Saturday, July 29, 2006

Friends Old and New

Last night old friends came by for a glass of wine on their way to a late theater performance (way past my bedtime!). I cobbled together an antipaso plate of salamis and cheeses, cherry tomatoes from a friend's garden, white grapes, a few dolma, and some deviled eggs I'd made--a strange assortment but I've decided that's an easy way to entertain and it always gets rave comments. (I also put on some anchovies left from something I'd done the night before but noticed I was the only one who ate them!)
But my point isn't about food, it's about friends. I've known these people probably over 35 years--before their last and my next-to-last child was born (now both 34) and we live within blocks of each other. We talk--the husband is liable to call every once in a while just to check in--but we rarely visit. Our lives are busy, our careers, while parallel, don't really intersect, and when we do meet it's usually at large gatherings. So it was wonderful last night to sit and catch up, talk about their interests and mine, their children and mine. And I thought about how important old friends are.
I recently hooked up again with Barbara with whom I went to high school and college. We'd kept in touch over the years, seen each other once or twice many years ago, but when she and Don, her husband, came for a weekend, it was amazing how the years fell away and we giggled over the same things we had in high school. We could share being grandparents but we could also share the things that made us friends all those years ago.
And then there's Martha and R.G. from Nebraska--I knew them in the late '60s when the four of us (my ex-husband included) were great friends. We too had kept in touch but not close. So a few years ago when they said they were coming to take me to Santa Fe (my favorite getaway) I wondered if it would be all right--would they still like me? Would I still like them? Of course, it was a wonderful trip, one in which we really renewed our friendship. And now we're closer--though Martha isn't as faithful about email as I am (I hope she reads this!). I wish they'd come again.
Yes, I've made new friends. Once when I'd been divorced about three years, an old friend came to a large Christmas party at my house and remarked that she didn't know anyone. Then she said to herself, "Of course not. Judy's moved on and made a new life for herself." We do move on and make new friends. I have probably known some of my closest friends less than ten years, but they share the interests I've grown into as my life changes. And I value those people more than I can say. I think I am particularly blessed by the richness of my many friendships, old and new--and I wish I was better about reaching out to those who don't know that joy. But I've known people who just don't know how to be or have friends. I think it's an art.
Of course my newest friend is Jacob, age almost 6 weeks. Every time I see him I'm in love again--he changes remarkably every day. I know that about babies, of course, from my own and the other grandchildren, but watching it all over again is a miracle. This week I hadn't seen him for five days when we went shopping--Jake did not enjoy the experience and had a major meltdown in Hobby Lobby--but I was struck by how much his face had filled out and his little arms and legs. Had I not noticed that five days earlier or had he really changed that much?
I know friends change and grow over time, and sometime we grow closer and sometimes we grow apart. But Jake is growing fast, and I'll have to see that we grow closer and closer.
And that to me is life--going ahead, making new friends, but treasuring old friends and past good times.
Wow! Maybe I'm getting too philosophical here! Coming next? More thoughts on writing mysteries.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fiction vs. "serious" literature

I have a new neighbor--Sue's bright, energetic, newly single, with two young kids who are a delight--shades of me some twenty-five years ago (only I had four kids, ranging in age from six to twelve). One night she found me reading a mystery on the front porch, enjoying the last of spring before Texas turned unbearably hot. She couldn't, she said, believe that someone who holds a Ph.D. was reading a mystery. And she set out to improve my reading taste.
First she brought me a memoir, Breaking Clean, by Judy Blunt, a heartbreakingly honest account of growing up on a ranch in rural Montana in the '60s. When you read it, you think surely it's the '30s, not as recent as the '60s. But it's not. And Blunt's prose is as spare and clean as both her title and her last name. It's a powerful book, and I enjoyed it.
But then Sue brought me Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking about the year Didion's husband died suddenly of a heart attack and her daughter was seriously ill (only to die later, after the close of the book). I know Didion is a master of the English language, and I read about half of it with appreciation. But then Jacob, my newest grandson came along, and I couldn't read about death in a time of new life. I gave it up.
But I've been on the prowl for "highbrow" things to read. A mention of Katharine Weber's Triangle intrigued me--it's about the deadly fire at the Triangle shirt factory in New York. There, I thought, was a novel about a historical event--I could use it as a model. But reviews told me the novel is more about the survivor's granddaughter "finding hersef" than it is about history--and that doesn't seem my kind of novel.
So I'm back to lying awake at night, thinking about the women of the American West who are so familiar to me. Whose story needs to be told? Whose story would interest a publisher? I'm beyond hoping to make a fortune, but I still--oh, vanity!--like to see my work in print.
Meantime, I'm also trying to prove to Sue that I have a serious side. I've given her Jane Roberts Wood's Grace, which she says she loves, and Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained. Me? I'm reading a new J. P. Beaumont mystery.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Maddie's Tall Cake

This past weekend, Maddie made a cake--okay with a smidgeon of help from her three-year-old sister and a lot more from me, but she claims it. And when she was done, she said in awestruck tones, "That's the tallest cake I ever saw." The recipe is a keeper but forever on in my house it will be Maddie's Tall Cake. It came from a magazine sent out by, but I don't think they'd mind my sharing it since it uses their products.

