owl in winter

owl in winter

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Power of Sisters

I just finished Kristin Hannah's new book, True Colors, which, by the way, made the New York Times best seller list about a week ago.

This is a pretty emotional book and if you have a sister, you know what I mean. I don't know of any sisterhood that hasn't involved competition, rivalry, envy on some level, but also, steely cords of unwavering love interwoven throughout.

True Colors is the story of the Grey sisters, Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann. The Greys are long-time residents of Oyster Shores, Washington. Winona is the smart, successful lawyer but still single and childless after so many years. Aurora, the middle sister, identifies with celebrities to hide the pain of a dying marriage. Vivi Ann, the youngest, beautiful and blond and wanted by all, seems blessed with fairy dust. When Winona's best friend from high school, Luke Connelly, returns to Oyster Bay and promptly falls in love with Vivi Ann, Winona's secret love for him pits her against Vivi Ann. Why does everything come so easily for Vivi Ann? Not so fast, Winona, Vivi Ann may have gotten engaged to Luke but it is not Luke she wants. A mysterious stranger has arrived in Oyster Bay, planting himself firmly in front of Vivi Ann and she can't back away or get around him and she finds she doesn't want to in the first place.

Dallas Raintree isn't just any stranger; he is a man with a past and a way with horses and like it or not, Vivi Ann finds herself under his spell. When a sad, lonely woman is murdered and town prejudices surface, Vivi Ann's fairy-tale life begins to fall apart. The one person who could help her, Winona, lets her down. The abyss between Winona and Vivi Ann widens as sister Aurora tries to mend the breach. As the years pass, there seems no hope of redemption, until one small secret is revealed, and truth explodes like popping corn.

In this book, loyalties are pried apart, hearts are broken, but love remains. Sister love.

Good story.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Let Your Voice Fly

Seems like I've been seeing more articles on voice lately. It's all over the place. But, what is voice, really?

Well, I invite you to a cup of tea and let's sit down and talk about that, that fleeting, misunderstood thing, that being voice.


It was a mystery to me up until a couple years ago; what is voice, how can I achieve voice, what is my voice and is it point of view, and what else could I possibly tie to voice to make it so irritatingly difficult to understand?
It made me crazy, voice did. I read and read and took a class and I wore myself out with it.
What I found is, voice is not that hard, but it is specific.

First of all, voice is not point of view. Point of view is an entirely different subject and it is not a part of this particular discussion, at this point. Do not worry about point of view right now, today.
Okay, so.

Voice = everything that you have experienced, from birth up until this very moment. It is your parents' verbiage to you, it may even be your granparents' verbiage to you. It is your achievements and failures, it is your hopes and dreams, your belief system and your doubts, your political statement, it is simply you.

And then, you say but, who am I? What is my voice? Do I have a voice?

Yes, you have a voice and it is unique to you, whatever your story is, whereever you have been, whatever has been a part of your life. Yes, I promise you, you have a voice.

You are a product of your environment to a point. However, closer to the bone, voice is the culmination of all you have ever been, your particular view on the world, your gut.

Yes, your gut. That is where voice starts. That is where it dwells.

I have said things before about, hey, think about where you come from, you parents, their lifestyle, their point of view, so on and so forth, and now I'm ready to take it on home.

You do not have to be some great orator to have a voice. No, that is so not what it is all about.

You just have to be you. You have to recognize where you have been, where you come from, you have to analyze your own stance in the world and then, write from there. That's all that's required really.


It is safe. Go ahead and write. Send it out, your voice. I would love to hear it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What I'm Reading This Week

I like to call her my mentor, although I suspect she would hedge slightly at that acclimation; however, I believe I can call her my friend and teacher and not come off as taking something that may not belong to me.

Speaking of Barbara O'Neal, aka Barbara Samuel. Her newest novel, The Secret of Everything, came out last Tuesday and, well, naturally, I dialed up our local Barnes & Noble at 9:01 a.m., on that very day to ask whether they had that title in stock. They did and so, I happily asked to have it reserved for me and I would run by there on my noon hour and pick it up. Had to give it a little hug to my chest, yes, when I finally clutched it in my hand.

Just a little background here. The first Barbara Samuel novel I read happened to be The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue. Not sure exactly when it came out, maybe five years ago; wait, let me check the copyright on my copy - yes, 2005, Ballentine Books. Now, I don't know about you but I do not rely on the New York Times Best Seller list to dictate what I am going to read; however, I do check it every Sunday, just because I suppose it is the literary thing to do. I would like to think I'm literary. Anyway, in buying books, I tend to purchase with instinct. That particular day, the day I purchased The Goddesses, I was wandering around Barnes & Noble, picking up this book ("nah"), picking up that one ("oh, I don't think this is the one"), carrying one around for awhile with every intention of buying it, however hesitant I felt and then, I stopped off at one of the tables in the middle aisle of the store and there was this book; this yellow covered, sort of intriguing book with a photo of four women around a checked tablecloth, elbows, rings, coffee cups, silver spoons, the book just sitting there (for me?) and I ran my finger over the cover and I thought, "yes, this is the one." I do that. It's a process, no matter how weird it may sound. I do it all the time.

