Digging through the basket of scene and detail

I am not a natural synopsis writer.  That’s just not how my process works–laying out the bones and then working from there to add muscle and flesh and clothing.    It always seems to me that the girls in the basement collect a basket of intriguing bits and pieces and leave it to me to sort out.  What is this telescope doing in here?  And what about this article on dahlias?  And what are all these pine needles for?

The Ways of Publishing, however, require me to write a synopsis.  I am capable, of course.  One doesn’t write more than 30 books of commercial fiction without figuring out how to write a synopsis.   I just don’t particularly like it and it made me grumpy yesterday.   There are way too many pages, too many loose ends, and I’m not sure what goes where yet—

And then I remembered that my agent and editor know me.  Some writers put together a fantastically beautiful and polished snapshot of the book they’re going to write.  I hand over a very rough sketch, with blurry faces in the corners and some swirling action and a few strong, bold lines.  The book is the thing.

Back to the mines…..

A Moveable Feast, part 2


I carried A Moveable Feast with me on the long flight to Philly this weekend.  To be quite  honest, I carried it more out of a sense of duty, that I should get it read for another project that has been brewing rather than any sense of passionate desire to read it.   Not even the fact that I loved the first two chapters gave me any more enthusiasm.   My rule for planes is no reading as work, only for pleasure, but I didn’t find anything I wanted to read just for pleasure, either, so A Moveable Feast it was.

Now, for the record, I have never been a Hemingway hater as a good many women writers seem to be.  As a very young writer, in fact, I found him inspiring–his adventurous life, his drive to write good work, his vividness.  Then I found women writers who inspired me more and moved on.

So I carried the book on the plane and I had nothing else to read. I took it out with a sense of being virtuous and smart, and started to read.  And–tumbled into it as everyone who recommended it knew I would.   Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful work!   The spare prose, the dry wit, the droll asides, the tenderness with which he views a world that is fleeting, transient, precious.  There is, in the wise man writing the story of his young self learning to write, a kindness in his regrets that pierced me:  "We both touched wood on the cafe table and the waiter came to see what it was we wanted.  But what we wanted not he, nor anyone else, nor knocking on wood or marble, as this cafe table-top was, could ever bring us. But we did not know it that night and we were very happy." 

More on this in upcoming blogs. For today, that richness is enough.

Into the great wide open….


Elena has packed her bags and headed out into the world.  I’m left here in my office, packing up the mess she left behind.  Weird that all those months and months of scribbling and mapping and brainstorming should result in this box of drafts (four, more or less) and files and notebooks, large and small. 


I noticed that I need a new journal, too.  This one is getting a little overstuffed.  Lately, my little notebooks have been moleskines, so I tried some larger ones for journals.  Found myself strangely resistant until I cut out a great photo of a woman in a kayak.

There’s my big brain post.   The brain, she’s gone.  Also, the knee, which I somehow twisted.  More on that later.

Now the terror sets in

Now the terror sets in.  Rewriting.  Time to move from artist mind to critical mind.
It always stuns me slightly, to reach the end, as if each book is a somehow eternal project.   Here I am, the journey nearly done.  There is the collage (which I still love as a creation unto itself) and all the Clairefontaine notebooks with my scrawling handwriting and the files ripped out magazine pages with recipes and tidbits and photos of things that somehow spoke to the vision of the book. 
There are the stacks of books (eleven of which are overdue at the library right now) including Danse Macabre, Stephen King’s masterpiece on the appeal of horror; Best Food Writing, 2003; Spice, the history of a temptation by Jack Turner; The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin.  There are dozens and dozens of websites bookmarked on my favorites list, including an entire category of food blogs.   I have Story out on my desk, bristling with colored tags, and The Artist’s Way to give me courage.  There are poster size post-its struck to my door and walls.
And there is that stack of pages that have to make sense and have flow and magic and verve.  Pages that must be true to themselves and their own story, no matter what I thought I was doing before I started and as I wrote. 
Now my job is to be merciless and egoless.  I must serve the work, which is so much harder than I ever think it will be.  Each one is different.  Each serves a different purpose, and I am only a conduit.  I often imagine that the books exist on the other side of a very high wall, and my job is to draw it over that wall a fiber at a time and reweave the whole in this reality.  How well I do it depends entirely on how willing I am to serve the work, how clear I am in doing that.
Much work to do.  I started today.  That’s a lot.

mile marker 459

This morning at 9:30, I finally made it to the end of the draft. It is a whole book.   459 pages this moment, though that will change a bit.  Because of the way I write, polishing and easing and rewriting (a lot) as I go, what remains is aligning and putting in chapter breaks and filling in all the TKs (To Kome): this one needs a couple more recipes.  It’s SUCH a food laden novel!  I’m going to miss that part. 

