Friday, August 29, 2008

Politics and mysteries--well, maybe they're the same

I am, as many Americans are, still consumed with politics. On the crest of the upbeat Democratic convention, we get the news of Senator McCain's choice of a running mate. To me, it's a strange choice, but maybe that's my outlook--Governor Palin is for everything I'm against. But it must be admitted that she has limited experience--that charge thrown so often against Barack Obama. One of my sons said to me today, "It's a mixed blessing. It may help us (Democrats) win, but if the Republicans win, this lady who know nothing about running a nation or international policy is heartbeat away from the presidency." He went on, to discuss, what's on all our minds--Senator McCain is not a spring chicken.
But political opinion and approval or disapproval aside, I'm puzzled by something: most Republicans I know don't want to talk politics. Some say, "Let's not go there"; some say, "I don't know enough about it" which makes me want to shout, "Learn!" I want to talk about it, not necessarily to convert, though I do feel a bit called upon to do that. But I want to know how people can be for McCain, what's their reasoning, what are they thinking? I wonder, and it's scary, if they're not thinking, if they're hearing what they want to hear, or just thinking "I'm a Republican" (or Democrat) and aligning themselves blindly. My good-looking neighbor (I throw that in in case he reads this) is the only one I know who will talk to me about, and I know he's not blindly Republican. Sometimes we get a bit testy, but we have good honest talks. In contrast, I think of the women who, angered that Hillary didn't win, have gone over to McCain's side. Do these women realize he's against abortion? Against most of the things Hillary fought for?
And then there's the mystery of writing mysteries. Sisters in Crime and its various sub-groups have such active listservs that it takes a good portion of my day to sort through the posts. But am I learning a lot. For one thing, I think I have been very naive about querying, thinking happily that my query would stand out from those other amateurs. Not at all true. I may have 60 books to my credit, but in writing mysteries and trying to sell them, I'm a real amateur. For instance, the agent who said he liked my manuscript but didn't love it? And I thought that was a serious line? Apparently it's a cliche blowoff. Agents get hundreds of queries a week and making yours stand out is a real challenge.
I joined a group doing an exercise in "blurbing" their books and the responses have been pretty critical but tremendously helpful. They've made me rethink the book, and interestingly one thing that echoed in the responses was also repeated by my mentor today: I'm trying too hard to fit the subplot in. I have rewritten so many times, but here I go again.
But not this weekend. I'm off to Frisco tomorrow to see Maddie and Edie (and their parents, of course). I'll think about rewriting next week.
I am still having terrible balance problems, and if anyone watched me, they'd either die laughing or call the cops. Today I could NOT get from my car into the grocery--it's those open spaces that get me. Give me a grocery cart to wheel in and I'm just fine. So I started, rounded the corner of the car next to mine, and froze. Had to go back, take a different route, but I finally made it. Such episodes put me back, I think, because they're depressing. I tell people about them--including readers of this blog--because I feel hiding them and fearing someone would find out would only make it worse. Maybe if I can laugh at it? I've gotten over this before, and I will again, but I'm ready any time. As Melinda said to me, I've got a lot going on right now, which probably accounts for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Sleepy Day

I did today what all of us must do to take responsibility for our own health. I had a colonoscopy. Not, it wasn't bad. No, even the prep wasn't that bad--not the way I'd choose to spend an evening, but easy to sruvive intact.The clinic where I went had it down to an art--not a science, but an art. Everywhere one was most kin and personable, and I was never left alone to feel edgy in a cubicle. But as they predicted, I was a little wobbly when I got home. I ate some cottage cheese (a comfort food for me) and slept heavily for three hours; then I ate rice, beans, and a leftover bit of flank steak (the kids were right--it was really good), piddled at the computer for a while, and went back to bed for another two hours. Last night I got so much done (everything I'd brought home), that I thought I ought to call the office and ask them to bring me more from the stack on my desk (I can't drive till tomorrow). By the time I was home today, that thought faded--no energy, no ambition. I got a new Southern Living and have prowled slowly through it; I have a novel to read; I have the Democratic convention to watch.
I think the convention so far has been electrifying. Joe Biden was my choice all along. In recent years, on Sunday morning political shows, when the subject was Iraq, he was the one who made sense, who looked at the situation, understood it, and outlined clearly what we should have done as opposed to what we did do. So I'm delighted with that choice. I thought Biden's speech was great, and I loved the family scene onstage afterward--because I'm family oriented, I am touched by his life story of being a devoted father to his boys after the death of their mother and one child. And the devotion and closeness that his current wife shares with his sons is an amazing thing to see. Joe Biden is indeed a man with values.
The Clintons--okay, since I'm on a political roll here. I started as a Hillary fan but as the primary campaign went along I thought she and her husband both got too shrill, too desperate. But boy oh boy did they redeem themselves the last two nights. They brought the Democratic Party together, unified it, in a way that no one else could. I'm waiting tonight for them to break into "Happy Days are Here Again!" Meantime I hope I can stay awake long enough to hear Obama!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Guest blogs and other things

One of the neat things about asking other writers to be a guest on your blog is that they reciprocate, so today I'm a guest on Catherine Mambretti's blog. Check it out at Catherine specializes in trial procedure on her blog, which is not an area I know anything about, but the asked me to comment on frontier justice because of the western historicals I've written. I did and I didn't, writing that much more than the law justice on the frontier was about fair or not, honorable or not. I left out one book I really should have mentioned: The Ox-Bow Incident.
I remember what Jordan told me I could blog about. Most of my conversations with her now begin with "Don't blog about this, but . . . ." But last night she asked, "Why does food always taste better at your mom's?" And then she told me I could blog that. She called today to say she'd just found a hot dog in her purse--we cooked it for Jacob, he didn't eat it, and she said she'd take it home. Now it's trash.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Spectacular celebrations

The Olympics are over, but the Democratic National Convention is on. It's like they were orchestrated so that one begins as the other ends. They're both spectacular celebrations, spectacles in their own right. Frankly, I'm glad to see the Olympics end--I know that's not a popular view, but they're so "24-hour," so always on the TV, pre-empting things I like--like the normal news and TODAY show programming, The Olympics dominated what news shows there were until I was frankly tired of them. The convention coverage is much more low key and, to me, much more intriguing. I think I'm a politics junkie, a trait I inherited from my thoroughly Democratic father. (He didn't know the phrase "yellow dog" up north because it's a southern thing, maybe even a Texas thing, but he was one; he always said he voted for the best man, but the best man was always a Democrat!)
I was thrilled with Monday night's opening session--it was a real "be still my heart" moment to see Ted Kennedy at the podium, as one commentator said passing the baton to Obama. That's something he's not done to previous Democrats, and maybe his health accounts for it, maybe his faith in Obama, but it was a spectacular moment.
And Michelle Obama was great. She has in the past been a bit abrasive, a bit angry, but she was on target last night. The most important thing she said, to me, was that we must live with hope, not fear. For the last eight years, the administration has tried--with too much success--to scare the American people into accepting their policies. Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, we must attack Iran, war, always war. I believe in hope and change, and I'm doing my part for the country by serving as a block captain for Barack Obama. I may figure out a way to do more, though it's hard in Texas.
Jacob and his parents came for dinner tonight, and I cobbled together a dinner out of the freezer and cupboard, though I had barely enough lettuce for a salad for three. Worst thing was that I promised them bison rib-eye. I had one in the freezer, saw it just the other day. Darned if I could find it tonight. So Jordan and Christian had flank steak marinated in Worcstershire, soy and lemon; I had a half a chopped steak cooked really rare; I fixed Uncle Ben's broccoli rice (Christian said he didn't like the brocooli but he ate two helpings) and I sauteed a few leftover green beans with a few sugar snap peas. Christian wouldn't eat the peas, though Jordan said since I had coated them in butter they were pretty good. Of all the funny things we talked about there was one she said I could blog about but I can't remember it. Oh, my.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Food in the Golden Age of Amsterdam

