Brain Storm, by Elaine Viets

brainstorm

Author Elaine Viets loves mysteries. She’s the author of a series of humorous “Dead End” job mysteries, a slew of cozy mysteries, and even some mystery shopper mysteries (I really want to read one of those!). But when it came to her latest novel, Brain Storm, the mystery began not just in her own mind, but in her own head.

And there’s a Kentucky connection! Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt is the doctor who saves Angela’s life. Born in Kentucky and named for his mother’s favorite country singer.

Elaine Viets was kind enough to visit with daeandwrite and share some of her experiences. I think Elaine’s suggestions will make a great blueprint for your book club and Brain Storm an intriguing choice. Lots of great discussion points: what happens when you can’t be you anymore; how does a small community protect its own; who do you rely on when you can’t trust anyone?

Give a read to the q & a below, then go check out Elaine Viets’ Brain Storm:

DaeandWrite:  I understand you have some things in common with your protagonist Angela Richman, the death investigator who suffers a stroke near the beginning of the novel. Tell us about your experience and how it influenced Brain Storm.

Elaine Viets: In April, 2007, I had a series of blinding headaches, which I thought were migraines. After four days, I had trouble talking and doing everyday tasks, such as tying a bow in my robe belt. I couldn’t figure out how to use a fork to scramble a breakfast egg. If you know my cooking skills, this sounds like a fair description, but I seriously could not figure out that fork. I was determined to ignore these symptoms and drive 40 miles to give a speech, but my husband took away my car keys and called my internist, who sent me to the ER at a hospital that billed itself as one of the “fifty best” in the US. The neurologist on call said I was “too young and fit to have a stroke” and sent me home. I was supposed to report that Wednesday for a PET scan, but Wednesday never happened. Instead, I had six strokes, including a hemorrhagic stroke, and brain surgery. I was in a coma for a week and spent more than three months in the hospital. I used a walker for six months and a cane for two years. I’ve made a nearly complete recovery, but that took more than four years.

DaeandWrite: Viets describes Angela Richman’s mirror experience near the beginning of Brain Storm:

Brainstorm jacket“Better,” she said, though another headache was gathering at the edges of her mind, like a storm on the horizon.

“Would you like coffee?” she asked.

“Brought my own,” he said, holding up his thermos. Angela scrambled an egg, then swallowed another Imitrex.

She fought the headache all day as she struggled with her report on Ben Weymuller’s death investigation. Angela turned it in about four o’clock. At four thirty, Rick poked his head in her study door.

“I’m leaving now,” he said. “this is even more screwed up than I thought. It’s gonna take at least a month.”

“I’ll give you the spare key, in case I’m at work tomorrow,” she said. Like everyone in the Forest, she trusted Rick.

Angela could barely see him through the blinding migraine dazzle, as if he were spotlighted on a brightly lit stage. She was determined to push through this. She was too young and fit to have a stroke. The Forest’s top neurologist had said so.

“Are you feeling better?”

“I’m fine,” she said, forcing a smile. “I’ll lie down until it’s time to go out with Katie.”

Angela crawled into bed for a nap that soft spring night, Thursday, March 10. And woke up nineteen days later.

In Brain Storm, Angela confronts a world that’s radically changed. She’s physically infirm, her appearance has been radically transformed from surgery and medication, her job is at risk, and something funky is going on with the doctor that mistakenly released her. Throughout, Angela complains vocally about the hospital food, a complaint I anticipate began with Elaine.

DaeandWrite: I would guess that during your own hospital stay you became more than frustrated by the hospital food?

Elaine Viets: The food was horrible – and so unhealthy. Red meat with gravy, white bread, fried food, no fresh fruits or vegetables. I still shudder at the thought of canned green beans. Don’t hospital dieticians read the nutrition guidelines?

DaeandWrite: Did you have music you listened to during the writing or editing process? Any particular genre or songs? Do you have songs you associate with any particular character?

elaine headshotElaine Viets: Angela Richman, my death investigator, likes to hit the highway in her black Dodge Charger, and play her favorite songs from her teen years in the 1990s – nice and loud. She likes Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Londonbeat’s “I’ve Been Thinking about You.” She’d be mortified if you knew she also listens to Marky Mark’s “Good Vibration.”

I don’t listen to music while I write or edit, but at the end of the day, I like to kick back to classic rock: the Stones, the Doors, Eric Clapton.

DaeandWrite: Angela and her friend Katie have a favorite Mexican restaurant. Is this based on one of your favorite restaurants? Or do you cook yourself?

Elaine Viets: I’m a terrible cook, but I love Mexican food. There are some good ones in Fort Lauderdale, including Casa Frida’s in Fort Lauderdale. If you’re in the area, I recommend it. It’s a cut above the usual taco joints.

DaeandWrite: Brain Storm was released in 2016. What’s next?

Elaine Viets: The second Angela book, Fire and Ashes, which I’m writing now. It will be

published by Thomas and Mercer in August 2017.

DaeandWrite: Any book signings/events coming up?

