Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's The Little Things

Without January 1 on my calendar I would be in big trouble. I always TRY to set goals and resolutions. I mean, why not? It's as good a time as any to make a fresh start.

Last year, on January 2, I slid into my local gym just in time to take advantage of the New Year special. A three year commitment was only $24.99 per month. WOW, I remember thinking. I've scored big time. What a great deal! . . . They got the deal. This year's resolution is to actually see the inside of the place and step onto the equipment.

I'm also planning on giving up sweets. That's right. A sweetsaholic is contemplating quitting cold turkey. The last week of 2008 has been spent consuming every single sweet in my path. I've even baked pies in the last few days that I haven't had in years in a farewell ceremony. I don't know who I think I'm fooling.

But one resolution I am dead set on keeping is not taking my life or those I love for granted. 2008 brought enlightenment, and although the path that led there may not have been my choice, for the first time in my life I'm really and truly enjoying the little things. I'm smelling the flowers. I'm going to the art show that I may have passed up because I was too busy. I'm even using my good china. If I love someone I tell them. No matter who it is.

I can't remember when I've looked more forward to the start of a new year than 2009. MY FIRST NOVEL IS COMING OUT! Oh-my-goooooosh! It makes me want to run through the house screaming for the fiftieth time. I'm actually going to be able to hold Whistlin' Dixie In A Nor'easter in my hand. I can't wait to see what happens and like Maureen, I'm going to enjoy every single second of it.

Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for stopping by.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Here's To A Wondrous New Year's!

New Year's resolutions? Aren't we doing this post a little early? I mean, it's not even...Oh. Right.

Forgive me. I'm still in shock from the Christmas holiday. Fifteen hours in a car, thanks to an apocalyptic ice storm in Indiana, with my toddler has rendered my brain into oatmeal. Not to mention I still have two books to revise in the next two weeks...

But, yes. New Year's resolutions. I could rattle off a whole list of promises, like not eating fast food six times a week, getting at least eight hours of sleep, working out every day, drinking less wine, etc.

But let's get serious. While all of those are worthwhile intentions, I have a vision of myself in February, happily eating McDonald's fries and drinking a glass of nice Cabernet. So, I'd rather focus on a bigger picture resolution--especially one connected to writing.

My primary resolution for next year is to enjoy the publishing roller coaster. To celebrate every little step. To always feel the joy and to never take anything for granted. To remind myself how lucky I am to know exactly when I will hold a copy of my book in my hands. To always feel a little jolt in my stomach when I see my name on Amazon.

(Oh but Amazon? You're on notice. WHERE is my copy of Wondrous Strange? You said it was to arrive yesterday, yet my doorstep was sad, forlorn and empty all day. Now you're saying it will arrive today. It better. I cannot ring in the new year without it!)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Resolutions? Really?

I quit making New Year's resolutions years ago. Like maybe a decade ago. It's not that there's nothing in my life I want to work on (because there definitely is), and it's not that I don't think resolutions are important (because I do). It's more that I think New Year's resolutions don't work...at least for me.

If I want to make a change, the worst thing I can do is wait until January 1st to begin making that change. Well, unless I've just decided on this new direction sometime at the end of December...then MAYBE I could see waiting until 1/1 to begin a plan of action. But I've learned that all January 1st means to me (as far as resolutions go) is yet another way to procastinate.

And trust me, I am an expert at procrastinating. Therefore, my "New Year's resolution" many years ago was to have no more "New Year's resolutions." Instead of facing the new year with a list of things I want to accomplish, I think about what I already accomplished in the prior year, and I celebrate those things.

That's not to say I don't have things I want to accomplish in 2009, becuase of course I do. But they're nothing new, nothing I've held on to waiting for January 1st to arrive...they're long-term goals I've been systematically working on, one at a time...and I will continue to do so in 2009. I'm sure new goals will be born in the next year, and when they are, I'll begin working on them. So, when 2010 comes calling, I can take a look at 2009 and celebrate.

So as 2008 comes to a close, I'm celebrating the year. Twelve months of family, friends, work, laughter, tears, surprises, dreams, hugs, and so much more. It is definitely a year to remember.

Happy New Year! I wish all of you only the best for 2009.

_________

On another note...Wondrous Strange? It is amazing! And beautiful! And I need to get back to it...now! :)

On yet another note: If there are errors in this post, please forgive them. My family has been battling the flu since Christmas Day. I'm a little out of it...but I think we're all on the mend, or at least close to it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Last Chance!!

There's only a few days left to enter our contest!! If you want the chance to win a signed, hardcover copy of Lesley Livingston's WONDROUS STRANGE, become a follower of The Novel Girls by January 1, 2009. (Click "follow this blog" on the right hand side -- you may have to scroll down a little bit.)

Happy New Year!
The Novel Girls

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Short and Sweet

Hi Everyone!

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday. This is going to be a short one for me, because it is my daughter's first birthday and I have a party to throw. She is the youngest and although I love seeing the kids get older, there is a little sadness knowing she is my last baby. Time seems to go by so quickly. I can remember being a kid and thinking that a year was such a long time, and now a year seems to go by so quickly. It's funny to hear the children talk about different things and mention how long it takes for things to happen. They are all so anxious for time to speed up, and I'm so desperate for it to slow down a little. Well that's enough of that! So I'm off to blow up balloons and hang streamers.

If you haven't had a chance to pick up Lesley's new book, please go out and get it. I've only had the chance to read the first two chapters, but I loved what I've read so far and I'm excited to finish it.

See you next Saturday.
Carolyn

Friday, December 26, 2008

Just... wow.

I thought for a long time about what I was going to write for this post.
Y'know - this being Launch Week for me and all...

And, quite frankly? All I can think of to say is - well - "thank you".

Thank you to my fellow Novel Girls for the warmth and well-wishes. I seriously cannot wait until I can return the favor to each and every one of you!

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me, one way or another, to cheer WONDROUS STRANGE on and wish me good luck.

Thank you to everyone who has already bought a copy of the book.

Thank you to those who want to.

Thank you to all the people who were instrumental in the creation of this novel - you made this week possible for me and my story and my characters.

Thank you to all those who read through this Oscar acceptance of a post and still think I'm kinda cool.

It's been a heck of a week so far.
And I've having a great time.

THANK YOU!!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Wondrous Strange Moment at Borders!

I’m going to make this short, because my copy of Wondrous Strange arrived from Amazon this afternoon, and now that the kids are asleep, I’m SO EXCITED to curl up under a blanket and read it!!

But, I did want to write about my trip to Borders this past Monday, where I encountered a real live copy of Wondrous Strange for the first time. I wasn’t expecting to see it there (It was technically the day before its release date.), but as I walked through the store with my kids and my husband, suddenly there it was, on a big wooden display rack in the middle of the store in the midst of The Chronicles of Narnia and Twilight. “Oh my God. Look!” I shouted to my husband when I saw it, who, from the excitement in my voice was looking around, expecting George Clooney or something.

It was oddly surreal, seeing this book, in the flesh (binding?!), with the same cover I’d seen up on the Novel Girls blog for months. See, as debut writers, I guess we all know our books are going to be in bookstores, but for me, anyway, I’m not sure I still quite believe it. When I saw Wondrous Strange I had this moment, where everything became real for me – here was a book, that Lesley had written thousands of miles away, in Canada, and now it was on display in front of me in Arizona, for everyone to pick up, for everyone to read. Wow! After all the revisions and rejections, the struggle of finding an agent and an editor, the elation of the sales call, and then the long publishing process filled with copy-edits and cover proofs, there is an actual book. On display. In Borders.

Of course I picked it up, and I gushed so loudly over its gorgeousness that I attracted a few stares from people in the store. And the book truly is gorgeous – I’m not just talking about the stunning matte cover with the beautiful red-haired girl and shiny embossed letters, but also the colors and the font and the very cool script page in the front. I was tempted to stand right there and read it, but I didn’t want to hold onto it too long, lest I keep it out of the hands of someone else who'd spotted its gorgeousness and wanted to buy it. (And I’d already pre-ordered mine from Amazon!) So instead, I put the book back down on the display, whipped out my cell phone and snapped a few shots of the book, realizing that if I was this excited, Lesley would be thrilled to see her baby out here in the world.

I agree completely with what Maureen said: writing is such a solitary and unique and often tough profession that the connections we make with other writers are unlike anything else. So as I eagerly await my own release like a proud and nervous parent, I am going to enjoy Lesley’s with the enthusiasm of something like a very, very excited aunt!


Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!
Jillian


PS. Don’t forget to enter our contest to win your very own signed copy of Wondrous Strange.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Here's to a Wondrous 2009!

OOPS, here it is 11:00 p.m., the day is almost over and I've just remembered it's my day! I've been running myself ragged since 6:30 a.m. - it's Christmas Eve after all - and I'm just now sitting down. And yes, I'm a last minute shopper - I'll admit it - a trait I've finally come to accept about myself.

But I'm not a last minute shopper when it comes to Wondrous Strange by the marvelous Lesley Livingston. I have it in my hot little hand and it's gorgeous. Hopefully, I'll have time tomorrow to curl up in front of the fire (even though it's 60 degrees here) and dive in. If not tomorrow, then over the weekend for sure. Lesley, Santa sure was mighty fine to you this year!

The first thing I did after picking Wondrous Strange up off the table was smell it. I LOVE the way new books smell. I'll be doing the same thing to mine but I still have another 8 months to wait. UGGG!

Congratulations Lesley. I'm so excited for you. Here's to a Wondrous 2009! And Merry Christmas to you and everyone else who celebrates.

Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, good will towards men. Luke 2:14

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

WONDROUS STRANGE RELEASED!

I got a "wondrous" little present this morning in my email inbox--an email from Amazon.com telling me my copy of Wondrous Strange shipped today! It's supposed to arrive on December 29th, which kind of makes me want to run out today and buy an extra copy to take with me down to my inlaws for the holiday. Because Monday seems so, so far away.

Writing is such a solitary, often lonely, profession, that it's really special and amazing to make connections with other writers. Not just for general companionship and to share anecdotes from the latest reality television shows, but to support one another's careers in the way that only another writer can. As both a writer and a reader, I'm so excited for Lesley and will devour the book as soon as the UPS man drops it on my door step.

And, I gotta say, I SO cannot WAIT to hold Wondrous Strange in my hands and say, "I KNOW her!" I might just go sit inside Borders, next to Lesley's book, and hold it up for anyone who walks by. Like, "Look! Pretty cover! Faeries! Buy! You must! Yes?"

Run out and get your copy today!! (Just don't tell me what happens before Monday!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wondrous Strange is ONE DAY AWAY!

I am so excited. Not only is Santa getting ready to make his world-wide trip, but Wondrous Strange releases TOMORROW! This book is on my Christmas list, and I am crossing my fingers to find it under my tree Christmas morning. If not, it's the first thing I'll buy on the 26th!

Before I ever "met" Lesley, and before we began this oh-so-awesome blog, I read about this book somewhere (and forgive me, but I don't remember where). What's important is how much I LOVED the concept of this story...so much so, I wrote it down in my "Books to buy" folder. Lesley doesn't even know that! Well, I guess she does now. :)

But come on, fairies in Central Park. What could be better? So to say I was excited to "meet" Lesley is a HUGE understatement. Now, not only do I get to be thrilled at finally getting my hands on a book I've wanted to read for what feels like forever, but I get to share in the joy of a fellow author's first release. And seriously folks, little else can compare (at least to us writers!).

The countdown is almost over! And what a wonderful week to have a first release. Huge congrats, Lesley...I can't wait to cuddle up on my couch with a mug of hot chocolate, a cozy blanket, and your book open in front of me.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Contest

If you haven't already, sign up to be our follower by Jan. 1, for a chance to win a signed, hardcover copy of Lesley Livingston's WONDROUS STRANGE!! (Click on "follow this blog" on the right -- you may have to scroll down the page to see it.)

And we're going to be celebrating the release of WONDROUS STRANGE (out THIS TUESDAY, 12/23) all week here at The Novel Girls!

Happy Holidays!
The Novel Girls

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas, Christmas Time Is Here

I'm not sure if what my family does at Christmas really constitutes for "traditions", but whatever it is, it's something I've been doing since I was a child. My mother and I always begin with our Christmas baking, which usually starts around the first of December and ends a week before the "big day." As the days tick away, we start looking forward to the little things like the children's Christmas concerts (which were great this year), decorating the tree, the first snowfall, the first Christmas song on the radio, and holiday shopping.

On Christmas Eve we pile the kids in the car and head over to my parent's house for dinner. Before dinner starts we open our Christmas crackers. We all try on our paper hats, some with better luck than others, and then trade our goodies around the table and share our jokes. We devour our meal in about ten minutes and then remark at the fact that the meal takes all day to prepare and is gone in only a matter of minutes. We then wash dishes and head over to the tree to open our gifts.

On Christmas Day we open our stockings and gifts from Santa. We watch the children play with their toys and then we head to the kitchen for a yummy Christmas breakfast. The rest of the day is spent usually in pajamas. It's a wonderful day of family and friends, and I hope this year is a happy one for all of you. God Bless and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm Cheating!!! **shh - you didn't hear that**

This post is all about holiday traditions in my family! Really it is!

It has nothing whatsoever to do with this box I just got in the mail!
Which contained these!

No! Rather - this post is TOTALLY focused on heartwarming details of my childhood - such as the traditional Christmas concert we would have every year with all of my relatives gathering in groups and trying to out-goofy each other - whereupon I suffered such indignities upon my young and tender person as having a maraschino cherry sell0-taped to my nose so that my family (Team Livingston) could belt out an off-key rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!
This post is about the fact that trips to the Emergency Room - for one reason or another - were almost a Christmas Eve Tradition in my household! (stitches, ski accidents, what have you...)
That's what this post is about. Not... um... say...
This!
(OMG - it's the totally awesome frontmatter of my BOOOOOK! **shh - you didn't read that!**)
Or this!
(Eeee! Look! It's me!! In the book!!! **shh!**)
That's right. This post is about the fact that, these days, every year John and I listen to the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas on Christmas Eve and watch Die Hard on Christmas Day (Best Christmas Movie EVER!) and on Boxing Day we always start a marathon session of watching the BBC miniseries I Claudius.
This post is about traditions!
...
...
...
And my book. :-)





Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chinese Food and a Movie

Here’s something that always really got to me as a child: not celebrating Christmas. I’m Jewish, so I celebrate Hanukkah instead. Sure, I loved the eight nights of presents, but I was always jealous of my best friend’s Christmas tree, Christmas lights, and her trips to visit Santa at the mall. I used to go over to my best friend’s house on Christmas day and stare longingly at her stocking hanging by the fireplace, her beautiful tree with all the shiny ornaments, and her piles of unwrapped gifts. She, in turn, of course, would visit my house for a night of Hanukkah, and would complain that I got to have eight nights of gifts, as opposed to her one day. Still, I wanted those Christmas traditions so badly: my sister and I begged our parents for a Hanukkah tree or at least for some Hanukkah lights on the house, and my mom used to tell us when we grew up we could do whatever we wanted to celebrate the holidays, but that she was not caving into our demands.

Here’s what we got instead: Chinese food and a movie. See, every Christmas day, my parents, my sister, and I would go to the movies in the afternoon and then get Chinese food for dinner. Usually, some of the best movies of the year open on Christmas Day, so this actually really was a treat, and it was also one of the only times that the four of us went to a movie together. Afterwards, we’d follow it up with Wonton soup and sweet and sour chicken at the always surprisingly crowded Chinese restaurant.

However, despite all our yearning for Christmas traditions, we also loved Hanukkah, and we had two very small traditions of our own. First, my sister and I had a strict schedule of alternating nights, for who got to pick the color of the candles and light the Menorah. (Thank goodness there are an even number of nights!) Then after lighting the candles and before opening the presents, we would sing the now decidedly infamous and totally unreligious “Dreidel Song” as fast as we could. (Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay. . .) I’m not sure where that came from, and I am positive it has no religious roots, because I’ve yet to meet anyone else who does this.

A few years back, the first time my husband and I celebrated Hanukkah with kids, I burst into the Dreidel song as I “lit” (well plugged in really – it’s electric) my menorah. My husband gave me a weird look, and said that what you are supposed to sing is the Hanukkah prayer. (A prayer – who knew?) He tried to teach it to me, even writing it out phonetically, so I could attempt to learn the Hebrew words. Since then, our tradition is to sing both the Dreidel song and the Hebrew prayer (and for my husband to make fun of me as I butcher the words!) before we open presents.

Still, my favorite holiday tradition was definitely the Christmas day movie and Chinese food (cinema and food – what beats that?), and when my kids get of movie-theater going age, it’s something I’d like to continue with them. Family togetherness and sharing in a good meal, probably about as much Christmas spirit as you can get without the tree, the ornaments, and the lights.

Happy Holidays!
Jillian

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Maybe I'm The Oddball Here

but my holiday traditions are, well, non-traditional. So I’m having a hard time coming up with something my boys and I have deemed customary. I’m the girl who’s always looking for something new.

Two Christmases ago we took a last minute trip to Jackson Hole. I remember sitting in my chair by the fire on Thanksgiving while my boys were away with their father, thinking, this is ridiculous. I’m not spending the next holiday without them. We’re outa-here. That’s it. So I picked up the phone and within the next hour I had a snowboarding trip planned to the Tetons. I’m not saying I could actually afford it so much but when sitting alone on a holiday, we tend to make choices that are sometimes shall I say, extravagant? It may have taken me a year to pay for it, but we spent Christmas Day racing down the snowy streets of Yellowstone National Park on snowmobiles. We had lunch in a warming hut next to Old Faithful. (Our guide had timed our arrival perfectly.) Moose, elk and buffalo grazed only feet away from the safety of our snowmobiles. It may not have been traditional, but my sons will never forget it.

When it comes to our Christmas meal, turkey is usually not on the table. Last year we had king crab legs. Like I said, I’m the non-traditional type.

I used to read the boys Twas the Night Before Christmas until they stopped asking for it - sigh, sad face. My mother did that for my sisters and me, so I suppose that qualifies as a tradition. We do love to watch A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve. Is it TNT that runs the marathon around the clock?

Traditional or not, I’m looking forward to this Christmas. My son comes home for the first time in four months. I’ve missed him so badly it hurts inside and that’s something I hope never becomes a tradition.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Movies: My Holiday Drug of Choice

The past few years, as soon as the calendar reads December, my husband and I have sat down and made a list of "Must Do" activities for the holidays. Spanning from the basic, like "Buy Christmas tree" to the specific, such as "Make gingerbread cookies on Wednesday." A large section of our list is comprised of Christmas movies.

Watching Christmas movies, both horribly cheesy ones like Christmas With the Kranks and Jingle All the Way and classics, like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, are my favorite tradition. It’s just not Christmas without all those movies.

