is about although I’ll concede every viewer will have their own interpretation.

Set in a resort town in central Missouri on Lake Ozark, the Byrd family has been sucked into an elaborate money laundering scheme for a leading Mexican drug cartel. Seemingly a normal upper middleclass family composed of a mild-mannered husband Marty who happens to be a brilliant accountant (Jason Bateman), a pretty blonde wife Wendy with a previous career in liberal politics and public relations (Laura Lindley), a blonde haired teenage daughter Charlotte who is a competitive swimmer and good student (Sofia Hublitz), and a middle school aged son Jonah(Skylar Gaertner)who is a nerd like his father; their lives are in danger if they don’t produce enough clean cash to satisfy their drug lord.

 I mention the hair colors because it underscores the tropes used in the plot line. A respectable family is corrupted by the almighty dollar. Viewers are expected to root for the white Anglo-Saxon Byrd family as they attempt to stay one step ahead of their dark-skinned Hispanic overlords.  But wait, complications arise when in order to accomplish their goals they must use everyone else in the community to get what they must have—a way to launder money.

The Byrd Family

The Byrds, who have moved to Missouri from suburban Chicago consider themselves superior to the locals, but often find themselves outsmarted. As the series evolves, Wendy Byrd reveals herself to be a ruthless sociopath. Capable of easily charming males with her flattery, women are more difficult opponents. Her main foil is Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), a fourth-generation member of a “white trash” family cursed by a predisposition to violence and crime. Ruth’s desire for a stable family, initially blurs her clarity of vision in evaluating the motivations of Wendy and her husband Marty. Eventually she sees them for what they are, smooth operators, and she attempts to forge her own path. The community, however, is small. It’s hard to elude the Byrds’ influence.

One by one the Byrd children and husband Marty Byrd recognize Wendy’s selfish behavior and lack of moral compass. Repeatedly they attempt to break free from her spell, but they never quite succeed.

The last four episodes could have been a reckoning. (Spoiler alert, do not read further if you don’t want to learn how the series ends.)  Both my husband Peter (who was watching the series with me) and I, expected Marty and Wendy Byrd to be killed. Just about everyone else they crossed paths with was killed, including the drug cartel overlord.

Marty had enabled Wendy’s behavior. He helped hide the bodies. They deserved retribution. As one character, the FBI agent Maya Miller ( Jessica Frances Dukes) described them, they were pure evil. But instead, when confronted with one of their many crimes by a private investigator, they attempt to buy him off and when that doesn’t work, their son Noah arrives with his sister Charlotte and a loaded shotgun.

The End.

Another murder? Another cover-up? A confirmation of the malevolent nature of an entire family. I suppose there are no happy endings. Just confirmation that we’ve arrived at a place where greed and self-preservation are accepted.

No wonder I can’t sleep. I’m planning to go back to watching one of the predictable Jane Austen style romantic series. At least no one dies.

Follow Nadja Maril on Twitter at SN Maril. Read one of her short stories, You Meet the Strangest People Hitchhiking here.