Cooking with writers

Food and authors rank pretty high on the list of things that I like to know more about, so when I ran across The Great New American Writers' Cookbook at the library the other day it was like discovering that someone had figured out how to make wine out of cocoa beans - two vices in one.

I'll admit I haven't heard of a good number of the authors who contributed, and it seemed too obvious that F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are represented by recipes for drinks. But there was one recipe in the book that made up for any disappointment I'd felt - James Purdy's Baked Chicken and Sausage.

James Purdy is perhaps my favorite author and I never miss a chance to spread the word about this almost unknown American treasure. His works run across many genres: poetry, Southern Gothic, literary fiction, short stories, plays and somethings that don't fit under any label. That contributes to him never having been published by one of the houses with deep pockets. Then there are his characters, usually the type of people who live a little outside the edges of "polite society". They are flawed, but not in the classic flawed hero way. Their flaws are seldom redeemed. I like that.

As this is my "Foodie Friday" post, I'll include Mr. Purdy's recipe. I don't think I'd ever make it myself - there's way too much meat for my tastes. At 84 years old, I'm hoping he's not eating it too often, either.

James Purdy's Baked Chicken and Sausage
Four large chicken breasts split
8 Italian sweet sauces
8 strips of slab bacon
4 garlic cloves
3 small white onions
5 tablespoons sweet butter
Chopped fresh parsley

Brown chicken breasts and sweet sausages in separate skillets in garlic and sweet butter. Place chicken breasts and Italian sausages then in a very large iron pot. Cover with the bacon slices. Cut up garlic cloves and white onions and add them to the chicken and sausages. Cook in very slow oven at least 2 hours, turning occasionally to allow the chicken and sausage to cook evenly. Scatter fresh parsley before serving. Serve with Virginia Spoon Bread and green salad.


My favorite writing books

There are enough books about writing that if you took the time to read them all, you'd never have time to write. (I don't think that's irony, I think it's that the people who write books about writing know that other authors are always looking for way to work on their writing without actually doing it. We're a crowd that begs to be distracted.) I won't pretend to have read even a small percentage of all those books, but I've read enough to know that there are some good ones, some repetitive ones, and some that are just plain wrong. Of the good ones, there are three that are on my desk all the time, right next to my thesaurus and dictionary. In reverse order of which ones I would save if my computer caught fire and the whole desk were about to go up in flames:

3. Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel - Maisel has a pretty cool job, coaching and teaching people to coach writers, painters, actors and other creative types. He's written a lot of books about what stops us from creating, how to get deep down to the part of us that doesn't judge our work before we ever set pen to paper, and most importantly, that creation is Work. It's not magic, it's not a "either you have it or you don't" ability, and it's not easy. Coaching the Artist Within covers all the roadblocks, self made and external, that we allow to get in our way so that we don't have to do the work. I've got several of Maisel's other books, but this is the one that speaks to me when I need a kick in the butt.

2. Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life by Bonni Goldberg - This is a wonderful little book full of writing prompts and exersises that are more than prompts and exercises. Each starts with a few paragraphs explaining why whatever the prompt is exploring is important to a writer, then gives the directions for a short writing assignment, and ends with a quotation from published writers, statesmen, artists, etc. that connects to the exercise. This is the book I grab, open to a random page, and start writing when my muse doesn't show up for work.

3. Bird by Bird:Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott - This is my writing bible. When I am lost and ready to give up, this is the book that reminds that lost is okay and giving up was never really an option. There's good nuts and bold advice about writing in here, mixed in with a lot of "you're not the first person to feel this way and you won't be the last". This is the book of reassurance and compassion that every writer needs to get through those dark days...weeks...and, let's admit it happnes, months.


National Book Critics Best of 2007 List

The National Book Critics Circle has, for the first time, asked its members and former winners to submit the title of the book from 2007 (Well, sort of. See the rules.) they'd recommend for others to read. So, it's not really a best of list, but the "Best Recommended" list.

It seems that more former nominees and winners submitted titles than member critics, but maybe that's just a sign that writers are more interested in reading good books than critics. Or maybe they're more excited about recognition for deserving books, even if it's not their own. The NBCC plans to do the list monthly next year, which I think might be going too deep in a shallow pool, but it will get some minimal publicity for books that are getting no help from their publishers.

The fiction winners for 2007 are:
1. Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead)
2. Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar Straus & Giroux)
3. Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (HarperCollins)
4. Philip Roth, Exit Ghost (Houghton Mifflin)
5. Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (Graywolf)

The only one of those that I'm familiar with at all is Roth's Exit Ghost, which I started and then quit when I realized I really wanted to read the series in order.


And now for something wrong, oh so wrong!

(Purely personal p.o.v. rant follows. Click only if you're curious about something annoying and offensive to me.)

Fox TV out does itself in the "think like fourteen year old boy who's afraid of real females" department with its graphic art for the new Terminator spinoff, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.


