Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gene Pool Tour 4

L.G.C. Smith

This week I’m ignoring our designated topic to write about the journey I’m embarking on Wednesday. I’m going to England, mostly, though dipping a toe into Wales and an elbow into The Borders of Scotland.

The best part is that I’m going for seven weeks.

You read that right. Seven weeks. Excess is my middle name.

In November of 2002 my parents, my sister, Sarah, and I took the first of what we call our Gene Pool Tours of Britain. We have a lot of English, Cornish and Scottish ancestry, so we decided it would be fun to see where umpteen generations of our forebears had lived. We started by visiting the parishes that bear our surname in England and Crowan Parish in Cornwall where some of my mother’s family came from.

The following autumn, my mother and I went back to Cornwall and tracked down her ancestors in churchyards between Hayle and Penzance. The photos here are from that trip. That’s a picture of my mother at Tintern Abbey.

Three years ago, my parents and I went again, this time to the Southeast and Cumbria. We visited places our ancestors had lived, almost all of which have silly names like Bletchingley and Dorking. I find myself maybe not quite proud, but sort of impressed that both my parents have ancestors who lived in Dorking. This, I suppose, makes me a double dork. But perhaps everyone already knew that.

Gene Pool Tour #4 will be a family trip, too. My parents and my sister and her daughter are coming, as well as one of my cousins, the brilliant and talented writer and artist, Natalie Sudman. We’ll have a week in the Midlands (don’t ask – it has to do with my dad and his time share points), a week in Yorkshire, and a week in Northumberland checking out the homelands of the seventh-century Bernician dyna

sty that inspired my Warlord Kings series.

Mom, Dad, Sarah and the Leezlet (that’s my niece) leave the tour at the end of September. At that point, Natalie and I will rendezvous with a trio of ultra-stupendously brilliant and talented writers, Alicia Rasley, Judith Stanton, and Lynn Kerstan for a week in a small village in County Durham. After that, Natalie and I will wend our way southwestward toward Cornwall, conducting a loosely structured Stone Circle and Used Bookstores Detour. Then comes a week in Cornwall within spitting distance of the houses our great-great grandfather and his cousins lived in a hundred and fifty years ago.

Despite all the coming and going and toing and froing, a journey like this is, above all else, a pilgrimage. I’ve been dreaming of this trip since I came home from the last one with new questions and ideas. I’ve studied: history, Old English, Welsh, church history, archaeology. I’ve poured over maps. I’ve formulated hypotheses about everything from who Æthelfrith of Bernicia’s mother might have been to why having loose ligaments might be of benefit to hard rock miners.

It’s almost time for the magic of walking new paths and meeting new people, time to listen to the voices my preparation has invited. Some may be the whispers of those long dead. Most will come from the wild array

of accents and opinions of 21st century Brits. For the next two months, I’ll be sharing what I hear.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Something To Ponder On a Friday

Hey all - it's me, Sophie, checking in with an apology and a little tidbit for you to ponder.

Today's guest couldn't be here. Because I, um, forgot to tell her it was her day. My fault completely.

So instead, I am bringing you a favorite of mine, and while he may not be aware that he is our guest, Daniel Woodrell is here with what has got to be the best analogy for publishing in the world:

From Daniel Woodrell’s GIVE US A KISS: “Here and there chunks of land have been cleared by that type of person who has no quit in them at all. Clearing a farm in this terrain often takes generations of bickering and blood blisters to get it done, and these hillbillies stuck with it. As a reward for their diligence, they got to give a go at squeezing a living from chickens and hogs and stony fields of red, feckless dirt.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fast Forward...or How Alex Skarsgard Has Turned Me Into A Squeeing 13 Year Old Girl.

--Adrienne Miller

I like to think I’m a responsible adult. I hold down a steady job. The kids get to school on time. I can even cook a little.

But every once in a while something comes along that proves that I am nothing more than the quivering pile of girl hormones that I was back in freshman year of high school.

Exhibit A: Alexander Skarsgard.