Elaine Viets: Yes, I’ll be at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention at the Marriott New Orleans, September 16­18. I have three events at Bcon on Saturday, September 17. From 3:00­3:50 PM, I’m on a panel, “Shake It Off: From Notes and First Draft to Finished Novel.” This is a funny, thought­provoking discussion with mystery writers Harry Hunsicker, LS Hawker, Laura McHugh, Jeffrey Siger and me. Daniel Hale is our moderator. At 4 o’clock, right after the panel, I’ll sign my books, including Brain Storm.

At 2 p.m. that same Saturday, I’ll be signing Blood on the Bayou at Bouchercon. More than 22 writers, from Alison Gaylin to David Morrell, Sheila Connelly to Gary Phillips, have donated stories to this NOLA­themed anthology. New York Times bestseller Heather Graham wrote the introduction. I did a Dead­End Job story. Helen and Margery leave the Coronado for a case in New Orleans in “Good and Dead.” All proceeds from Blood on the Bayou will benefit the New Orleans Public Library. Buy a copy, read your favorite authors, and help the library.

On October 8, I’ll teach a class – “Jump Starting Your Writing” – at Sleuthfest on Saturday, a one­day intensive writing conference sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. This year, SOS is in Venice, Florida. For information, go to https://www.regonline.com/SleuthFest­on­Saturday­2016

On Nov. 12, I’ll be in Vero Beach, Florida, teaching a writing workshop for the Laura (Riding) Jackson Foundation, “Writing Killer Mysteries – The Basics” from 10 AM to 1 PM at the Loft. More information is at

http://www.lauraridingjackson.com/

After the workshop, I’ll sign Brain Storm and my Dead­End Job mysteries at 3 p.m. at the Vero Beach Book Center, 392 21st Street that same day.

(www.verobeachbookcenter.com)

I’m really looking forward to next spring, when I’m the Malice Domestic 29 Guest of Honor from Thursday, April 28 through Sunday, April 30, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s quite a lineup: Marcia Talley is Toastmaster, Charlaine Harris is honored for Lifetime Achievement, the award­winning Martin

Edwards receives the Poirot Award for his contribution to the genre, and Luci Zahray is Fan Guest of Honor. Luci’s no ordinary fan. She’s also the “poison lady” who’s helped writers kill thousands. (www.malicedomestic.org)

DaeandWrite: Where can readers purchase Brain Storm?

Elaine Viets: Brain Storm is a trade paperback, e­book, and audio book. You can buy it here: (amzn.to/2awPsIe). Right now the paperback version is on sale for $9.99. Autographed copies are available at The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York City (info@mysteriousbookshop.com) or at Murder on the Beach Bookstore, Delray Beach, Florida, (murdermb@gate.net).

Thanks so much for letting me stop by your blog.

MENU2010_03_roasted_cauliflower-2

So, for this Book Club I’m going to refer to the grilled chicken sandwiches, artichoke salad and chocolate cupcakes Katie brings to Angela in the hospital. But I have to also add:
cauliflower! The original brain food.

My culinary hero Ina Garten has a delicious roasted artichoke salad recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-artichoke-salad-recipe.html.

For the cauliflower, though I definitely will leave one head whole and sliced, I also love to mash it for low-carb mashed potatoes. Put cauliflower in pot with enough water to cover. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook the cauliflower for 12-15 minutes or until very tender. 3. Drain and discard all of the water (the drier the cauliflower is, the better) and add the milk, butter, sour cream, salt and pepper and mash with a masher until it looks like mashed potatoes.

There’s also a complete Mexican menu for dinner in Brain Storm: guacamole with thick chunks of ripe avocado, crunchy tortilla chips and hot salsa. Platters of steak fajitas, chicken burritos, and steaming bowls of black beans and rice.

MUSIC

I like Elaine Viets’ list above. If you want to go a different route, here are ten songs Steve Jobs used to train his brain according to Inc. Magazine: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/10-songs-steve-jobs-used-to-train-his-brain.html

MOVIE CASTING

Well, this is definitely one of those physically transformative roles that every actress wants to win her Oscar.

Angela Richman:    Anne Hathaway

Katie:                          Kathryn Hahn

Dr. Gravois:              Tony Goldwyn

Dr. Tritt:                    I think he may be a little long in the tooth for the character as written, but I couldn’t help but see Billy Ray Cyrus in the role.

MEDICAL PSA

Let me take a moment and share some information inspired by Brain Storm that might save a life. According to the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, these are the ways to recognize stroke:

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call 9-1-1 for help right away. F.A.S.T. is:

F Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
A Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
T Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Thank you so much to Elaine Viets for sharing with daeandwrite.wordpress.com. If you enjoyed this blog post, please follow daeandwrite and share with your friends.

Happy Reading!

 

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Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain

The Sky Pilot

Beryl Markham’s extraordinary life in Africa at the outset of the twentieth century is the focus of Paula McLain’s novel Circling the Sun. When your subject is as fascinating as Markham —  a life full of adventure, achievement, challenge, tragedy, and romance — it would be difficult to write a novel that failed. And McLain has not. Circling the Sun is a great read.

Told in Markham’s voice, Circling the Sun begins with a prologue dated September 4, 1936, on the eve of her record-setting solo flight from England to North America. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic east to west in a solo non-stop flight and and the first person to fly east to west from England to North America non-stop.

