Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Monday, August 31, 2009

First Drafting

Although I've put aside starting anything longer than 1000 words while I dive into revamping and editing something old, I like this post by writer Heather Vogel Frederick about starting brand new drafts, how difficult putting your toe into the water can be.

Thanks to Jo Knowles for the Facebook heads up on it. Jo's favorite has to do with making hollandaise. Kind of.

Writing a first draft always reminds me of starting a new project with third graders, in my school librarianship days:
How long does it have to be? Can I copy this picture now? Do we need note cards? Can I use a pen? A pencil? Colored markers?

That's how I feel about early drafts. A million questions, with at least that many right answers. And a few very wrong ones you won't know about until you are halfway down the path.

How do you feel about starting something new? Putting that proverbial toe into uncharted waters?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Great Writing Advice

Really terrific Food for Thought. But not just for thought, for action. Sue Monk Kidd's Ten Most Helpful Things I Could Ever Tell Anyone About Writing. Click here for her list. I love #9:

Hurry slowly.

"Getting the pace of a story right keeps me up at night. I have a horror of sitting on a plane, next to someone reading my book, and seeing her flip over to see how many pages are left in the chapter. You want a reader so caught up in the spell of a story it would never occur to her to pull herself away and count how many pages she had to read before she could stop."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Favorite Series (I hope)

I discovered the books of Kate Atkinson through a review in the New York Times. And rushed right out to my local library to reserve When Will There Be Good News?

After about 10 pages, I realized that I was onto something. And I returned that book and checked out, Case Histories, the first of the series. I say series with hope. So far, there are three books in what Janet Maslin terms "books that would be chronologically linked if Ms. Atkinson had a simple sense of chronology." Which she doesn't.

Series or not, I wanted to start at the beginning.

Now I've finished book #2: ONE GOOD TURN. Next, I'm back to where I started, with Atkinson's newest. These books are hard to describe, other than saying they are fabulously written and fun to follow. Shifts in Point of View don't disrupt the action. Funny asides don't seem like author intrusions. I laughed at a lot of things in the first two books.

A favorite thought from One Good Turn: Martin, a writer/oddball of a character, imagines moving his fiction away from the linear narratives about his (boring) character and "writing a Borges-like construction where each story contained the kernel of the next and so on..something with intellectual cachet (something good)."

And this, as that same writer views the receptionist at the dump of a hotel he finds himself holed up in when a murder has kept him from his own house: "She had a smear of what looked like blood on her chin, but Martin thought it was more likely to be tomato ketchup."

That's about the way these first two mysteries progress. Weaving seamlessly from story to story, with kernels of characters, places, actions showing up from one to the next. Just great writing. And fun reading. In fact, reviewer Janet Maslin included When Will There Be Good News on her Top 10 list for 2008 (Along with Dennis Lehane's The Given Day, Edgar Sawtelle, and Ron Rash's Serena, among others).

I agree with Maslin who says she very much hopes Atkinson will continue the series. Here's what another favorite crime writer (if you can call them that), Harlan Coban, has to say:
Kate Atkinson is an absolute must-read. I love everything she writes.

Ditto that, Mr. Coban.

Related posts:
Writers in Paradise: Dennis Lehane

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Last Word (Promise)

I know some of you love these postings about Julia Child and all things Julia-ish. And maybe some of you are saying Move On! Enough with the postings about cooking!

So here's one more and I think this should do it. Today's New York Times sets us home cooks straight. Here's the way to make Boeuf Bourguignon in (Gasp!) Five Steps. That Gasp! was in the title of the article.

But it's true, and it's all about a new cookbook, coming from France in October.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One More About Julia

Great article in today's New York Times. Already this morning the #1 most emailed and on the top ten list of most blogged. So I'll just add the link here, and add my 2-cents worth: Loved the ending of this article, Nora Ephron's comment about people walking out of the multiplex and into the bookstore. Great to think a movie can have that kind of impact on book sales. Way to go Julie and Julia, both of you!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Julia Child's Paris

Paris is one of my favorite cities. OK, my favorite city. And Julia Child fascinates me. I actually met her and heard her talk to the students at the school where I worked in New Jersey, and she was no less intriguing in person than she is in her larger-than-life big and little screen presence. Yes, I loved Julie and Julia, both the book and the new movie.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Now I have a new reason to return to Paris. The site that gave me Henri the Existential Cat now has a post up about the places Julia lived, ate, strolled in her adopted city. Check it out here.

Related Posts: Henri the Cat
Book Review: Hungry for Paris

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Food Writing

I've been thinking about food- Southern food, to be exact. And I don't mean writing about food specifically, essays about picking blueberries or missing figs. (For those, see my links to essays, on this blog, please.)

I also don't mean the kind of food my fabulous friend and fellow writer Lee Stokes Hilton celebrates on her new blog. Though after reading her recipe, I have been pondering making scones, as soon as it cools off.

But right now I'm mulling over changes, additions, edits of my book for middle grade readers that's been percolating for some time. The first draft had many references to fried chicken, black skillets, pimento cheese. Then I got cold feet and took out some of the Food Talk. A friend who'd published her kids' books with a very astute editor told me he said she had her (Southern) characters eating all the time. OK, but we do like our food, sir! Still, I held back.