Sure, I like True Blood. I was glued to the whole first season. And yeah, I thought Eric Northman was attractive. Cold but attractive. A little cliched with his flowing blond hair and that big vampire throne. A little ‘really, isn’t it going overboard putting pale makeup on a Scandinavian?’

But this season? Wow. Um. Wow.

I wish I could say what the difference is. More tight t-shirts and less red velvet backdrops? More charming smiles and less tented fingers? I don’t know, people. I just don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s working.

Now I dutifully TiVo every episode and watch it from start to finish. And then I go back to the beginning and fast forward so I can watch the Eric scenes again. And again. And again.

Bad day? I know a scene that can lift your spirits. should probably send the kids out to play first.

Need a little pick me up? Gotcha covered. Just hearing him whisper, “Trust me,” to ought fix you right up.

I don’t want to pull anyone else into this, but lets just say that this 10th grade level insanity isn’t just me. Oh no. From what I hear, this new found obsession is bordering on a cultural phenomenon.

Of course, there are only a couple of episodes left this season. So maybe in September I’ll be able to get back to my real life, or at least free up some memory on my TiVo.

Then again, maybe not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Julie deleted many a scene between books 2 and 3 of the Art Lover's Mystery series...

(To the right: me, fellow Pensfatales Sophie Littlefield, and Ann Parker on tour in Arizona. Thanks to Lesa Holstine for the photo!)

Readers of the Art Lover's mystery series (written under my pseudonym, Hailey Lind) may have noticed that Josh-the-boyfriend was pushed back to a rather ignominious position as a "guy on the phone" before being shoved out of the books for good, all off-stage. I've heard from plenty of readers who wondered what happened to him...and while rummaging through the file of my many, many "deleted scenes", I came across this one.

Originally, the third book was going to entail a trip to Annie's home town in the Central Valley. The following scene opened the book:

“I wish I could go with you, Annie,” Josh murmured in my ear.

“I wish you could, too,” I lied. In marked contrast to most of the men in my life, the one who held me in his brawny arms was reliable, sweet, and refreshingly uncomplicated. I really didn’t deserve him. Josh Reynolds, contractor extraordinaire to the San Francisco Bay Area’s rich and upwardly mobile, had no flaws at all.

The one and only problem with Josh was that he was so...reliable. Sweet. And uncomplicated.

Josh and I had been dating ever since he had swooped in and saved me from celibacy last fall. He was like my very own white knight in denim, little gold earring, and tie-dye T-shirt. For a simple, straightforward kind of guy, Josh was remarkably tolerant of my somewhat checkered past. Which was a good thing because my normally quiet life as a legitimate faux-finisher was occasionally punctuated by high-drama incidents, like when I was busted for drug smuggling last fall.

But lately I was beginning to feel like I represented Josh’s Walk on the Wild Side. Even more sobering, I was wondering whether Josh might not be my very own Walk on the Mild Side.

“I have to stay and keep on top of the construction, otherwise we’ll fall behind schedule, and I’m not getting paid for falling behind,” Josh explained while he cleared the table of the remnants of the 3-course vegetarian feast he had lovingly cooked for me earlier in the evening.

That was another thing about dating Josh: normally I wasn’t a huge carnivore, but now that I was dating a vegetarian I had begun craving meat. The other night after Josh had wooed me over a sumptuous dinner of chickpea-tofu stew I found myself making a beeline toward Oakland’s famous Everett and Jones’ barbecue for an extra-large order of spicy baby-back ribs. Halfway through my surreptitious feast I looked down at the caveman-sized platter, my own sauce-covered hands, and my growing belly and wondered how I had gotten so out of control. Seemed like it was time –past time-- for me and Josh to have a little Talk.

But until I worked up the nerve it was easier just to leave town.

The series took off in an entirely different direction, but I always felt like we gave good old Josh the short end of the stick. Ah, well. The funny part is that I kept this scene, as though it could ever be used elsewhere.

Writers are nothing if not stubborn optimists.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rachael Deletes A Lot of Scenes


Oh, hi.

Hahaha. Ha.