Books 71 - 75

71. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy - Amazing story, amazing characters, amazing writing. In a book only slightly less minimalist than the more recent The Road, McCarthy holds your attention by knowing just when to cut from the violence to the good that keeps most of us from jumping off a bridge. The monster at the center of the story is as completely believable as the sheriff who reluctantly hunts him.

72. I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert - If you're a fan of the show, you'll like the book. If you've never seen the show, you'll find out if it's something you might enjoy. If you've seen the show and not been impressed, the book will bore you. If you don't like the show, why would you pick this book up? All of this is to say, the book is the show, for all its successes and failures. Everything in the book could have been done on the show, verbatim. There's even little sidebar comments, just like during the "The Word" segments on the show. My opinion - I expected more from a book by someone as literate as the real Stephen Colbert is, something beyond the exact same material he does four nights a week. He could have published old scripts and it would have been just as funny.

73. Fire In The Blood by Irene Nemirovsky - Another book discovered by the researchers working on the Nemirovsky biography, this is the story of a middle aged French man and the family and community that keep him from being a total hermit. I suspect that this was only the first draft of the book, and yet, it's still quite readable. Short and with more than a few places where a paragraph or two takes the place of what should have been a whole chapter, the sense of place and characters are what make this a very good book, even when the plot weakens.

74. Dream Angus, The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith - This book is one of the Myth series from Canonsgate, where well published authors write new stories for old myths, as well as using them for inspiration for contemporary short stories. (That sounds more complicated than it is, really. The publisher's website explains only a little better.) McCall Smith tells the story of Angus, a god of love, dreams, beauty and youth in Celtic culture. This author recognizes that all those things don't guarantee a perfect life for the young god or the humans that aspire to them. The myth stories are classically mythic and the contemporary stories show McCall Smith's ability to see love as painful and beautiful at the same time.

75. The Gathering by Anne Enright - When any group of adult siblings reunite, for any reason, wounds are reopened. When it's a very large family (in this book, eleven brothers and sisters gather for the funeral of a middle child brother), you can simply multiply the internal drama. Anne Enright has done an amazing job of tapping into the pain and love that we try to leave behind when we leave the family home to start our own lives, only to find that we've carried it everywhere and it colors everything we do. The novel is non-linear (and as a fan of non-linear, I'd say it's a little weak in this book) and almost stream of conscious first person from the sister who was closest to the brother who has passed away, both in age and emotion. The jacket blurb teases with a secret that isn't all that surprising and possibly not even that important in the lives of any of the members of the family. It's the entanglement of histories and personalities that make this book (and all families) so rich.


Ok, now we can start the winter holidays

Time rushes on, but there are still old memories to appreciate, such as this Santa Village my Grandfather built out of scraps in 1930. He was a lucky one, never completely without work, although he did go down to one day (at that time, a ten hour day) a week. The light posts are solid copper pipe - the kind that is being stolen out of buildings now because copper is so valuable. It was someone's trash when he built this.


Techy meme

From Sat-8:

Do you have any of the following gadgets, and what kind? when did you get them?

1. Cellphone? Yes

2. Digital camera? Yes

3. Video camera? Yes, but I have no idea if it still works. It hasn't been out of the closet in three years. It's 8mm, not digital.

4. Video game console? No. I've made it a personal crusade to not have one in my house, but that might be changing soon. Those Wiis look awfully fun.

5. TiVo/DVR? No, still using VHS. I'll probably switch when I can't buy tapes anymore.

6. mp3 player/iPod? No, but if Apple hadn't gotten nasty with it's new iPods, I would have. Silly things don't work on OS 10.3.9.

7. Laptop computer? Yes.

8. Any widget or app on your phone or computer to makes your life easier (commute time calculator, on-time flight alert, zocdoc, etc.)?
I have Minuteur and Noise on my laptop to make my writing easier. Minuteur makes it easy to do timed writing exercises, and Noise makes it possible to block out all kinds of ambient sound when I'm working.


How big is a turkey's (carbon) footprint?

This weekend, I'll be attending two big family gatherings, and at each one there will be at least one person who takes it as a personal affront that I eat very little meat. I swear, I make no judgment of people who eat meat, as my reasons for not eating it are by a personal health situation. But there always one person in a crowd who insists that I defend my choice, and since I have no desire to discuss my health with fringe relatives, I try to come armed with a few facts about the benefits of eating less meat. Nothing dulls a heated debate like numbers. They don't change anyone's mind, but sometimes they do bore and/or confound some people.

Here's something interesting from that I found while looking for information on why less meat consumption is better for the environment. The study is ten years old, but given that if the ag business hase improved its energy usage, all branches of it have probably done so at the same rate, the comparisons should hold.

The ratio of energy consumed to produce one unit of protein:
Chicken 4:1
Turkey 13:1
Milk protein 14:1
Pork 17:1
Eggs 26:1
Lamb meat 50:1
Beef cattle 54:1.

I thought that was pretty interesting, because I know a lot of people along with myself who chose eggs and milk products over meat and think we're doing a good thing environmentally. It turns out - we're not.