Seriously, I never knew, prior to Barb, that the written word could mean something. Oh yes, I'd kept journals and diaries all my life and I've written several simple stories in my day but, before her, I did not realize that the written word could be so powerful and so enormous and so important. Or that anybody would want to read it.

Long story short, The Goddesses, was the book du jour on that particular day and therefore, I put everything else I had been carrying around down and took it home and spent probably one whole weekend devouring it. And I've read it four times since. I have wondered, could I write something like this? Could I do that?

That's what Barb does to me.

And she's done it again with The Secret of Everything. Granted, I'm only eleven chapters in but I am loving every footprint on every page.

I want to know what happens to Tessa Harlow. I want to see where she has been and why it's affected her so deeply, why the memories are so suppressed and what it will take to break them out. How will she handle that knowledge? Once she knows, there is no going back. It worries me. Is Vince the man for her? I like him (oh boy, I really like him!) but, is he The One? And the dog, what about that dog? I love dogs - you know, I did notice that Barb so subtley snuck her own Sasha into that book, very fitting since Sasha is not long for this world, from what I understand and I do understand loving a dog because I love mine. Who is the mysterious man, full of anger, who appears and disappears? Natalie? I like her. I want Natalie to be happy. Sam, lovable, beautiful, secretive Sam. What secret is he hiding? Annie, Rhiannon, on and on and on. Oh wait, there is Vita and her restaurant, 100 Breakfasts. I love restaurants. Not talking about Shoneys or Perkins; no, I'm talking about where real cooking lives, where pots and pans clatter and line cooks shout nonstop and places that reek of home. I love breakfast too so, there you go. This book was to be titled 100 Breakfasts for the longest time but changed late in the editing process, I think. Hope I'm not saying something that is not quite correct.

There are recipes, several of which I'm dying to try out. Carrot pineapple muffins, for one.

Scrumptious reading.

I read an article recently, written by some big deal New York authority, who seemed to turn her nose up at foodie novels and basically stated that it all was a passing trend and one that would be easily forgotten, blah blah blah.

Well, I beg to differ. I don't think the passion for food, for good food, will go away anytime soon. As the world becomes harder, bleaker, more dangerous, I think food will endure as the mainstay, the refuge, if you will, during dark times. It will bring people together, cement families, even make families. I believe that.

I will continue writing about food and I bet Barb will too.

So, go pick up The Secret of Everything and let yourself linger there. You're gonna like it.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lentil and Sausage Soup with Butternut Squash

Success!!! Yay!

I liked this. I really did. Not the best picture, not the one I would have liked to display but, okay, here goes. Oh by the way, don't be afraid of lentils. I know they sound weird but they are really quite delicious.

Brown Lentil and Sausage Soup with Butternut Squash

3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into one-inch cubes
1 bag brown lentils
4 cups water
1 can vegetable broth or stock (I prefer stock)
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 ounce parmesan or romano cheese, shaved
1/4 cup parsley
spicy sausage, such as andouille, or whatever you like

Combine all, except for the parmesan cheese, in a crockpot and leave on low setting for eight hours. To serve, top each bowl with shaved parmesan cheese and be sure to have a loaf of crusty bread and maybe a big salad and a nice pinot grigio to go alongside?

The butternut squash is really fine in this soup. It seems to bring a sweet balance to the rest of the ingredients and since I love butternut squash anyway, any recipe that calls for it is a good deal in my book.

Try it. Tell me if you like it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ah, the Reticent One

Here I sit, staring at my computer screen, with my cup of coffee, on a bitterly cold morning in the Ozarks. The sun is just topping over my roof causing the field across the street to glisten. There is brown lentil and sausage soup in the crock pot (if the recipe is successful I'll share it with you) and I am struggling with the MIP. Well, rather, struggling with one of my characters in the MIP. I want to draw her out, coax her to join the party, but she is reticent. She just doesn't want to talk to me. Yet.

I envision her, leaning back in her big chair, in her tidy, sun-lit office, on some street in a quiet section of Philadelphia and she is tapping the end of her pen on her desk, procrastinating, not ready to face the stack of papers in front of her. Her hair is light blond, her features are patrician, she is neither tall nor short, heavy or thin, but somewhere in between. She is a successful woman, although not a glamorous one. Middle-aged. And she is thinking about how she would like to change her life and whether or not she has the guts to just let go and do it. She is thinking about what it might take and what she might have to give up and what she might have to reveal, if only to herself.

I know some things about her, such as, her father committed suicide when she was a teenager and her mother dealt with that reality with a bottle. I know she drove herself to excel all through college and graduated with honors. Her choice was success. Her drive caused her to remain alone.

She will join the party pretty soon, I am confident of that. Our characters cannot help themselves in the end, after all. They like being the center of attention. In the meantime, I need to go out to the store and pick up some items I forgot last night and while I am at it, I'll be searching faces for that set of eyes that could be hers or taking a second look at a house that could be the house she would live in. That's what writers do. We observe. We take it all in and then we strip the meat off the bone and put it into words.

Maybe when I return home, she will be ready to tell me all about it. I would just about bet she will.