I especially love the fantastically bad made-for-television movies found on ABC Family and The Hallmark Channel. Last year, I found a new one to love: Holiday in Handcuffs.

Love. It.

Starring Mario Lopez, of Saved by the Bell fame and Melissa Joan Hart, from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. About a lonely girl, just dumped by her boyfriend, who kidnaps a stranger and forces him to pretend he’s her boyfriend to impress her family on Christmas. He’s pissed at first, but then…I’ll bet you can guess the ending. Anyway, that movie is like a candy cane—not much nutritional value, but awesome nonetheless.

Another favorite family tradition happens on Christmas Eve, after all the extended family goes home, when my siblings and I bust out all the fabulous home movies from twenty years ago. We watch videos and laugh at wardrobe choices, misguided perms and tacky sweaters. Like, "Did your shoes serve an orthopedic function?" and "Mom! I can’t believe you dressed me in that hideous velvet skirt!"

This year, however, is going to be a bit different. This will mark my first Christmas spent out of town, at my inlaws house in Ohio. It’ll be a little sad, but great to spend time with the Cincinnati crew. And you can bet I’ll be rummaging around in the basement for any old movies!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Magic of Christmas

In my mind, the magic of Christmas partially stems from this week's topic: Christmas traditions. Which really boils down to family traditions. Little (or big) things that extend from one generation into another...things that my parents did with me, that I'm now doing with my kids, that someday they'll do with theirs, is (to me) an essential ingredient in what makes Christmas special and magical.

Things from baking the same types of cookies each December with my children that I baked with my mother when I was growing up, to Santa filling their stockings with the same goodies (LifeSavers Storybook!) that he filled mine with, to driving around on Christmas Eve to gawk at all the Christmas lights, to so many more make me feel warm, happy, and loved.

As the years have passed, we've also started our own new, yearly traditions, that maybe, just maybe, my kids will also pass on to their kids someday. What are some of those new traditions? One of them began when my oldest two (who are now 16 and 18) were very little. One Christmas, I decided to give them each one present early--on Christmas Eve. See, I'd recently been divorced and had moved across the country, and it was just us, me and my two kids.

Anyway, my parents weren't able to make it out that year, and I knew I was going to be sending home lots of pictures of Christmas morning. And I wanted to prove to everyone that we were okay, and happy, and that I (as a young, single mother) had everything under control. Such a big thing to show in a few pictures, right? So in my frenzied Christmas mind, I decided the kids needed new pajamas for Christmas morning (for all those photos!).

On Christmas Eve, I gave them each one present, which yep, contained brand new, Christmas themed pj's for them to wear to bed that night. Now, every single year, my kids (and my husband) get new pajamas on Christmas Eve. I almost didn't do it a couple of years ago, but my oldest had a fit. She said to me, "But, Mom...it's tradition. You have to do it!"

And so I did.

Another tradition I started when the older kids were very young was purchasing one Christmas ornament for each of them for their stocking each year. This "new" tradition has extended to my family and many of my friends, and I hadn't even realized it was a "tradition" until my brother told his then-girlfriend (now wife) on her first Christmas with us, "My sister does this every year. Isn't this cool? She helps us grow our Chrismas memories one ornament at a time."

Wow. I loved that, and while I hadn't realized THEN I was creating a tradition, I know now. So yep...every single year, I scour the stores for the perfect ornaments for each person on my list. Because they expect it, yes...but also because they love it.

Traditions + Family = Christmas Magic.

And that's all I have to say on that!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Contest!!

To celebrate the December 23rd release of Lesley Livingston's WONDROUS STRANGE, The Novel Girls are having their first ever contest!!

All you need to do to enter is become a follower of our blog by January 1, 2009. (Click "Follow this Blog" on the right hand bar -- you may need to scroll down a little bit to see it). We'll pick one winner, at random, from all our followers to win a SIGNED hardcover copy of WONDROUS STRANGE !!!

Good luck :-).

Cheers!
The Novel Girls

Saturday, December 13, 2008

That Song Will Be Stuck in My Head All Day!

As I began to come up with a list of things that I like this morning, My Favorite Things from the The Sound of Music instantly began to creep inside my brain, and for the last three hours I haven't been able to get the words out of my head. That's actually something I don't like...songs that you can't stop thinking about or singing. A few years ago there was a Capital One commercial where an annoying song played over and over again...hands in my pocket, hands in my pocket. For about a year that song was stuck inside my subconscious. I would catch myself doing little things around the house singing it to myself.

As I sit and type this on my computer, I am watching my poor neighbour shovel his driveway in freezing cold, sideways blowing snow, whipping your face at 100 mph, tongue sticking to jacket zipper weather. That is another thing I hate...snow! It's hard to sometimes come up with the "happy" thoughts when you are knee deep (literally) in yuck! Despite my bummer of a mood, I'm going to do my best to pull out a few favorites, starting with the most obvious.

1. My kids and husband. Even in the bleakest of blahs, they are my five favorite people to be around.

2. My mom and her ridiculous sayings. I love my mother dearly, but on regular occasions she butchers the English language. Though I'm sure it bugs her to be laughed at, it's hard not to chuckle when she says things like: "That guy was sure rocking the cradle" when referring to a man dating a younger woman. Or one of my favorites: "Look, furry ostriches!" when driving past a field full of lamas. And a more classic one: "She's going to Hell in a milk carton." I'm not exactly sure where the milk carton part came from, but it was the effort that counted.

3. Seeing people fall on ice in the winter. I know this may seem mean, and I'm not into watching elderly or very small children fall because that's not funny, but have a young man or woman, or better yet an obnoxious teenager bite it and I'm thoroughly amused.

4. Funny sketch comedy. SNL recently did a spoof on the inventor of the Breath Rite Strips. The skit caught me off guard, and was quite funny and had me giggling for quite a while. If you go to YouTube and type in Gas Rite Strips you should find it. It's about flatulence, in case you are sensitive to farting humor.

5. Words. Words that get stuck in your head for no apparent reason. I will wake up in the morning sometimes and have a word in my head. I don't know why, but it's always quite amusing. The other day it was onomatopoeia and a few weeks before that it was discombobulated.

6. Fooling my children. As a parent there is nothing more fun than pulling the wool over your children's eyes. I once convinced my son that his teacher had called us and told us that he had to attend a weekend school session. He would be there for the whole day and that she was trying it out to see if it was something she was going to add to his regular five day school week. We got him dressed and made him a lunch and walked him up to the school. As he stood there looking around wondering where all the other kids were, we told him it was a joke. What makes it the best is that he hates school and was tortured to think he was going to have to attend school on the weekend!

7. Mail. I love getting mail. It's a weird one, but it's true. We've actually gone an entire week without even getting a bill in the mail and that bugs me.

8. Sneaking a piece of dessert from the fridge before everyone else.

Of course I have many more things that I like and could drone on about, but suffice to say most things in my life give me joy and happiness. I am very fortunate.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Roar of the Greasepaint the Smell of the Crowd...

Well...

My excellent compadres here at TNG have already touched on quite a few faves of mine. So I'm going to talk about a favorite thing that is, by its very nature, unique to the other half of my life that isn't writing.

I think I may have mentioned once or twice (heh) that I'm an actor. Most of what I do is Shakespeare so most of what I do is on the stage. And one of my absolute favorite things is the back of that stage.

Backstage at just about any theatre - especially in smaller or touring houses - is a treacherous maze of cabling, rigging, counterweights, escape stairs, precariously pre-set props, weapons, dust, sticky tubs of stage blood, nefarious unidentified pointy things that have no business being there, fellow actors all of whom seem to possess more that the requisite number of elbows... and darkness.

Every backstage of every theatre I've ever been in has smelled musty.
It is always either too cold or way too hot.

And it is, without doubt, one of my favorite places to be.

Especially right before the house lights go down. Right before that first blackout and the swell of music signals the start of another show.

In that darkness, in the thick atmosphere of anticipation, when you can actually hear the crowd murmur above the shuffle and quite jokes of your cast-mates and you can see the blue glow of the stage manager's light reflecting up into her face as she speaks into the headset and says "Standby... house lights to half... and... go!"... in those seconds before you step out onto that stage to take your place in the blackness, everything is possible. Everything is poised on the edge. It is a between-place of magic and potential.

It is my favorite thing. Every time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Abby's Faves

Like Lisa, I’ve been hearing the lovely voice of Julie Andrews in my head, every time I’ve checked the blog all week. And I, too, know all the words – not just to this song but, um, all of them from The Sound of Music. Like Maria Von Trapp, music is one of my favorite things (although, unlike Maria, I can’t sing, and my children don’t follow behind me through the mountains singing “doe, a deer. . .” ).

I would also add coffee, dark chocolate, Trader Joes, sunshine, good books, good movies, onesies, sweaters, and hardwood floors to my list of favorite things. And I could go on. But I thought it might be more interesting to write about the favorite things of Abigail Reed, the main character in The September Sisters instead. Here are her top five favorite things (in no particular order), and also how they have roots in some of my own favorite things.

1.)Snow: A big span of The September Sisters takes place over the winter, and when Abby has snow days from school, a lot of interesting things happen to her. As a child, snow days were my absolute favorite things – no school, hot chocolate, sledding down the neighbor’s hill with my sister. For Abby the snow means all of this, plus, it takes on special meaning for her and her next door neighbor, Tommy (see # 2).

2.) Tommy: In a year filled with loss and disaster, Tommy is her one bright spot, the one person she comes to trust, and maybe even love. I never had a Tommy in my life, per se, but I did have a first kiss and a first love, which are some of my favorite memories of being a teenager (especially since I am now married to that first love.)