My favorite Thanksgiving book

It may be the subversive in me, but the one book that I recommend for Thanksgiving reading is Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. It's not only about Thanksgiving, but that one chapter is guaranteed to get you thinking. There's plenty of food for thought throughout this book, and on a day that's become more about gluttony than thankfulness, more fodder for the brain works to everyone's benefit.


Another electronic reader

Amazon debuted Kindle, their newest entry into the electronic book reader market on Monday, at that means the reviews of people who actually paid for the thing are starting to be posted. (There are lots of reviews on the device's page at Amazon, but the positives mostly come from hand picked testers and the negatives from people who don't have one. So, pretty much useless, in my opinion.)

One of the first real customer reviews to show up on a Google blog search came from XML Aficionado. I appreciate that that blogger isn't taking part in the Amazon kick-back program, that involved embedding an icon on your blog that if used to click through to the Kindle order page and a device is actually ordered, the source blog page gets a $40 Amazon credit. Just 10 clicks and your Kindle has paid for itself! SmugBlog also has a review, although that blogger admits to spending more time using it to look for books rather than reading one, which they finally get around to at the end of the day.

Another positive review from Robert Love, someone who didn't expect to like it as much as he did. He points out something I've been wondering about, though. If this is primarily a reading device, why is the keyboard so big? I get the need for an alpha interface, it is easier to search through what's on the device if you can type in a word rather than scroll everything. But I suspect that the real purpose of that keyboard is to encourage shopping, surfing, and whatever else Amazon will make money off of beyond the purchase of the books.

That brings us to price. Yep, $400 is expensive for almost anyone who isn't a gadget geek or someone who already favors digital readers. I don't think they'll convert many conventional readers at that price. The $9.99 per book price is great, if they have want you want. About 75% of the books I read I get for free (okay, I get them for paying property taxes) from the local library. And their collection goes light years beyond Amazons. I doubt that is going to change in my life time (despite Google's plan to put every written word online).

I'd say the Kindle (and that is a strange name - kindling, right?) is a step towards the day fewer books are printed because more are being bought digitally, but it's a small step. It's not going to change how most people read.


A writing contest AND vocabulary booster

Answers.com has posted their latest writing contest (limited to North Americans, for some techno-silly reason), and I'm already smarter without having done one bit of writing. The ten words and phrases that must be included in the entry had several that I'd never seen before. I love new words more than I love a no-fee, good prize very short story writing contest.

On their list of ten, I'd have to say my favorite is sapid. Halva sounds pretty good too, but that could be my stomach talking.


Books 66 - 70

66. Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones - An absolutely fantastic book about the power of stories and the people who tell them. Set during the 1990s blockade of Bougainville by New Guinea, the lone white man in the settlement does his best to help the children of a besieged village that there is more to life than what they see around them through the words of Dickens' Great Expectations. This could have been a story that has been told thousands of times before, a teacher broadens horizons and the students go out to a better world, but Mr. Watts isn't that great of a teacher. He is, however, a master story teller who knows when to deviate from his source material when the going gets very tough and very serious. If you've ever caught yourself thinking of how a fictional character would handle a situation you're facing, or wished that you lived in a favorite book rather than the real world, this is a book that will speak to you.

67. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - What impressed me most about the book was the author's ability with first person narrative. The entire book is a one sided dialog between a young Pakistani man and the possibly American tourist he befriends at a cafe in his recently returned to home town. He tells a story of the American Dream and its hidden costs, along with a verypersonal love story. The story isn't particularly original or surprising, but it is well written.

68. Faith For Beginners by Aaron Hamburger - This novel manages to funny, enlightening and thought provoking in just the right balance. The plot is simple - a mother hoping to salvage her relationship with her just barely adult son books them and her dieing husband on a vacation to that place so well known for peace and tolerance - Jerusalem. They tour the sights, discover what faith and religion are really about, and in the end, discover that families are a lot like the Middle East conflict: getting along comes down to the people, not ideas. This is also a great book about vacations often being more work than what they're supposed to get you away from. I'd recommend this as light reading with a eye opening message.

69. Timeless Classics: Selected Shorts, A Celebration of the Short Story, Volume 19 (Audio Book) - The Selected Shorts series is a recorded version of the many live and radio presentations of great known and undiscovered short stories, read by people with really great story telling voices - sometimes the authors themselves, but more often actors. This collection consisted of: James Thurber's The Night the Ghost Got In read by Isaiah Sheffer -Comic Mayhem is unleashed when a family hears a ghost in the night - and calls in the police; Edith Wharton's Roman Fever read by Maria Tucci -Two women reflect on romance and intrigue, long ago in Rome; Jack London's Make Westing read by Steven Gilborn -Danger, adventure, corruption and secrecy dog a ship as it rounds Cape Horn; D.H. Lawrence's The Rocking Horse Winner read by John Shea -A dark fable of a magical toy helping a little boy cope with family troubles; Shirley Jackson's The Lottery read by Marian Seldes -In Jackson's classic nightmare of society and sacrifice, someone will be the chosen one; Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game read by Charles Keating -A meditation on what it means to be a hunter - or the hunted, this tale unfolds on a remote island full of strange prey; Raymond Carver's Cathedral read by James Naughton -A subtle and intimate portrait of a man during a visit from his wife's blind friend.