The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I’ve known, and somehow mine to fly. She’s call The Messenger, and has been designed and built with great care and skill to do what should be impossible — cross an ocean in one brave launch, thirty-six hundred miles of black chop and nothingness — and to take me with her.

It’s quite a trick for McLain to choose and so successfully chronicle Markham’s life, in first-person no less. I say this because Markham herself was the author of a classic memoir West With The Night which essentially treads the same ground. I read West With the Night several years ago and remember it for her descriptions of the world below from the vantage point of her cockpit.

Beryl-markham-west-with-the-night-coverLike night, the desert is boundless, comfortless and infinite. Like night, it intrigues the mind and leads it to futility. When you have flown halfway across a desert, you experience the desperation of a sleepless man waiting for dawn which only comes when the importance of it’s coming is lost. You fly forever, weary with an invariable scene, and when you are at last released from its monotony, you remember nothing of it because there was nothing there.

From West With the Night

According to my memory, McLain might dwell a bit more on the romantic entanglements, multiple marriages and love triangle involving Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen who we know better as Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. In McClain’s novel, Hatton was Markham’s one true love. In Out of Africa, Hatton was Blixen’s one true love. In real life, Robert Redford is . . . oh, never mind. Redford

Paula McLain wrote the wildly-successful book club choice The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley. On McLain’s website, she details how she came to choose to write Circling The Sun and what is different about her novel from Markham’s own book.

The flying stuff is wildly fun to read about in West With the Night, but in the end, I found myself most interested in how she became herself, that daring woman ready to tackle danger and adventure. And then there was the utter mystery of her inner life. In West With the Night, Beryl takes great pains to avoid anything too personal. She never mentions the mother who abandoned her, for instance, or so much as intimates that her father betrayed and disappointed her. She was married three times but doesn’t name a single husband, or speak of her son, Gervase, who she didn’t raise. Karen Blixen never appears, and Finch Hatton is only gently held up as a figure Beryl admires after his death. It was the draw of her enigma, then, of wanting to illuminate the parts of her life she herself avoids that had me fascinated and most activated my imagination. http://paulamclain.com/books/circling-the-sun/a-conversation-with-paula-mclain/

Circling the Sun is full of the scandal of Beryl Markham’s life, the thrill of being an English settler in a wild and exotic country, the challenges of being an adventurous woman at a time when women were not supposed to be. I enjoyed it and found lots of potential book club discussion points. I think you would enjoy it too.

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Dinner at Karen Blixen’s house included lightly breaded chicken in cream sauce, roasted vegetables with herbs, corn pudding studded with mushrooms and thyme, ripe cheese, and oranges.

A honeymoon dinner in Paris included escargot, choucroute garnie with springs of fresh rosemary. In Rome, spaghetti with mussels and black squid ink.

Karen’s dinner for visiting British royalty featured ham poached in champagne with tiny jewel-like strawberries and tart, plump pomegranate seeds, a mushroom croustade with truffles and cream. A dessert of browned rum baba.

And every encounter and meal included champagne.

MUSIC

There are dances at the Muthaiga Club for the white settlers and Kikuyu ngoma with drum music falling “in great and rippling crescendos, while male and female dancers flung themselves rhythmically.”

The soundtrack from Out of Africa includes everything from Mozart and Wagner to the Missouri waltz. It would be a good start.

However, the Kenyan music I searched for is really fun and bright and upbeat and would provide a soundtrack so great you might find your book club dancing instead of talking. The following site has links for good Kenyan music:

http://worldmusic.about.com/od/venues/tp/KenyaMusicPlaylist.htm?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=shareurlbuttons via @aboutdotcom

MOVIE

MarkhamBeryl Markham — Tilda Swinton  tilda swinton

 

 

 

denys-finch-hatton-01Denys Finch Hatton — Tom Hiddleston  tom-hiddleston

 

 

 

Happy Reading!

P.S. It made my day to receive a kind note from author Paula McLain about the post on Facebook. I thought I’d share it with you: “How fun is this, Pamela?! Wow. Thanks for featuring the book!!”

If you enjoy reading daeandwrite.wordpress.com, please become a follower and share it with your friends!

 

The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson

gap of time

The Hogarth Press, founded in 1917 by no less than Virginia and Leonard Woolf, announced an audacious plan in 2015: to rewrite the works of Shakespeare as novels “retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today.” The Gap of Time, a rewrite of The Winter’s Tale, is the first of these retellings, published in the fall of 2015.

As regular readers of daeandwrite.wordpress.com know, there is also an on-going project to rewrite the works of Jane Austen. Here’s a link to my review of Curtis Sittenfeld’s rewrite of Pride And Prejudice Eligible:  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/eligible-by-curtis-sittenfeld/.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the two cover versions that I’ve read. Hogarth has published three Shakespeare-inspired novels so far and revealed eight authors and the plays they chose to interpret. http://crownpublishing.com/hogarth-shakespeare/ I’m quite looking forward to Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, and I’m listening to Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, a rewrite of Taming of the Shrew, right now, so keep an eye out for that blog post in the near future.

bearThe Winter’s Tale, written near the end of Shakespeare’s life, is most well-known for a stage direction. In Act 3, Scene 3, which takes place in “Bohemia. A desert country near the sea,” character Antigonus is directed to exit, “pursued by bear.” It is irrelevant that no bears have been mentioned prior to this direction. Perhaps it is one of Shakespeare’s jokes on the future. How to get a bear on stage? How to teach it to pursue Antigonus? Why does it matter?