3.) Shakespeare’s Sonnet # 116: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds. . .” It has very special meaning for Tommy and Abby in the book, and it’s also my favorite sonnet. My husband wrote it to me in a card once, when we first started dating, and then we later put it in our wedding program!

4.) Her sapphire heart necklace (see pretty, sparkly cover above!): Abby and her sister Becky both got these as presents from their grandmother. When Becky disappears, her sapphire necklace, found in a field, is the only clue. Afterwards, Abby treasures her own necklace even more deeply. My own grandparents once gave me and my sister gold pearl necklaces – actually, we both thought they were sort of ugly, not our favorite things at all. But when I was writing the book, my grandfather got sick, and I thought about the necklaces, about what it was like to have something like that, a physical representation of someone’s love. And I realized those are my favorite kinds of objects, even if they’re not always the prettiest.

5.) Books: Abby’s favorite subject is English, and books allow her an escape. She loves To Kill a Mockingbird, but in some ways, her misinterpretation of it yields disastrous results! This is sort of a no-brainer, my favorite things are books, too! Good books, books that make me think, laugh, cry, want to write. (Click here to read my post on my favorite books.) You’ll see To Kill a Mockingbird didn’t make my list – but I’m certain it would make Abby’s!

So there you have it – a little more about Abigail Reed, which maybe even also says a little more about me! If you want to know more about Abby, you can read The September Sisters, which will be out in 74 days (or so says the super-cool widget to your right!!) For more about me, check back next week!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

These are a few . . .

of my favorite things. When I saw the topic for this week I couldn’t help thinking of The Sound of Music song. I know it’s corny, but I love that movie . . . still. I know every word to every song and most of the dialogue. Hey, I suppose the movie itself is one of my favorite things. That’s a start.

But laughter and humor top my list. Anything funny gets me going. Reruns of I Love Lucy, Seinfeld, and The Beverly Hillbillies are my favorites but my all time favorite funniest movie is What About Bob? with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. Talking about knowing all the words. Even my boys know all the lines to that one, as they spent their childhoods indulging their mother’s remedy for anything that ails. If you’ve never had the pleasure, crawl on all fours if you have to, right NOW to Blockbuster!! You won't be sorry.

Fannie Flagg, one of my heroes, has a novel called Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven. I think I’ve talked about this before but it bears mentioning again. I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I read parts of it. It makes my favorites list. Go Fannie. I hope to be you when I grow up.

As for foods that tickle my palette, my hands-down favorite food is King Crab Legs. McDonald’s French fries, expensive white chocolate, filet with bĂ©arnaise sauce, and caramel cake run a close second. Notice there’s not a thing healthy about any of these delicacies but making healthy choices is not our topic. I very infrequently indulge myself with these perfect foods but when I do, I’m oh so glad I did.

I love to watch snowfall. Sunsets over the ocean are amazing and I am reduced to a puddle by long back scratches. As for that last one, I pay well by the way. My kids, whom I beg for back scratches from, never seem to need the money. I guess that’s a guy thing. Oh well, maybe I’ll get a granddaughter one day and she'll take me on as her full-time job.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Five Faves

I started off writing this post about my favorite "general" things like movies, television shows and restaurants. But then I realized it started to read like a personal ad:

Likes: funny movies, long walks on the beach, men with a sense of humor
Dislikes: arrogant men, unreliable people and cold scrambled eggs

So, in an effort NOT to make this post sound like an ad for online dating, I’m going to focus on my five favorite writing-related things. Here goes:

1. When inspiration strikes for the first time. Ever since I started seriously pursuing a writing career, what I call my inspiration "antenna" is always on full-alert. I’m always looking for a new character idea, quirk, plot twist or name. And it’s surprising how many can be found by reading the newspaper or watching a television show. When I do get a new idea, it’s like the honeymoon stage of a relationship—"This is the best idea ever! This idea will never lead me astray. It will call me every day and never cancel plans. It might even buy me an engagement ring some day."

2. Revisions. I know we’ve covered this topic, but I have to say it again: Love. Revisions. I. Do. I’d much rather be staring at a page full of crappy writing than a blank one. And I won’t torture you all again by prognosticating my love for revision accessories. I’ll just point you here.

3. Reading back over those passages that make you buzz. You know the ones—passages that you don’t remember writing; that make you step back and go, "Whoa! This is really, really good. When did I become such an awesome writer?" Passages that click along and seem to shine just a little brighter than the surrounding words. It gives you a little jolt of electricity with the knowledge that, yeah, this writing stuff is pretty amazing.

4. Laughing at my own work. This is kind of connected to #3. There’s one part in Book #2 where I crack up every time I read it. And each time I do, my husband always looks at me like I’ve taken too many cold medicine pills. It feels sort of strange, laughing at your own writing, arrogant almost, but I can’t help it. Clare’s hilarious.

5. Connecting with other writers. This one is a no-brainer. Writers share a special bond; the secret word that gains access to a creative clubhouse o’ fun. Despite what other people in our lives may say, no one really "gets it" like another writer. The thrill of seeing a full page of words, the smackdown wrestling match of revisions and the heartbreak of rejection. So, thank you fellow Novel Girls! You’ve been wonderful fellow passengers on the Crazy Train that is publishing!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Favorite Things...

This week we're talking about favorites, and of course if they're my favorites, then they're also things I love. So here we go...some of my favorite and loved things! For this post, I'll leave my love of coffee and writing out of it, as those are pretty much known by everyone who knows me by now! What else do I love? Here's a random list of ten, right as they come out of my head:
  1. I love reading an excellent book. The type where you can't wait to pick it up and read more, and because you're reading it every chance you get, the end comes way too fast. A book that the beginning hooks you, the middle entrances you, and the end gives you the perfect payoff. A book that sticks around in your memory for weeks after you've finished it. A book you know you'll read again.
  2. I love cool, rainy days. The type of rain that comes without thunder or lightning. The type of rainy day that begs for hot cups of coffee/tea/cocoa, board games, watching movies, and hanging with your family inside. The sound of the rain smacking against the windows and the roof, while you're dressed in something warm and cuddly.
  3. I love coffee shops. Notice I'm not talking about the actual coffee, just the shops. From the scent when you walk in through the door, to the sound of people chattering all around you, to relaxing and chatting with whoever you're at the coffee shop with. It's relaxing yet energizing, and I always leave feeling refreshed.
  4. I love Christmas. From the shopping (as long as I have the money) for the perfect gift for the people in my life, to baking Christmas cookies, to the crazy early, rushed Christmas morning, to the big holiday dinner. The preparation, the lights, the scent of pine, and if we're lucky enough--the sight of fresh snow outside the windows. Oh--and singing Christmas carols! The warmth, love, and friendliness of the season just makes me smile.
  5. I love airports. I know, crazy, huh? But I do. The rush of people, the thrill of traveling, the chance of meeting someone new and finding yourself in a really cool conversation. The excitement of where you're going, or the relief to be coming home.
  6. I love coloring. Give me a brand new coloring book, a box of crayons, and I'm in heaven. Leftover from my childhood years, but the feeling hasn't changed. There's just something so relaxing in coloring in a picture. And all these years later, I still love the smell of Crayola Crayons.
  7. I love hearing people laugh. Whether it's my kids, my friends, or complete strangers, the sound of laughter just makes me smile. I even love the differences in how people laugh--from the giggly, high-pitched laugh of a child, to the deep, rumbling laugh of a man, they're all a perfect way to add joy in a day. Don't believe me? Take a trip to a playground and just sit and listen to the kids laugh as they play. You'll likely walk away with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step.
  8. I love going out to the movies. While I tend to be a stay-at-home sort of gal, there's something just downright fun about going out to the movies. From the popcorn (with Junior Mints!), to the previews, to the darkened theater, to sharing the experience of the movie with a roomful of strangers. It's just fun.
  9. I love slow, lazy mornings. There's not much better than getting up in the morning and not having to go anywhere and not having to do anything. It seems the entire day is filled with possibilities--like an empty sheet of paper just begging to have a picture drawn on it. Anything is possible when there are no plans already formed.
  10. I love good surprises. Whether it's a surprise email or phone call from a friend I haven't heard from in a long time, or an unexpected package arriving in the mail, or flowers being delivered to my door for no apparent reason, good surprises can brighten my spirits in an instant.
Those are some of the things I love. What are some of the things YOU love?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Power of a Name

Choosing a name can be a struggle, at least it can be for me. I think it's important for your character to have a name that rolls off the tongue, and has a deeper meaning than just its obvious literary qualities. In my first picture book I decided to name the three sister's after the seasons of Winter (Fuyu), Spring (Haruko) and Fall (Aki). Each girl had qualities and features that made them like the season they were named after, and so the decision to name them these names was an easy one to make.
In my next book, the name of the main character (a nine-year-old little girl) was a bit hard to come up with. In this case I wasn't looking for something with a hidden meaning, I just wanted something that was cute, feisty sounding and dynamic. It needed to represent the character and be easy for young children to say. After much thinking I came up with Penelope Jane Parker (P.J. for short). It works for her and I liked the ring of it.
The current book I'm working on touches on the hidden meaning aspect of naming characters that I did with my first book. I love mythology and any time I can weave it into one of my stories I jump at the chance. The main characters are four siblings, much like my own children. There are two boys and two girls, and I wanted their names to represent their personalities and their strengths. The main character is a twelve-year-old boy and his name is Prometheus Swift. The name came to me quite easily and was the first thing I came up with, long before the story actually began to form in my head. His sisters and brother are also "p" named characters taken from mythology (Greek and Roman).
It's fun to name your characters. It's like picking out the names of your children. It has to be perfect, because it's the name they are going to have for the rest of their lives. It's the name that everyone will remember and it has to fit not only their appearance (what you picture that to be in your head), but also their personality. When you hear names like Ebenezer, Scarlett, Boo Radley, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy their appearance comes to you immediately and is in large part the product of their name. Even if you haven't seen a picture of them, or even if you have, in your mind you have a clear idea of what they look like and what they are like...names are powerful, so choosing one is important.

