Monday, October 3, 2016

Cummins Falls!

My husband and I love hiking. So we're game to go anywhere and try anything.

And when I mentioned a place called Cummins Falls, my husband was eager, even though it was a two-hour drive, each way, down back roads with no names. And even though it was in the 80s and we had to take the vehicle affectionately known as the "sweat mobile." (It has no air conditioning.)

But Cummins Falls was worth it!

To the left, is a photo I took from the top of the gorge before we hiked down.

It was a long way down. Thankfully, there were steps on some steep sections. Because of foreshortening, you can't tell how steep this is--the rises between the steps were often well over 18 inches. I felt like I was on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. Especially on the return when everything was uphill.

On our way hiking up the gorge to the falls.
Here is my husband putting his boots back on. We had to ford the river a couple of times.

 Once we reached the gorge, we climbed up part of the waterfalls. And an another adventurous climber took our photo.

Even though we are in the midst of a severe drought in Eastern Tennessee, the falls were gorgeous.
The water was freezing cold. I had the shivers despite the heat.
My husband swimming in one of the top swimming holes in Tennessee.

Couldn't close the post without a shot of my hiking boots. These shoes have given me more than twenty years of hiking pleasure. And have seen their share of bears and stepped on more than one rattlesnake--though those are other stories.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pumpkin Nirvana

As mentioned in the last blog post, I like to eat wonderful food. Three years ago, to celebrate our 25th anniversary, my husband Calvin took me to Paris. It was an indulgence in art, architecture, and food. 

Les Papilles was one of the restaurants we visited. And a few years ago, I found a recipe that they'd posted online. It was for cream of pumpkin soup. Not something I’d normally be interested in. But I had cream of squash soup in their restaurant. I hate squash, but the soup was gastronomic bliss. I printed the pumpkin recipe.

 After all three years, I finally made the soup.

My husband is on sabbatical, so I had a sous chef/dishwasher available. Very handy, because whenever I make anything “weird,” my sons need an “alternative food opportunity.” Tonight, it was andouille sausage.

The recipe called for garnishes that included: crumbled bacon,
chives, shaved almonds, bits of fresh pumpkin, croutons, and
a sprinkle of cocoa.
What I didn’t notice three years ago is that Google had put the recipe through Google translate. I could have cooked from the French recipe. The "Franglais" recipe—that was harder.

For example, I’m not sure what “have harmoniously” was supposed to mean. And then there were the words that were neither French nor English...

In the end, the soup was pumpkin nirvana. Instead of andouille sausages, my sons had second helpings of cream of pumpkin soup.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Come Edit Me, My Darling

Two blog posts ago, I mentioned that I signed with literary Chris Bucci of the McDermid Agency. (Still so amazing to be able to say it.) And then, I got down to revisions. At minimum, I worked 5 hours a day on them. Or at least, until my brain got foggy and I began confusing plot elements. Then, it was “back away from the computer slowly, hands above your head.” (I’ve made the mistake of editing with muddled brain before—it’s not a pretty picture.)

In any case, I got the revisions sent off. And it was time to wait. Here’s what I did while I tried not to think “what if my revisions suck?”

1. I cleaned house. According to my sons, that meant instead of spraying every surface with bleach and wiping it down, I scrubbed every surface with bleach. Okay, they aren’t wrong. Just sarcastic. I love bleach. Nothing is as calming to me as the scent of bleach, especially bleached bed sheets. Yeah, I know, my kids tell me I need therapy.

2. I did yard work. (And listened to podcasts on my phone. I love Writing Excuses.) Weeding was one of the first things, I did. So, when my husband asked me at breakfast what I was going to do that day and I said “edit the garden,” he didn’t bat an eyelid—he’s awesome like that. I’d post a photo of the garden editing, but suffice it to say, I was wearing painted-stained shorts, a tank top, gardening gloves, and earbuds while wielding a big shovel and spray tank of Round-up. Not the coolest photo op.

3. I found my thoughts straying to my revisions. And redoubled my efforts to think about something—anything—else.

4. I studied some Dutch. My mother is from the Netherlands, so I grew up speaking the language. But I’ve never had a good command of Dutch spelling or reading. Plus, I speak a nearly archaic version of the language—think, King James/Shakespeare version of Dutch. When native speakers hear me, they always think/say, “Oh, you’re so cute.” Cute is never what I’m going for.