My guest blogger today is Catherine Mambretti, who has written her first historical novel, The Posthumous Bride (currently seeking a publisher) and in researching it learned a lot about food in Amsterdam in 1666. I thought a blog about Jewish cooking in Amsterdam in the 17th century was truly appropriate to Judy's Stew, which is in large part abut cooking.

Catherine is a former college teacher, the author of two educational technology books, a science and technology editor and writer, and a corporate training consultant. She says that although you'd thinkk she'd write science fiction with her background, she's always been fascinated by the overlooked culture of the 17th Century. You can check her web page at

Historical Mystery Cooking
Judy and I share some history, even though we’ve never met: we both have ties to the University of Chicago, the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, and Texas. And we both write (among other things, historicals).
"The Posthumous Wife" (in search of a publisher) is the story of Ruta Massa, a young Catholic Portuguese woman who finds herself the mistress of a Jewish household in Amsterdam in 1666. She was raised eating Portuguese cuisine--heavy in shellfish and pork. When her family fled the Inquisition and returned to their Sephardic Jewish roots, she was completely unprepared for every aspect of life in the Jewish Quarter of a Dutch city.
This was the plight of many "converso" women in the 16th and 17th centuries, as I learned when I began exploring my own Sephardic Jewish roots. As fate would have it, I was in Amsterdam on 9/11. On 9/12 I spent the day in the Jewish Historical Society ( As I examined artifacts of life from 17th Amsterdam's fascinating Jewish Quarter, I began to wonder what it must have been like for new immigrants into Holland (of whom there were thousands, most from Portugal). In Spain and Portugal, few of them had been permitted even to learn about their ancestors' Jewish faith before they arrived there, let alone practice the traditions. For example, it was common for "secret Jews" in Iberia to cook Kosher-like foods on holidays from recipes passed down by word of mouth. Often they were forced to consume pork products in public as evidence that they were truly converts to Christianity. Once in Amsterdam, where the Dutch practiced religious tolerance--then as today--the immigrants had to learn everything from the Hebrew alphabet to how to cook kosher food properly.
One of my favorite parts of writing historical mysteries is learning about the everyday life of a historical period. In grad school at the University of Chicago I studied the intellectual history of the 17th century extensively. But I learned little about what went on in a 17th century kitchen. (Frankly, I think scholars would do well to spend more time in the historical kitchen--but that's a subject for another essay.) To find out what Ruta would have cooked and eaten, I began with "all the usual suspects." Historical writers have several series of books on "everyday life" in various cultures and periods to rely upon. I also always refer to original texts from the period. I've read I-don't-know-how many documents written in the 17th century, and food crops up unexpectedly in many of them (such as Samuel Pepys' Diary--one of my favorite books of all time). Shakespeare, for instance, is a cornucopia. Then, too, some of the earliest books in print were practical manuals of husbandry and "huswifery," including books on food and cooking. But I also have an undergraduate minor in Art History, and I always spent lots of time studying the paintings of an era. Since the Golden Age of Holland was a golden age of art, too, I found Dutch still-life paintings to be amazingly helpful.
Because it was the undisputed leader in world trade during the 17th century, Holland had an amazing array of choices of foods--perhaps more extensive than any other European country. They had all sorts of spices and tea from Asia, all sorts of New World vegetables and nuts (tomatoes, potatoes, maize [small, kernel corn], squash, sugar cane, chocolate), and tropical fruits, including lemons, tangerines, and occasionally pineapples. Because Holland was a coastal nation, they had copious fresh seafood, including herring, eels, salmon, sturgeon, mussels, mollusks, and crustaceans. Like most of Europe, they had game (venison, fowl, wild boar) and domesticated cattle (beef, pork, lamb, and goat). Their dairy products were famous even then. They farmed grains, berries, and orchard fruits, such as apples, pears, pomegranates, peaches, plums, and prunes.
The 17th century table was set with glass, crockery (some real China), pewter, silver and brass. Drink was consumed from metal tumblers and glass "rummers" (a sort of chalice with a spiky handle that helped prevent slippage). Potable water, of course, was at a premium. More often everyone (even children) drank a thin, weak beer (the thick, rich Belgian-style ales weren't brewed until much later). Wine was available--especially a burgundy called claret and Portuguese port, which is a fortified wine made from white or red grapes. However, wine was usually watered down. Berry juices were also popular. Asian tea was a rare treat and always drunk without sugar. (BTW: Much as I love the 2003 movie, "The Girl with a Pearl Earring," one scene appalled me--the scene in which the servants polish what looks like 19th silver for place settings. The fork was not a personal eating tool at the time. People ate with knives and spoons and often their fingers.)
At Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum I found an unexpected source of information about kitchens and cooking in the 17th century--antique, adult dollhouses. Rather than describe these incredible "toys," I will refer you to the museum website. I think you'll be surprised. Click here:
I'm often asked if 17th century cooks had to cope with spoiled food. There's a common myth that spices, such as pepper, were valued because they could mask the taste of rotten meat. No, cooks had much fresher food than we do. Much meat was kept "on the hoof" in a shed or courtyard right outside the kitchen door. Farmer's markets brought fresh meat and produce to the city daily. In the Jewish quarter, both rabbis and kosher butchers provided ample supplies of properly slaughtered and prepared meat and sausage.
What did Ruta Massa cook and eat?
For breakfast, "The Posthumous Wife" had porridge, pancakes and honey, breads, cheeses, and fruits. For the midday meal, she set the table with leftovers from the previous night's dinner--a roasted "joint" of beef or venison, a filet of salmon, game-bird legs, a meat pie. Meals also included numerous vegetables: root vegetables, cabbage, beans, peas, even artichokes and asparagus--all roasted or boiled, often along with scallions for seasoning. Don't forget that the Dutch invented the Dutch oven, too.
A traditional Dutch stew would have been appropriate for a Dutch-Jewish table. A "hot pot" ("hutsepot") consisted of minced meat (lamb or beef), parsnips, prunes or pears, available vegetables, seasoned with lemon juice, vinegar, and ginger. The Iberian immigrants (as well as the nation's former invaders, the Spanish) contributed a spicy version of this stew, called "olipotrigo," with sausage, which was drained after being stewed for two or three hours and then sauced with egg yolks, wine vinegar, and butter. Often these stews were flavored with cinnamon..
The Dutch even now have a thing for eels. In the 17th century "eel tossing" was actually a sport. An eel dish persists today as a favorite, "Zootje Pailing op Zijn Schippers": it's a soup of eel, potatoes, water, butter, vinegar, and black pepper.
A Dutch Jewish kitchen differed from a Dutch Christian kitchen only in the kosher requirement to keep meat and dairy products separate--and of course in that pork, wild boar, predator game, shellfish, and crustaceans were forbidden. Even in the 17th century the Dutch were very clean. The Portuguese and Spanish had inherited from their Moslem occupiers until the 15th century a love of plumbing, clean water, and baths.
The more I researched my book, the more I was struck by the similarities between 17th century Dutch Christians and the Sephardic Jews who called themselves "the nation." Marriage and family were the basis of both cultures. Their households were identical; their dress identical; their business identical; and their food almost identical. Even the Jewish synagogues were built on the model of Romanesque basilica. Both justice systems (which is very important to my mystery and courtroom drama plots) were largely religious, not secular. Their faith dominated their lives.
For more about domesticity in the Golden Age of Holland I recommend "Daily Life in Rembrandt's Holland" by Paul "Zumthor, 1959, distributed by Stanford University Press. Of course, Tracy Chevalier's "The Girl with a Pearl Earring" is also essential reading. Contemporary accounts include Sir William Temple's "Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands" (1673) and "The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln" (1690), by a Jewish woman, which includes a visit to Amsterdam for a relative's wedding.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Janet Evanovich and NASCAR