Happy writing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

That Shakespeare-guy didn't know what he was talking about!

Forsooth.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet;/ And so Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,/ Retain that dear perfection which he owes/ without that title."

I say thee nay, Old Bill!

Mikey and Juliet? Steve and Juliet? Geoffrey and Juliet?

Nay.

Also - Mercutio? Could never ever ever be called anything but Mercutio. It would just be wrong.

Me? I don't know if I've ever changed a character's name after I've started writing them... I don't know if I could. Start writing them, that is. I have to have stuff like that pretty nailed down before I start a character on their way into the story. It's one of my loveable quirks.

That and the fact that I have no idea where some of my character names come from. Often, they just come attached when the character presents themself to me. My male protagonist in WONDROUS STRANGE, Sonny Flannery, is a possible exception to this - I'm pretty sure that his name, in part, was inspired by the Robbie Robertson song "Sonny Got Caught in the Moonlight". Or maybe that was already his name and and I just started to associate the song with him after I started writing... aw hell. I don't know. It's a chicken/egg thing, that one. But he's never been anything but Sonny. I can't even imagine it. My brain goes into vapor-lock if I even try.

I also noticed another quirk while writing the WONDROUS books; for this story, I really seem to gravitate toward names with repeated letters in them. Sonny. Kelley. Emma. Tyff. Maddox. Anneel. Bellamy. Harvicc. I have absolutely no idea what that means. But I did find it an interesting observation.

Names are tactile, visual, aural to me. They have a sound and a look and almost a taste to them when I see them. They have to look right on the page. They have to feel right in my ear. And they have to be right for the character or I find I have a very hard time writing that character.

I wrote a short story called "Trippingly Off The Tongue" that had a character named Vinx in it. Actually, that was the short form of his name - his nickname, if you will. I knew that while I was writing the story but, like my protagonist in that case, I didn't know what his full name was until the very end of the tale. I found out at the exact same time she did that his full name was, in fact, Vinxythnial Wharburton-Smythe III. A perfect name for a seven-foot tall winged purple demon with a homicidal sense of humor, don't you think?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Names and Nicknames

Names are important. In fiction and in real life. But so are nicknames. Take my own name for example, Jillian. For most of my childhood and teenage years, I hated my name. I thought it was odd, no one else I knew had it, and people always mispronounced it as Julian. That’s why most of my family and friends call me Jill, even now. One of my good friends even jokingly used to call me “Jill-not-Jillian” because I’d always make a point of telling people to call me Jill, not Jillian.

The first time I realized I liked my name, I was in college, and I was taking a class with an English professor also named Jillian. She was incredibly smart, graceful, and funny, and also the first person I’d ever met who shared my name. As I got to know and admire her, I actually started to like the name Jillian a little bit.

It wasn’t until I started looking for jobs and sending out resumes, and then looking for agents and sending out queries that I started using the name Jillian myself. It felt strange at first, to have people call me by this name, but then I started to like the way it felt a little more formal, a little more unique, than Jill. And in my head Jillian became my professional/authorial name, while Jill was just a nickname that my friends and family called me. As if to complicate things further, my mother-in-law is also named Jill, and so is my lovely editor, so sometimes, using Jillian, has become something of a necessity just to avoid confusion. (Besides my mother-in-law hates it when my father-in-law differentiates us by calling us “old Jill” and “young Jill”!)

Perhaps because of my own issues with my name, I am always hyperaware of my character’s names and nicknames. Unlike Lisa and Maureen, I can’t start writing a book without being absolutely certain of the main characters’ names. And their variations.

For me the best resource for figuring out names is the Social Security Popular Baby Names website. (Also, a great resource for naming children!) The site allows you to pick a year, and then view up to the top 1000 most popular names for that year. So when I start a new book, I try to first figure out about how old my main characters are, and then I search this site for popular names in the main characters’ birth years.

Of course, that’s only a start. As I look through the names, I think about other things – what is the character’s ethnicity, class, personality? And I also think about how I can make a name into nicknames. I think it’s interesting to think about how other characters in the book will refer to that character. In The September Sisters, the main character is Abigail, mostly referred to as Abby, but more often than not, just “Ab” to her father. There is also a crucial scene in the book, where someone refers to her as Abigail for the first time, and it really means something to the scene. Her love interest is Thomas, usually called Tommy by Abby, Tomas by his Hispanic grandmother, and LT by his father (a nickname that becomes important to the plot at one point.)

I guess I’ve realized that in life, as well as in my stories, names can and will be fluid. Very rarely is a person just one name – just their full name or their nickname. We are different things to different people, to ourselves at different times in our life. And for characters to feel real and believable, I think their names need to also reflect this sense of fluidity. Besides, by the time I have all the names and nicknames figured out, I actually know enough about my characters and their relationships with each other to sit down and start writing!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's In A Name?

I’m beginning to think Maureen and I are somehow related. As the months roll on and I read her posts, it’s obvious to me that we could quite possibly claim birthrights to the same pod. I mean for starters we have the same agent AND the same editor. What are the odds of that? Something tells me those ladies must see similarities in Maureen and I, as well.

As for this week, it seems we have the same approach when naming our characters. I’ll just start with any old name (with the full intent of changing it) so as not to hold up my progress. In my current novel, Whistlin’ Dixie In A Nor’easter, handyman Jeb had an earlier name - handyman Ray. By the end of my first draft I was so used to calling him Ray, it almost stuck. But I was never really sold on Ray and even though he had taken on that name for a large part of the book, I still wasn’t sure it was the best I could come up with. When his character was fully developed, I actually searched the phone book for better suggestions. I needed a Vermonter surname and ultimately settled on Jeb Duggar. Now, I can’t imagine him having any other name.

My heroine, Leelee, has two daughters in the book. The Christening of those little girls turned out to be a personal sojourn into a part of life I seemed to have missed. As the mother of sons, and no daughters, I chose Leelee’s daughter’s names as I would have my own, had I ever been given the chance. Sarah, because I love it and Isabella, after my great-grandmother.

Finally, my antagonist needed a name that, upon seeing it in print, would create an immediate visual for a reader. She’s nearly six-foot tall, mean, bossy and 100% German. Her unpolished fingernails are yellow from the thousands of cigarettes she holds between her fingers each year. She’s the owner of the Vermont Haus Inn, Leelee’s future home in Vermont. Somehow Helga Schloygin seemed a pretty good fit.

Naming characters is actually the fun part for me. Spitting out a first draft . . . now that’s something I could attach another kind of moniker to altogether. How about . . . Pulling Out Hair!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ebenezer Lipinski Sounds OK, Right?

When I write a first draft, I don't allow myself to think too deeply about each character's name, since that is usually a fabulous avenue for procrastination involving baby name websites, books checked out of the library and hours of contemplative thinking--all in the name of "research."

So, I usually just pick whatever name comes to mind easily, and retain the right to change it later. But, this can have interesting consequences. For A Bump in the Road, my main character's husband was named Ryan at first. I've always loved the name and he "seemed" like a Ryan.

Anyway, fast forward to a couple of months after I finish my first draft and I find out that I'm pregnant. After reeling from the burning irony that smacked me in the face, I started to think about baby names. And, after my husband and I found out we were having a boy, we decided on (You guessed it! Are we unoriginal or what?) Ryan.

I thought it would be traumatizing enough for my kid to have a mom as a writer that he didn't need to share a name with one of mommy's characters, so fictional Ryan became Jake.

After Ryan became Jake, I realized my main character's original name, Kate, would sound weird: Jake and Kate. Too many Ks or something. So, Kate became Clare.

Except now, and I wish I were joking about this, if I ever have a girl, I kind of love the name Clare.

I seemed to be destined to use all of the "good" names up through my books and be forced to name my actual child Ebenezer or something.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Name Game

Names are important. After all, how many times have you heard a name and instantly connected it to someone in your life or someone from your past? Or, how often have you heard a name and instantly, a vision of who the person was popped into your head--all based on their moniker?

For me (because of my age), the names "Cindy," "Bobby," "Marcia," "Greg," "Jan," and "Peter" all bring to mind a certain show...and the characters behind those names. And of course, there are people from my past who will always be the embodiment of their names--no matter how many other people I may meet in the future with the same names.

So, when I begin a new book and have to decide on names for my characters, I try to think of names that 1) will either make sense for that particular character OR is the complete opposite of what most people might think when they hear that name, 2) obviously, names I like or dislike--depending on the character in question and what their role in the book is, and 3) whatever "feels" right.

Unfortunately, many times I've come up with what I thought was the "perfect" name, only to have the character refuse to come out of their shell. The first thing I do when this happens is change their name. Seriously. Often, just by changing a name, the character is given life and suddenly, I know who they are and can write them that much better.

This is what I call "The Name Game." In my July release, A Stroke of Magic, the hero's name was originally Caden. But he wasn't becoming a fully developed character, and I wasn't connecting with him. So I changed his name to "Ian." Same thing--he was just this flat guy who was so not hero material. Finally, I renamed him "Ethan." Weirdly, even though it's similar to "Ian," the name "Ethan" did the trick, and all at once, he came into perfect view for me. Now, just like with my children, I can't imagine him with any other name.