In any event, Winterson introduces no bears in The Gap of Time. Within the text of the novel, she explains her choice to rewrite The Winter’s Tale, not the best-known, best-loved, or most-understood of the Bard’s works.

I wrote this cover version because the play has been a private text for me for more than thirty years. By that I mean part of the written word(l)d I can’t live without; without, not in the sense of lack, but in the old sense of living outside of something.

It’s a play about a foundling. And I am. It’s a play about forgiveness and a world of possible futures — and about how forgiveness and the future are tied together in both directions. Time is reversible.

The Gap of Time’s plot is so complex I’m not sure it’s worth it to even summarize. Suffice it to say, there’s a man and a woman who have a child and the child is lost and adopted by another family and then grown, the child returns. But it’s not a book about a plot. Winterson’s novel is about ideas and time and regret.Rockwell clock

Sometimes it doesn’t matter that there was any time before this time. Sometimes it doesn’t matter that it’s night or day or now or then. Somewhere where you are is enough. It’s not that time stops or that it hasn’t started. This is time. You are here. This caught moment opening into a lifetime.

The Gap of Time tells a classic story in an innovative way, slicing narratives, transforming locations, infusing characters. Violent, bold, imaginative, wistful — yes. Though The Winter’s Tale is sometimes called a romance and sometimes a comedy, The Gap of Time‘s humor seemed to me minimal and the “happy ending” suspect. This is not to say I didn’t like it or enjoy it, I did. It is a meaty book — some of the scenes have stayed with me for several weeks. I can recommend it for you or your book club with only a cautionary reservation that the language could prove off-putting for some readers.

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Perdita’s family lives by the sea and her brother Clo has made her shrimp chowder when Perdita returns home one night.

Shrimp Chowder

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of potato soup, undiluted
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium-size fresh shrimp, peeled*
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley
  • Oyster crackers (optional)

Preparation

Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, and sauté 8 minutes or until tender. Stir in cream of potato soup, milk, and pepper; bring to a boil. Add shrimp; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Stir in cheese until melted. Garnish, if desired. Serve immediately. Serve with oyster crackers, if desired.

*1 1/2 pounds frozen shrimp, thawed; 1 1/2 pounds peeled crawfish tails; or 3 cups chopped cooked chicken may be substituted.

I would serve this with a nice, simple green salad, good bread and dessert. There’s a scene in the book with a pot of scalded milk and I looked for a dessert recipe to bring in this plot point and found this recipe from tasteofhome.com for Hot Milk Cake.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/4 cups 2% milk
  • 10 tablespoons butter, cubed

Directions

  • 1. In a large bowl, beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder; gradually add to batter; beat at low speed until smooth. 
  • 2. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter just until butter is melted. Gradually add to batter; beat just until combined. 
  • 3. Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.Yield: 12-16 servings.

MUSIC

Although The Gap of Time’s characters Mimi and Perdita are singers, I couldn’t fathom what time of music they might sing. I would set my Spotify to play Bohemian music. I have no idea what would come up: gypsy folk music? Pete Seeger? La Boheme? In any event, whatever it was there would be an underlying echo of it in The Gap of Time.

Happy Reading!

Night Garden, by Carrie Mullins

night garden

Oxycontin, methamphetamine, teen pregnancy, predatory teachers, economic upheaval, poverty. The headlines of tragedy we’ve become far too accustomed to reading. Carrie Mullins tackles them all in her first novel, Night Garden, a literary cry for help for Kentucky’s small towns and their residents being ravaged by drugs.

Marie, Night Garden‘s protagonist, is a high schooler whose brother Shane has been involved with a teacher at the school since he was a sophomore. Shane’s leaving and Marie dreads being at home alone with her middle class parents. The night before Shane’s departure, the two attend a party.

Shane disappeared into the woods up above the fire, left with one of the Owens boys to get high. As soon as he was out of sight, Ms. Anglin put a champ chair beside Marie. She got a beer and some ice out of the cooler then sat down and showed Marie her finger. “So what’s going on with him?” she asked, holding the ice on her finger. “Does he have a girlfriend?”

“I thought you were his girlfriend,” Marie said.

. . .

“I know he’s screwing that Miller girl. Oh God, I love him.” Marie looked down at her hands in her lap, down at the ground, looked at anything except her journalism teacher. “I’m only six years older than him. That’s nothing. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a drip in the bucket.”

You’re a drip, Marie thought.

In Night Garden, ultimately, Marie has had enough and escapes her safe, middle class life to live with Bobo Owens, an exotic, attractive, charmer with a dream of owning his own kayaking business by saving from the proceeds of his family’s meth trafficking and bootlegging. Bobo and Marie set up house and soon, far too soon, Marie finds herself pregnant and Bobo a changed man: paranoid, emaciated, unfaithful, violent, and unsupportive.

