Night of the Deadlines

Forking Good at the Quirk Books Booth at BookExpo!

A dear friend met me for coffee a month ago and gifted me with the mug pictured below; when I opened the box, I laughed long and hard in the cafe where we were enjoying breakfast–it was perfect.

When we started working on FORKING GOOD, I knew the deadline was going to be tight. I write pretty well under pressure, although it’s often at the expense of things like sleep, socialization, and self-care. What I was not prepared for was *cooking* under pressure—because this cookbook manuscript wasn’t just an exercise in writing clever philosophy lessons related to the sitcom The Good Place. It also required creating 30 tasty recipes that tied into those lessons.

As I have written before, I love to cook, and serving a meal to be enjoyed with people I love is one of my favorite things in the world. Most of the time, however, I’m a largely improvisational cook. I start with a recipe that’s new or familiar, and I adapt based on what’s in the pantry, what we have a taste for, who’s coming to dinner. I love that moment of adding new herbs and spices, and changing things up a little. I rarely note my changes, except in the general sense on a recipe card or page of a cookbook.

Playing with chives.

It will come as no surprise that this is not the way one creates a recipe to be shared in a cookbook. One must measure and record with precision and accuracy to be able to recreate a dish exactly. This was perhaps my greatest personal challenge in the process, making sure that I recorded and measured every pinch and dash and time change.

Most of the time we tried to make recipes in time for dinner to be shared with the kids (or a few guests) for taste-testing. They were amenable to the experiments; and for a few weeks, it solved the never-ending question of “What’s for dinner tonight, Mom?”  However, time constraints due to the dayjob and deadlines meant that we spent many nights making versions 2 or 3 (or 4) of a recipe at 1am (which then were frozen for future leftovers).

Long days of working, cooking, cleaning up, and writing meant that I was certainly grateful for the cocktail taste-testing required by Stephen’s drink recipe cultivation, and by the time we turned in the draft of the cookbook to our wonderful editor, Jhanteigh Kupihea, I was ready to order Thai takeaway and have a glass of wine. For a week.

Enough time has passed that I’m back to cooking enthusiastically, and we’re so excited about sharing the book when it comes out in October!  In the meantime, we’ve got photos and sneak-peeks to share along the way, and I’ll do that here and especially on our Instagram feed(s):

In the meantime, you can pre-order Forking Good or request it from your local indie bookshop!

Last week at Book Expo, our publisher had a table and was giving away promotional BLADs (stands for Book Layout and Design, these paperback excerpts from the book are given to publishers and readers to promote advance sales.) Danielle Zimmerman of Hypable was there and got a copy:

Forking Good at BookExpo!

 

Remembering Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe passed away last night, April 14, 2019. He was one of the world’s greatest writers, one of my literary heroes and inspiration, and he was my friend. 

Many people have written about his novels and stories, and more will continue to speak about Gene’s incredible talent, his sharp intellect and wit, his brilliant imagination and unforgettable characters. It’s all true and so much more. Gene’s writing bridged literary and genre worlds in a way unlike any other writer. His books and stories will stand the test of time.

When the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame decided to honor a writer for our first lifetime achievement award, the Fuller Award, I had no doubt that it should be Gene Wolfe. Planning that event in 2012 was one of my greatest joys, assembling writers and editors, friends and family, who loved him under one roof. We gathered together in a gilded setting full of mechanical delights (including a giant indoor carousel!) to celebrate the man and his stories. It was a magical evening to honor a remarkable man.

Neil Gaiman presenting Gene Wolfe with the Fuller Award. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

It’s not often that our heroes become our friends, and over the next several years Gene and I had many treasured breakfast and dinner conversations over which we discussed life and literature, parenting and writing. If out-of-town friends were visiting, he always encouraged me to bring them along. It was a joy introducing them to Gene, he was a kind and generous conversationalist, wickedly smart and inspiring. Every conversation was a gift.

Two years ago, I brought the kids to meet Gene. They loved him immediately of course; and Lana, my youngest—the budding storyteller—was especially entranced by his stories. Gene was a master storyteller in life as well as on the page. He transported us back in time to his childhood and his father’s diner in Texas, his college days and the alligator, knife-throwing adventures and pocket knife collecting, his beloved canine companions, and so many other stories over lunch. He ended by insisting upon ice cream for dessert and reassuring my youngest that vanilla was absolutely a valid choice when her siblings teased her. Then he proceeded to tell them all about Madagascar vanilla, which evolved into a conversation about the history and animals of Madagascar.

That’s how conversations with Gene went, hopscotching through time and space, meandering through obscure facts and wonder-filled anecdotes from his incredible memory and experiences. Liam and Gene bonded over cars and rollercoasters. Maya loved him for the way he talked about animals and loved his dog, Miriam. Lana told me afterwards that Gene had a way of being cheeky and serious at the same time. She was absolutely right. Gene had a mischievous grin and the kindest, wisest of eyes.

Gene and I stood in his yard as the kids ran around chasing the dog before our drive back home to Chicago, and I gave him a hug. We talked about how kids need green spaces and he reminded me that they were always welcome to come back and run around. He picked out books for each of them and signed them; and they carried them home with a kind of reverence. They talked about how he was the first “real writer” they had ever met (other than Mom, who didn’t count), and how cool it was that he had written so many books and was still such a nice person. I was happy to share them with Gene, and to share Gene with them. I love when people I love get to connect. That day is another of my most treasured memories.