Names are important, both in real life and in books. Can you imagine Harry Potter with any other name? I can't! And I can't imagine Alice in Wonderland being "Kathy" in Wonderland, or "Jessica" in Wonderland...nothing else fits as well as "Alice."

Naming characters is fun...it's the beginning of that character's identity. Sometimes, it just takes a while to find the perfectly right one.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Canuck Version!

As one of two token Canadians here at TNG, I'm a little out of step with the rest of you guys. We had our turkey day up here in the Great White (er - *sneaks a look out the window* - Brown and Gold) North way back in the middle of October!!

Weird, I know, but we Canucks are a contrary lot.

It seemes but a distant memory now, although I do remember that John whipped us up a yummy meal (somewhat non-traditional as I recall - there are only two of us so the big feast idea just doesn't play). I also remember that I got the traditional "So, are you cooking a turkey?" call from my mother in B.C. (you may recall she finds my lack of culinary proficiency an endless source of amusement). It was a lovely, relaxed, quiet occasion - and those are rare around these parts lately, it seems.

Growing up, Thanksgivings was not ever so.

Reading the other posts from this week actually takes me back - to those celebrations crammed with food, family, more food, and then there was the food. And then everybody would slip into a post-dinner coma and things would get real quiet for awhile.

Now, as my friends and neighbors down south are preparing for a weekend of cranberry-stuffing jolity and gravy-soaked bliss, I want to wish you all the best on this holiday.

And live vicariously through your talk of turkey. Save me a piece of pumpkin pie!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and not just because of all the great food and the four-day-weekend (though certainly, that doesn’t hurt), but also because it’s the holiday when I feel required to take a moment to reflect, to think about everything I am thankful for. So here are a few reflections on my Thanksgivings past.

My Thanksgivings as a child, (the entire 80s decade, really), my parents, sister, and I drove from our house in suburban Philadelphia to my grandparents’ house in Pittsburgh. Most of these Thanksgivings blur together, into this warm sort of happy glow –It was an exciting holiday for me, because it was one of the only times a year we got to take the six-hour drive to Pittsburgh to go stay at our grandparents’ house. I remember waking up in the middle of the freezing, sometimes snowy night to make the drive, and being too excited to sleep in the car. These Thanksgivings are some of the happiest memories I have of my grandparents: my grandmother pulling a turkey from the oven and serving everyone too much food, my grandfather watching football from his chair, and slipping me, my sister, and our cousins, 20 dollar bills as we ran by him.

In the 90s, my Thanksgivings were spent in Philadelphia. The Thanksgiving after I’d started dating my husband (then, my high school boyfriend) we ate dinner with our separate families, but we spent hours talking on the phone after dinner. I remember it was the night that he told me, for the first time, that he loved me. We have spent every single Thanksgiving together since then, something I am always thankful for.

One year, in the late 90s, just after my husband and I got engaged, we had two big Thanksgiving dinners: first, with his family, then with mine. I have never ever been so stuffed in my entire life, and we swore that we would never do the dual dinner again. Never.

In this past decade, my husband and I had our first Thanksgiving as a married couple and our first one living in Arizona. The first year, we made a turkey in our small apartment, and we also had to turn the air conditioning on because it was still so warm outside. This just seemed imminently wrong to me – an air conditioner and a Thanksgiving meal? (Though, I’ve grown used it in the past 8 years.) We realized that an entire Thanksgiving feast was way too much for two people and vowed never to do it again just for ourselves.

For the next few years, we went out to dinner for Thanksgiving, just my husband and I – which maybe seems unusual, but was actually incredibly fun and relaxing. Same great food, no cooking, no cleaning up, an excuse to get dressed up and go to a nice restaurant. And we were apparently not the only ones with this idea – the restaurants were always unbelievably crowded.

This year, as we’ve done for the past few years since my kids were born, my parents and sister have come out to Arizona, and my mom and I are cooking the Thanksgiving feast for all of us. (Good news, by the way, I’ve already successfully made two pumpkin pies, some pumpkin muffins, and some chocolate chip brownies, all without any baking disasters!).

These past few Thanksgivings have been some of my favorites, mainly because I’ve had so much to be thankful for. This year, I’m thankful that I get to spend the day, again, with my amazing husband, my beautiful children, and my terrific parents and sister. I’m unbelievably thankful that in the past year my writing career has finally started to blossom into an actual career, and I’m thankful for the awesome agent Jessica and editor Jill who made this happen.

So Happy Thanksgiving! May everyone’s day be filled with wonderful food, family, and lots to be thankful for.

PS. Operation Pineapple Upside Down Cake was a success. . . sort of. My first attempt looked really nice, but it collapsed when I took it out of the oven. Then, with the help of Betty Crocker, I made an actual good tasting (but slightly scary looking) cake. So here’s the picture of the second one! (By the way, my son was responsible for the candle arrangement!!)



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Thanks

I think it’s the smells on Thanksgiving Day that really get me going. I love the way the fumes from the steam rising from the turkey permeate the kitchen when the top comes off the roaster. And the sweet smell of cornbread dressing makes my stomach growl just thinking about it. Then there’s the buttery aroma of the yams and the tart scent of the cranberry sauce that keeps me from wanting to eat one morsel of food until I sit down at the table with family and friends to thank God for what He’s provided me over the last year.

And I have so much to be thankful for in 2008. My youngest son, Will, received straight A’s for the first time since he was a young boy. He is at an art school in California for the first semester of his senior year, and it has challenged him to be the best he can be. Finally, he’s excited about going to college and the wonderful life he has ahead of him. My oldest son has a precious new girlfriend, and I couldn’t be more excited and thankful for her. She challenges Michael to reach for the stars! Thank you Erica.

Of course, I’m thankful for Katie at Thomas Dunne Books for making my biggest dream come true, and for my literary agent, Holly, for believing in me in the first place. It’s been a long time coming and I feel so fortunate to have been given the chance. Thank you ladies!

Finally, I’m thankful for friends. Friends who go the extra mile for me when I need them most. I don’t know what I’d have done this year without them because I’ve experienced some of my highest highs and lowest lows. My sons won’t be with me this year so I’ll be spending Thanksgiving Day with friends. Friends are my family and that’s another thing I’m grateful for. Even though I no longer have a lot of blood relatives, I’m thankful that I do have many friends who love me and treat me like I really am their sister. I thank each of you from the bottom of my heart!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chaos: It's Whats For Dinner

I spent the bulk of my childhood years running from house to house on Thanksgiving. My dad, mom, three siblings and I would eat a full turkey meal complete with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie for lunch and then do it all over again in the evening. Lunch with my mom's side of the family and dinner with my dad's.

So Thanksgiving for me always unequivocally meant lots of running around, shoveling food into my mouth and a blur of relatives. So you'll understand why I was so confused when I met my husband and he described Thanksgiving as "relaxing." His version of the holiday is to lay around on the couch for most of the day, watching football. Of course, he was occasionally asked to complete a task like peel the potatoes (which always end up the size of golf balls when he's done whittling them down), but it generally meant lots of sweatshirts, television and beer before sitting down to a lazy dinner.

You can imagine his dismay when we spent our first Thanksgiving together. I think it was when we were racing down the highway, freaking out because we were already late for my aunt's house when he asked me, "Aren't holidays supposed to be FUN?"

Thanks to him, I've learned to slow down a bit and take time to actually enjoy the holidays. And thanks to me, he's learned that holidays are a heck of a lot of work. But, in the past few years, we've managed to find a happy medium. And of course, when things get too nuts, we can always head down to Cancun for the week, like we did a couple of years ago. Because nothin' says Turkey Day like frozen margaritas and salsa!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Food, Football, and Family

Turkey. Cranberries. Mashed potatoes. Pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is almost here and I can hardly wait…not only because of the incredible food, but because it’s a day spent with family doing family things. We’re all so busy all the time, that it seems holidays are the only absolute in togetherness. This is the main reason I love Thanksgiving (and Christmas too, but that’s for another post!)

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was always at our house. I loved this! My mother would wake up early in the morning to get the turkey cooking, so by the time the rest of us woke up, the house would already smell delicious. And then, family and friends would start pouring in…and old traditions were continued and new traditions were started.

My great-grandmother Verda always brought a huge chocolate cake covered in sprinkles. It was the only time of the year we’d see this particular cake, and I can remember exactly how it looked—a little lopsided, but covered in bright sprinkles, and way too much frosting. To this day, if I see a cake coated in sprinkles, I think of her.

Now, our family has spread itself over the country, so Thanksgiving isn’t as huge as it used to be. But it’s still special. From the food, to the family, to yes—even the football, it’s a day I look forward to every year. Of course, it's also the official start of the Christmas holiday--which is my absolute favorite time of year. Soon, we'll be shopping, wrapping, decorating, and singing Christmas carols. I can't wait!

I hope everyone has a joyous Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Think, think, think...

Inspiration for me is a funny little thing. Sometimes you're so desperate for an idea, but no matter how hard you try, no matter how many books you read, movies you watch, conversations you overhear...nothing happens. It just seems as though nothing wants to click. Nothing wants to seed itself in your brain and take root. There are also times when an amazing story just seems to fall into your lap, and yet despite its apparent brilliance you just can't seem to cultivate it. You twist it and turn it around in your mind for days, but for whatever the reason (maybe it's just not your story to tell) nothing comes from it.