Excuse me. It's just that this topic is so flipping funny. I can't take it. It's like a joke. Except the punchline... Oh, it's killing me. Just killing me. Stop already, okay?

Deleted scenes.

Okay. Here's the set up for the joke. I have a book due in seven days (that sounds longer than a week, right? Right!). I'm almost done! I'm figuring it will be right at about 90,000 words, which feels good. Feels right.

When I sold this book (in paragraph form, as part of a package deal), it had a bit of underlying suspense. You know, not heavy romantic suspense, but there was a Bad Guy in it, so I wrote the book with a Baddie. Killed him off at the end with lots of gunfire and ka-blammo action. Good stuff.

But I didn't like it or him and it didn't feel natural and it was, worst of all, OBVIOUS.

So back to the drawing board.

I came up with another Bad Guy, only I made him a her, and changed the whole book around. Major rewrite. Maybe it was a bit better, but it still wasn't working. You know why? The book wasn't meant to have a Bad Guy. It was meant to have some knitting and lots of romantic tension, but it wasn't meant to have guns and pipe bombs, damn it.

And thank GOD my agent and I figured that out in time and that my editor, god bless her socks, agreed.

So now, after the biggest edit of my life, DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY WORDS ARE IN MY "CUT FILE?" You know, that file that Sophie talked about yesterday, that file that we create where we dump all those scenes that we're too sentimental about to simply throw out (in case we need them again--as if we EVER would)?

There are 60,000 words in my CUT file. (That's roughly 240 pages or so.)

60,000 words comprising scenes that used to be in my manuscript that aren't any more. Do you know how much I loved some of those? I lost a scene where her brakes lines have been cut and she carooms down a hill and crashes into the front of her brother's bar. I lost the scene where she SHOOTS HIM IN THE LEG because he scares her by coming into her bedroom in the middle of the night (I loved that scene).

Deleted scenes. Oy. Yeah, I know about 'em. I know ALL about 'em.

Ha! Ha.
Now excuse me while I go gibber in my corner over there.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Save For Later - the Second-Biggest Lie

By Sophie

The biggest lie told by many grown-up ladies is not, in fact, "oh my gracious, that's the most astonishing man-tool I've ever encountered." That's just a little warm-up lie we use for practice before we get around to the hard work of bearing children. At that point we have to roll out the serious artillery, because - as every mother knows - lying to your kids is an art that takes practice and dedication and finesse.

Here's the thing. Kids want things. They want stuff from the moment they get out of bed in the morning ("where are my ankle-zipper jeans - doesn't anyone ever do laundry around here?") until they lay their precious heads on the pillow at night ("I'm already mostly asleep - can't you bring me a glass of water so I don't have to wake back up?")

Most times, a heartfelt "hell no" will do the trick. But sometimes their pleas merit a bit more robust response, like when they actually have a point, when what they are asking for is within the realm of reasonable.

Often, however, it just ain't convenenient.

Which necessitates The Mother's Lie: I'll talk to your father about that.

...And get back to you, is the implication there. As though when Bob walks in the door at the end of the day I'll be like, "Honey, Junior wants me to join the Academic Boosters like all the moms who care about their children's educations. What do you think, yea or nay?" - or "We're out of milk and toilet paper - do you suppose one of us should run to the store?"

....when I know darn well that I won't do anything of the sort. Yup, I'll talk to your father about that is the circular file of parental responses.

Which reminds me of the 2nd-most-oft-uttered lie around here, which is called into service any time I have to cut big chunks of text:

I'll use this section later.

Now I have to pause here to say that I feel kind of bad for Juliet, because what follows is cribbed directly from discussions we've been having on the road (we're in between cities on our book tour - Sunday was Phoenix, Thursday is L.A. etc.) Once I'm done here she won't have a darn thing to say, because we're in complete agreement on the subject.

(Though that's the perk to being the Monday girl: everything's fresh snow. I get to make tracks in any direction I want and there's nothing any of the other Pens can do about it. Which makes me feel gleeful...kinda makes me want to yell "Die Hard, Die Hard, Die Hard!" facing due West toward the outer limits of the city where a certain Pen can only jump up and down in impotent fury...ah, love that!)