Gene once told me that one of the purest, happiest moments of his life was driving along the road when he came upon a whole flock of goldfinches in the road. As he approached them in the car, they all flew up. “It was like a gold shower coming up to heaven,” he told me, and went on to emphasize how powerful a moment of joy it was.

Today, I looked up what a flock of goldfinches is called. It’s called a charm, a charm of goldfinches. Finding out that fact is when I started to cry with the loss of my friend, because it was perfect. Gene Wolfe was charming—he delighted and entranced with his stories, and he brought so much happiness into my life and the lives of those who read and loved his words.

Earlier this year, the last time I saw Gene, he shared a story with me about the only double rainbow he had ever seen while driving through Logan, Ohio, where his parents are buried. He had stopped to buy some flowers for their grave, and on the drive into town he saw a double rainbow. Gene explained that if you’re looking for the supernatural, that’s all you need to see to believe in the supernatural.

I cherish both these memories because they capture something that I loved about Gene. Gene Wolfe was a brilliant man with a sophisticated wit and a remarkable mind, but he also had an appreciation for wonder in the world and moments of grace—be they with friends and family, with animal companions, with nature, or with good books.

Teri Goulding pins the boutonnière on her father, Gene Wolfe, at the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s Evening to Honor Gene Wolfe. (Photo by Carl Hertz)

What is remembered, lives; and Gene Wolfe will live on forever in his stories and in the hearts of people who adored him. Gene, may your soul soar to join your beloved Rosemary on the wings of goldfinches.  

The Taste of Something Sweet: A Small Ritual of Gratitude

As someone whose birthday falls ten days before Valentine’s Day, there were always a lot of red and pink decorations around the stores for my mother to draw inspiration from when decorating for my birthday; and I loved the lacy decorations, the red balloons, the hearts and roses. I still do. They are pretty and passionate and powerful and provocative, and I adore them, especially vintage cards and decorations and handmade tokens of love.

St. Valentine’s Day is also my “Name Day,” the feast day of the saint whose name I share. This is a tradition celebrated by many Ukrainians, and it can be tied to the feast day or birthday of various saints or martyrs. Valya is derived from Valentine, and I always felt a special connection to the saint whose mission was enabling and celebrating love.

I write many different things: some of them are grounded in the real world while others go to mythic places, some of them grapple with the darkness, many of them celebrate beauty. No matter what I am writing, I am a poet at heart and a Romantic. My writing tends to be sensual and descriptive, emotional and wonder-filled. I very much think in scenes and symbols.

Symbols are powerful because they give shape to ideas and emotions. They help us to imagine the possibilities, to manifest what we need by allowing us to visualize with intention. That is so much of what “magic” is—visualizing with intention. And as far as intention, we could definitely use more love in this world.

Viktor E. Frankl, whom I’ve written about before, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:

For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.

I know people dislike or have a love-hate relationship with this holiday. I understand that it’s complicated and muddied by the messages of the media, by toxic relationships we have lived through, by our personal struggles, and by systems put in place that have done irrevocable harm. There’s a lot there, and it’s important, and we certainly do not need to be told on this day, or any day, what love is or should be or how it should be celebrated.

I do think we all need love, however, and I choose to honor this day in that spirit, to see it as a day that remembers and celebrates the kind of love and optimism that Mr. Rogers talked about. For me, the way that he walked through this world with love and kindness embodies the heart of Valentine’s Day:

Deep within us—no matter who we are—there lives a feeling of wanting to be lovable, of wanting to be the kind of person that others like to be with. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.  

From The World According To Mister Rogers

and

Love is like infinity: You can’t have more or less infinity, and you can’t compare two things to see if they’re ‘equally infinite.’ Infinity just is, and that’s the way I think love is, too.

FromThe World According To Mister Rogers

Some years this holiday has been happy or sad depending on what was going on in my life and in the world. There have been holidays hectic with kid-related activities, or deadlines and responsibilities that ate up all the time, or emotional heartaches and losses that left little room for optimism.

However, there is one thing I have always tried to do on Valentine’s Day, ever since my parents gave me a small heart-shaped box of chocolates when I was a girl. That Valentine’s Day so long ago, it was the only gift a lonely, disappointed, romantic girl received; and after I got over the feeling of being sad, I took the time to eat one of the chocolates, and it tasted like love.

Ever since then, this is my small, private ritual. On Valentine’s Day, I take a few minutes to savor the taste of something sweet on my tongue (preferably a piece of nice chocolate, but sometimes it’s been a sugar cube or a spoon of honey), and as it melts, I close my eyes and remember the feeling of love: of being loved, of loving wholeheartedly. Because love is a gift, and I am so very grateful. Thank you.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

(If you’d like to read more about the history, lore, recipes, and rituals associated with Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to check out this three-part article written by my friend, Katelan Foisy. Click here for more!)

Valentine by Katelan Foisy. You can buy them digitally on her website: https://www.katelanfoisy.com/market