Monthly Archives: February 2017

A Thousand Different Ways

Because so many have asked, “What’s the book about?” and because I’m woefully lame about getting the words out of my head without assistance from fingers and keyboard, I thought I’d leave it here for those curious to know.

Note: Though I contributed, this pitch was largely generated by Beloved Agent Janna, who is so much better at brevity than I.

***

Alfonse Carducci was a man of words, a literary giant who lived his life to excess. He’s come to The Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly—affectionately dubbed The Pen—to spend the remainder of his days among his most-beloved friends, the publishing industry’s nearly gone but never forgotten greats. Only now, at the end of life, does he comprehend the aftermath of appeasing every desire, and the consequences of forsaking love to pursue greatness. He’s lost more than his health; he’s lost the words that drove him. Until his muse is awakened by a young and beautiful monster hiding more than her face from the world.

Cecibel Bringer knows first-hand the cost of chasing excess. Passion destroyed her face and her sister in a split-second decision Cecibel can never forgive, though she tried to forget. Living quietly as an orderly, refusing to risk again the cost of love, Cecibel never anticipated the impact Alfonse Carducci would have on her existence.

In Cecibel, Alfonse finds a muse who returns to him the passion he thought he’d forfeited forever. As the words flow from him, weaving a tale taken up by the other inmates of the Pen, Cecibel is reawakened to the idea of love and forgiveness. The edges between story and reality blur, creating a world within a world where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole and anything is possible.

***

The story written by the “old greats” takes the form of a novella within the novel. Remember my novella rant? Yeah, this is part of it. While the novella within has chapter headings (strictly speaking, a novella doesn’t) that was a necessary evil for clarity’s sake.

open-book-art-photo

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Up, down, touch the ground

Remember that ditty from Winnie the Pooh? That’s how I felt this morning (though it didn’t put me in the mood for food.) I woke to an email from beloved agent Janna, a screen shot of the Publisher’s Weekly announcement for A Thousand Different Ways. Very, very nice way to be greeted into the day.

And then I got a phone call.

I need to backtrack a little…

While chatting with a friend on Wednesday night, I told her I was actually looking forward to summer this year. Really looking forward to it. It felt strange, because I hate summer. Though last summer was sad, being a whole year missing Chris, and also the first summer of Scott living across the country, there was a peace to it. Melancholy, but comforting. Then there was free float Wednesdays with friends; sitting by the pool or on the porch those balmy nights, playing a dice game with my Frankie D. Of course, there was Stranger Things. Pool days with my grandbabies, too. William and I fought the Demogorgon countless times with water noodles. I was sad to see summer go–another surprise, but not so much so as looking forward to this one. And that’s when I got punched in the face.

I didn’t hate summer. I hated what always happened in the summer. Years and years of it being constant crisis with Chris. We never knew if he was bi-polar, or if it was substance-induced, but whatever it was, Chris cycled, and summer was always when he was at his worst. It was neverending days of fear, anger, and abject desperation on all our parts. Summer would end, he’d pull out of his tailspin, and the cycle continued.

Even that last summer of his chemistry-dreaming when he and a friend were outside to all hours of the night, experimenting. Garbage pail science, I think it’s called. He had started using marijuana (medically advised) in place of the ridiculous amount of anti-anxiety drugs he’d been prescribed. But there was always an edge to Chris, like he was on that precipice, clinging to the scuttling rocks with his toes…and one set of toes didn’t even work. And we were ever on that precipice with him.

Anyway, that’s why I hated summer. And realizing that’s why I hated summer punched me in the face with the fact that I can love it now, because he’s gone.

Yes. That harsh. I just started crying all over again, because it hurts so much to know this. I can’t unknow it. I, who spend my life creating fiction, can’t pretend. I can love summer again, because my chaotic son is dead. If this were an old Batman episode, I’d have a big KABLAM spattering over my head.

That’s where I still was, though mellowed, when I woke this morning to the email from Janna. Everything happening with A Thousand Different Ways is the stuff writers dream of. Day after day brings something new, something exciting. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve been around the block before, but this is a new block. A whole new experience even if it feels familiar. “Roll with the punches,” was one of my mom’s favorite taglines when we were kids. And I always have. Better than most, I’d say.  So I roll with the punches, the good ones and the bad, doing my best keep my balance.

