England

E        I’ll admit, I am enamoured (that’s enamored, for you Colonials) with ENGLAND.

I’ve had a crush the size of the Two Fat Ladies on the Motherland, probably since I was old enough to Sing a Song of Six Pence. Who doesn’t love singing about four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie? And while we’re at it, who doesn’t love the Two Fat Ladies? They make national dishes with zany names like Bubble & Squeak, then they get on their motorcycle w/side car and roll away. Very entertaining!

Not sure exactly why the fascination started. Perhaps it’s that innate sense of heritage – I am English, Dutch and French on my mother’s side. Although from what I know about my ancestors, many were of Quaker descent and probably got the boot in the 17th Century. So let’s fast-forward to the 1970s and examine the appeal. It’s safe to say my first introduction was through the telly. Thanks to my older brother, who was in charge of channels, two vastly different male personae made quite an impression: James Bond and Benny Hill. Suavity and gadgetry vs. slapstick and goofiness. I was enthralled.

Then the 1980s hit and with it, the NWOBHM. Say what? A musical movement the critics dubbed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had sloshed up against our U.S. shores and stormed across much of Middle America. Through the magic of Mtv, the British musicians invaded our living rooms in their tight trousers and their London leather. My friends and I were happily pledging allegiance to the Union Jack – completely entranced.

Trooper Bruce

From cream of the crop...

Def Lep Jacks

...to over the top. Jack-o-mania!

We didn’t just love the NWOBHM males – most of our über-hip rock heroes were also from the right side of the pond: Bowie, Townshend, Jagger – we were enchanted! My childhood best friend and I vowed we would one day travel to Blighty together.

And we did, 20 years later. Thanks to the internet, we found each other after a decade-long separation and renewed our friendship. Soon after, we traveled to London together. The internet has made the world a much smaller marble, and I have since made many friends who call England home. A few years later, I hopped the pond again; to London, Sheffield and Birmingham. These trips were mostly music-related, so confined to the cities. Next time, my goal is to see some of the countryside.

I know my view of England is through big-ass, Elton John-worthy rose-coloured glasses. No place on Earth is perfect, and England certainly has its share of 1st World problems. Even still – England evokes elation!

All Aboard the A!

Illuminated A

I love a good illuminated letter.

The Blogging from A to Z Challenge begins today! I’ve contemplated themes, toyed with the idea of guest bloggers…and have decided to let this endeavor happen organically. As a former librarian, I’m no stranger to the alphabetical and chronological. Hell, I can even sing the entire alphabet backwards, thanks to Ralph Covert! I’m absolutely amused by alliteration, and I love to play with words. So I thought I’d start out my ABC Adventure by writing about writing. A is for AUTHOR.

And they don’t call it “authorship” for nothing.

Writing is a craft, and it is a writers’ job to steer that craft. This concept is not new; in fact, the amazing Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a very helpful book on the subject: Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.

I think every fiction author has had someone ask them “Where do you get your ideas from?” or “Did you write that because it happened to you?” Sure, truth is often stranger than fiction, and it’s often said you ‘write what you know’. But most writers will be happy to tell you: the ideas just come. The characters just speak. And no, that character is not based on me, because I’ve never gone to wizarding school/dated a vampire/owned a car with an evil mind of its own named Christine, etc.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the South Ferry Terminal in Manhattan. Visions of it often pop into my head at odd times while I’m writing or just thinking about writing. Not sure why; perhaps it’s due to all the years I spent commuting between boroughs in my young adulthood. I have been crafting a particularly tough scene that takes place on the Staten Island ferry, but I don’t think that is the only reason my brain keeps drifting back to it. It may be a stretch to try and offer it as an allusion or allegory for anything remotely literary, but here goes:

Picture yourself if you can, walking into the ferry terminal. Don’t worry if you’ve never been to this particular terminal. Its a bright expanse of glass and chrome; clean and modern. This is a beautiful panorama of an author’s brain. The sky’s the limit if you’re looking up. But if you’re looking down, you might notice a bit of grime on the floor. Some stubborn dirt, or the sticky remnants of someone’s sick regret the janitor missed while mopping up. Oh, and pigeon poop. It’s all there. The good and the bad.

New Whitehall terminal

New ferry terminal, Manhattan

The ferry boats docking and departing are the ideas – plots, scenes, arcs – coming and going. Some are small and only come at night (like the Alice Austin, the smallest ferry of the fleet and the only one named after a woman). Others are grandiose, majestic…the Guy V. Molinari, three thousand-ton kind of ideas.