If you read Parade, that Sunday insert in many papers, you saw an article by Janet Evanovich, who was billed as the number one NASCAR fan. I found it funny, Call me a snob, but I'm not a NASCAR fan. I fail to see the interest in sitting on bleachers in the hot sun, watching cars go around a track. When I was a kid, I thought stock car races once a year, on the Fourth of July, were fun, but that was a long time ago. Much more recently, I used to walk in the early mornings with a neighbor whom I did not know well. When she mentioned going to NASCAR, I blurted out something about thinking only rednecks went to the races. Not tactful, and it came out, I hoped, as joke. She apparently didn't take it so because shortly thereafter she called and said she could no longer walk.
I've also crossed paths with Janet Evanovich. I wouldn't say we've met, but she came to speak to an audience of about a thousand at TCU--would you believe I talked to one group who came to Texas from Kentucky for the evening? I was part of the group charged with making sure the green room met her specifications, which were pretty detailed. Her reputation as a diva preceded her. And then I had the job of barring the door to the women's restroom in that brief interlude between the speech and the signing, so that she might have a moment of privacy to take care of personal needs. An aside: as I stood there, a woman came up to me and said, "I know you." I admit I preened a bit, thinking she knew I was a local author. Instead, she said, "You run the cash register at the Star Restaurant." It was true, but not the major way I wanted to be known. Ms. Evanovich emerged from the restroom, without a word to me, and proceeded to sign hundreds of books, always gracious, willing to pose for photographs, etc. I thought we would be there until midnight. But I couldn't understand the following. I've tried reading her books, but I just don't warm to Stephanie Plum, and I quickly tired of the eccentric grandmother. Maybe all those people are also NASCAR fans!
I've spent a lot of time on my own mystery this weekend and decided there's too much conversataion. A history scholar who was trying to write fiction once said to me, "I wish I could write dialog like you do." Well, it's fine to write realistic dialog, but it can't be the whole book, and I know I need more action. The oldest writing advice in the world is "Show, don't tell." But telling is an inherent problem in first person narratives--you can't have the protagonist on the spot for everthing that happens, so you have to have someone tell her about things.
This really came home to me because I just finished Asking for Murder by Roberta Isleib (she's going to be a guest blogger here early in September). The story is first person, but there's lots of description. So I'm rereading and revising for the--what? tenth time? And I'm not even past chapter eight.
I signed on for a short course on writing blurbs. Each of 19 people submitted a blurb. Then we were asked to pretend we were agents and rate the blurbs: S, for send; C, for not my cuppa; P, for pass. It was really hard, but what discouraged me was that one person rejected my blurb because realtors turned her off, several people rated it either C or P, but only two liked the idea of a involving older women. (They haven't all responded, but I'm losing hope!) Go figure!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Saga of Scooby Continues

Scooby is lying at my feet, looking at me with big eyes (one blue, one brown) in an adoring way, but it hasn't been a good week. After the debacle of getting him outside amidst thunder Wed.morning, I had to coax, urge, and do a bit of forcing on Thursday, but he went and I said a small prayer of gratitude. Yesterday when I woke up he had jumped out of his bed corner and was cowering in the closet. I spoke to him and left him there, until he heard the front door open when I went to get the paper. He came bounding out to find out what was going on, and it was when I went back through the living room I saw it--piles of poop. I had barely gotten the first, "Shame!" (delivered in my sternest, lowest voice) out when he made the fastest beeline to the back door you've ever seen. Last night I really barricaded him into his corner--a footstool topped with two chairs. He slept till 6:45, indicated he wanted to go out and trotted to the back door as he has for years. Maybe we're back to routine. I let him in again this afternoon as a trial.
It's a self-indulgent lazy day--lazy but I'm working, going through notes from sales meeting, writing. Self-indulgent because I'm cooking, although it didn't start out well. I decided this morning I wanted chicken salad for lunch, so I put a piece of chicken out to defrost while I went to Central Market. Came home, turned on the oven, seasoned the chicken, and put it in the oven--or thought I did. Went back about 45 minutes later, opened the oven--very hot and very empty. My still-raw chicken was in the microwave. Lunch was a little later than I anticipated, but it sure was good. My new chicken salad recipe (my invention) involves chicken, celery, scallion dressed with equal parts of sour cream and mayo, with lemon and blue cheese to taste. Tonight I'm going to grill scallops and a nectarine and serve (to myself only) with lime vinaigrette and a bit of pesto. Sounds really good.
I'm mulling over a problem. An editor suggested in an email that my second book should be first in the series, and I proceeded to make the changes requiring, which cannibalized the first book badly. But I haven't heard from the editor in response to the outline he requested, and it occurs to me that this doesn't feel right. It flows better if the first book is the first book. There are other editors who might disagree with the first one. Am I wrong to give up my vision of a series for the sake of an offhand opinon? Then again, no one else has shown interest--well, another publisher did ask for 30 pages, and it hasn't been a month, so it's too soon to hear.
I'm delighted with Obama's pick of Joe Biden, although quickly the news is full of his shortcomings. I have always thought he made such good sense on Sunday morning talk shows, particularly about Iraq. A friend wrote that when I grow up (well, that's not the way he said it--see his comment on my previous post) I might become a conservative like the rest of the old-timers. I don't think so. Most of my friends and contemporaries are confirmed liberals and plan, like me, to stay that way.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Politics and Other Funny Stories