Make a devil's food cake from a mix; bake in 9" round pans. Cool, and put one layer, top side down, on the cookie dish. Cover with a filling of

16 oz. Cool Whip
8 oz. cream cheese
12 Oreo cookies

That does make a lot of filling and is what makes the cake tall.

Then put the second layer on, bottom side down, and glaze just the top with 4 oz. melted chocolate melted with 1/4 cup butter.

Easy, pretty, and delicious! Hats off to Maddie!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why are we attracted to violence and tragedy?

Last night I decided I would really really get back to serious work on that young-adult history, after a weekend of fun. Instead I spent much of the evening riveted to the TV screen, as did many in North Texas. We were following a police chase--not a high-speed one, but a long slow painful one. A man had taken a woman truck driver hostage and forced her to drive her 18-wheeler from north of Dallas south through the city and then west past Fort Worth--the whole thing from start to finish lasted about five hours. Police had shot out the front tires, so the woman was driving that rig on rims--and she was a darn good driver--but she couldn't go more than five or ten miles an hour. It all ended well--when the truck got to a remote spot (without bystanders, etc.) police shot out the radiator and the back tires and the truck simply could go no farther. After a long standoff, the woman ran out of the cab to safety, police shot in tear gas, and the kidnapping suspect jumped out and fell to the ground so officers could arrest him without shooting him.
But what was almost mesmerizing about the incident was the crowds who lined the highways and overpass to watch the slow procession, truck followed by police cars, go by. In spite of repeated pleas on TV that it was a dangerous situation and please stay away, they came out in throng. Did they not know they were endangering themselves and hindering police efforts to stop the truck? Could they think only of the thrill of the moment? They waved, arms uplifted, and I wondered if they were sending courage to the kidnapped driver or encouragement to the kidnapper, sort of saying, "You stuck it to the man!" I hope it was the former but I'm not optimistic. The assailant later said he did it as a protest to the treatment of black men in America, and I wonder if some weren't sensing that and cheering his protest. They didn't care, as I desperately did, about the safety of that woman. She is one tough lady and I cheer her. Oddly enough, it didn't even make the national morning news shows.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Birthdays and grandchildren

My family--or part of it--celebrated my 68th birthday this weekend. Jamie and Mel brought 7-year-old Maddie and 3-year-old Edie from Frisco (Texas) and Jordan and Christian came with 1-mos-old Jake. Our family friend, Uncle Charles, joined us. And it was lovely to take my mind off the office, publishing, writing, what to do with my life (at this stage!), and just enjoy my family. Maddie, with a little help from Edie and a lot from me, baked a chocolate cake (well, okay, she claims it)--an elaborate concoction with huge cream cheese/Cool Whip/crushed Oreos filling. And when she stood in the kitchen, licking spoon in hand, and said, "Juju, I'm never bored at your house," I thought life couldn't get any better.
But my writing becomes part of even family get-togethers. I'd done a column for the Dallas Morning News, on a book, Mystery of the Gooey, Grey Glob, part of the A.R.T.S. (Academy of Slightly Twisted Arts) series and when I was through with the column I gave the book to Maddie. Last night she proudly showed me how much of it she and her mom had read. And then she asked, "What's that story you said we could read to Edie?" It was a picture-book text, How Louie the Longhorn and Jake the Jackelope Saved Christmas." I had explained it had no pictures yet, and she forecast that Edie would be bored. But they took it home to read.
It's fun to know that my grandkids will someday remember cooking with Juju and that I wrote books.
Don't think I ignored the other two--Edie played and wrote and "helped" while her dad activated the new photo system on my computer so that all day today I've been looking at pictures of her (she's an imp). And it was wonderful to hold Jake when he was content--but he was overtired and fussy much of the evening. Still, I can't imagine having things any better than all of us around the table, with Maddie leading off the grace.
And the families who weren't here--the Austin Hudgeons' and the Colorado Springs Alters--were much missed.
I don't mind at all being 68!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Judy's Stew