Staten Island Ferry

Guy V Molinari ferry

So we’ve got the terminal and we’ve got the boats. How about all the commuters? A regular person looks and sees a crowd. A writer looks and sees a crowd…and wonders what everyone had for breakfast.

Striding quickly through or plunking themselves heavily down in your brain, in your plots and scenes, are characters. Why have they come? What are they thinking? Where are they going? These are all questions a writer will ask repeatedly. A writer will scour the terminal, sail back and forth on the boats until seasick and shaky, and search the face of each and every commuter discretely. Some are laughing, some are sleeping, some are yelling at their children in a foreign language. Eating, kissing, reading, staring into space. Some show up like clockwork every day. Others show up unexpectedly. Many disappear into the landscape. The best kind catch your eye. Smile. Open up to you.

crowd

The crowd - a cast of characters

If my title led you to believe we were taking a train today…APRIL FOOL! We took a ride on the SS Authorship. Hope you enjoyed the ride! Tomorrow’s journey: B…

Good Intentions Pave the Way to Hell’s Kitchen

In 1993, two students moved to New York City to find their fame and fortune. They ended up finding each other and falling in love. (Insert collective “awwww” here.) No, not the basis of a romance novel, just my life! Fast forward almost twenty years later: we’ve since gained a cat, a kid, a few pounds, and a mortgage in the suburbs…

But New York City will always be home.

I was in Manhattan last week for the most pleasurable part of my business: a CD Release party for moe. – gotta love when your work day begins and ends with sushi, open bar, and a night of raging rock and roll! While there, I ventured into my old hood of Hell’s Kitchen. Ah, hell. I remember it well.

During the time I lived on 47th and 9th, the area still insisted on being called the less-controversial ‘Clinton’. It has since taken pride in its older, grittier name, yet ironically it’s been scrubbed clean of some of its grubby landmarks. Most of the peep shows and XXX theaters that used to line 8th Avenue have vanished. My DH (he wasn’t a ‘dear husband’ back then, more like ‘dirty hippie’) used to joke that he would bring a pocket full of quarters while traveling cross-town to court me.

Sadly, my neighborhood coffee joint The Coffee Pot recently shuttered its doors, but its predictable predecessor Starbucks is brewing right on my old corner now. I think Bruno Ravioli, responsible for my love of pumpkin ravioli, is gone as well.

Some things have not changed a bit. Amy’s Bread is still rocking and rolling out their delicious dough. The Amish Market, where I would spend way too much on exotic pastas and ten kinds of mushrooms just ‘cuz they were there, still stands. While only three blocks from my apartment, the market instilled a rule in my head that I still follow today: buy only what you can easily carry. Shit gets heavy when you lug it three blocks down and five flights up!

Speaking of five story walk-ups, a unique part of my old neighborhood was its strict zoning laws. No buildings higher than seven stories were allowed to be built, which protected its low-rise character. And allowed the sunlight to filter through the buildings in the most glorious way. I think the zoning laws have been lifted post-9/11, but as soon as I hit my old block it still feels cozy and quaint.

Hell's Kitchen apartment

Scaffolding may come and go, but the buildings remain. My first Manhattan apartment.

I think everyone should have the chance to live in Manhattan for at least a year of their life. Preferably in their 20s, when they are young and idealistic, like I was. And hungry and energetic and egocentric! I remember the moment it really dawned on me that I actually LIVED in the greatest city in the world. I left my apartment early on Sunday morning, heading out for coffee and the New York Times and it struck me. Pure quiet. The city that never sleeps was snoozing like a baby. I was the only person on the street – and NYC was mine.

Almost twenty years later, NYC still pulls me. Although, like one of my novel’s characters once commented, New York is now like a love affair I can’t bring myself to fully commit to. I look forward to its embrace each time I visit, but I’m usually more than ready to slip out of bed and out of town soon after. Too loud, too dirty, too fast. People sitting too close on the subway. (See what the suburbs have done to this city girl?)

But I love writing New York City. I constantly find my stories gravitating toward its setting. Although I only lived there for a handful of years, it’s always in my mind’s eye. Probably because there is a story in every stone statue, each beeping horn, within the clattering subway cars and behind every tag of graffiti or shouted obscenity on the street corner. I love that I can write that the train station smells like piss and bologna without having to actually smell it. I can create train delays without having to experience the inconvenience of them. And when I find myself missing Central Park, I love that I can create Central Park on the page for my characters to frolick in. Or to fight in. Or to fall in love in.