What were we talking about...oh, yeah. So writers write merrily along, building and shaping the story as they go, and eventually the day comes when they put that last period in place and go on a celebratory bender only to come back in the cold dawn and realize that it's revision time. Which means fixing what's broke and, when things are too broke to fix - or, more often, too irrelevant to fix - yanking sections out.

And that hurts. It hurts and burns and makes us feel all empty inside, because, see, it's always the sections you loved the best that have to go. Even if it was boring prose before, the minute you have to yank it out, it all turns brilliant. It's like when the quiet boy in your math class falls hard for you in seventh grade and you spurn him for several months until the day he realizes he actually loves some other girl and suddenly he's the cutest boy in the school and you will die without him. Yes, it's just like that.

Sometimes, cutting out that section makes the words and sentences left behind seem lifeless and dull, and you begin to panic because you've just removed the only bits that ever elevated your story in the first place. But wait, it's okay, because you've got this Word file you've started. If you're me, it's called Save For Later or some equally helpful thing. Just knowing it's there, tucked side by side with the manuscript on your hard drive, lets you resume breathing and revise another day.

But do you ever come back to the file?

No. Never. NE-VER. Not in a million years. Not if you were told to increase your word count from 80,000 to 800,000,000 - even then, you would never return to that sad little file. I don't really know why it is - and maybe the other Pens can figure it out - but those words are tainted now, and their file home is really a quarantine, or more accurately a tomb. Like the haunted house of childhood nightmares, words go marching in, but they never come out again.

I just re-read and realized that today's post might be one of the most extravagantly, irresponsibly directionless things I've written in ages. I apologize...see, my book just came out and its launch turned out to be a little more demanding than I expected. I'm playing the Newbie Card and hoping for forgiveness...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not Quite a Foodie

By Jennifer Haymore

(Today we welcome PensFatales friend Jennifer Haymore, author of A Hint of Wicked as well as Highland Obsession, written as Dawn Halliday. Jennifer's giving away a copy of A Hint of Wicked - be sure to post a comment for a chance to win!)

As much as I dream about being a food connoisseur, I am not a foodie. I have friends who grind their own wheat. I have other friends who can whip up a gourmet kid-friendly meal sans cookbook for their own family and ten guests without batting an eyelash. Some of my friends can taste the subtlest difference in a flavor of wine (and I know so little about wine, I cannot even say what kind of wine they can spot the differences in…).
Yes, I’m jealous. I wish I was at one with the universe of truly good food and drink. But frankly, give me a piece of bread and a slab of cheese, and I’m good. Add some avocado, and I’m in gourmet heaven.
Perhaps I should blame my parents. Not only were they vegetarians, but when I was growing up, my mom believed popcorn with a dash of Brewer’s yeast made a good dinner. Oh, she had her moments. We baked a few cakes in my forming years, and when she was feeling really ambitious, we’d make a loaf of bread. And we made cookies often. Still do, in fact. Sugar cookies with frosting. My kids have grown to equate their grandma to that kind of cookie. Result: I can bake a damn good cookie, but an actual meal? Uh…
I’ve sort of given up on my desire to be a gourmet. For now, I’m sticking with the labels “mom” and “writer.” Frankly, the last time I tried to cook something spectacular (a Moroccan lemon chicken dish with quinoa), it took an hour or two, and the result: I loved it, my husband thought it was okay, my kids thought it was spectacularly gross. So for now, while I try to meet my writing deadlines, I am keeping my focus on simple but healthy, easy meals that won’t result in whining children. Lots of fruit. As many veggies as I can get away with. And straightforward, easy-to-cook main dishes that everyone will eat.
But I’m always looking for new options. Our limited meal list does get old after a while, you know? What are some of your simple favorites?
Jennifer Haymore grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she surfed, learned how to fly airplanes, raced bicycles, and developed a love for sailing. She was an avid reader and completely destroyed her eyesight by sneaking a flashlight under her covers and reading far into the nights — making her mother wonder why on earth she couldn’t get up for school in the mornings…
You can find Jennifer in Southern California trying to talk her husband into yet another trip to England, helping her three children with homework while brainstorming a new five-minute dinner menu, or crouched in a corner of the local bookstore writing her next novel.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Food for Writing

By Gigi

I love the atmosphere of libraries for writing. The problem? No food allowed.