The stories I'd read before I discovered things I'd missed, and the new to me stories kept me listening when I was supposed to be doing something else. Thanks to this audio collection, I've discovered that it's only reading Jack London that bores me to tears. Hearing his story is quite another thing altogether. If you're looking to hear some really good stories, you can not go wrong with this collection.

70. Carnival by Elizabeth Bear - I liked the canon that Bear created for this long bit of science fiction, and that's what kept me reading despite the too obvious attempts to write an epic. (When the first line of a writer's bio proclaimed that she shares a birth-date with Sam and Frodo, I smiled and rolled my eyes.) This is the world of New Amazonia, a matriarchal society of unexplained resources that other survivors of Old Earth would like to partner with, if not conquer. Gender roles play an important part when two "gentle" males are sent as diplomats to negotiate some sort of alliance, but their real motivation is something different. The men are long separated lovers that pick up where they left off, when they're not disagreeing with each other. It took me a couple weeks to get through this book because it's so overwritten, but I did always come back to it.


Not a lame "here's my cat" post.

Well, almost not that.
Since so much of my blog is dedicated to reading, I thought I'd post of photo of by reading buddy. So, yeah, this is a "here's my cat" post. My cat that insists on draping himself across my shoulder when ever I open a book. He can't read, so I don't have to worry about him becoming one of those LOL!cats.


Everybody has read that book (not)

I was poking around at LibraryThing.com (trying to decide if I want to bring my account up to date, or start over somewhere else), and took a look at some of their many, many lists drawn from members tags. One that caught my eye was Books Tagged Unread, which could mean anything from "bought it and never read it" to "I know I should have read this if I call myself I reader but I've never gotten around to it". It's not scientific, it's not a good sampling, it's not a list that means a whole lot, but I wondered where I fell in this group, as I've never used the "unread" tag, because it seems silly on a data base of books "read".

Here's there top 25. I've bolded and italiced the ones I've read and italiced the ones I started and didn't/couldn't finish.

1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
3. One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
5. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
10. Ulysses by James Joyce
11. A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens
12. Life of Pi : a novel by Yann Martel
13. The name of the rose by Umberto Eco
14. The Odyssey by Homer
15. The brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
17. War and peace by Leo Tolstoy
18. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

19. The time traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger
20. The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini
21. Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen
22. Vanity fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
23. Emma by Jane Austen
24. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
25. Foucault's pendulum by Umberto Eco

Well, at least I've started a lot of books that other people think should be read. That's about all this means.


I smell a marketing ploy (smells quite tasty, actually)

There's an article in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor that explains that instead of sitting down to a big ol' roast turkey on Thursday, Americans might want to considering getting their history correct, and choose a nice ham as their animal protein. Why? Because the English settlers who established Berkeley Plantation said thanks quite a bit of time before the Mayflower travelers. And they didn't eat turkey.

But what did they eat? Someone wants us to believe it was ham.

There's not much doubt that the Berkeley settlers probably were the first to thank their God for having gotten them as far as they did. But according to sites that are only looking for historical accuracy, such as VirginiaIsForLovers.com, a site operated by the Virgina Tourism Corporation, there was a simple prayer said, and then they moved on. No groaning board, no questionable attempts to include the aboriginals that they'd just as soon seen dead, and no respite from the daily grind of surviving, I bet. When they did eat, it quite likely would have been ham, a meat that when smoked keeps a whole lot longer than fresh poultry. But that claim to being the real first Thanksgiving? If saying thanks is enough, we're going to need to move it to Florida, because certainly Hernando De Soto's crew said something about being grateful for coming to the end of their first trip. And they were actually looking for someone who had landed before them. So perhaps we should be eating seafood for Thanksgiving?

So, why is someone trying to tell us to eat ham for Thanksgiving? That's where the title of this post comes in. Hog farming is still a very big business in Virginia.


Two poems

(But first we pause to pat ourselves on the back for posting some original writing. Ahhh, yes....that was supposed to be a major part of this blog and of particpating in NaBloPoMo!)

Two cingquains, one traditional and one modern, on the same topic. These are the result of my morning writing warmup.


Wasn't cool
Wasn't wet wind
Now one day later


Low skies
Get out the coats
Cemetery garden
Vermin moving into the house
Close time

if you're curious about what's the difference between the traaditional and modern form, here you go, from the wonderful Writing Fix website.

Totally unrelated, but potentially poetry inspiring, SpaceWeather.com has issued an "Aurora Alert" because of current solar windstream patterns. I've seen one Aurora Borealis in my life, surprisingly when I was near a major city with lots of light pollution. They are amazingly beautiful, even in a watered down form.