Or maybe I’ll just write another foodie sort of novel. 

Still. Not. Done

I keep thinking I must be almost done with this book, but like some funhouse tunnel, it suddenly stretches out again.   

Eating weird things.  Yesterday, sesame crackers were the food of choice.  And sprouted brown rice bowls because they’re easy and fast and nutritious.  It is so important to eat nutritiously on this kind of end of book marathon, and it’s hard.  Last night, I made the superfast spinach tortellini soup I love so much. Ten minutes and sticks to your ribs very nicely. 

Tonight, duck tamales, leftover from my cooking spree a week ago.  The cherry mojo wasn’t preservable, so I’m going to try some roasted red pepper jam, which I bought at the farmer’s market in Pueblo.  Should be great, actualy.

The day I bought the jam, along with some Rio Grande Wild honey (a favorite of Pancho Villa) which the woman collected from wild flowers at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.  It’s as dark as molasses and very rich.  Mostly, I loved buying those artisanal jars of elegant jams and honeys from a character who could subtitle honey like that. 

Which is a great reason to frequent farmers markets.  Characters. Good honey.  Stories.

Dragon Lovers Anthology


"Fur, feathers, farts and scales! What a marvelous presentation of romantical
dragons, showing off for the ladies of their choice, happenstance or
traditional. A very good collection for all hungry draconphiles, aka
dragonlovers. Well written, stylish and above all inventive, Dragon Lovers is
sure to please readers of all ages."

-Anne McCaffrey

A new anthology for fans of the fantasy novellas will be out March 1.  Because Jo Beverley, in her phlegmatic English way, is so good about getting the word out, we have a great website for it (designed by Karen Harbaugh), and there will be a beautiful silk and silver dragon necklace given away on February 20, so hurry over to find out details. 

For those of you new to this angle of my work, there’s actually quite a bit of it, starting with Irish Magic I & II, then Faery Magic, with the gang, and now our dragons.  This is all for good fun and high romance, so enjoy!  (And isn’t that a fab cover???)

Dragon Lovers
ISBN 0451220390
March 2007

Definitions of romance and women’s fiction

The second part of the interview at WRITER UNBOXED is up, if you’re interested.  I’m excerpting this paragraph not because I am so brilliant but because I’d like to talk more about the definition of romance.

Q: Do you have an opinion regarding the definition of romance?

BS: I wish it could be broader, honestly. Romance is about two people falling in love. I’m not always happy with the stringent way that seem to sometimes be defined as something like, “two relatively young, usually white, genuinely good people who are attractive and intelligent finding middle class comfortable love.”

There’s nothing wrong with those stories, of course. I love them, too. But I believe in romance, man! I believe in messy, upsetting, wild love that erases all boundaries. I want to read about love really conquering everything. I want survivors who get love the second time around and multiracial and blue collar and everything else.

When my son was home at Christmas, I said something about the differences between women’s fiction and romance novels (both of which I’m proud to claim) and he said, "I always thought ‘women’s fiction’ was just a euphemism for romance novels.’" 

I’m not sure when the term "women’s fiction" started being slapped on so many novels.  I’m not crazy about it, honestly.  It seems faintly disdainful and so specific.   There probably are a lot of people who think they would not like a "women’s fiction" novel, when in fact, they’d like a lot of them very much.  (I think that’s true of romances, as well, but I’ve stopped trying to convert anyone.)

But no, women’s fiction and romance are not the same thing. Romances are part of the women’s fiction realm, which is simply "stories about women’s lives."   A romance is about a woman falling in love with one particular man and finding unity with him. 

(This, of course, excluding the man/man subset of erotica which…okay, that’s just getting too complicated for the discussion here. Someone else can tackle it.)

Women’s fiction might have some romance in it, and some love, and some mating and some sex, but it usually focuses more on the navigation of a particular challenge in a woman’s life–a transition, perhaps, a challenge with family or making peace with herself or others, or getting through a divorce or a career change or a death.  Women’s fiction is free to focus on the mother-child bond, the friendship bond, the challenges of careers or illness or whatever. 