I'm no good at being productive without sustenance. I'm not the type of person who can throw myself into something so deeply that I forget to eat. I need food. Or, at the very least, coffee.

(Coffee counts as food, right? And if not exactly as food, then at least as "fuel," like my NaNoWriMo mug says.)

So instead of the library, I usually end up at a cafe. I love to shake things up, so I'm always trying out new places, but I do have my favorites.

Coffee to the People in San Francisco (at right, where the quiche and bagels with chunky peanut butter have gotten me through many a writing session)

Espresso Roma in Berkeley (where a "single" latte is as strong as rocket fuel)

Solstice Cafe in Seattle (below, which I frequented during grad school and got me through my thesis, but honestly I can't remember the food or coffee, just the mellow atmosphere and the amazing tree-ring tables)

Sadly, the Canvas Cafe and Gallery in San Francisco went out of business last year. When I moved to San Francisco, that was one of my favorite places to eat and write.

I'm currently in the process of moving to a house where I'm going to have my very own room for writing, etc. It's next to the kitchen, so perhaps I'll start to make my own food and coffee. But when I hear the laundry calling...? I think I'll go in search of a new cafe.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Martha Loves Food

I eat out. A lot. Because I love food. A lot. But why believe me when I can show you proof of my prior month's conquests!

As others have posted, Blogger is feeling temperamental about pictures. If you view this page in Firefox you'll have a decent shot at seeing it formatted, otherwise it's going to be all over the place. But that doesn't mean it looks any less yummy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lisa Loves Lunch

I have a confession. When I was a kid I was the pickiest eater on the planet. After having my own children I apologized profusely to my parents for how freaking difficult I used to be. Example: when we went out to breakfast I would order boxed cereal. No eggs, no bacon, no waffle or pancake, not even oatmeal. Boxed. Cereal.

Once I hit my twenties, in a quest to expand my horizons, I forced myself to experiment outside the little food box that confined my life.

The result: I love food. I love to cook. I love to eat. Both food prepared by myself and food from restaurants. I love junk food and haute cuisine. Give me a Lays potato chip with French’s onion dip or a fried waffle potato slice with creme fraiche and caviar. A fried zucchini stick or a succotash of zucchini and corn. A burger from In-N-Out or a grass-fed Filet Mignon roasted medium rare with an accompaniment of bearnaise sauce. I love them all.

I have subscribed to Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Gourmet. I peruse Vegetarian Times and Cook’s Illustrated. I have so many cookbooks that I have favorites and others I’ve barely even cracked open.

I love experimenting with different colors and spices and textures in pursuit of a particular taste. My current favorite lunch is a vegetarian pita sandwich. Green zucchini cubes and yellow bell pepper sauteed in a bit of olive oil and garlic. A chopped red heirloom tomato. A sprinkle of cheddar cheese. A modest slather of mayo. Stuffed into a whole wheat pita. Yum.

In my world, writing shares a common bond with cooking. The menu changes daily. Textures, moods, characters, quirks, conflicts both internal and external, a soundtrack. Each wonderful individually but when I mix them together the result is never quite what I expected. Sometimes the dish is so-so, that recipe never to be repeated, but sometimes after mixing and tweaking the end result is spectacular.

Some days, food is an artistic endeavor. Other days, it’s just lunch. But I love it anyway. Which come to think of it, is just how I feel about writing. :)


ps. great cooking website for the culinarily adventurous =

pps. Blogger has decided they don't want my pictures so you are all missing out on the photo of one of my shelves of cookbooks....