According to the cover of Night Garden, author Carrie Mullins grew up and continues to live

Gurney-Norman-Photo-by-Tim-Collins-e1360956757688

Gurney Norman by Tim Collins

in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky. Night Garden is the first novel published by Old Cove Press, a literary publisher based in Lexington, Kentucky, and founded by noted author Gurney Norman and his wife Nyoka Hawkins. http://oldcove.comGurney Norman has been a member of the University of Kentucky Department of English since 1979 and currently serves as the department’s Director of Creative Writing. His first novel Divine Right’s Trip (1971) was published by The Dial Press, Bantam Books, and Pantheon Books of England.

Nyoka was kind enough to help me connect with Carrie for some q&a, food and music talk . . . and of course a recipe or two

Daeandwrite: The food in the Night Garden illustrates the socio-economic divergence between Marie’s family and Bobo’s. Was this a conscious decision?

Carrie: There are definite class and status issues in the book, and food is one way that plays out. The food was also a modern vs. old time divergence that I was thinking about. The food Marie makes for her parents early on – biscuits, sausage, eggs, fruit and coffee – that is kind of old school, and it takes time to make all that, especially the way Marie was making it (biscuits from scratch, she was not even using Bisquick). And then when she takes up with Bobo, it is mostly all convenience food, like we all eat now, pizza and cereal and honeybuns and all that, stuff that is easy to make and easy to eat but not necessarily very good food. With the exceptions of Marie making a cake from a box for Etta’s party, Etta’s actual party where they are working in the kitchen making potato salad and lunch for everyone, and being at Crystal’s house when she makes the casserole, there really isn’t any food that is “made” in their world.

Daeandwrite: Marie bakes a chocolate cake from a mix for Etta’s birthday but yearns for her own grandmother’s version. Do you have a particular memory of a chocolate cake that inspired Marie’s memory? Do you have a recipe you could share?

hershey'sCarrie: My grandma Hattie made the recipe from the side of the Hershey’s Cocoa tin – cake and icing both. She made it in a bundt pan, and she made it for about every get together we had – Memorial Day especially when everyone would come home from Ohio to visit. She made the best chicken and dumplings, fried apple pies, slaw, everything. Even her hamburgers were different and delicious, she sliced up onions and put them right in the hamburger. In fact, all the women in my family, on both sides, were incredible cooks. They’d make a big tableful of food for every get together. I’m like Marie in that I’m pretty nostalgic for all that food and those times together.

Here is the Hershey’s recipe:

 

 

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING (recipe follows)

Directions

  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean and the top springs back when touched gently. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING. Makes 12 servings.
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1. Place melted butter in large mixer bowl. Add cocoa, stirring until smooth.
  • 2. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, beating until smooth. If necessary add additional milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, beating until spreading consistency. About 3 cups frosting.

https://www.hersheys.com/recipes/en_US/recipes/8421/really-chocolate-chocolate-cake.html

And my Aunt Iris Rose made a chocolate cake from the Settlement Cookbook, (1965), here chocolate cakeis that recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups cake flour

2 cups  sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cup water

squares unsweetened chocolate

eggs – well beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour 2 9 inch cake pans

Sift flour, sugar and salt together

Add butter and mix with fingertips or pastry blender to the consistency of corn meal.

Boil water and chocolate. Cool. Add to butter mixture. Beat very well.

Chill thoroughly.

Add eggs, vanilla and baking powder.

Pour mixture equally into pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until cake tater or fork comes out clean when inserted in center.

https://cookpad.com/us/recipes/340844-chocolate-cake-from-the-settlement-cookbook-1965

Daeandwrite: Did you have music you listened to during the writing or editing process? Any particular genre or songs? Do you have songs you associate with any particular character?

Carrie: I listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit. She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8  And everything by the Drive By Truckers, and Jason Isbell – his album Southeastern especially. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons and U2 are always on all my playlists. Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring as well.

Daeandwrite: Why did you feel compelled to put this story on paper? What was it about this particular tale that you wanted to convey?

Carrie: People I cared about in my county, a whole generation it seemed like at one point, were really being devastated by drugs. Starting with oxycodone and then moving on to methamphetamine. I didn’t know how to fix it, but I could write about it. I guess I wanted to make a sort of “record” – fictional but near enough to true, to the time and the people of this time and place and what they were going through.

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For my book club, I would make the breakfast that Marie fixes for her parents in Chapter 3. Homemade biscuits, sausage patties, scrambled eggs. And I would definitely make that Chocolate Cake!

MUSIC

Carrie said she listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit while writing Night Garden. “She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8.” Carrie also suggested Drive By TruckersJason Isbell. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons, U2, Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring.