I have a feeling I will end up living back in Manhattan one day. My husband faithfully buys lottery tickets and talks about a pied-à-terre, but I can’t quite invest my dollars or dreams in that direction quite yet. I do see my daughter living there someday. She was born there, and three generations of her family got their start or made their living in the entertainment business there. So perhaps she will move there to find her fame and fortune too…

Piece O’ Cake

Today we celebrate all things sweet! Not that we need a reason, but here are two:

My very talented friend Amanda Usen‘s deliciously hot romance Scrumptious just hit the shelves of a major bookstore today – woo, nice rack, Amanda!

Scrumptious by Amanda Usen

Scrumptious by Amanda Usen

Reason #2: My daughter’s 10th birthday is coming up, and as we made cupcakes for her party today, it got me thinking. This decade, no lie, went by in a blink. I can remember my own 9 year old self asking my oh-so-wise (12 year old) brother, “Do double-digits make you feel different?” like it was yesterday. So how the hell can I have a double-digit kid?

While her years from Baby to Big Girl have gone by in a blur, I can remember each of her milestones carved out in cake. Yup. So in celebration of all things sweet, I thought I’d take you on a no-calorie stroll down memory lane.

First Birthday

1st birthday

First birthday – OK, so no actual pictorial evidence of the first cake, except for what is left all over her face (and um, her feet). I’m thinking it was chocolate with vanilla buttercream icing. I should preface this cake trail by saying I have ZERO professional aspirations when it comes to cake art. I just love a good piece of cake from scratch. And if I can shape it into something wacky…all the better!

2nd birthday was definitely chocolate-on-chocolate. Traditional double-layer round. Pictures exist in the hard copy…after all, it WAS the somewhat dark ages of 2003.

3rd birthday

3rd birthday - Wiggles Cake

3rd birthday – OK, this is where my insanity started. My homage to Dorothy the Dinosaur, complete with white chocolate music notes that I formed free-hand and added to this 3 layer, vanilla-chocolate-vanilla creation. Monster, created…

4th birthday – sorry, we had just moved from New Jersey to Buffalo. I remember I copped out and bought a Wegmans sheet cake. Theme: Thomas the Tank Engine. No photos, but it was yummy.

5th birthday

5th birthday - Backyardigans cake

5th birthday – Half-cheated on the Backyardigans cake – again, a store-bought sheet cake (don’t judge me), and added some characters on top. Hard to see, but that is a tiny treasure chest next to Pablo that I added chocolate gold coins to. I like the kid huffing the juice pouch next to her.

6th birthday

6th birthday - Little Mermaid cake

6th birthday – Fell off the wagon back into cake craziness again. I literally broke her doll getting it to ‘cooperate’ – whoops. And probably spent a week trying to find those fancy marbled chocolate Guylian seashells to compliment Ariel. But wow factor with the 6 year olds: BIG.

7th birthday - Kermit cake

7th birthday - Kermit cake

7th birthday – Really proud of this one! She was obsessed with the Muppets, and I became obsessed with creating Kermit. Not sure how many cakes I used. His eyes are cupcakes cut in half. Lots of butter and XX sugar was sacrificed, this I know.

8th birthday - Technicolor Dreamcake

8th birthday - Technicolor Dreamcake

8th birthday – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was all she could talk about. “Mom, can I have a Joseph cake?” This was my interpretation. Biggest cake to date – M&Ms for color. Lots of leftovers.

9th birthday - Harry Potter cake

9th birthday - Harry Potter cake

9th birthday – I came to my senses this year. I left it to a professional, who did an amazing job on creating her favorite character, Dobby the House Elf, in fondant. (He lives in our freezer to this day.)  I may not have made the cake, but I did make the cut-out cookies (Crookshanks and Hedwigs) for the goody bags!

Cats and Owls cookies

Cats and Owls cookies

And that brings us to the big 1-0. A little understated, which is fine. She wanted funfetti cupcakes, so I found a recipe for homemade funfetti. Supplemented with chocolate cupcakes from the Magnolia bakery cookbook. Icing color and application by my almost 10-year old, who has inherited my sweet tooth, my love for baking, but perhaps my single-minded insanity for staying out-of-the-box at all times when it comes to confections.

10th birthday - cupcakes

10th birthday - simple cupcakes

Life is sweet…and success is the icing on top of an already rich treat.

Congrats to Amanda, and happy days to you all!