Monday, August 17, 2009

Peach Season

L.G.C. Smith

In the summer, food in my house is all about fruit. My sister, Sarah Coddington, co-owns one of the premier stone fruit farms in the country – screw modesty, the world-- Frog Hollow Farm, with her ex-husband and business partner, Al Courchesne. Frog Hollow Farm grows the sweetest, ripest peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, plums, pluots, pears and asian pears imaginable. Ever watch Iron Chef America? One of their frequent judges, Jeffrey Steingarten, once wrote that Frog Hollow Farm peaches were the best he could find.

Right now, my kitchen table is covered with bowls full of O’Henry and Cal Red peaches, Summer Fire nectarines, Flavor King pluots, and more. The dusty tang of ripe peaches permeates the room, the quintessential scent of a California summer.

The farm, in one form or another, has been in our family for almost ninety years. A cousin of my great-grandmother’s, Clara Smith, and her nephew, Clinton, bought it in the 1920s, and they grew apricots and cherries. In the Depression Years of the late 1930s, my grandparents, South Dakota teachers who didn’t get paid in the summer, packed my dad and his brother into the car and made the six-day trek to California. They worked in the orchards with the Okies and Arkies. When they returned home in August, they filled every free space in the car with canned and dried fruit. My dad was three and a half when he first lived in a tent in the orchard and built pretend airplanes out of wooden fruit boxes and tree props.

Shortly after we moved to the Bay Area in 1971, my dad trundled all of us in the car and headed for ‘the ranch,’ as it was called then. He didn’t so much as glance at a map though he hadn’t been there since he was ten years old, and he drove straight to Clinton’s. For the next fifteen years, Clinton, now an elderly bachelor with a penchant for travel and an impressive rifle collection, was a big part of our lives.

When Sarah and Al were first married, Al was farming on 13 acres next to Clinton’s place. My dad helped Clinton sell Sarah and Al a good portion of his land. It was tangled up in a complicated legal arrangement, and no mean feat to accomplish, but Frog Hollow Farm was born out of that transaction. Sarah and Al went organic in the late 1980s, and neither of them has wavered for a second in their commitment to sustainable agriculture and growing healthy, delicious fruit.

The best way to eat a peach is fresh at room temperature. To my mind, there’s no better breakfast than plain Greek yogurt topped with a sliced peach and a sprinkle of toasted almonds. Heaven. Cooking a ripe peach is practical criminal.

If you’re blessed with an abundance of peaches, here’s my favorite summer Peach Ice Cream recipe.

Peach Ice Cream

Makes about 2 quarts.


3 cups organic half and half

1 1/2 cups organic cream (not ultra pasteurized)

half a vanilla bean

3/4 cup sugar

pinch of kosher salt

2 cups Frog Hollow Farm peach puree


Heat the half and half, cream, and vanilla bean in a heavy saucepan to 175°F, or a bare simmer, stirring often so it heats evenly. Immediately take the pan off the heat and remove the vanilla bean. Split it with a paring knife and scrape the seeds back into the hot half and half and cream. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt, stirring to dissolve. Let cool fifteen minutes or so while you prepare the peaches.

Wash and pit three or four large Frog Hollow Farm peaches. There’s no need to peel them unless you prefer them that way. Slice the peaches into a blender and puree until they’re nearly smooth. Stir the puree into the half and half and cream. (If the cream is too hot, the acid in the peaches may slightly curdle it. This is fine. ) Taste and adjust the sugar to your palate. The sweetness will vary depending on how sweet the peaches are.

Refrigerate the ice cream mix overnight, or for at least 6 hours. Aging it improves the flavor, and it has to go into the ice cream maker cold for optimal texture.

Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. It should take 15-20 minutes to finish. Transfer the frozen ice cream into a chilled glass or hard plastic container, cover tightly, and place in the freezer for at least an hour before serving. For hard ice cream, leave it several hours.

Serve with fresh peach slices and a few berries for a simple summer sundae.

Note: When fresh peaches aren’t available, you can use Frog Hollow Farm Peach Conserve in place of the fresh peach puree. Either add it straight from the jars, or give it a whirl in the blender first.