Then I read Faith, Hope and Ivy June. And there was food every time I turned around. And I loved it. Mashing up Grandmommie's beans with the back of her spoon. Offering up something from the kitchen to the country doctor who comes to call. Homemade preserves. All the good stuff that came from that mountain kitchen added layers of description for me. I could just picture Mammaw in there cooking for Ivy June and Catherine, the exchange student friend from the city. Those cookies she baked drew me into the brothers' afterschool day.

So I'm adding layers, details to my novel and think at least some will be food. In the South, where my manuscript is set, that's a good piece of what families are all about. Sitting down, enjoying the stories around the dinner table.

Bring on the fried chicken. Gravy made in a black skillet. Corn bread, too. I just can't forget the family eating Sunday dinner, their stories around that table.

Related posts: SCBWI Pt. 2: Phyllis Naylor
Eating Our Way Home

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Abundance of Riches

Look what's sitting on my To Read shelf. A book lover/former librarian/ book reviewer's dream. Three of the best fall kids' novels out there. And I get to read them all!

Well, as you might notice from all the blue stickies, I've read one of them and am about to write my review. I've actually read two of them because I couldn't wait to open Popeye and Elvis when the delivery guy left it on my front step on Monday. But I'm reading that one again soon, and the new Al Capone is also waiting for me. It's like Christmas and my 10-year-old birthday all rolled into one.
More to come on these. Right now, I have some serious fun reading to get to.

Related post: Book Reviewing

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Funny Sandwiches!

I'm sorry. But this is just too funny not to share. I know, I know. Nothing to do with writing. Though I'm sure if I ate a Sponge Bob sandwich, I could write something really funny. Or how about that little mouse- is he cute or not? I tried to paste an image into this entry but nothing seems to work. So go ahead, click on the link.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Best Beach Books Ever

If it's not too late to read at the beach-- and for my friends in New England, I'm not sure you've had your summer yet so maybe there's time--here's a great list of books to consider.

From NPR's recent poll to listeners and readers: What's your favorite beach read?

So what have you been reading this summer? Beach or not.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Learn from the Best

I think there might actually be a famous writer who said "Steal from the best." But I'm not stealing today. Today I'm thinking hard about this, by one of my all-time favorite writers, Anne Tyler:

All really satisfying stories, I believe, can generally be described as spend-thrift... A spendthrift story has a strange way of seeming bigger than the sum of its parts; it is stuffed full; it gives the sense of possessing further information that could be divulged if called for.

That's the ticket. It could be divulged. As long as the writer knows the backstory, the character's history, what happens off-stage, readers don't need every single detail spelled out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

Today was my turn over at the Southern Writers Blog, A Good Blog is Hard to Find. I finally found an excuse to link to one of my favorite articles of the summer in The St. Petersburg Times. Who'd ever think there would be so much to a simple Sno-Cone...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Black Skillet as Metaphor?

I hope I never have to give up my morning newspapers, the kind printed on newsprint I can spread out on nearby tables and separate on the floor, with sections featuring Sports and Food and Local News. Newspapers I can glance up from when a replay of the 13th inning win by the Tampa Bay Rays over the Red Sox last night comes on the TV. But that's another story.

Some days my daily newspapers are filled with good stuff. Like today. Along with Frank Bruni's review of the Union Square Cafe, which sparked memories of a terrific January lunch there with a friend and a daughter, I loved today's entire food section.

Both the New York Times and the St. Petersburg Times. The St. Pete Times food editor is writing about Julia Childs, but I'm saving my comments till I've seen Julie and Julia (loved the book!).

I've been thinking about my black iron skillet as a metaphor for something- maybe for writing techniques, as my friend Sue threw out at me at our recent critique meeting. So that will be on my mind today, inspired by Sue and by Jhumpa Lahiri's article in today's New York Times.

OK, I know, she's writing about her summer vacation rentals, and Julia Moskin, in that same Dining section, takes on a similar subject. But both articles prompted me to think of tiny beginnings, an entry into an essay or a story. So today I'll spend time pondering the possibilities. And who knows what might be cooking on that metaphoric iron skillet by supper time?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Stirring the Pot

Although my cooking skills aren't legendary, there's one thing I don't mind doing: stirring. I make killer cheese grits and a mean roux. Somebody once said of making roux: You can drink two beers while you're stirring and it still may not be ready. Of course, I'd never do that. You have to watch the roux very closely, without impairment. If it burns, out goes the whole batch.

I didn't think I loved risotto, however, and I'd never attempted actually making it. Although it's OK when a restaurant sneaks risotto under the dish I've ordered, I get more excited when my shrimp is heaped on grits or polenta. But I decided to give it a try. And I didn't bat an eye reading about stirring risotto. That part didn't worry me. I'd stirred grits longer, and with grits, you have to be careful not to get scalded.

I was ready for risotto.

Some recipes insist you should stir nonstop for an hour, but I'd watched my friend Joan making it, and she wasn't a slave to her stove. We took turns stirring that night. But tonight, I was on my own. Lots of stirring. And plenty of time to think about writing, while stirring.

I decided writing is like making grits, roux, risotto-- a bit of this and a spoon of that. Stir, stir, stir. Add more broth, a pinch of salt, sample it. Stir some more. And occasionally, regrettably, toss the whole thing.

With risotto, I was lucky my first time out. Here's the pot, mid-way through stirring. With occasional breaks to write about it.

All it took was arborio rice, sauteed onions, vegetable stock, a spash of white wine, and a bit of grated parmesan cheese. And all that stirring.