Literary links

Couple of links today.   Writer Unboxed posted the first half of an interview we did a few weeks ago:  A Writer Unboxed

And Westword, a Denver newspaper posted a very fun map.  Click on #47

And for those aspiring writers who are sure there are no new book contracts to be had, here’s a lovely first sale story at Melissa Francis’s blog (aka Mel-O-Drama, which I still think is a great blog title for a writer.) Bravo, Mel!!!

The muddy middle and why to bake a cake

I’ve reached the middle of the book.  The muddy, muddled, mucking-about middle.   I’m not particularly cheerful. (This is the point where I will start making drama in the world to save me from trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with the book.)  What I know, after doing this so many times, is that this is a normal stage, if not a particularly pleasant one.

That flashy, dazzling, Venus flytrap of the beginning is a long way back there now.  And the giddy, shaky pleasure/relief of the end is still way, way ahead.  There is just now, slogging away, trying to believe that it will be a book.

This is hard on writers, and it’s hard to explain to others how it feels to be a creative person in progress. There’s no product, and there won’t be for a long time. 

So, last night, I baked a chocolate torte from scratch.  Five simple ingredients. Many satisfying steps.  Really excellent cake, which I’m trying to ignore.

The small goals of running a little longer each each week, of actually going to my yoga class every Tuesday and not just doing some work at home, also help me get through this stage. The massage therapist asked me if I was shoveling a lot of snow, which made me feel buff.

And artist dates.  Just getting out and breathing air is good.  Hikes feel like an accomplishment, but everything is still very icy, and promises to be worse after this weekend.

And well…a blog is a finished thing, too.   

Now, off to the muddy middle…..

Celebrating the everyday

     At the local mall, there is an import shop I like a lot—I think the owners are Nepali (Nepalini? Nepalese?)—but it is, in any event, a collection of all things India, Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet.   Brightly colored silks, scarves and skirts, embroidered jackets and cloth shoes, carvings and books and wall hangings.  I buy scarves there, and my statues, and books and yoga CDs.   I am not a shopping maven—it exhausts me and scatters me to go into a mall, though I have no idea why—and I like to go into the shop to ground myself at the end of an excursion. I wander in and smell the essential oils and incense and finger silks and hold statues of various things and feel much better.

     On New Year’s Day, Christopher Robin and I went looking for a golden pig to commemorate a good year, and the man in the store wore a plastic top hat with Happy New Years written on it in sparkly letters.  He gave me a small pink bag, probably to commemorate the day though I didn’t ask.  It pleased me immensely and I’ve put it in my purse to hold coins. 

      We didn’t find the pig, but CR found a good knitted sweater with a hood  and I liked him buying something from this place on this day, connecting us to the outside world.  As he paid for it,  I admired the altar on the counter, a dark wood carving of Ganesha, with other smaller gods around his feet, and a pink powder scattered over their heads.  I noticed a rolled up dollar bill stuck into one of his hands. 

There were other things there, too, all with some meaning I don’t know, and I liked seeing it there, a frank admission of belief in a Higher Power.

      As we wandered around the New Year’s Day  mall, I started thinking about altars.  Every nail shop I’ve ever visited for a manicure has an altar in it somewhere.  Some are quite elaborate, waist-high with red houses and bamboo in small glass vases and laughing Buddhas with food at their feet. 

       In Pueblo the locals celebrate St. Joseph’s tables, which are


enormous groaning altars to the feast of St. Joseph.  Yes, that one, the father of Jesus, whose feast day is in March.  It came from Sicily, where Joe did something miraculous that I now forget—saved a town from a flood?–but many of the local churches have adopted the tradition and fill tables to truly groaning with competitive baked goods. 

        Day of the Dead and descansos figure heavily into my current work in progress—and what is a descanso but an altar to a beloved dead one? Descansos, which are everywhere in the southwest,  are a main thematic element in LADY LUCK’S MAP OF VEGAS. Day of the Dead altars are spectacular—for pure color and celebration, they’re hard to beat.  Sugar skulls!  Marigolds, bright orange and so lively!  Pink paper and fragrant foods and pictures of the loved one. 

        In Santa Fe, I once fell in love with an entire world of very old Tibetan altars, antiques with dozens of niches and bright paint and the loving sense of hundreds of hours of prayer imbedded in the wood.  It seems such an object could only bring reverberations of peace into a room.  I would like putting my feathrs and rocks in the niches.  I have often thought of trying to make one, paint one for myself in those bright oranges and yellows.  Surely the painting would be an act of devotion. 