Carrie Mullins will be at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort on November 5 and the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in October. Night Garden is available at Morris Book Shop, Wild Fig Books & Coffee, Carmichael’s in Louisville, and Amazon. It can also be ordered directly from Old Cove Press by emailing  books@oldcove.com  or by phone 859-361-0533

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

Modern Lovers, Emma Straub

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Emma Straub’s new novel Modern Lovers picks up somewhere in the anthropological vicinity of her last novel, The Vacationers but a vast ocean away. The Vacationers took a New York family with teenagers, frustrated parents and a gay couple to Mallorca to experience a  series of crises. In Modern Lovers, the family – teenagers, frustrated parents, a gay couple — remain at home in Brooklyn to experience their own problems. (See my book club blueprint and review of The Vacationers here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-vacationers-by-emma-straub/)

The adults in Modern Lovers used to be cool –  real cool –  rock band cool. But now that they are approaching 50, and their children are dating, or hooking up, or are just hanging out together having sex in public places, the adults find they aren’t quite so cool anymore. At least not in the eyes of their kids.

for saleElizabeth and Andrew are the married parents of Harry, not the most popular kid in school. These two, plus ultra-fabulous Zoe were in “the band: Kitty’s Mustache” with Lydia — now deceased, a member of the 27-Club, and subject of an upcoming biopic which Elizabeth and Zoe favor and Andrew opposes. Zoe is married to Jane and they have a daughter who IS the coolest girl in school, Ruby. Jane and Zoe own a restaurant called Hyacinth in Brooklyn. Andrew’s a rich kid who doesn’t have anything really useful to do with himself other than hang around a sketchy yoga-ish flop house called EVOLVEment run by a huckster named Dave, and Elizabeth (the real talent behind the band) is a real estate agent.

Modern Lovers is the second book in two months I’ve read about the changes in Brooklyn, and I’m reading another right now. Look for a post next week about SweetBitter by Stephanie Danler. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney explored many of the same family themes in The Nesthttps://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/the-nest-by-cynthia-daprix-sweeney/. So maybe there’s something happening in Brooklyn that makes it a microcosm for what modern writers feel the need to share. Or maybe Brooklyn is where the modern writers live.

They were old friends — best friends, really, though Elizabeth might not say that in modern loversfront of Zoe for fear that she would laugh at the phrase for being juvenile. They’d lived together after college way back in the Stone Age in this very same house, sharing the rambling Victorian with Elizabeth’s boyfriend (now husband) and two guys who had lived in their co-op at Oberlin. It was always nice to carry a big bowl of something homemade over to Zoe’s house, because it felt like being back in that potluck-rich, money-poor twilight zone known as one’s twenties. Ditmas Park was a hundred miles from Manhattan (in reality, seven), a tiny little cluster of Victorian houses that could have existed anywhere in the United States, with Prospect Park’s parade grounds to the north and Brooklyn College to the south. Their other friends from school were moving into walk-up apartments in the East Village or into beautiful brownstones in Park Slope, on the other side of the vast green park, but the three of them had fallen in love with the idea of a house house, and so there they were, sandwiched between old Italian ladies and the projects.

It seems as if everything is coming to a head in the lives of Modern Lovers: 50 right here, Ruby and Harry’s high school graduation, Andrew’s midlife crisis, and Zoe and Jane’s marital woe. And just at this moment, a movie producer shows up asking for the rights to their life stories so she can make a film about Lydia, a sort of Janis Joplin-Britney Spears character best known for an uberhit called “Mistress of Myself,” written by Elizabeth. Not only does the producer appear, but she brings an actress who looks so much like Lydia, that Andrew faints.

I quite enjoyed Modern Lovers. Ms. Straub writes cleanly, clearly, and with an almost throw-back narrative style that I appreciate. There are characters of various generations facing familiar scenarios and problems, a discussion of which will be of great interest to a wide variety of book clubs. And the food options — since Jane and Zoe own a restaurant — is wonderful

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I would set a table with a white tablecloth and a centerpiece of hyacinths, in honor of Jane and Zoe’s restaurant.

The mentions of food are numerous. Brownies, souffles, croissants, fried chicken, frozen pizza and more are on menus at various times. I would serve one of the summer menus mentioned early on: A salad with watermelon radish and avocado. Fresh pasta with asparagus pesto. Dessert with strawberry and peppercorns.

I’ve never made asparagus pesto, so here’s a recipe from Food&Wine: that looks easy enough http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/fresh-asparagus-pesto

And my favorite chef, Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa, has a delicious dessert recipe for strawberries with pepper: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/strawberries-with-balsamic-vinegar-recipe.html

MUSIC

There’s actually a musical group called The Modern Lovers that featured a couple of guys who went on to the Cars and Talking Heads. Protopunk. Not my bag.

Musician-singer Liz Phair actually went to Oberlin College and is about the age that Lydia would have been. I would play her music.

MOVIE CASTING

Zoe – easiest to me. Lisa Bonet, I pictured her all through the reading.

Jane – Kathryn Hahn

Ruby – Amanda Sternberg

Elizabeth – this could be anyone from Tina Fey to Jennifer Aniston. I envisioned Elizabeth Banks.

Andrew – Steve Carrell? Ben Affleck?