I love it. John McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns. (I want to write LOL here, but I realize some of you may be old foggies like me and not know text message language, of which I barely have a grasp, but I know LOL is laughing out loud). I suspect McCain's handlers are having fits over this one and all the responses that say, in effect, no wonder he doesn't think the economy is in trouble. Bloggers with much more political savvy than I will have a heyday with this one, but I do like the Obama ad that shows the White House with the caption, "This is one house we don't want John McCain to live in" or something to that effect. I'm also delighted with the rumors he might choose Joe Lieberman as his running mate, because I think that would be a really dumb move on his part. Such fun to be a liberal these days!
Today was a work day--overslept, dragged myself to work but got lots done, had lunch with a good friend at a small restaurant I love, dinner with Betty at Pappa's Burgers, where the burgers are a half pound each--huge! I have half my blue cheese burger in the fridge for tomorrow.
Now I'm at work. Have drafted a newspaper column. My column that ran last week was about what is a university press and got more response than anything I've ever written. I've heard from other university presses, even out of Texas, and from independent publishers as well as individuals.
Today when I had lunch with Fred, my mentor, I sent him away with seven and a half chapters of my revised new novel. Tonight I'm trying to write a 150-word blurb about it that would make agents pant to represent me. Do you realize how hard that is to do? I drafted it and will let it sit until the deadline for submission to a blurb-writing seminar run by a branch of Sisters in Crime. I figure I might as well take advantage of all these learning opportunities, if I'm determined to be successful at writing mysteries. Hey, maybe then I can write an article about how a 70-year-old woman developed a new career.
I seem to be hearing of too many people who need prayers--a newborn infant with lung problems, a friend with an undiagnosed problem, a cancer victim who had a stroke. My prayer list is long, and it makes me count my blessings with good health for me and all those of my family.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stormy weather, a difficult dog, good friends, and long meetings

My good publishing friends, Gayla and Fran, spent the night last night. We had been to an all-afternoon sales meeting followed by dinner at Joe T. Garcia's for about ten of us. Gayla, Fran, and I had a quiet evening after that. They went to bed about ten and I rushed to catch up on email and ended up staying up too late. This morning, I remember in half sleep hearing a funny rumbling noise, and I thought vaguely, "Gayla's playing with Jacob's toys"--she always likes to sleep on the bed in the playroom. But I had wrongly accused her--it was thunder, and Scooby knew it. He refused to go out. I gentled, I did everything I knew, and then I got a leash. With great effort--I'm always afraid his 55 lbs. of pure strength will pull me down when he resists--I got him to the back door, but I couldn't get him out. So I thought, "Well, I'll just miss today's meetings," because I can't leave him alone in the house, and I knew he had to pee. The ladies loved on him, which led him to send me resentful looks like I was an old witch. He came as far as the dining room where we were having coffee and snuggled up to me, so I snapped the leash on and tried again. This time I got him, holding back, climbing on a chair, tangling his legs in his leash, to the back door, got the door open, and couldn't quite get him out. I called for Fran, who came and gave a final shove to his rear end--and he was out! We all three looked out the windows as he peed--and peed and peed. Gayla said, "I've never seen a dog pee for that long." Yeah, he really needed to go out, poor thing. Fran is the one who was here the night the cat bit me (almost two years ago) and she rushed me to ER, so I told her she's always here for my animal emergencies, and she said "It's just that you have more of them than most people." Scooby would never bite or anything--he's just terrified and can't help himself, and I understand irrational fear better than most people. But as I kept trying to tell him, life has to go on.
Fran went to Dallas, Gayla and I went to the sales meeting at the Botanic Garden where we talked about all kinds of things that are the changing world of technology--upgrades so that online ordering is more secure, amazon's increasing pressure on providers, print-on-demand technology. Things like that make me think it's time to retire. At lunch, it was pretty enough to sit outside with our box lunches; but when we left about 3:30, it was raining. Six blocks away, it was sunny and dry! I fed Scooby tonight, but I don't think he's forgiven me.
It's been a long two days, and I intend to do a bit of work, read a bit, and go to bed early tonight. Tomorrow I'm having lunch with my mentor, and I want to take him the newest version of my mystery, the now rewritten second book which has become the first book--all seven and a half chapters of it. Not much.
I'm going to start having guest bloggers so watch for an occasional new voice in the next few weeks. I hope you'll find them interesting, and I hope they'll deal with the things this blog is about--writing (especially mysteries), cooking--okay, I'll keep the grandchildren part for myself.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why I'm Not a Gourmet (or a Gourmand)

Jacob and I had a pleasant evening last night. Sometimes I think he stays glued to his DVD too much, but then again it's nice he's that comfortable here. Periodically, he'll get up, say "'Mon, Juju" and beckon for me to follow him somewhere. He really wants to ride the concrete lions in my neighbor's yard but they are right by the street, and Jacob is still too quick to dart and slow to listen to "No." Neither Jordan nor I will take him. As usual he asked, "Where Mama go?" and I replied, "To the ball game" and burst into song--"Take Me Out to the Ballgame." He stared at me and said, "No, Juju."
But this morning, that child who usually sleeps till 7:30, woke up singing at 6 a.m. I lay in bed and listened but he didn't seem in distress--maybe he'd go back to sleep. Then he turned quiet, and I thought maybe he'd gone back to sleep, so I peeked. Big mistake! There he was standing looking at me and holding out his arms to be picked up. The problem, it soon appeared, was that his pajamas were soaking wet. We were up by 6:30. By nine we had had breakfast, played and were both rubbing our eyes. I predict early naps all around.
While Jacob was playing with his doll house last night, I thumbed through the latest issue of Gourmet. For me, the day Bon Appetit arrives is always special, and I devote part of the evening to leafing through it the first of many times. But I haven't taken Gourmet in years. Perhaps it was the combination of Ruth Reichel as editor--I love her books--and a special bargain, but I subscribed recently. This issue is about Paris and frankly, it's over the top for me, even Reichel's essay. Lots of foie gras served in odd ways, like pots de creme, and a restaurant specializing in offal dishes. I grew up on kidneys, probably still like them but never see them in the market, and I'd sure have to eat alone that night; I regularly eat tongue sandwiches, to the dismay of some lunch companions, and I used to cook liver for the children. I loved it; they hated it. Again, I haven't had it in years, and now we know it's not as good for you as we were told as kids.
But carpaccio of pig's foot? Cow's udders? Salad of shredded pig ears, that was "a textbook on the nature of crispness"? No, thanks. Some of the recipes were a bit strange too. Nobody I know wants Celery Root and Potato Puree with Chervil, and there were those beef cheeks again, this time braised in red wine with orange zest. There were some recipes that intrigued me, especially Moucha Mousse with Sichuan Peppercorns, described as a variation of the Mexican culinary wedding of chocolate and chile. But, all in all, I think gourmets live in a different world than I do. One of the critics of my yet-to-be published cookbook labeled me a "faux gourmet," (mostly because I'm not above using canned soup in casseroles, whereas this critic wrote she always made her own white sauce for King Ranch Chicken--no, no, it's Campbell's Mushroom Soup). Anyway I wanted to call my cookbook The Faux Gourmet, but it will be Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books in the Kitchen.
I'm not feeling like a fancy cook at all today. I think I'll have that leftover chicken salad for lunch and then a long nap. Cocktail hour? I'll put some crab and chili sauce on a block of cream cheese and serve tiny toasts with it. Easy! I promise I'll make the chili sauce from scratch.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cool weather and busy but good days