More Blogs Than People

There was a very interesting Q&A with Derek Gordon of Technati in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. Patrick T. Reardon, a staff reporter for the newspaper, asked the question that every blogger asks them self when they hit that "publish post" button:Is anybody reading this? Turns out, the answer is: probably not.

"Q Any idea how many of the 109.2 million blogs you (Technorati)track get no hits in the course of a year?

A Just over 99 percent. The vast majority of blogs exist in a state of total or near-total obscurity."

Some bloggers might find that depressing. Me, I think it means that any hit I get is beating the odds, and I'm darn happy about that.

Mr. Reardon also asked about the ratio of blogs to people. I know a lot of people in my real (non internet) life that have blogs, but I know a lot more who don't have them. I'm guessing that's true for most people. But, factor in all the folks that have more than one blog, and suddenly...

".....there is one blog for every 23 people with Internet access (based on the May 2007 estimate by eMarketer that more than 1 billion people use the Web)."

So, how soon until there's a blog for every person in the world?

"It is likely that the number of registered blogs will one day exceed the number of people who have Internet access, but one cannot extrapolate that, therefore, each of those persons actually has and uses a blog. The combination of spam blogs and individuals with multiple blogs means that the total volume of registered blogs will easily, one day, exceed even the total number of people on Earth, even if only some fraction of those people are, in fact, bloggers."

After reading that, and the other numbers about inactive blogs, I had a very strong urge to delete an old LiveJournal account. That's one less dead blog jacking up the numbers.


2007 Word(s) of the Year

Oxford Universty Press has chosen its word of the year, and it's a good one, I think. It's locavore, a person who chooses to have a smaller negative impact on the environment by obtaining the food for themselves and their families as close to home as possible. Generally, that "close to home as possible" is defined as a 100 mile radius, but depending where the locavore lives, sometimes it's a smaller circle, sometimes it's bigger. As a word and a movement, I think locavore has staying power.

I can't say the same thing for the word of the year chosen by Webster's New World Dictionary. It's environmental too, but Grass Station? That's a new one on me, so good thing they included a definition in their press release: "a theoretical fill-up spot in the not-too-distant future; it reflects America's growing love affair with hybrid cars and vegetable-based fuels (and words), including ethanol and biomass fuels -- some of which really are distilled from plain old grass". Uh-huh. It's an interesting turn of a phrase, but I can't see it becoming a part of many people's working vocabulary. (By the way, Webster's New World Dictionary is not Merriam-Webster, for those of us who believe that dictionaries, like news sources, come with different levels of esteem.)


Book Reviews

61. Roman Blood by Steven Saylor - This series of mysteries was recommended to me when I was lamenting the end of the HBO series Rome. I owe the recommender a fruit basket or something, because these books seem to be everything that show was, and more. The books follow the cases of fictional character Giordiannus The Finder (1st Century BC for Private Detective), with many real historic figures included to provide the plots. In this book, it's just-starting-out orator Cicero (yes, that Cicero) and his loyal, smart, and thinking-with-the-wrong-head slave Tiro that join Giordiannus to exonerate a wealthy farmer accused of one the worst things a person could do in ancient Rome - patricide. It looks like I'm hooked on another series.

62. Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel by Edmund White - A fascinating piece of RPF about a novel that Stephen Crane most likely never wrote. During his last days, Crane narrates a final story to his wife about a young prostitute in late 19 century New York and the man who loved him. On the Crane side of this story within a story, several other literary figures make appearances (Henry James and Joseph Conrad most notably), to talk shop with their contemporary and end up giving their opinions about Crane's choice of subject for his last book. White does a good job of turning two stories into one, with just enough nonfiction included to make it an almost believable fiction - exactly what RPF should be.

63. Lord John And The Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon - I enjoyed the first two or three books in Gabaldon's Outlander series, but lost interest as the dramatic plot became second to the romance and domestic issues of the characters. When I discovered that she'd written a book about perhaps the most interesting side character from the whole series, British soldier Lord John Gray, I had to give her another try. This is an author who knows how to research a time period and how to make that research come alive. The plot of this book, Lord John investigating a murder of a soldier and at the same time trying to discover if his cousin's betrothed is fit to be a husband, is over the top with twists and red herrings. However, the sense of place and time, especially when Lord John is dealing with his own secrets, had me reading this book straight through. It's a fast, light and enjoyable read for those who think there's a serious shortage of books that include Molly houses and the men who patronize them.

64. Feast of Love by Charles Baxter - The hook (some would say beauty) of this book is in its simplicity - simplicity of characters, simplicity of story, and, most importantly, simplicity of writing. The premise is an author interviewing people about their experiences with love. What we get is ordinary people being made extraordinary because they dared to love someone else. From that point of view, this is a wonderful book. However, I felt that by halfway through you could guess where a character was headed, or worse yet, didn’t care in the case of the female narrators, who all come across as more immature and self involved than the male characters. It’s a great book if you’re looking for something that says that love is more than worth the pain, but if you’re looking for more than that, you might be disappointed. I certainly was.