Which brings me back to that phone call–from the parole office, concerning the young man who’s been in prison for selling my son the drugs that killed him. He was sentenced to four years. He’s been in for a bit more than a year and a half. I wrote to him a while back, because…for many reasons. That’s not what this is about. I needed to. We’ll leave that there. His response to me was not what I’d hoped for. He takes no responsibility. He blames others. Despite the evidence I saw with my own eyes, in my son’s cell phone when I cleaned it out, despite the fact that I was THERE that night when he delivered the drugs and called out, “Bye, Mom!” as he left, my son already on his way to oblivion up in his bedroom. I was still willing to forgive him, even hope that he would learn enough from this to become a better person.

That’s not going to happen. I accept that this positive I’d hoped to pull out of so horrendous a negative isn’t going to happen. That comes with its own set of sorrows, but again not what this is about. The parole office wants to know if I want to attend the hearing, if I have a statement to make, or if I’d like to learn the outcome.

For those of you who really know me, you understand how much it costs me to say–I don’t care. I don’t care what happens to this person. I don’t want to know. I want no ill to befall him, but I don’t want ANYTHING at all for him either. If he can’t accept the role he played in my son’s death, his friend, then I haven’t any fucks left to give him.

Up, down, touch the ground.

We will be in Europe during the hearing. I have no statement to make but this–I don’t want to see him. Ever. I don’t want him showing up at my house as if I believed his vows of innocence. Because he would, and he needs to know that he can’t.

Now I go make that phone call. Then I write. Next week, I’m off to Europe with my parents, my brothers and their spouses, and my beloved Frankie D. When I get home, edits for A Thousand Different Ways begin. Up, up, up. In between, there will be downs, but they’re not going to hold me there. No fucking way.

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Hello, it’s been a while

I’m usually much more present in this space. A lot has been happening; a lot more is due to happen soon, and ongoing. The novel currently going by, The Pen was picked up by Rachel Kahan at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins.) I’m ridiculously happy and a little starstruck. I’ve been around the block a few times, but this is a new block with new people, and I imagine a new experience. Time will tell, and then I’ll tell you.

In a couple of weeks, I’m off to Europe with my parents, my brothers and their spouses. And Frankie D, of course. When I get home, edits from my editor will be waiting for me, so that’s actually something to look forward to leaving Rome for. Heroically Lost is nearly finished, first draft. Beloved Agent Janna will be sending feedback on our second round for Entangled soonish, and another new story with another new set of characters is already banging at my brain-doors. As my daughter, Jamie, has said–I poop books. (Not commentary on their quality,  I assure you.) I hope that’s always so.

And today is Christofer’s birthday.

Thunk, right in the middle of all the excitement, there it is. Of course, it’s no surprise. It didn’t sneak up on me. As it usually happens, there was a week of threatened rumbling on my horizon, but nothing to fear. Just a storm. Another storm. It would pass.

The anticipatory tension was worse than the event, to be honest. I’ve been okay. Not without tears, but okay. He was born today. Eleven hours of labor. The only time I gave birth without surgical intervention. And then I got to keep him for twenty-five years. A loaner. Part of me always knew he would be. I’d been telling myself from day one, with Chris, once he was gone, he was going to be gone. I never thought it would be quite so literal, but, there you have it.

Today marks one of the happiest days of my life; the day my second son was born. He was the linking piece in two families blended into one. He was loved. So loved. He still is. How, then, can I lament this day in any way?

I can’t say happy birthday. It just doesn’t feel right. Instead, I’ll offer him a smile instead of tears, and tell him his Turtle loves him so much.

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Johanna’s Hot Cocoa

This is for ONE cup of cocoa, which is never enough. Double, triple, quadruple as you see fit.

Melt 1 tsp butter in a saucepan. Add to it 5 ounces of good milk chocolate (you can use any chocolate, but the darker the chocolate, the more you might need to add some sugar.) Stir until melted and creamy.

Stir in a splash of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg–all, none, or some. Personally, I love a little sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla.