My favorite time is when inspiration hits. It comes in the oddest places and at the most peculiar times. It can come in the middle of the night from a dream, or from the back of a milk carton on the breakfast table. But when it comes and in whatever form it takes, it's the most amazing feeling. It almost begins to bubble and burst forth in your brain, and no matter how hard you try to put it out of your head it just keeps creeping in. In a matter of hours you have plot, subplot, characters, character vices, everything you need to make a good book. That's the easy part. The story in your head is so easy to tell. It's right there on the tip of your tongue, but getting it onto paper is quite another thing.

My inspiration usually comes at quiet times in my life, when I'm least expecting it. I'll be watching a show and suddenly something that flashes on the screen will leap into my head and begin to evolve. It can be as mundane and odd as the red dress on a woman in a tampax commercial. I don't question Lady Inspiration, I just go with it. It's the most exhilarating part of writing for me. It's almost like falling in love. You feel elated and joyful. It really is an intoxicating feeling.

I wish I had a recipe for inspiration. The ability to know what needs to be added here and what pinch of this needs to be thrown in there, just to create that "I've got a great idea" moment. I think it really just comes from being open and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to a wide variety of emotions and experiences. You can't look for inspiration or formulate it, you just have to let it find you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Labor of Love

Recently, I got to e-chat about the idea of inspiration with a few other writers. I’m going to be doing a panel at The Tucson Festival of Books in March with Janette Rallison and Jill Wolfson. The three of us have never met, but the festival organizer paired us up and told us to come up with a topic. Jill Wolfson suggested we do something based off of the quote by Edison, that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Not that we are geniuses, she clarified, but because of the fact that writing is also 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

I’d never really thought about it before, but I realized she was absolutely right, at least, in my case. I have an abundance of ideas. They come to me in dreams, in the shower, while I’m driving. My inspiration usually hits as a hypothetical. What if X happened? How would this change the characters’ lives? What kind of havoc would this reek or drama would this cause? The ones that I like I write down. Usually on the back of a bill on my desk that I manage to then promptly bury under a pile of something and lose. But if they are good enough, they stick with me nonetheless.

Right now I’m working on an adult book, that I started about a month ago. Actually, let me clarify, I was working on different adult book that I started back in August. I had a great idea, an inspiration, if you will, that came to me in the middle of the night: the perfect first scene and two interesting characters. But I got about 50 pages in and I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. As much as I wanted to sit down and write the book, I found myself reading and rereading what I’d already written and waiting for inspiration to strike to tell me where to take things. Then it did, though not for this particular book. A series of random and seemingly mundane things happened one Friday, and when I was telling my neighbor about them, she said something that caused a spark, a new hypothetical. Suddenly, I was inspired to start over with a new idea.

Was I upset about the 50 pages I’d already spent weeks toiling over? Well, to be honest, a little. But I was also excited about my new idea; I felt I could really make this work, and if I'm going to put in hours and hours and hours of writing, I want it to be on something that I feel will be a fabulous finished product. Besides, it’s also part of what I’ve come to accept as a writer -- no matter how great your initial inspiration is, it really doesn’t mean much on its own. You can’t sell your inspiration. (Well, maybe some writers can, but I’m certainly not at this point!)

So how do I get from that inspiration to completed manuscript? It's something I'm in the middle of right now, and it's work. Lots of it. Writing is an amazing job, and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do it. But it is a job nonetheless. And not an ordinary job. I can never leave work and come home and forget about it. My characters do not exit my head at 5 PM to return again at 9 the next morning. They are with me. All the time. (Today, for instance, my main character popped into my head while I was in Target and said something I know will be a crucial line near the end of the book.) At night, unlike my friends who put their children to bed and then get to watch TV, clean the house, or go to sleep, I spend a few hours writing and revising. And sometimes, I even dream about my characters.

So yeah, getting inspired is great. Exciting, even. But there are light years between this initial inspiration and a novel. The other 99%, the thinking, writing, revising? I do it because, for me, writing is a labor of love. But that doesn’t keep me from sweating through it all the same.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Believe In Writing What You Know

My inspiration comes from real people, real events, and real places I’ve visited. I, like Maureen, try to carry a little pad in my purse and yes, most of my receipts have notes spattered all over the back of them, too. Just the other day, my dear friend Kathy (who is also my next door neighbor) said something that I found hilarious. We were standing in her kitchen when I yelled, “Wait, get me a piece of paper!” It was a great line regarding something that had recently happened to me. I'm definitely working it into my second book. Somehow I already know it will fit perfectly when I get to a certain scene.

I fully believe in the old adage about writing what you know. Once I start writing a character, he or she usually has a hodgepodge of traits taken from my own imagination or something I found particularly delightful about someone I’ve met personally or someone I’ve only heard about. I’m one of these writers who finds the very best humor in real life, so I take a certain situation that has a funny element and build from there.

For instance in my novel, Whistlin’ Dixie In A Nor’easter, I have a character named Jeb Duggar who is the handyman at The Vermont Haus Inn. He only works there on the side, really, because his real job is proprietor of Jeb’s Computer World. He’s a typical Vermonter, a.k.a a woodchuck, who has a burly beard and a big handlebar mustache. (I knew lots of men who could fit that description when I lived in Vermont.) One day here in Franklin, I was driving to work and saw one of those pink Mary Kay cars parked at an apartment complex. I got the idea to have Jeb share one of those cars with his mother, who has her Mary Kay business in big letters on the passenger side door and Jeb’s own business, JCW, painted on the driver’s side. Just the thought of that big ole burly guy driving a rusted-out pink Chevy Chevette, put a smile on my face.

The personalities of the girlfriends in my book are an amalgam of my closest friends. The fun part about that is, we’ve been friends since we were five, and I have a rich bank of memories to weave into all my stories.

On a practical note, when starting a novel, I have made suggestions to myself on note cards. I scratch them out as I go, but almost inevitably the book takes it’s own path once I’ve gotten past the first thirty pages or so. I wish I could boast of a certain method to this literary madness but alas, I’m a bit of a hodgepodge myself, with a jumble of ideas and techniques that propel me towards the finish line.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brainstorming Bag Lady

My book ideas sometimes start with a single scene. For my upcoming book, A Bump in the Road, it started with an image of a hungover couple flying home from Vegas and being tortured a toddler. A scene many people can relate to, in one fashion or another. The humor potential was endless, but I started to think, "What if this is the ironic setup for a life change for these two poor souls?" And thus, a fictional unplanned pregnancy was created.

But really, there’s no "one way" my ideas come to me. Sometimes, it’s from a funny story one of my coworkers tells me. Or maybe it’s a story in the newspaper. See, I usually start my books with only a vague idea of what they’ll be about. Most times, I just start writing. So little snippets of news events, anecdotes from friends, and even bickering between my husband and I can lead to entire plot twists.

One thing I have really noticed since I started seriously pursuing a writing career is that my brainstorming antenna is always set to "on" now. Before, I’d hear interesting conversations or observe quirky people and they’d fly out of my head two seconds after they entered. But now, everything becomes fair game. Thus, the reason why I’m usually digging frantically through my purse for a piece of paper and a pen to write down my "genius" idea. This is also why lots of my notes are written on the back of McDonald’s receipts (or other trash littering my purse) in eyeliner pencil.

If you can’t tell, it’s a somewhat chaotic way to write a book. Truth be told, I wish I could be one of those people who has a roadmap from the very beginning, someone whose brainstorming is one complete step before beginning a novel instead of some weird hybrid of writing and plotting all at once. But I’ve tried, and it just doesn’t feel right.

So, if you ever see a red-haired woman crazily scribbling on the side of her Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with a teeny-tiny golf pencil while waiting at a stoplight, it’s probably me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Do You Get Your Ideas?

That's a question writers are asked all the time. For me, a story idea can happen while I'm watching TV, driving my car, reading the paper, talking to a friend, or even when I'm asleep. Thinking of story ideas is never the issue, as a new one is always crawling in my brain when I least expect it.

They usually come to me in a "What if" question, followed by a "Why?". Things like, "What if two women are in the airport and decide to switch tickets? Why would they want to do this? What are they each running/hiding/wanting to get away from?"

That particular idea came to me while sitting in an airport in Dallas. I realized, quite suddenly, that once you're past security, no one checks your ticket against your ID again--which means two people could switch tickets and fly under each other's names. If they chose to. But while it's a great idea, and I've already started the story, there's SO MUCH MORE I need to know.

Many of my initial ideas arrive half-baked. Some of them aren't meant to build a book around, but maybe just one scene within the book, and others need time to grow into something more. So, what do I do if pluck one of these ideas out of my file (and yes, I keep a file), but it needs more work? In a word: Brainstorm.

I brainstorm with other writers. This, by the way, doesn't always happen at the beginning of a book. It can happen throughout the writing of the book--maybe I've hit a wall, or need something else to happen, or maybe I can take the story in a couple of different ways and I'm not sure which one is the right one.

Regardless, brainstorming allows me to talk it out to someone else. I'll be honest--most of the time, I don't end up using whatever plot points my brainstorming buddies come up with, but the process seems to loosen my creative energy, and help me find exactly the right answer I need. Though, there are definitely instances whereI've used a plot point or characterization idea and ran with it.

The great thing about brainstorming is it goes both ways. When my writer friends have a problem, they call me, and I talk it out with them. In addition, my local writing group has a full weekend each year devoted to brainstorming, where we talk about multiple books, plots, characters, motivation, and everything and anything each of us needs to get writing.