65. The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt - Don't let the math scare you off of reading this book. You don't need to understand it, you simply need to understand what it is to be able to work in the field you love and discover that work alone does not make your life complete. The characters in this book set in WWI era London and Cambridge could work any where and in any field and still go through the self discovery and heart break that makes up this book. Leavitt does his normal fantastic job with sense of place and time, but seems to have lost his ability to edit, as the book rambles a bit, then covers major plot points in a few paragraphs. This is not Leavitt's best work, but it's still a good read.


The view from the penthouse

Not my penthouse, unfortunately. Looking out over Navy Pier in Chicago, this is the view from the condo that my main character finds almost impossible to walk away from. Not knowing the rest of his story, you can't hardly blame him, can you?


I'd like to buy a vowel, please

It took me ten days into NaBloPoMo before I drew a complete blank. Not too bad, I think. So, I've gone to the well of prompts from the Writing Prompts group, and found a Saturday one that won't tax my brain too much. (I did say I was drawing a blank, didn't I?)

From Patrick's Place, a Saturday Six.

1. What was the brand and model (if you remember) of the first computer you remember using? A Wang something or other. It was in the math lab at high school, it was huge, ugly, and intimidating as all hell. I never was able to get it to run the math packets we were supposed to use for "independent" learning.

2. What year do you remember using a home computer for the first time? 1990

3. Hype aside, which platform do you prefer: Mac or PC? Mac, baby! (oops! Was that hype?

4. Take the quiz: Are you a Mac or PC? Well, their reasoning is wrong, but the results are right.

You Are a Mac

You are creative, stylish, and super trendy.

You demand the best - even if it costs an arm and a leg.

5. How fair would you consider the quiz to be based on the responses? Not fair at all. (see above)

6. If money were no object, what brand of computer would you most likely purchase? Sticking with Mac, through and through. Even when my hard drive died and we had to scrimp on groceries for a couple months. Mac before meat, that's my motto!


I've got Tiramisu in my coffee...

...and it's a very, very lovely thing!

No opinions, no insights, no soul searching in today's post. Just a rave about Steep & Brew's so good it should really cost more Tiramisu flavored ground coffee. Their holiday flavors are not on their website yet, but they're out in the retail establishments that carry the brand, and oh boy...if the aroma isn't enough to have you thinking of the fine Italian desert, the flavor will get you there. Not too strong, not too sweet, and no alcohol undertones...this is very, very good stuff. My only complaint - no whole bean options for this flavor. Oh well...all that much faster to get a pot going!


I oughtn't be in pictures.

As a watcher of television and movies, the Writer's Guild of America strike is sort of interesting to me. As a writer who once thought she wanted to be a screen writer, it's more than interesting because these are people who share my art and dreams. A writer is a writer is a writer. We tell stories. It doesn't matter whether they're acted out or on the page, it's the same thing: putting words together to communicate an idea that wasn't there before. I may have realized I do not have the collaborative spirit that a screenwriter needs to have to succeed, and I really suck at not controlling everything my characters do, but still, I think I know what's in the hearts of people who are lucky enough to make things up for a living.

I find myself following the posts and especially the comments at DeadlineHollywoodDaily. It's the best place I've found to get an almost unbiased look at what's happening with the strike. With every day that goes by, I become more certain that writers do deserve to own what they write, every last bit, unless they chose to sell it free and clear. I also become less certain how people who are known for being introverts and independent thinkers will stick together long enough for a successful strike. I don't know any writers who like to spend a lot of time interacting with other people. Sure, we enjoy watching them. But presenting a united front? Artists? It's just not in our blood. And just how long can people who write because if they couldn't they wouldn't want to live be able to go without writing? I know they're working on stuff on their own, but a big group of those striking folks are used to getting positive strokes for what they do. Can they go back to doing it only for themselves? I know I couldn't. Good thing for me novelists are independent contractors.


On procrastination......

According to the blog schedule I wrote for myself, I should be posting some original fiction today. To put it bluntly, I got nothing. Call it a block, call it negative inspiration, heck, call it anything you want - I'm just not writing. I am not without some self-discipline, however, so I headed over the best place for writing prompts and exercises I've ever had pointed out to me, Toasted Cheese. It was simply too perfect that the first item on their 2007 exercises archive was to make a list of the things I do when I should be writing.

1. Surf the net. Well, duh, huh? This wasn't much of a problem until two or three weeks ago, when I finally installed a wireless router in my house. My darling little iBook doesn't have an airport card, and the wired modem was on a different floor from my writing space, so when I sat down to right, I was not connected to the net. Now, because of changes brought on by my partner's work requirements, the wired modem sits right next to me. I'm hooked up all the time. And hooked is exactly the right word to use.