Here are the ingredients for Muhamarra: dill garlic,
roasted red pepper, carrots, sumac, roasted almonds,
 pomegranate molasses (which I made), etc.
5. Cooking. I don’t love to cook. But I love weird food and exotic flavors. (As does my husband. Though our youngest boys scowl at my culinary forays, convinced that one day I’m going to serve them toasted baguette with cocoa-cockroach spread or lemon-thyme braised goat testicles.) Anyway, I’ve been dying to make muhamarra, which is of Turkish/Levantine origins. It took me a while to collect all the ingredients—some were weird, like sumac, which is a beautiful deep purple and tastes a bit like lemons, only more sophisticated. So, you know, lemons from SoHo.

6. And last but not least, I found myself daydreaming about my new novel. The completed rough draft that now calls to me. Begging and whispering sweet promises, like “My darling Connie, please edit me—we will make beautiful music together” in a sexy Middle Eastern accent. Of course, the novel is set in the American South, so the accent doesn’t quite work. But hey, my daydreams are my daydreams. ;)

Here's the finished muhumarra along with a loaf of bread I made.
Sadly, the flavor of the bread overwhelmed the spread, so we got out crackers. :)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Book Review, The Gap of Time

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, which explores themes of jealousy, love, betrayal, and forgiveness.

I eagerly began reading this novel because I thoroughly enjoyed a previous book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series (Vinegar Girl, a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew). However, it would have been wise if I’d considered whether I’d want to read a retelling of A Winter’s Tale.

Given that the play revolves around Leontes’s misguided belief that his wife is having an affair and pregnant with a child that isn’t his, I should have considered how that might be handled by a modern writer. And the truth is that the novel is much more sexually explicit than I am comfortable with, particularly in the first third. I would have set the book aside, except that I received the novel in exchange for a review and felt obligated to finish it.

Aside from the graphic nature of the novel, it was beautifully written. At times, even lyrical. Though there were some occasions when the novel felt disjointed (the play has the same nature), the pacing is quite good and propels the reader through the text. 

I received this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Offer of Representation!

Signing the contract! Woot!

In the past couple of years, I've begun writing adult upmarket fiction. And I am thrilled to announce that I've signed with a literary agent and am now represented by Chris Bucci of the McDermid Agency! (Here's a link to the "agents page" of the agency website.)

Signed contract!
For those who aren't familiar with the term upmarket fiction, it's the "sweet spot" between literary and commercial fiction. The idea being that it's both plot-driven and has beautiful language. If you're a bit more interested in what "upmarket" means, here's a short article from Writer's Digest.

My novel is an adult Southern noir with elements of magical realism. In other words, it's a suspenseful novel set in the South with a character who's not quite of this world. I'm very excited about the book and hopefully it will find just the right publisher and editor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Because Chemists Have a Sense of Humor

Yep, the James Bond figure is holding a beaker.
  My son Matthew did undergraduate research this summer in quantitative analysis, a branch of chemistry. (Yep, another Keller chemist. We love our chemists.) One research students came up with a design to celebrate their summer research and the university gave each student a shirt. It's so cool, I wish I had majored in chemistry.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Review, Vinegar Girl

Because Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m so glad I picked it up because the novel is a delightful literary romantic-comedy. It tells the story of Kate, a feisty young woman, who’s too comfortable in her stalled life. So Fate intervenes in the form of Pyotr, a handsome, brilliant Russian biologist, who desperately needs a green card. (I nearly rolled my eyes at this trope, but it works.) Thankfully, Tyler does not take the easy way out with insta-love or a laissez-faire sure-I’ll-marry-him-faux-compassion. Instead, the characters grow. Kate realizes that her life has frozen and she desperately needs to change. And Pyotr is not a two-dimensional, alpha male archetype. Instead, the reader discovers he is a lonely, vulnerable man—albeit one with a tongue and temper as sharp as Kate’s. But like all rom-coms, they fall in love and get married. Or rather, vice versa.

The story is well told, and the pacing is excellent. In fact, I read the book in two days because I couldn’t put it down. The writing itself is clean, and Tyler’s prose is very witty—I read sentences aloud to whomever happened to be around me at the time (even to my 21 year old son, who’s an electrical engineer and not the most sympathetic audience). Further, Tyler nails the Russian accent and immigrant mindset, making Pyotr even more endearing.

I do need to add that I can’t really discuss how faithfully or innovatively this novel retells Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew because I haven’t read that play. But I can say that you don’t need to be familiar with the play to enjoy this book.

I heartily recommended Vinegar Girl. It’s a perfect summer beach read!

I received this book for Blogging for Book in exchange for a review.