All these labels.  There has been some pressure on me from both sides to let go of my romance roots and keep quiet about it (some mainstream reviewers find the stench of romance unbearable, even if most of them have never read any and do not understand the genre).  The romance community sometimes views my women’s fiction titles as something of a betrayal (as when Trudy, in THE GODDESSES OF KITCHEN AVENUE, has a passionate affair with her neighbor).   

Just for the record, I’m resisting pressure from both sides.  An artist can work in more than one form.  I like both romance and women’s fiction.  I’ll continue to use Barbara Samuel mainly for the mainstream work, and Ruth Wind for romance, so readers who want to avoid one or the other are able to do so.

But if you’re on one side of the line, you might give the other a try.

What say you? What do you think of these definitions and labels? Do you read more in one area or the other? 

Cooking up a book

A snowy Saturday.  (Surprise! That’s five in a row if anyone is counting.) The installers came to put in the new window. I cooked.  BecauGalette_2se, well, that seems to be what I do these days.  I cook to write and write and cook and then write some more. 

First, a velvety chicken stock from a leftover rotisserie carcass. Wings, skin, half an onion, 3 sliced garlic cloves. Boil till velvety.  I had no celery, so used celery salt, which worked just fine.  I did have some fresh whole mixed peppercorns, red and white and black, and they’re great in everything. 

(Scribbling, as I cooked, on a yellow notepad for MIP. Wiping hands on chile pepper apron bought in Santa Fe for Valentine’s Day last year. Splashes of stock smear the ink a little, but I can still read it.)

Next up, the creme anglais or custard for the apple galette that was meant to be my main event. CR will eat custard by itself, and his mother sends packets of dry custard that’s really not bad, but I wanted to give it a try from scratch.  Confession: I’d never used real vanilla bean before, and it was so interesting!  What a delight to discover those teeny specks in vanilla flavored things are seeds!  I loved the smell of it, and the stickiness.   And I’ve never met an egg I didn’t want to separate, so that was fun too.   When I finished it, stirring as instructed, over a pot of ice water, I carried a spoonful up to CR and his eyes widened satisfyingly. "That’s good!"

Since the guys were not finished, I decided to make the pastry for the galette, too. Here is another confession: I love cutting butter into flour with a pastry cutter.  It’s such a satisfying job.  I love adding ice water, too, and using my granite rolling pin, which stays so cold.  (A friend of mine gave me the rolling pin when I was divorcing.  It was a joke, but it’s fantastic, one of my favorite things.  If I had to leave my kitchen with five things, it would be in the box.)  This dough recipe uses apple cider vinegar, and I loved the way it smelled. 

The window was finished (oh, happy day–it’s beautiful) and I went upstairs to write.  Last night, I made some new charts and noticed some things I hadn’t realized about the main idea.  I made a work list of things that need doing, which things must be rewritten now and which can wait until the end of the rough draft.  A scene suddenly appeared ripe–as if the Girls sent up a whole script–so I wrote it, and it didn’t even have anything to do with food.  A motivation appeared, rooted in something much darker than I knew. 

I ended up with eight solid pages in about an hour and a half, plus one of the tough scenes rewritten. 

Then I ran and went back to cooking.  The chicken/corn chowder simmering while I sliced apples and thought of a book I’m reading: Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings, by Edward Espe Brown.  Cooking as an exercise in mindfulness: when you wash the rice, wash the rice.  I sliced the apples and measured flour and stirred the soup and tasted a pinch of dough, a misshappen piece of apple, admired the falls of peel from the scraper.  I tried to get the peels off in a single curl, but didn’t succeed .

We ate the chowder.  I strongly considered starting with the pie, it was so beautiful. We resisted, but not for long.  We ate it warm.


That crust, glistening with sugar, was flaky and perfect.   The surprise dazzle of oranges in the apples instead of lemon made the flavors explode in our mouths.  We ate tiny bites, admiring. Stopping. Looking. Tasting again.  Those apples. That crust. The custard with its teeny seeds of vanilla (a wee bit too much, methinks, cut it back a little next time).  Outside, the wind battered the trees again, and snow is falling again, but here inside, we had hot soup and warm pie and cold custard, made from scratch, and really a person could not ask for much more.

Buy this cookbook: DESSERTS THAT HAVE KILLED BETTER MEN THAN ME by Jeremy Jackson.  I cooked and wrote like a madwoman over the chocolate torte last week, too.