I would not be so foolish as to predict fall has arrived in mid-August, but we've had a definite temperature change, and it's wonderful. This morning when I ran errands, it was in the mid-70s and cloudy. I would have put the top down on the car but rain looked all too possible. The last few nights I've sat on the porch with a glass of wine, enjoying a cool breeze. And it's predicted to be no higher than the upper 80s for the next two or three days. A welcome break. Oh, and we've had rain--quite a bit yesterday. I left the lid open to my garbage cart to air it out and yesterday morning realized there might be a bit of water in it. A bit? Probably three feet deep and heavy enough that it was hard for me to empty. Besides it created a great flood by the driveway.
Speaking of errands, my trips this morning were an enormous success for reasons few will understand well except me. Ever since the heady days of the kids' visit and my birthday party, my anxiety about space has come back. (I truly believe anxiety comes from excitement as well as negative emotions.) Do NOT tell me to cross an open parking lot alone--it won't happen. I keep telling myself this has come and left before and will again, but I get pretty discouraged. One thing I have discovered is that I do much better if I work up a head of steam. Still, there have been some discouraging days and experiences--thinking I couldn't get from the grocery to my car, having to ask a friend to come help me to her car, etc. (My friends are so helpful that I am really blest--they help quietly, without drawing attention, and without criticizing, teasing, any of the negative things they could do.)
Last Saturday morning I geared myself up to go to Central Market and didn't do anything thing else. I am fully aware that it would be way to easy for me to be a recluse--but that would have its own perils. So today, I went by my office to pick up some work, to the pharmacy to leave a prescription and pick up a few things, to Barnes & Noble to buy one new book (I bought four) and to Central Market. At each place I walked vigorously with a head of steam and no problems. Sure, I've discovered tricks and shortcuts, like parking by a discarded basket at the grocery store and pushing it inside. But, hey, I get things done. So I'm feeling good today.
This was one weekend I didn't mind being fairly empty. I have too much desk work to do, but it turned out not to be empty at all. Last night Charles and I had supper at a Lebanese place down the street from my house; tonight Jordan is going to a baseball game (the Fort Worth Cats) with her office while Christian works, so I'm keeping Jacob overnight. She asked if I'd like her to come to supper on her way and I said of course, I'd make chicken salad because that's what I have a taste for. She doesn't. She's really dieting and wants plain sauteed chicken with lemon and salad. So I'm a short order cook--made myself chicken salad with blue cheese dressing. She tasted it and said, "Why didn't I want chicken salad?" I told her, and she said, "Next time remind me I really like your chicken salad." No need to tell her it's never the same twice.
And tomorrow night, to celebrate the cool weather, the neighbors are coming for cocktails on the porch.
Meantime, I'm working hard on the manuscript on which I'm keying in corrections, but I decided a compulsion to finish it should not keep me from blogging or doing my daily stint on my novel. So I got quite a bit done last night and today, but I've got about a third of the novel to go. I quit to blog and tonight, after Jacob is asleep, I'll work on my own novel. Once again, I know where the next scene is going!
And, of course, I have to sneak in time for a nap. Scoob and Wywy wouldn't underestand if we didn't have our nap time. They're going to be thrown off schedule, and so will I, next week when I have afternoon meetings two days!

Friday, August 15, 2008

A writing spurt

My novel is going well--at least by my own standards. When I sit down at the computer, I seem to know where I'm going, and the words and ideas flow. It's taken me a very long time to get there with this novel, and I'm finally excited about it. I know, for me, the best way to write is to write every day--some of it may turn out to be awful and have to be trashed, some may have to be revised, but I'm moving ahead. So I'm really making a point of getting at least two or three pages down a day. I think part of my problem has been that I'd write a bit and then be away from it for two or three days. I know of writers who religiously spend four to eight hours a day writing. Clearly, their method is different from mine, but I should learn something.
I was at what I would call a stickey wicket--getting the main couple together as lovers without really writing a sex scene. Brandon, my son-in-law, once told me my sex scenes were "disappointingly tasteful," and while, tasteful or not, they fit in the stories of, for instance George and Libby Armstrong or Etta Place and Butch Cassidy who were noted for their passionate love, they don't seem to fit in the mystery series I'm trying to develop. It's not that I have anything against writing a good sex scene (if I could get beyond what Brandon apparently considers my inhibitions), but it just they're not right for these books. Anyway, I think I've done it successfully. Now I have to get them living together and how do they explain that to Kelly's two young daughters? When Fred Erisman read the draft of the first book in this series (now apparently destined to become the second), I mentioned that it was autobiographical in part, and he, ever proper, said he'd wondered but hadn't wanted to ask.
Some authors write long. Ask them for a thousand words, and they'll give you 5,000. I'm the opposite. So one of my worries is whether or not I can keep all the balls in the air long enough to sustain interest until I get to the usual length of mysteries--about 75,000 words. And that's how I feel now. I'm on chapter seven, and it will probably take thirty chapters. I feel I'm rushing through the plot ideas I have, and even though I know in my mind all the things left to happen, can they take up twenty-three chapters? How many victims is my serial killer going to have to have to do that? He may end up rivalling the Green River killer. Fred tells me I rush through things, and he is as always right. I'll have to ask him about this version of this manuscript.
I also have a TCU Press project I'm editing that I now need to key in corrections on. I find that I don't get that done during my mornings at the office, so I brought it home and got done tonight what I had set for my weekend goal. So I'll go get the rest of it tomorrow and see how far I get.
What looked like an open weekend has quickly filled up. Tonight Charles and I went to a local Lebanese restaurant and had a delicious dinner and a good visit. Tomorrow night, I'm fixing a quick dinner for Jordan--I want chicken salad and she wants plain sauteed chicken, and I may just fix both. Then I'll keep Jacob overnight. Sunday is pretty much clear, after she comes to get Jacob, and then in the evening the neighbors are coming for cocktails. Jay told me how cool it is going to be, and I immediatley said, "Porch party!" So I'll fix appetizers. Another nice weekend, and then into a busy week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Disappointing Day