Harry – Logan Lerman

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

Conjuring Casanova, by Melissa Rea

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Giacomo Casanova, by Anton Raphael Mengs

Casanova, the ultimate ladies’ man; the legendary lover; author; lawyer; convict (forgery, witchcraft, unlawful gambling). The dreamboat-come-true of Melissa Rea’s feminist heroine-about-town in Conjuring Casanova. In my humble opinion, you’d never know why from the portrait above but Dr. Elizabeth Hillman, 21st Century Chicago Emergency Room doctor, has a thing for Casanova and without even trying, poof, there he is.

fairy dustHow I Met Melissa

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Melissa Rea at a writing conference.
She told our small group of her Casanova idea, and ultimately, Melissa met an agent, the agent met a publisher and VOILA! the project we talked of came to life. Much like Casanova himself does in Conjuring Casanova. Melissa invited me outside and threw a handful of sparkly glitter in the air, telling me it was fairy dust for good luck. Elizabeth Hillman’s version of fairy dust brought her dreamboat to life. But both Elizabeth and her creator make me believe in magic!

Melissa Rea was kind enough to sit down with daeandwrite to answer a few questions that will make your enjoyment of Conjuring Casanova greater and add some depth for your book club’s discussion. Before I get to those, however, let me advise: this novel is hot like Casanova and not for any shrinking violets or nervous readers. There’s sex in it and by that I mean, graphic descriptions. How could it be anything less when the world’s most legendary lover is involved?

Sound like your kind of book? Read on.

Q&A With the Author

Melissa

Author Melissa Rea

Q: So how did you come up with the idea for Conjuring Casanova? What is Giacomo to Melissa?

A: I was writing a saucy little three book series, which may never be read by anyone, but it takes place in the 18th century. As saucy stories go, I needed to know something about women’s underwear in the time. Like all lazy researchers I Googled, “Women’s underwear in the 18th century”  The answer was, “nowhere are the details of everyday life in the eighteenth century better detailed than in the memoir of Giacomo Casanova.” I ordered the first of 12 volumes and was hooked. It was so outrageously unapologetically honest. He detailed all his success and his hideous failures with equal zest. He blamed no one for his bad luck and always took complete responsibility for his actions. The thing that made me smile was the loving delicacy with which he described his lady loves. He truly believed women worthy of his life’s pursuit and believed himself in love with nearly every one. In this misogynistic age, that was a wonder to this jaded modern gal.

Histoire de Ma Vie is 3700 pages and it took me several times to completely understand the translation of 18th century French written by an Italian. As I re-read, I began to feel like I was sharing the adventures of an old friend, albeit a rather naughty one. Through his writing I  learned about the French lottery, Baroque music, the king of Poland, Italian poetry, Voltaire, Canon Law, the King of France, European geography, 18th century medicine and a wealth of other subjects. How could you not love a man that called women’s body parts, beauties and charms?
I sat one day visiting with my friend through his words and the idea struck me, “What would Casanova think of modern women? More importantly, what would they think of Venice’s most famous libertine? Et voila, Conjuring Casanova was born.

 

Q: Did you have a playlist that you listened to while writing? For a book club, what listening selections would you suggest? (Barry White?)

A: When I write I can’t listen to anything with words. I sort of enjoyed listening to music of Casanova’s time as I conjured him. I love Vivaldi and Telemann. If you notice, all the chapter titles are pop songs from many genres of music. Each song was one I thought of as I wrote the chapters. (daeandwrite note: see below)

Q: FOOD! Let’s talk food. The food in Conjuring Casanova made me hungry every other page. Was food a big part of Casanova’s memoirs? Did you take any of the food from his memoirs specifically? Have you visited Venice? What food/menu/recipes can you share?

A: Casanova said in his memoir, that he was both an epicure and a glutton and often detailed his meals. The thing I found most surprising was the Italian Ices served for dessert, without benefit of refrigeration. He rarely cooked but was very capable especially when it furthered a seduction. I am a breakfast fan and his eggs cooked in butter with ham, is one of my favorites. The restaurants described in Conjuring Casanova were ones I visited when in Venice doing research. They had both been in operation in some form, according to the waiter, for at least 400 years so Casanova could have eaten there. The spider crab salad Lizzy ate cost 40 Euros but well worth it. My very favorite recipe in the world is Julia Childs Boeuf Bourguignon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA2ys8C-lNk . This how Casanova leaned to cook it in the book. I have rarely been able to pull it off, but of course, his was perfect.

MENU

I like Melissa’s idea of Julia Child’s beef bourguignon. But, my menu is the one straight from Conjuring Casanova that I haven’t been able to stop thinking of since I read it: crab-stuffed filet mignon, baked potato and creamed asparagus. The novel notes the filet is covered in a delicious sauce, I would use a béarnaise.

Crab Stuffing: Saute one small celery, two green onions in olive oil for one minute then add two crushed garlic cloves, cooking carefully so that the garlic doesn’t brown or burn until the onions are soft. Add 1 cup crabmeat, two tablespoons parsley and 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper.

Butterfly your filets and add the stuffing, tying the filets closed with kitchen twine. Cook steaks in a hot pan 2 minutes each side to brown, Place steaks in oven proof dish and cook in a pre-heated oven of 180 degrees Celsius for 15-20 minutes depending on how thick they are for a nice pink centre.

Bearnaise sauce: don’t tell anyone, but I use the mix.

MUSIC

I like Melissa’s music suggestions and I would play some Vivaldi, but I would also download Giuseppe Verdi’s I Due Foscari, an opera set in Venice.