2. Bake. I justify it because it's certainly cheaper to make home made goodies and just because I'm trying to eat better/eat less doesn't mean everyone in the family needs to give up the chocolate and butter and sugar and all that other yummy stuff, right? And, I've always found that cooking clears my mind for new ideas. It's probably that "use a different part of your brain" thing. But, using the quiet alone time to do something that would be better served when the family is actually around to eat the stuff is a bad health choice and a bad use of my time.

3. Watch old movies on TV. This is another "but it helps me write!" lie I tell myself when I'm doing it to avoid work. Yes, I get some good ideas, considering my main character in one novel is over a hundred years old. I do need to experience his culture, and movies are a great way to see what he's seen change. But I show so little discrimination in what I watch, it's obvious I'm avoiding work, not doing something to move it forward.

4. Research for other people. I love to research. To avoid work, I'll volunteer to do research for other people's writing. I could spend the time doing my own research, but that would mean facing that I wasn't using the research, so I avoid that bit of self-recrimination by working for someone else. I can say I'm working, and I'm helping other writers and that's good, right? Not at the expense of my own work, and I damn well know it.

This little list would serve no purpose if I don't use what I've learned here to fix the problem, so here goes.

1) Unplug the Ethernet cord during a scheduled work time. Sure I could plug it right back in, but I do have some pride and self control. If I take a physical action to stop the addiction, I can see the problem and the solution. Sometimes you have to see the scars before you can stop cutting.

2) I'm not going to stop doing something I love to do for my family. But, I can get it out of my system in larger blocks, freeing up larger blocks for writing.

3) Use some of my research skills to figure out what to watch, when it's on, schedule the time, and then NO MORE!

4) Just say no. If I stop volunteering, I know I'll be asked. I can say no. If I'm not helping other people, I'll have to help myself.


Books I'm looking forward to reading

The first is The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith. Due out in mid-December, the book is a collection of character studies and short stories by some of the best writers working today. InTheNews.co.uk has the entire list of contributing authors as well as a sample and short review. Although I'm looking forward to new Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers and Andrew O'Hagan, as well as discovering some new good authors, it's the fact that the book focuses on character is what really excites me.

The second, which I really hope to get on CD from the library, is Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin. I've never read an interview with Martin where I wasn't impressed by how intelligent and funny he is, and I'm curious how he got that way. I've been equally impressed with his writing, both the essays and the fiction, and that brings up a very funny alphabet book he's just had publishedThe Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z! I'd not recommend it to actually teach the English alphabet, but if you're already confident in your letters, it's a blast to read. (Bonus link, Steve Martin and the illustrator of the alphabet book on NPR a couple weeks ago. Have a listen, have a smile.)


Book Reviews

56. Famous Writer's School by Steven Carter - Told in letter form, this novel is actually a novel within a novel, a (how not to write) writer's guide, and a tiny bit psychological thriller/romance. That seems like a lot, but Carter fits it all together in the story of Wendell Newton's correspondence writing class. The stories of three students are told in three distinct styles, and through Walter's comments on his student's work, Carter shows how an author can twist, change and manipulate the same story into several different versions. Maybe Wendell's a better writer than he gives himself credit for being.

57. In The Woods by Tana French - A double mystery for police detective Rob Ryan. A young girl is murdered and left where she can't be missed in the very same area where Ryan was the lone survivor of a bloody crime when he was twelve years old. He was never any help in determining what happened to his two best friends, but working this crime helps jar a few memories. The relationship complications between Ryan and his partner are silly and unoriginal, but the families of all the murder victims make for a lot of very good back stories. This book is more interesting than your average police procedural, and far more realistic (if unsatisfying) in the ending.

58. How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper - Chick lit written by a guy about a guy - who knew it could be so good? Certainly not me, and now I'm really looking forward to reading some of Tropper's other books. This one is about a twenty-nine year old coping with the loss of his wife. That includes taking care of a sixteen year old step son that it would be easier to be a friend to than father and getting back into the dating and sex routine. In the meantime, he's got a sister who's starting a marriage, a twin sister trying to end one, and a mother who's self medicating her way through her own tragedy. What I enjoyed most about this book was that I know people that are like many of these characters, but they're not nearly as fun.

59. Summer Knight: Book Four of the Dresden FIles by Jim Butcher - Definitely the most convoluted of this series that I've read so far, I'm still not quite sure who was on who's side in this book. However, the characters and the canon keep getting better and Chicago is still a factor in the story, and that'll keep me reading these books until the very end.

60. In Awe by Scott Heim - This is a dark, bleak, sad, heavy story of friendship between three outsiders in contemporary rural Kansas. Scott Heim's first book was Mysterious Skin, and somehow Heim has found a way to go to an even blacker place of love and hate than he did the first time around. The sense of place is amazing (I don't think there's a color or smell or sound that Heim can't bring to life with his words) and the characters are laid wide open, sometimes telling their own stories, sometimes through stories that they write down for Boris, a teenage boy with a doomed crush, to use for a writing contest. The other characters, Harriet, a widow not doing a very good job coping with the recent death of her only son; and Sarah, a close friend of the dead son and now a sort of mentor to Boris, both enable each other and Boris in a journey that can't end well. If this all sounds too depressing for you to read, it probably is.