So while I don't have problems with inspiration (at least not yet, thank goodness), I would be lost without brainstorming. It's an integral part of every book I write--whether I do it on my own, with a friend, or with my writing group.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Goodie Goodies

I love cooking. Well actually I should clarify that a little. I love to bake. I also enjoy cooking, but baking is what I prefer. I grew up in a house of bakers. My mother and grandmother are exceptional bakers. I can hardly remember a time when there wasn't some homemade goodie in the house. My mother would make her own donuts, gingerbread cookies, carrot cake, banana bread...you name it, she could make it. And for whatever the reason, maybe through osmosis, I've acquired the skill of baking.

When I first moved out on my own I never baked, but now that I'm married and have kids of my own, I love to bake for them. There is something so wonderful about serving them something you made yourself and hearing them enjoy it. With Christmas just around the corner, I'm already getting ready for my annual Christmas goodie baking. My mother and I decide who is going to make what and then it's three weeks of baking. We each fill containers with our nanimo bars, butter tarts, shortbread cookies, Italian peach cookies, hello dollies and mincemeat pies. Our houses are rich with the smells of homemade gingerbread and strawberry jam tarts. It really is my favorite time of year.

I can remember how excited I would be Christmas Eve morning when my mother would lay out all the delicious treats she had been so busily making the weeks before. The table would look like a painting with the yellows, pinks, greens, and whites of all the pastries she had made. Now I see that same excitement in my own children's eyes when Christmas Eve rolls around and the table is set with all the sweets.

Baking is a very pure and tactile activity. Often you have to get your hands and fingers dirty mixing and kneeding things, and there is something so gratifying about it. It's very soothing, and for me it's a time when I can be alone with my thoughts. I can work out all the issues of the day while I vigorously stir my chocolate chip cookie dough. And the best part of baking, is that I get to eat it when it's done. Yum!

Here is a recipe for a very yummy lemon cheescake and asparagus quiche that is perfect served hot or cold. Enjoy!

Mother’s Homemade Pastry Dough

1375 ml – 5 ½ cups of flour
15 ml – 1 Tsp. baking powder
15 ml – 1 Tsp. salt
45 ml – 3 Tsp. brown sugar
1 egg
20 ml – 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
add water to make 250 ml – 1 cup of liquid
1 pound – 454 g. of shortening

In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients together. Using a fork or pastry cutter blend in the shortening until the mixture resemble coarse meal. Add just enough egg, water and vinegar for the dough to hold its shape. Roll dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When you are ready to use, roll dough out onto lightly floured surface. Place dough into a pie or quiche pan. Make sure the edges are slightly higher than the edge of the pan so your quiche mixture will not spill over. Place a sheet of tin foil onto the bottom of the pan and then add pastry weights (dried peas or rice). Bake in a 400-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool.

Asparagus Quiche

Pre-made and baked pastry shell
3 eggs lightly beaten
250 ml –1 cup creamo
7.5 ml – ½ Tsp. salt
7.5 ml – ½ Tsp. pepper
1.5 ml – ¼ Tsp. nutmeg
3 slices of bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
250 ml – 1 cup of grated hard white cheese (cheddar, gruyere, or swiss)
8 asparagus spears, 4 sliced down the center and then cut in half. The remaining 4 spears should be diced into bite size pieces
60 ml – ¼ cup of water

Saute the diced asparagus in a little butter for 3 to 4 minutes. Add water, cover and cook until tender. Once cooled, place asparagus on the bottom of the pastry shell and then sprinkle with bacon and grated cheese.

In a medium bowl mix the eggs, creamo, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour mixture into the pie shell. Arrange the remaining halved asparagus on the top of the quiche in a spoke like design. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 35-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve with a light green salad or roasted tomatoes.



Lemon Cheesecake

Crust:
21 graham crackers
60 ml – 4 Tbsp. melted butter
40 ml – 2 Tbsp. sugar

Filling:
125 ml – ½ cup sugar
grated rind of two lemons
185 ml – ¾ cup of sugar
28 oz. - 625 g. of cream cheese at room temperature
185 ml – ¾ cup dry cottage cheese
60 ml – ¼ cup sour cream
4 eggs
60 ml – ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1.5 ml – ¼ Tsp. salt
125 ml – ½ cup whipping cream

Lemon Topping:
1 large egg
125 ml – ½ cup sugar
20 ml – 1 Tbsp. water
40 ml – 2 Tbsp. melted butter
pinch of salt
juice and rind of one lemon

Blend graham crackers in a food processor until fine. In a medium bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar. Mix well and press firmly into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake on the middle rack of a 325-degree oven for 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly brown. Cool.

Blend 125 ml - ½ cup of sugar with the grated lemon rind. Add the remaining 185 ml – ¾ cup of sugar. Set aside. Measure cottage cheese into the food processor and blend until fine. Add the sour cream. In a large bowl mix the cream cheese until smooth. Add cottage cheese, sour cream and lemon sugar. Mix well. Add 1 egg at a time until well blended. Next add lemon juice, salt, and whipping cream. Mix well, but do not over beat. Pour batter in springform pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 50 to 70 minutes. The cake is done when the sides are firm and the center is slightly wobbly. Turn off the oven and allow the cake to cool while still inside. When cooled, take the cake out and let it cool to room temperature. Allow the cake to cool overnight in the refrigerator or freeze in the freezer (a refreshing twist on a hot summer’s day). Pour topping over it prior to serving.

In a small saucepan beat eggs with a wire whisk. Add sugar and cold water and continue mixing. Gradually add melted butter, salt, grated lemon rind and the juice of one lemon. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and place plastic wrap directly on the top of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve the cheesecake.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jillian Stole My Post Title.

See...

I am a certified danger to myself and others in a kitchen. Disasterous, one might say.

I burn my fingertips, catastrophically spill things, routinely set off the smoke detector and strike terror into the hearts and tiny minds of the cats upon entering the kitchen for any purpose beyond opening a bag of munchies or making myself a latte (don't be impressed - I have one of those coffee-bot thingies that requires almost negative effort on the part of the user to create frothy caffeinated delights).

I. Do not. Cook.

My mother is a great cook.
Sadly this is not a genetic thing -- or, if it is, it has most defintely skipped a generation.

My mother reads this blog.
When she saw the topic for this week's postings, I think she fell off a chair she laughed so hard.

Then she sent me gag recipes.

Love you, Mom...

Actually, I blame her for my lack of culinary awesomeness. When, throughout the course of your formative years, you have sumptuous meals prepared for you on a regular basis by someone else, what possible earthly sense does it make for you to learn to cook?

Nowadays, I just blame John for reinforcing that early learned behaviour. He is also a terrific cook. And, insofar as he refuses to starve to death waiting for me to make food go, he has claimed the kitchen as his domain. (It's also probably because he wisely doesn't trust me around knives or open flame.)

They say cooking is a number's game. All measurements, and timing, and proportion and degrees.

Fine.

In that case? Here's my best recipe: 416-967-1111.
And just like Europe's flashiest chefs, I can make that one happen with a flourish of the wrist!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Recipe for Disaster?

I have confession to make: I am not a good baker.

Sure, I can cook. I can roast a chicken, boil potatoes, steam vegetables, make complicated pastas and chili, and concoct a pretty good chopped spinach salad. But when it comes to baked goods, forget it. No matter how hard I try, I always manage to end up with a, let me say, oddly misshapen product.

Case in point: my husband’s birthday cakes. His favorite cake is pineapple upside down cake, and this is what he always wants for his birthday. Three years in a row, I managed to mess it up – and not just a little bit, but to the point of disaster, where I had to throw my hands up in the air, throw the “cake” away, and quickly try to order one from a bakery instead. Last year, I skipped the drama and just ordered it from the bakery from the get go.

On my last attempt, two years ago, the cake literally imploded. When I took it out of the oven, it was a concave mess, with a dip in the middle that looked like a bowl. Forget trying to flip the darn thing over (which was my undoing the year before, when the entire pineapple top stuck to the bottom of the pan and made a mess).

I’m not sure where I go wrong. I’ve the blamed the recipes – which have ranged from Internet finds to boxed mixes. I’ve blamed my oven. (Maybe it’s not cooking evenly?) I’ve blamed my husband’s taste in cakes – I mean, couldn’t he just like a simple iced vanilla cake? (But don’t get me started on the way I’ve messed this up, too. I don’t understand the way people actually get icing to look good?). Yet, I’ve also ruined brownies from mixes that turn mushy, Trader Joe’s Green Tea cake (Don’t even ask!), and cupcakes that have exploded out of their foil wrappers in the oven.

I did have one baking success, once. A few years back at Thanksgiving, I set out to make a dairy-free pumpkin pie from scratch that my then milk-allergic son would be able to eat. I diligently condensed my own soy milk, a task which required me to stand in front of the hot stove constantly stirring and boiling for nearly an hour. And despite the complaints from my family, (who know my track record and were concerned that their Thanksgiving pie would be ruined), the pie actually turned out really well. Tasty and beautiful enough to appear bakery bought.

So my husband’s birthday is coming up in less than two weeks, and I’ve been telling myself that I’m going to attempt the pineapple upside down cake one more time. I mean really, if I can write and revise an entire novel, I should be able to bake one silly little cake, right?

The only problem is, I need a pineapple upside down cake recipe. So, if anyone has a good one -- preferably one that is tested and guaranteed not to fall apart in the oven, send it to me. I’d love to give it a try. And if it all works out, I’ll post a picture of it here in a few weeks. [Actually, either way I'll post the picture -- the cake or the ruins!]

Wish me luck! I'll probably need it.