The song titles from Conjuring Casanova:

Jaded

Lady Blue

A Little Help from My Friends

Wherever I May Roam

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Stranger in a Strange Land

Sympathy for the Devil

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Beautiful Loserconjuring

Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

Love the One You’re With

Should I Stay or Should I Go

The Night Chicago Died

The Unforgiven

Homeward Bound

Just the Way You Are

Coming Home

The Letter

Life Is A Highway

Happy Reading!

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Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord

david and goliath

David and Goliath, N.C. Wyeth

Geraldine Brooks is a writer of no ordinary skill. In Year of Wonders, People of the Book, Caleb’s Crossing and the Pulitzer-Prize winning March, Brooks achieves what all of us who are writers hope to achieve by creating a work of art, a big picture story by focusing her writing on the details of one person, one place, one story.

In The Secret Chord, Brooks turns her focus to the life of a man of no ordinary skill. David. Giant-slayer. Shepherd. Musician. King. A man, according to the Old Testament, after God’s own heart. It is an extraordinary book.

King David

Gerritt van Honthorst, King David Playing the Harp

A man alone in a room. Not such an extraordinary thing. Yet as I stepped into the chamber I had a sense of something out of place. My eye traveled around the space, the woven pillows, the low tables set with sweating ewers of cool water . . . all was in order, yet something was not right. Then I grasped it. It had been a while since I had found him in a room by himself.

. . . His fists, balled tight, were planted on the wide sill of the window embrasure, his arms encircled by polished copper cuffs. His hair, the same color as the copper, was undressed, and fell in a dense mane against the fine black wool of his mantle. The cuffs glinted in the low slant of early light as his arm muscles flexed. He was clenched from head to foot.

The Secret Chord relates the well-known Biblical incidents in David’s life through the eyes of those closest to him. King David tasks the prophet Nathan, our narrator, with compiling record of his life and from that beginning, Nathan sets out to interview David’s jealous brother, his loving (but guilt-ridden) mother, his first wife Mikhail and ultimately, Nathan finishes the story from the vantage point of his own decades-long relationship with the king.

Shammah, David’s brother speaks of his 14-year-old brother’s duel with Goliath, champion of the Plishtim foes. And in Geraldine Brooks’ skillful prose, the reader is right there at the feet, in the dust of Shammah’s courtyard, listening to a witness tell firsthand of one of the most legendary battles in history.

“All right. I’ll confess: We all of us wanted to see him put back in his place. And we all of us underestimated him. David saw his chance and he took it. . . . So it went on as it usually did. The Plishtim archers lined up, and so did we, with the usual field banging and insults. Goliath stepped out and called for his man. And there goes little brother, prancing in and out of the line, brandishing his staff. When Goliath saw him, he threw back his massive head and laughed. Well, why wouldn’t he? Does a gnat worry a bear? He yelled out to David, “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?'”

According to Brooks’ afterword in The Secret Chord, David is the first man in literature whose story is told from early childhood to extreme old age. Her choice to examine this story from the perspective of Nathan the prophet, the traditionally-recognized author of David’s story in the Biblical book of First Samuel, is a strong one. We discover the parts of David’s story as  Nathan does, gaining his perspective as well as our own.

If your book club chooses to read The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks, you may want to want this interview by with the author. It includes some of the beautiful art works associated with King David as well. http://www.hectv.org/watch/maryville-talks-books/the-secret-chord-one-on-one-with-geraldine-brooks/21227/

I couldn’t recommend a novel more highly. Enjoy!

MENU

Geraldine Brooks writes of all details of daily life of David, so she manages to include an impressive amount of food choices. From the novel: grapes, apricots, figs, soft bread, cheese, olives, a basket of flatbread, fragrant spiced (onion, cumin, coriander) grains, with yogurt to blend into the grains. Fat lambs turning on a spit, fowl roasting in clay ovens. And this, which I had to research: “bread and laban (strained yogurt), zait and zatar (extra virgin olive oil mixed with thyme).” And wine. Wine with everything.

I would begin with a tray of grapes, apricots, cheeses and olives

Flatbread

A big bowl of greek yogurt, plain

I’m going to order the zatar from a website I found. It sounds delicious and with many health benefits. Apparently, you’re to dip the bread into the olive oil and then into the spices. http://www.terra-rossa.com/extra-virgin-olive-oil/olive_oil_extra_virgin_zaatar.asp

Barley cooked with onion, cumin and coriander

Chicken. I don’t have a  clay oven, though I’d like one. So I found a recipe in my grandmother’s cache that sounds yummy.

Put 1 teaspoon garlic, salt and pepper on (a whole, cut up) chicken. Place in pan, skin side down, large pieces on outside of pan. Mix 1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup water. Pour over chicken. Bake 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Turn chicken and bake 30 more minutes. Baste during baking.

MUSIC

I will play harp music! Of course. I’ve found quite a list of downloadable music on Amazon of harp arrangements of the psalms. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-music&field-keywords=harp+psalms

MOVIE CASTING

David: Sam Heughan (recently of Outlander) PERFECTION!

Nathan: Adrien Brody

Abigail: Rachel Weisz

Mikhal: Natalie Portman

Bathsheba: Odeya Rush

Happy Reading and Eating!

Outlander_Cast_Jamie_420x560_v2

Sam Heughan

 

odeya

Odeya Rush