Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thankgiving!


On this holiday of breaking bread and giving thanks, I'd like to recognize a few books that have provided some wonderful ideas for meals over the years.  I believe a good cookbook, like any beloved book, should be broken-in and lovingly crinkled from over-use.   Butter stains on the cover, red wine spilled on the pages of a favorite recipe, smudges of brown sugar catching pages together at the corners so you have to snap them apart each time you open them.  Here are a few of my favorite books:   

This book, which I just discovered, belongs to a friend of mine.  This past week, he cooked the recipe, Boiled Beef in a Fiery Sauce, and the steam from the chili peppers made the air in the house so spicy we had to open all the doors just to stop our eyes from watering.   

This is the same cookbook from above turned on its side.  If all the recipes in this book are as good as the Boiled Beef, I'm looking forward to a really tasty winter!


This cookbook, The Vegetarian Gothic, has been in my mom's kitchen since the 1970's.  It's beautifully illustrated and promotes a simpler way of living by cooking with natural ingredients.  Today, her copy of The Vegetarian Gothic is bound by a rubber band, it's fraying at the spine and the pages are turning a crispy yellowish-brown.  Just holding this book in your hands makes you feel like you are about to embark on something special. 


The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters, has been around for a few years, but I just discovered it this year.  Try the Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, and Steamed Broccoli with Garlic, Butter and Lemon.  I think this book will begin to show many signs of love over the years to come.


Saving the best for last, this was the cookbook I grew up with as a child.  Many a snow-day was spent making Teddy Bear Pancakes and Chunky Chocolate-Chip Bear cookies.  

I know there are lots of people who prefer to cook without a recipe, but I'd be lost without my cookbooks. 

In my debut novel, The Selkie Spell, my main character has to step unexpectedly into the role of chef in an Irish pub, but she doesn't know how to cook and is terrible at it.   It was pretty easy to relate to her in this.  :)

In all of my books, the characters tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Conversations flow easier in the kitchen.  Everyone has something to do with their hands.  There's always something simmering, a binger buzzing, or a dish to prep.  It creates an easy environment to describe and a comfortable one to spend time in. 

What about you? Do you have a favorite cookbook?  If you're a writer, does the kitchen, cooking, or food in general, play a large part in your stories?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Release Day!

Today, I released my first book for publication.  I can't believe it.  I've been writing for ten years.  Ten years.  I never thought this day would come.

I've written several books by now.   I've submitted to hundreds of agents and publishers.  I've drafted dozens of query letters, experienced the terror of pitching face-to-face with agents and editors at conferences.  I've gone to countless workshops, joined writers' groups, and made a couple life-long friends along the way.  But basically I've spent a lot of the last ten years with my computer and my characters.

Am I crazy?

Maybe.  For years after graduating college, I woke up at 5AM to write before work.  At the end of the day, I would come home and head back to my computer.  I was sure that one day, all my hard work would pay off.  But then something happened.  About a year ago, I stopped writing.  It came on gradually.  So gradually, I wasn't even aware of it at first.  I'm not even sure what happened.  The stories were still there.  The characters were waving their arms, trying to get me to notice them.  But I couldn't hear them.

All I could hear was the rejection--that paralyzing reality that maybe all the agents and editors I submitted to were right.  I wasn't good enough.  Suddenly, nothing I wrote was good enough.  I would try to write, but everything I wrote I deleted.  Every page, every paragraph, every sentence, every word. 

I had lived, breathed, slept, sweated, bled writing for so long and suddenly it just wasn't going to happen.  I let that black cloud take root inside me and I dug the printed manuscripts out of my closet and threw them in the trash.  I balled up the hundreds of rejection letters I'd received and I burned them.  I deleted every single email I'd received from an agent or editor, even the good ones where they tell you you're a great writer in the same sentence they reject you.

Then I deleted the spreadsheet that contained all my notes tracking my submissions and responses.  This was a list I had compiled over years of research.  What was the point in keeping it?  I closed the computer, told the characters to shut up, and moved on. 

It's a strange feeling to step outside your door and realize how much time you have when you're not spending it writing books.  I did a lot of peculiar things to fill that void: I read an entire John Steinbeck box set my uncle gave me for Christmas (one right after the other), I applied to grad school, and I signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon.

But there was something wrong.  Something missing.  And, a year later, after a bizarre turn of events had me moving into a new house that looks more like a fairy tale cottage than a typical DC shared home, suddenly, all I wanted to do was write. 

But it had been so long...  What if I couldn't?

Apprehensively, I re-opened the draft of my favorite manuscript, The Selkie Spell.  Expecting to hate it, as I had hated every word I'd written those last few months before I stopped, I peeked with one eye at the words on the screen.  And something strange happened.

They weren't terrible.  Some of them were actually kind of good.   

And I realized something.  I don't want to keep this story hidden anymore.  I worked really hard on this book.  I love this book.  More than anything I've ever written.  I'm sure it needs work.  I'm sure my writing will improve as I mature and experience more of life.  But I don't want this book to die in a sea of forgotten files.  I want it to live.  I want it to get out there and dance with the other books authors are uploading and self-publishing and putting their hearts and souls behind.  It deserves that. 

And so do I.

The Selkie Spell:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Welcome November

I found these carrots at the farmers market in Dupont Circle while strolling around the other day.  Made me wish I had a horse to feed them to...

Radishes?  For $3.50 a bunch?  If I only I knew where Rapunzel's mom lived... 

And I wonder why these pretty sunflowers were floating in the fountains at Meridian Hill Park today...

Maybe there's a story in it.  I've had images like this spark a new scene, or even an entire novel.  My best ideas come when I'm walking, always outside, away from the computer.  What about you?  How do you come up with your ideas?