From this morning's walk....

The sandy soil of the region I live in does not provide the terra firma needed to nurture the trees that turn a variety of colors. For the most part, we get yellows, darker greens, and browns, with an occasional dark red from someone's pet maple. But that doesn't mean that a glorious autumn morning lacks for moments that make you stop and stare. This view is across a pond near my home.


Getting my characters to talk

Anyone who writes will understand the frustration of being psyched up about sitting down to work and discovering that at least one of the characters you planned to work with is not speaking to you at that moment. Of course, the “right” thing to do is to plow on, make that character work for you. After all, they belong to us, not the other way around, right? My problem is I’m not a very tough boss. When I was an actual boss person, I was awful at telling people to do something they didn’t want to do. I was always trying to find ways to make them want to do the work, possibly even enjoy it, and often ended up doing the work myself rather than have an unhappy employee. I’m the same with my characters. I’m not good at making them do things or say things that don’t feel right, even though I know I can fix it in a later draft when they do come around for a more productive visit. I want them to be happy now. (Not that all my characters are happy people. Some are true bastards. One is in a terribly dysfunctional relationship and knows it. But, they’re in situations of their own making, and that's close enough to happiness for this fiction writer.)

All of this prelude is in explanation of what I’m about to post. It’s a tried and true exercise that I’ve found works well for me as a way to a character talking, because, they, like real people, love to talk about themselves. It's the well known Questions segment from “Inside the Actor’s Studio”. Today it also serves to introduce a major character from one of my novels in progress, working titled “Sucklimation”. (It’s not a vampire story. The word suck in the title refers to something lower on the human male anatomy. And it’s not porn, either.)

Michael (An artist going through mid-life crisis at the same time he meets a new muse who comes with more baggage than Michael wants to carry)
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
Bottom line
What turns you on?
Finding that one tiny mark that keeps something from being perfect
What turns you off?
Too much hunger for anything. Passion is good, but when it becomes a hunger, that’s too needy for me. You could call it addiction, but that wouldn't be quite right.
What sound do you love?
What sound to you hate?
What profession other than yours would you attempt?
What profession would you not like to participate in?
What is your favorite curse word?
Bedamn. I don't use swear words.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“You were right, it really didn’t matter what you believed, it was all about how you lived.”


Cut the fat, cut the craving

Yesterday The Chicago Tribune ran an article critiquing three hot pumpkin drinks. At first, I was surprised that Starbucks, the place that put the drink on the map with their Pumpkin Spice Latte, came in with a very average "C". Last fall, I looked for excuses to be near a Starbucks so I could get "just one more" before they removed them from their menu, I loved these drinks so much. My autoload Starbucks card recharged more often in October and November than it did the other ten months of the year. I wondered if maybe the critic had gotten a bad drink. If he stopped at a licensed store, like a Target or in an airport, most likely he did. How could the drink I loved be rated so cruelly? And did I need to give Dunken' Donuts a shot?

Luckily, before I could grab my car keys, the caffeine monkey on my back jumped off long enough for me to hear the soft chattering of the good nutrition monkey. And he was reminding me, I'd had only one PSL this year, and I hadn't been impressed. Maybe they'd changed the recipe? No, he chittered on - you no what it was. It was always the whipped cream! A mediocre drink had cloaked itself in creamy, fluffy, thick....fat. When I committed myself to eating better, eating less, and moving more about five months ago, fat for the sake of fat disappeared from my diet. If a food can't stand up without garnish, what kind of food is it? Without the whip cream, the PSL was okay, but certainly no better flavor-wise than what I could make at home with the pumpkin flavored non-dairy creamer I buy at the grocery. Sure, it lacks the caffeine punch, but I can always drink two cups and still save money and fat.

I think that by allowing the whip cream to melt into his drink, the critic discovered exactly why it's there in the first place. You taste that lovely sweetness, and your tongue gets coated with animal fat, and you don't realize that the drink itself isn't a melding of flavor at all. It's pumpkin flavored coffee. Good stuff, but nothing to get addicted to.


A Promulgation

Cool word, huh? It means "a public announcement". I thought something as big as the first day of Nablopomo deserved a special post, and special posts deserve special words. So that explains the grandiloquent title. And what is the post that's deserving of this verbosity? (These words breed like drosophilas....oops, did it again!)

I'm making a public commitment to submit a story to a contest. It's 3500 words, the deadline in December 21, and I have no idea what I'm going to write. Winning is not the target, it's not even on the map. What I need to do is to learn to let things go and I know I'll never do it without a deadline and fear of public embarrassment for failing to meet a goal with such a low bar of achievement, so here I am, promising myself and the virtual world that this time, I will do it.

Now, I only need an idea.