I had thought my two oldest granddaughters would come spend a couple of days with me. When asked, they both said they wanted to come, and Jamie said this week, when they're out of day camp but not back in school, would be ideal. But he didn't call, and when I finally got hold of him to ask today he said Edie, five, had decided she didn't want to. I wasn't surprised--her parents both travel on business but they make sure their trips don't concide. I don't know that she's ever spent the night without one or the other of them, and when they're at my house, she usually ends up in bed with them. But Maddie came before and declared it was the most fun weekend she could remember. Now, she said she didn't want to come without Edie. Yes, I'm disappointed. I had made some plans, made out a grocery list, all that. But I agree with Jamie, better not to push it. I just told him when they wanted to come, I'd welcome them. I will have Jacob Saturday night, so that will do for my grandmother streak.
And my children's half-sister, child of my ex's second marriage, was due to stay at Jordan's tonight, on her way from California back to D.C. and law school, so Jordan was going to fix dinner, and I was looking forward to seeing Dylan. No word from Dylan (I wonder if she'll just show up at ten) and Jordan slept all day, doing away with a stomach bug. So I fixed some leftover chicken with blue cheese sauce (yum!), stir fried zucchini and mushrooms, and cut up a fruit salad. Really good, and now I'm full.
I also finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peeling Pie Society, and you know that feeling when you finish a book you've really been drawn into--I didn't want it to end. I wanted to keep reading about those people, so that's yet another disappointment.
Now I'm going back to work on my own book. I surely hope that's not disappointing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A food day

It has been a food day. I had breakfast with the Book Ladies, a group of women who have gathered for ten or fifteen years once a month. They all have had careers dealing with books, though most are retired now Still, they keep a lively interest in new books and what's happening in the world of books. Then I had lunch with Mary Lu, a good friend who went with me for the colonoscopy consultation--which was honestly not bad. The clinic is an efficient place. The people are cheerful and comforting, so I'm not really dreading the procedure--just the prep.
But tonight Betty and I went to Lanny's Alta Cocina for the Restaurant Week menu. A three-course dinner is $35 plus wine, and proceeds go to a local institution to help troubled children. Lanny comes from a family well known in this city for their traditional Mexican restaurant--Joe T.'s, which attracts celebrities from all over and a lot of us common folk. It's where my birthday dinner was. But Lanny, a man in his early thirties, went off to cooking school, and he has an upscale (very!) restaurant heavily slanted toward nouveau Mexican cuisine but not exclusively. On the special menu for the week, you get two choices of each of three courses, so Betty and I had heirloom tomato gazpacho (it came with a shrimp which I asked them to omit), coconut crusted halibut on a bed of wild mushrooms, and a marvelous but rich flan of goat cheese with caramel sauce. As a special touch, they serve an amuse bouche before dinner--this time it was a crab cake not much bigger than my thumbnail--but delicious. Because I had asked for the shrimp to be left out, the serving person thought I was allergic to shellfish and brought me three tiny slices of a good Spanish cheese. When I said, no, I can eat crab and lobster, just not shrimp, she brought me the crab cake--superb! It was a wonderful meal.
A bonus touch--yesterday we received two advance copies of Great Texas Chefs, one of our small books with a fall publication date. I wrote it and dedicated it to Betty because she explores restaurants with me, and Lanny is one of the chefs. So tonight, just happening to have one of the advances in my purse (!) I was able to show it to both of them.
I did come home and write two pages--not much, but it was the scene on my mind, and I was glad to have it on paper. Now I'm back to reading about Guernsey.

Monday, August 11, 2008


I hope it won't upset my brother, but I'm about to give up on the book he was good enough to send me, Broccoli and Other Tales of Love and Food. It's not about love and food--it's about non-love and strange memories of food. In one story, a man goes to see a woman for "servicing," is unable to perform, and ends up eating borscht with her. In another, a lover asks a Russian woman to recount her first sexual encounter and she does but then is overcome with remorse and remembers other incidents of her childhood in Russia--like what a treat puffed rice was and how a teacher used to give the narrator's leftover meatballs to the teacher's children. It's still a beautifully designed book, and I'll treasure it for that--and because John thought it would fit me.
On the other hand I am reading a book I really recommend, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I read somewhere that Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before publication, spent 24 hours in Guernsey in difficult circumstances (I can't remember the story) and decided to write a novel about the Nazi occupation of the channel islands. Her niece, novelist Annie Barrows, helped her get it in shape for publication.
I knew, vaguely, in the back of my mind, that the Nazi's had occupied Guernsey--I think I even read another novel about it. But this book gives you a very human history lesson about how the people of the island were affected--it was pretty awful. It brought out the best in most islanders but the worst in a few. This is an epistolary novel, chronicling correspondence between a London jouranlist, writing a story abut the society, and society members--until she decides to go to Guernsey to visit. I would say its charming and quiet reading but its really not--it's about island customs and the rural life and loyalty but it's also about Nazi bullying and rudeness--and occasional kindnesses. Complex, and I'm not doing a good job of describing it. Try it for yourself. It's enough to make me think maybe I should go to Guernsey insead of Scotland--well, not really.
Potato peel pie? Well, with everything scarce, one of the men made a pie of mashed potatoes, with beets to sweeten it and potato peels for a crust. The Guernsey lady who described it said it was really good--hard to believe!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Food, Love, and the grocery store

My brother found a book that he thought sounded just right for me, so he and Cindy sent it to me for my birthday. It's titled Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, only on the cover there's no word "Broccoli," just a drawing. It's a beautifully designed small book (when you publish you look for these things, and I really think small, off-size books are a new and cool thing). It's maybe 4-1/2 x 7 inches (most books are 6x9). It feels good in the hands.
The stories are about emigrants from Eastern Europe, stories in which so the flap tells us "food and love intersect." I've only read the first story, "A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf." It's one of those stories where I'm not sure I get the point, or maybe there is no point. It's a "slice of life story" that surely does not fit the standard formula I used to teach in creative writing classes--beginning, middle, and end. You know, rising action and denouement and all those things from the days we studied Shakespeare.
But I really identify with the main character. She shops every Saturday at a Russian grocery store and buys lots of vegetables that she never has time to cook during the week. Her husband pulls out soggy, drooping broccoli and asks why she buys it. But she tells the reader, she likes buying broccoli--and the end of the story involves a miraculously still-fresh bunch of broccoli that she and a new man cook together, but for my purposes that's neither here nor there.
I am that lady. I go to Central Market every Saturday, and I go wild in the produce department. Everything looks so delicious. Last week, I threw away a slimy bunch of green beans--I think they'd been in the back of the vegetale drawer for two weeks, three tomatoes (one really liquid and squishy and awful in the veggie tray on the counter) and two moldy nectarines. So what did I buy today? Nectarines and tomatoes. But I eat a lot of it--stir-fried veggies last night, broccoli with lemon butter tonight, blueberries with banana for lunch, raspberries after supper--the freshest, best of the season.
This morning I had a coupon that told me if I spent $40, I'd get $10 off on chicken breasts, which I can always keep in the freezer--I cryovac them--and pull out for sudden company, as I did last night. I thought I'd never spend $40 and almost didn't take the coupon; in fact I had to circle back to get it because I had left it at home. I spent $61, after the $10 discount. Most of it was produce. Well, there were also three chocolate bars--my newest passion is a milk chocolate bar flavored with peanuts and jalopenos. Now I would tell you that I do not much like peanuts and jalopenos not at all, but this is extraordinary.
It's close to 8 p.m., and since I've sworn off eating at night in my attempt to lose a few pounds, I need to stop writing about food! It's making me hungry, and that chocolate bar is right there in my desk drawer . . .