        My books are filled with altars—GODDESSES OF KITCHEN AVENUE is notable because Trudy has them set up around her house, and learning to be herself means taking those secret beliefs from her hidden place into the main house—but they appear in most of my novels at some point or another.

And, not surprisingly, in my real world.  I have them everywhere. In my car is a small plastic Virgin of Guadalupe with a rope of rosary beads looped around her feet, beads I made at a Solstice gathering in a drought a few years ago.  Each decade is a new color. 

        In my office there are two, the main one, beneath a beautiful photograph of tulips, with photos of my children and symbols that represent the work, and friends and my life in various aspects, and one that is specifically for the work, with a cigar box altar I made from all sorts of things, and a statue and an orb I found once in a rock shop, a luminescent egg-shaped stone that shimmers blue and black and fits my palm exactly.  In the dining room is a mosaic table filled with plants and an open bowl my mother gave me and two candles to represent harmony, and a happy, laughing Ganesha. (When we all began to live in different places, my children and I all purchased Ganesha to symbolize our connection to each other).  I like him.  He’s a happy guy, so fat and lush.

         I find myself lighting candles at the altars, touching the head of that one, putting flowers on another. Sit and offer prayers.  Pass by and give up a worry—take care of that, will you?  Stop and kneel and think. Breathe.  One of my favorites is features an eloquently carved weeping Buddha and a happy laughing one are side by side, reminding me that life contains aspects, and both are holy.  (And I realize I don’t have one for running–intriguing challenge!)

         It seems altars are a happy thing, like humming under your breath, a way to recognize the sacred in the every day—in writing, in eating, in exchanging goods and services for coins, in driving, and simply being.   Why not an altar on the stove or on your dashboard, one to honor your creativity and your husband and your life?  Why not? 

Edit: I had to do some cover art stuff for a romantic suspense coming out in July, and man, it’s FULL of altars. I should have called it Miranda’s Altars, though that wouldn’t be very genre appropriate. 

        I love to hear of home altars in particular, and would love to know of those you’d be willing to tell us about.  A grandmother, an aunt, one in a shop you visit, or one that’s strange and you don’t understand, or one you built yourself.  If you have a picture you want to share, please do.

Lady Luck’s debut at Target

Ladyluck Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas is now online at the Target BreakOut Book site.  Impossible to tell you how pleased I am about this.   

This book also won a RITA this summer. As I may have mentioned.

Eldora sashayed into my imagination one night when I was working in a boarding home for schizophrenics and other mentally ill patients.  (One of the hardest and most interesting jobs I’ve ever had.).  She came in, smoking and laughing, and I thought, "I can’t write a story with a 60-something woman in the starring role!"  She winked and said, "I’m not in the starring role, sweetie.  That would be my daughter, India."

Which is true. Kind of.  Check it out.

Excerpt from
by Barbara Samuel
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. 

It’s funny how the moments that change your life sneak up on you. The night I met Jack, saucer-sized feathers of snow were falling out of a heavy pink sky. I walked to the pub, not minding the kink the moisture would give my hair. There’s nothing quite like the soft air of a falling snow. Light from the pub, with a proper Irish name-O’Connell’s-spilled yellow onto the sidewalk through a mullioned window. I could hear the rush of voices inside, and there was an agreeable sense of happiness in my chest. New work. That was what I was thinking about     READ MORE.

Smart Bitches & Lucien’s Fall

Sarah at Smart Bitches posted a great review of one of my historicals, LUCIEN’S FALL, published in 1994.  It’s a good example of why I enjoy reading their blog–they treat romances as real books, and discuss them in that tone:

His efforts to deny his gifts and hide his emotional and musical sensitivity are reflections of his ability to hide or squander any good intentions he might have of behaving with honor. Thus his music and his morals are tied to one another as Lucien faces his own demons and acknowledges that he must change himself and modify his own behavior if he wants to become worthy of Madeline.

I tried to post my appreciation, but can’t read the code word.

What I remember about writing this book was being absolutely insanely in love with this tortured, lost man who really needed to connect with his music.  I listened to Bach over and over, lots of baroque music on a cassette tape that I played on headphones day after day (my office was in the center of the house and I had two boys).   I have a taste of red velvet in my imagination, and the lost city of Pompeii, and a vision of a castle ruin on a green, green hill.   

I really miss writing historicals sometimes.  Do you suppose the darker variety will come back?

Then again, I suppose a person can’t write everything. 

Target Breakout Book!

Excellent news!

Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas has been selected to be a Target Breakout Book! It will show up right after the holidays. I’m really thrilled, and will run a contest for this–the first five people to spot it at their Target store will receive a pair of autographed books (I’ll take requests, but no guarantees). When the day gets closer, I’ll remind you.