Judy's Stew - What to Write Next

Well, I've really gone amok (I just learned that amuck is a perversion of amok) on this blogging business. First I thought I posted my b'day list to the family blog, but it came out on mine. Then two days ago I posted a new entry--a long one--and it never showed up. And I've learned that you can't cut and paste, which is a real downer.
So now I'm going to try again, with the post I tried to put up two days ago. Bear with me, folks, if anybody's out there reading.
When I first started writing, some thirty-five years ago, I would sit at my desk and think, "I'd write, if only I knew what to write about." Now, some sixty books, countless columns, articles, and reviews later, along with a few nice awards, it's all come back full circle. What will I write about next?
I'm working on a young-adult history, something I've done a lot of, and I'm about halfway through. It's not exactly commissioned, but it has a fairly sure publisher. But already my mind is thinking ahead--what's next? I am not good at being without a project, so I dread the day the history is finished and I sit blankly at my computer. I find myself delaying working on the history--reading mysteires and recipes, piddling, emaling longlost friends, anything to delay finishing the project. In truth, I am a long way from finishing. And then my conscience bugs me to get to work on it. Talk about the horns of a dilemma. (I sometimes also put down a book I'm really enjoying just because I don't want to finish it.)
I'd like to write an adult novel--I've done six, published in New York, and seven or eight young-adult novels, most published regionally. But I want to know that I have at least one more novel in me. My novels did well--not spectacularly, but okay with good reviews and good reader comment--in the 1990s. My fiction, including a recently published short-story collection from a small literary press (Sue Ellen learns to Dance and Other Stories) has all been about the experiences of women in the American West, past and present. My best novels were fictional accounts of the lives and marriages of Elizabeth Custer, Jessie Benton Fremont, and a Wild West show trick roper based on the life of Lucille Mulhall.
But now publishing has passed me by. My novel about Etta Place and the Sundance Kid was published in a small paperback run (my son-in-law who reads voraciously seems to think it's my best--or at least has the funniest lines in it). The novel abut the head of the ladies branch of the Columbian Exposition elicited comments from agents such as, "You write so beautifully, I wish I could sell your work." Talk about frustration. (The Columbian Exposition fascinates me still, and I may eventually do something more about it.)
So I'm chewing on what to do and reading books that I think will inspire me. Wishful thinking. I'm sure there are many writers in my situation.
What I'd really like to write is a mystery--but that's another story.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Judy's Stew

Five days after my first post I have decided no one reads blogs. There are so many, that it's hard to find the ones you want, the ones that interest you. I keep meaning to study the blogs of people with interests similar to mine--but like everyone else, I'm busy. Another reason nobody reads blogs.
I'm not sure anyone but the family and friends I notified have read mine. I was bold enough not only to email friends far and wide about the blog but to suggeset they put it on their favorites. Only three people have left a comment--all my children. I discovered today though that you have to sign up with before you can leave a comment. Explains the few friends who said they tried and got kicked out.
Haven't figured out why the link doesn't always work. Maybe that's next.
I'm not giving this up though. I figure I've learned a lot about blogging in a short time, and I can learn more.
My family started one before I did, and there was not much action on it. I asked my oldest daughter if she looked at it and she said no. "What's on it?" she asked. I replied, "Well, I'm having this one way conversation with myself." That made her laugh aloud.
This morning I posted something about no one using the site, and within hours my son-in-law posted two audio-clips of my grandson (I can't tell what he's saying in either one, but then the whole family tells me I'm going deaf--or not going but am!) and my daughter-in-law posted news about my youngest granddaughter.
So maybe there's hope yet. I know blogging is a whole new world, just as email once was. I'm determined.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Judy's Stew--Writing, Grandmothering, and a Dash of Texas

When Melanie, long known as my fifth child though she’s married to my third child, suggested I needed a blog, I scoffed. I knew little about blogs and, as I told her, had nothing to contribute. “Jude,” she exploded, “you have lots to write about.” So I began to explore, the idea intriguing me more and more. There are things I want to talk about, things on which I’d like feedback, things I wish I could talk over with someone who shares the same outlook and frustrations as a writer. And then she came with that wonderful title that reflects all the things that fill my life--writing, my grandchildren, cooking, and Texas history. So this is for Melanie . . . and for me.
I am just shy of sixty-eight, the grandmother of five and a half children, the mother of four. Those are my most important roles, but I’m also the author of about sixty published books, though I always demur and add the qualifier that the majority were slim books written for third- or fourth-graders on assignment. Still they took research and work. And I've written fiction for adults and young adults, articles, essays, book reviews. Right now I do a monthly column on Texas Writers for the Dallas Morning New. In 2005, Western Writers of America honored me with their Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement, so the writing life has been good for me.

But writing doesn't support nor did it provide for raising four children as a single parent. For almost twenty years I've been the director of TCU (Texas Christian University) Press, a small academic press in Fort Worth, Texas--it's work that I love and so far, I refuse to really retire, though I've cut back. I also like to entertain and cook for guests (usually an experiment), and I'm a homeowner with a garden, a cat, and a dog, a churchgoer and a volunteer, and fortunate enough to have many many good friends.
So what are my concerns? How to be a good grandparent, how to be a good in-law, what to do about my writing career (which I'm always sure has stalled), what to do about global warming, how to improve the United States’ image abroad—a wide variety of things. And I love trading cooking tips and recipes. Sometimes I may show you pictures of my granchildren (when I figure that out) and sometimes I may try out a prospective writing project. Who knows? Sometimes I may rant, but this is not an in-your-face blog.