Friday, August 08, 2008

Life gets in the way of writing

I've been feeling abandoned. Jordan and Christian are gone for five days, my neighbors on either side are gone for long weekends, two friends I thought could run and play discovered they can't, and it's one of those weekends. In spite of telling myself I welcome all the time for writing, I find I want company. And tonight I had good company and enjoyed it much.
Lisa, a woman 23 years younger than I, came for supper. I know her through her great-aunt who was, coincidentally, 23 years older than me when she died last year. Aunt Caroline had sort of adopted me, was a cheerleader for me as I raised four kids, and always sent me messages about how proud she was of me and how I proved that hard work and determination could accomplish almost anything. Apparently she was a source of wisdom and comfort to Lisa too, and now Lisa turns to me for that wisdom. I am flattered, and it makes me think of my good friend Bobbie who was 13 years older than me. We became sort of instant soul mates or whatever, but we really clicked. She was part good friend, part mother, and I've missed her every day since she died in 2000. I think I can be Bobbie to Lisa, and that's fun. Lisa's husband was traveling on business, so she came alone and we had a lively dinner conversation. I was glad tentative plans for a gallery tour were shelved in favor of a supper at home.
I've had a bad balance week--started out strong and feeling proud of myself, but then had what I call a shaky day and it haunted me the next day, yesterday. I did nothing out of the ordinary but worried about going places. Today I took my resolve in hand (and a xanax) and went to the vet, the hardware, the Dollar Store, and the grocery. And felt very confident. I find if I can start of walking next to something and pick up a head of steam, then I'm good across open spaces. I'll test it tomorrow at Central Market.
Last night I worked on revising my mystery but I haven't gotten back to it, and tonight it's too late, and I've had a little too much wine to write well. So I'll finish my book I'm reading and then start a new one, a b'day present from my brother and his wife. And that long weekend? I'll write--and try to cook imaginative meals! I'm not feeling nearly as abandoned as I was.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A cool birthday

Today is Christian's birthday, and maybe the weather turned cool to honor him. When I left home to go to his birthday dinner, about 5:30, it was 89--what a blessing. And when I drove home tonight, I put the top down and sailed along in the twilight--somehow I love coming home from their house at dusk (I always want to be home by dark) with the top down. I can go back ways through tall tress and alongside creeks and parks, past some lovely homes. Jordan and Christian and two other couples are going to the Gulf Coast tomorrow for a few days. The trip, she says, is all about Jacob's first beach trip. I hope they love it.
I got some more things off my "recalled" list today. Earlier I took my hearing aids to the audiologist--they hadn't really been recalled, but he sent them off for a factory check-up, saying cheerily to me, "You won't miss them. You never wear them anyway." Today I took the car in to have the air bag sensor replaced and also confirmed an appointment for a consultation with the colonoscopy doctor. I'm slowly working my way down the list, though, of course, the biggie is what I am referring to as an "informational interiew" with the shoulder surgeon.
I'm on hold with the mystery again, telling myself I'm waiting to hear from the editor, which is, of course, fooling myself. I need to proceed, no matter what he says. Other things--bits and pieces--have kept me busy at my desk, but this should be a long weekend--Jordan and Christian gone, my neighbors on both sides, gone--I should get lots of work done.
I am editing a novel for the office that has completely charmed me, and I love working on it. So I'm not exactly idle. I am a much happier person when I am busy. As Jordan once tried to explain to Christian, "Mom doesn't hang out well." Tonight I got to their house at 6, and we "hung out" until 8, by which time I bolted my dinner down and rushed to get home before dark--but that was only part of the reason I rush. Jordan understands and loves me anyway, so it's okay.
For Christian's birthday, I gave him an IOU to a new wine cafe in town. Betty and I ate there last night and thoroughly enjoyed it, though much of the wine is pricey and the menu is limited--lots of designer pizza. Still, as Sue said to me, "It's a place where grownups go" as opposed to the singles bars frequented by the thirties crowd.
Got to go change some dinner reservations--my schedule next week is getting all mixed up.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Good news--and some not so good

In June I sent thirty pages of my mystery to a NY editor, an old acquaintance from Western Writers of America. I emailed him to ask for any suggestions on agents, and he said he's editing mysteries now, forget the agent for the time being, and send it to him. So I did, but it was right when I knew he was at the Western Writers convention, and since I hadn't heard from him I emailed today just to confirm that he had the pages and to tell him of my new web page. Since he had said to think in terms of three books, I ended with a cheerful note that I am six chapters into the second novel, which I've called No Neighborhood for Old Women--a shameless play on Cormac McCarthy's title. The editor thinks the second novel is a strong concept and strong title and should be first--which is really exciting, wonderful news, and I'm working tonight on an outline for him. But if it's first it means cannbilizing the first book to the point there would be little left. A small price to pay, I guess. But I'm excited, encouraged, all those things.
On the flip side, I'm seeing the downside of seventy. I know it's time for a colonoscopy (the thought is worse than the procedure) and I'm already into gearing up for extensive dental work, but tonight comes cheery word from my doctor that I have really really messed up my shoulder. Since it's not excruciating, just annoying, I told myself it was something minor that could be fixed with physical therapy. His words came as a shock. I will have to see a surgeon and find out what he recommends, what's involved, etc. Seventy, and I feel great, but the body seems to be falling apart--teeth, colonoscopy, shoulder. Bad things come in threes, so that should take care of it for, oh say ten years.
It's still beastly hot. My new rug and bed linens for the apartment have arrived, and I wanted to take the rug out there last night so I could unroll it. Then I realized if I took it myself, I'd have to drag it in the grass and dirt--not a good idea for a new rug. I was going to ask Jay (that handsome man!) to help, but it just seemed too hot. On the other hand, I don't think it would be good to let it stay rolled for two months until fall brings cooler weather. So I unrolled it in the guest room, where it matches absolutely nothing but sure does look pretty.
Back to the mystery and my gathering thoughts on it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Busting my buttons