Yay for Eldora!

We must all be cooking

As I wandered around this morning looking at the blogs I like to read (I keep meaning to ask if I can link to some of them) I noticed a lot of cooking posts.   Seriously, about five!  I documented my cooking adventure Sunday (well, Christopher Robin documented a lot of it) and I’m embarrassed at how many things there are in my freezer.  Bags and bags and bags of frozen soups and stews and casseroles, divided into neat serving sizes.  I’m either preparing to write 17 hours a day or expecting blizzards any second.  Maybe both.

People do tend to nest and cook at this time, me included.  But my Sunday cooking adventure is really about the MIP.   Food is a huge part of this book and I’m trying out recipes like crazy.  Some of them are taking me way beyond my skill levels, let me tell you! 🙂  Sunday’s adventure was a southwestern version of duck l’orange : Chili-cumin-dusted, pan-roasted duck breast with orange cider chipotle glaze, marinated grilled tomatillos and roasted-chili-spiked green apple chutney, a recipe published in The Dish, from the Colorado Springs Independent .  The recipe had so many steps I couldn’t wait to try it, and I’ve been wanting to cook duck because CR, being English, loves it insanely.  I have eaten it at times, but tend to be a little squeamish. 

The protagonist, however, would not be.  She’d know how to handle duck or mussels (which defeated me entirely once upon a time) or elk or beef bones.  So I have to at least get a feeling for it. What does duck even look like raw? While cooking?  How does it smell? I had no idea. 

CR was more than happy to let me experiment on him (and went around all day more like Winnie the Pooh, humming "we’re having duck for dinner, duck for dinner, duck for dinner" instead of "honey, honey, honey.") so we collected all the ingredients on Saturday afternoon. We found duck breasts at Whole Foods, of course.  Big and luscious and plump, if you’re wondering. Dark meat with thick white skin over them, nearly a pound per breast (and quite dear at more than $16 per pound.) 

Safeway had everything else—and I loved buying the tomatillos ("husked and rinsed in warm water"), Cooking_3 green apples and red onion, and apple cider (reduction) as much as the duck.  Sunday morning, I started with the chutney, so the flavors could stew, letting the sweet/hot scent perfume the house.

What I learned: I loved the chutney.  Sharp and smoky and hot and cidery, I could eat it by the spoonful. The marinated, grilled tomatillos were spectacular, though CR did not care for "those little green tom-ah-to things."

The duck is a dark, hefty, game meat. Rich and very fatty.  It took much longer to cook than we expected, and I felt worried about overcooking it, ruining it, somehow making it the wrong experience.  CR said, "it’s for play, remember?"  and I relaxed and put the breasts back in the oven and let the glaze reduce while I opened the wine, an inexpensive Beaujolais, and ladled roasted red chile peper jam into a tiny bowl to go with the cornbread (which was my additioChipolte_duck_breast_mealn to the menu).  Finally, it was all ready and CR took a picture of the table.  (Those are my sari curtains in the background. :))

And you know, it was amazing.  The musky, deep flavor of the meat, the sharp sweetness of the chutney balanced by bland, buttered cornbread and the light red wine.  The roasted red pepper jam was not only great on the bread, but really, really great on the duck. 

I can’t say I’d order duck on a menu any time soon (though I think I’d like to try this dish at The Margarita Restaurant), but CR tucked away a lot of bird and he’s not always a big eater, so I had a big rush of Me Woman, Feed Man that will probably lead to more experiments.  Maybe something traditional like roast duck with cherries.

After dinner, I went upstairs and wrote five pages, so I suspect my heroine liked it, too.

PS: We made duck pizza with the leftovers:  boboli crust, duck stewed in duck sauce from a jar, hosin sauce as the base, green onions and very light scatters of goat cheese.   VERY good.

Have you ever experimented with a dish that was a little beyond you? Or try and flop?


Saturday, 30th, 7-8:30 pm, I’ll be signing books in the Sears Court at the Mall of America in Minneapolis.  There will be a Q&A and several authors will be there, including the very smart and interesting Jennifer Crusie with writing partner Bob Mayer. 

Eldora charms a reviewer

Lovely email this morning from Laurie at AAR, letting me know that Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas has captured a Desert Island Keeper review, the tenth they’ve given my books (thank you.)  A snippet:

Did you ever read a book that has you telling every person you come in contact with to read it? Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas is that book for me. I feel the need to go to my local bookstore, stand in the "S" section, and subtly point out this title to all who pass by. This 2006 RITA award winner lived up to all my expectations.

Thanks, Lisa.