The milk to cream ratio is 2:1, so 1/2 cup milk to 1/4 cup cream.

Stir constantly or the chocolate settles and sticks to the bottom. Once it’s warmed through, pour into mugs. Top with whipped cream, maybe marshmallows or crushed peppermint sticks.

Enjoy! Before hot cocoa weather is behind us.

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Almond Joyful Cake

Almond Cake

  • 1 1cups granulated sugar
  • 3cup almond paste (not marzipan)
  • 10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 14teaspoon salt

(Double the recipe if you want a two-tier cake)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour.
  3. Beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up. A mixer works best–easier on the arms. 🙂
  4. Add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
  5. In a separate bowl, stir together the eggs with a fork; slowly add it to the batter as you beat.
  6. Add the vanilla.
  7. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  8. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until incorporated–no more.
  9. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Cool completely before icing.

Chocolate buttercream icing

Simplest thing in the world. A one pound box of confectioners sugar, a stick of SALTED* butter at room temperature, at least a half cup of powdered baking (DARK**) cocoa, (more, depending upon how chocolaty you want it) and 1-2 tablespoons of milk.

Cream the butter, add the sugar and cocoa a little at a time (so it doesn’t puff up in your face) and the milk a few splashes at a time. You want it stiff enough to hold a peak, not so stiff that it tears your cake apart when you ice it.

I usually double the recipe, because I like lots of icing.

After the cake is iced, while the icing is still tacky, sprinkle the whole thing with coconut flakes.

Enjoy!

*If you don’t use salted butter, add about a quarter tsp when you cream the butter.

**You can can use regular baking cocoa, but it is a very sweet cake, and the dark offsets the sweet a little better, to my palate.

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Roasted Garlic Paste

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Before you say, “I can get that in the grocery store.” No. No you can’t. Not this. I tell you now, it’s worth the little bit of effort to have on hand, because, as we all know, garlic makes everything better.

Roasted garlic has a much more mellow flavor. The caramelization is key. The natural sugars get pulled out, browned and gorgeous. The flavor, while more mild, is concentrated. Though the kind of roasted garlic–jarred or in a tube–found in the grocery store has that golden brown look, the stuff used to preserve it kills that subtle flavor and ruins the texture. Sometimes, believe it or not, that coloring is artificially added.

Roasted garlic adds an amazing finish to mashed potatoes, mushrooms, sauces of all kinds, in dips. A little goes a very long way, and you’d never want to use this in something that has to cook a long time. Roasted garlic will lose most of what makes it so yummy if cooked over a(nother) prolonged period of time.

Added bonus of roasted garlic! It’s less apt to cause heartburn in those sensitive to it.

The above picture is about a pint, and represents a dozen whole heads of garlic. Doesn’t seem like much, I know, but this will last me at least three months.

Very simple to make:

12 heads of garlic. Whole, with papery skin left on, though you should take off the stuff that’s flaking.

place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper*, points up (like you’d plant any bulb) and drizzle with a little olive oil.

put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour; then take it out and let it cool.

The bulbs will be very squishy. *This is why the parchment paper is very important! Some of the sugars from the garlic will be crackled and brown like caramel under the bulbs. You want that stuff! Save it to add to the paste.

Now, the tricky part; extracting the paste. There are all kinds of ways to extract the now-roasted garlic. The easiest way I’ve found is to separate all the cloves and line them up on another sheet of parchment paper, all facing the same way. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and then roll (one way only!) the paste out with a rolling pin. It gets a little sticky, but it’s easy to scrape all the yummy paste off the parchment paper.

Once the paste is in a container, add the caramelized bits, a little salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil, stir it all up and store it in the fridge. Though the natural preservative qualities of garlic, olive oil and salt make it unnecessary, garlic is plant matter and will break down. Storing it in the fridge keeps the flavor, longer.

Never freeze it!

Want an amazing, wintry soup? Saute a small onion and a handful of sliced mushrooms in a little butter. Add 3-4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable,) a heaping tablespoon of the roasted garlic (more or less to your taste.) Bring it to a simmer–never a boil! Take it off the heat, stir in about 1/2 cup of cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Divine.

 

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