I have a web page! It's up and running, and I'm excited. Please check it out at I know there are bugs in it--links that aren't live, mistitled pages, etc., but the wondereful friend who designed it has gone on vacation and those will have to wait. Meanwhile, most of it's there. I've discovered in the world of writing mysteries that having a web page is an essential--not that mine has a mystery on it yet, but I'm working on that.
Actually, with Julia Spencer Fleming out of the way for the time being, I am back to my own books. I finished Chapter 6 on the new novel last night and today began rereading the first mystery. You know what? It didn't sound bad to me at all, and I remembered things about the characters I'd forgotten. I read it with an eye to making revisions, but so far I've only tweaked a few details. I do think I'll add an epilogue, which will nicely take care of the character growth and change thing. Not exactly a hero's journey, but . . ..
It was forecast to be 107 today, so it was definitely a day not to stick my head out. I cooked in the morning--you'd be surprised how long it takes to make basil mayonnaise, but is it ever worth it! My basil was kind of puny, but Jay next door brought me a bunch so large it looked like a bouquet. Using the basil mayo, I shaped chicken burgers and put them in the fridge and set the table for tonight. Then I spent the rest of the day reading my writing and had a good long nap. I've had Scooby in all day, because it's just too hot for him to be outside.
Tonight the neighbors and Jordan came for supper (Christian and Jacob had an evening together). It was Susan's birthday a few days after mine, so we celebrated late--they had been out of town. Sue from the other side of my house joined us, and Jay had a harem. (Did I mention how good looking he is?) He seems to like his harem, though he said his manners got confused tonight--should he pass things first to Susan, his wife and the honoree, or to me, because I'm senior, or . . . . As usual, he was good-natured about doing the grilling, even in the heat, and we had chicken burgers on grilled bread with heirloom tomatoes and basil mayonnaise. It was a great combination. I've been wanting to try heirloom tomatoes since they're all the rage these days. So I put five in a sack at Central Market yesterday and weighed it--$11+ worth of tomatoes. I took all but two back and tried again--still outrageous but hey! this was a party. Sadly, I have to report they just tasted like tomatoes. I'm going back to buying those on the vine.
Scooby spent the evening in my office, and was very vocal by spells about wanting to be out with all of us, where he would, of course, have been an unbelievable pain--excited beyond belief. Now, he's sleeping at my feet and shows no interest in going anywhere but to his bed. I hope this doesn't mean he'll want to go out at 3 a.m.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Heat Wave

This dark picture is Jacob looking out the front door, watching for Mama and Dada this morning. We had lots of fun last night--he watched a video some, but we played, looked at pictures, read books, and he played his special game of "make Juju think I'm going to do something I'm not supposed to" which he does with the devil in his eyes and a big smile on his face. But this morning, he woke, crying, at 6:30 (he usually is quiet until at least 7:30). He wanted Mama. For the next three hours he was alternately joking and being funny and crying for Mama.

After they left I did my one grocery trip. Today's prediction was 105 but tonight I think the news report said it was only 101. Tomorrow is supposed to be 107 (a record! oh, good!) and I'm glad I don't have to set foot out of the house except to water plants and feed the dog, who spends most of the day inside. I opened the door today at noon to give him a treat (with a pill hidden in it) and he bolted inside. Nor does he want to go out after naptime--he knows its the hottest part of the day. The trouble with this heat is that it makes you feel trapped--inside your house, inside your air-conditioned car, wherever you are. And it's sort of never off your mind. And don't even talk to me about the heat index--those are numbers I simply don't want to hear. Knowing about them makes it worse.

I fixed an exotic tuna salad tonight, from a recipe out of Gourmet. A layer of grilled eggplant salad with garlic, vinegar, parsley added to it, then chunked tuna, then tonnato sauce (I love that--a tuna/anchovie/caper sauce), then grape tomatoes, sliced in half and tossed with mint, salt and pepper. It was really great--but it was too many intense flavors. After a few bites, I ws sort of done. I ate almost all of it and then had to break my diet and have a small chocolate sundae to change the flavors in my mouth.

Now down to work. This afternoon I edited the first 90 pages of a novel I'm wildly enthusiastic about, and tonight I'm going to finish the sixth chapter of the new novel and then go back over the first one, Dead Space, with the idea in mind that characters must grow and change.

My web page is up--except I don't know how to find it, and the girl who designed it has left town for a week. I'll call Monday, because I really want to post a link here. I'll have a new email and everything. It's like anything else digital, electronic, or whatever--getting it up and running is a royal pain, always with complications, but once you do that, you're in business and using the system comes automatically. I'm waiting for that day.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Hero's Journey

The Sisters in Crime discussion board has been full of posts about the hero's journey lately--the Joseph Campbell theory about mythology derived from his study of Jung. As I understand it, the basic idea is that the central figure in any good storytelling is on a quest or journey, from the Iliad to Moby Dick to, perhaps, Stephen King. There has been much debate--if you consciously try to apply such a theory to your writing, does your work turn wooden and artificial? Does that pattern subconsciously work itself into writing. Does your hero or heroine have to grow and change during the story? Does such theoretical debate ruin writing, and should you forget it and just go ahead and tell the story?
I'm not sure where I stand on all that--I've done a fair amount of study of it in a book whose title I now can't remember to save my life (how's that for helpful) and I think my view is that the pattern should be there without the writer consciously saying, "Oops. I have to apply the idea of the hero's journey here." But it made me think about Kelly Jones, protagonist of my mystery series. Where is she going? Does she change during the course of the novel? I've always believed that a good novel, from belles lettres to mystery, should leave the reader in a slightly different, slightly better or more knowledgeable place, than when he or she started the book. It should make you think, even if it's pleasure reading.So probably the same is true for the characters, at least the ones you want the reader to care about. They should change, grow. I think of Jodi Picoult's Mercy, which certainly left me moved and also saw characters grow, become more confident, sure of their thinking.
Now I have to go back and read the first of my novels again with that in mind. Rewriting is a never ending business. And like other things, growth and change cannot be pasted into a book.
Our heat wave continues unabated--104 tomorrow and through the weekend, not relief in sight until late next week and then relief means under 100. I caught a summer cold, presumably from Jordan, and have felt some miserable this week. Today I feel okay but I cannot stop coughing. Jacob is coming to spend the night, and when I told Jordan I was worried about giving it to him, she suggested I wash my hands a lot. Oh, well--he didn't get it from her, so he probably won't get it from me.
Other than Jacob's visit and a Sunday night dinner to celebrate a neighbor's birthday, I intend to lay low this weekend. My life has been gloriously hectic plus a few traumatic doctors' appointments, and I need some down time. I have my writing to work on, a good mystery to read, and a novel I'm excited about to edit. Great ways to stay out of the heat.