Touring our new cookbook — and spending time with family

Thank you to everyone who came out to Astoria Bookshop for our New York launch and to the Book Cellar for our Chicago launch! Both bookshops were wonderful and we had a terrific turnout! I meant to write sooner, but we’ve been bouncing from one thing to the next for the last month.

We brought the kids for the NYC launch, as well as batches of Dante’s Nine Layers of Torture Bars and Pythagorean Serum cocktails to share with the audience.

At The Astoria Bookshop with Dingding Hu (who makes a fabulous Janet), our illustrator for FORKING GOOD.
It was nice to be able to share our NYC party with the kids this time. It’s not often that they’re all able to travel with us.
Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate with us!

Inspired by Dingding’s costume, Stephen and I decided to dress as a gender-swapped Michael and Janet for the Chicago party…

So thrilled to have coworker friends from NIIT show up! <3
My Soul Squad. I love these people wholeheartedly.

The Book Cellar featured a special The Good Place-inspired cocktail created by Stephen that was not in the book: French Vanilla Antimatter! And we brought more Dante’s Nine Layers of Torture Bars to share with our guests.

***

In the last month, FORKING GOOD made it to the Semifinal Round of the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards for “Best Food & Cookbooks!” We also had some nice press, including this featured review by Foreword:

An extended inside joke that show fans will delight in adding to their shelves, Forking Good is a comfort-food laden, lightly philosophical cookbook worth indulging in.

We were included in this feature, “Pop culture cookbooks are one thing Millennials aren’t killing,” by Danielle Zimmerman for Hypable:

We’ve exhausted so many avenues of celebrating the fandoms we love that it was only natural for us to turn to food next. After all, fandom and pop culture already nourish our souls, so why not our bodies as well?

Stephen and I also did a fun interview for i8tonight, which is their own culinary spin on the Proust Questionnaire:

Where is your favorite place to eat?

Valya: Honestly, I love to eat at home—ours and other people’s. I appreciate the intimacy and personality. Outside of home dining, we really love our neighborhood Ethiopian restaurant, Ras Dashen. Also high on our list is Band of Bohemia, such wonderful food and cocktails.

Stephen: As an East Coaster relocated to Chicago, I thank the heavens for Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe, which is the place to get real New York pizza in town.

You can read the rest here.

Meanwhile, in the kid arena, there was a lockdown at my older kids’ high school. That morning, I got a text from my son telling me that their high school was on lockdown, and it was not a drill. My son and daughter, both in the high school, proceeded to relay information to us via text about what was happening as the students shared updates with one another around the school.

As it turns out, the lockdown was prompted by two pellet guns brought in by students, and the school seems to have dealt with it safely and efficiently. Still, it was terrifying to be a parent helplessly waiting for information about your children’s safety… in school, where they should be safe. I am so grateful that all the kids are ok, and I could not help but think of the hundreds of parents across this country who have sat frozen with feelings of helplessness and fear.

We talked about it at length at dinner, and the kids were mostly calm and pragmatic, discussing places where they think security could be better, praising teachers for staying calm and helping, relaying the fears and concerns of their peers.

This is their normal. This is anything but normal.

I’m still processing.

***

And speaking of parenting, there was the time last week when I was tucking in my youngest, and she said something sweet about hoping to be a mom like me when she grows up. I told her thank you, but it’s also ok if she decides to be a cool aunt instead. She certainly doesn’t have to decide now.

She looked at me with that intense Lana gaze for a minute and then said, “I see what you’re doing, Mom, trying not to push me in a direction. I know how you think. I KNOW where you get your parenting from. I READ your parenting book. The whole thing.”

Then she settled into her pillow and said (very pleased with herself), “I guess I know famous people too.” And went to sleep.

***

Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays ahead, I’m looking forward to some vacation days — cozy afternoons baking with the kids, coffee dates with friends, catching up with reading beside the tree, catching up with writing under quilts, and so much cuddling on the couch.

I hope that your December is also cozy and full of things that make you feel warm and happy and loved.

 

Homes and Hearths

This year for Wyrd Words, we took the retreat to Europe, to the Isle of Skye, where American-based writers connected with European friends.

I am so grateful that Wyrd Words participants always bring imaginative, thoughtful, open-hearted energy to our workshops and retreats.

Plus there is power in the settings we are lucky to work in, places with their own pulse and personality.

The Isle of Skye was an incredible backdrop for our week of creative work, a profound and majestic wilderness.

Every sunrise, dusk, and star-filled sky was a gift. Stepping outside to breathe in the wide open sky, catching a glimpse of the ocean from one of the windows, going for a walk along the craggy shore with its whispers of ancient secrets. I fell in love.

It was a delight to write and play in this incredible setting with brilliant and beautiful people.

Then there was…the Aga.

If you have never heard of an Aga (I had not until recently) then you can read about it here.

Along with our friend (and culinary goddess) Vanessa, we took turns cooking meals in this hearth-like stove that heats the home and remains on at a steady temperature for a completely different way to think about preparing food. I had to change the way I thought about cooking, but once I did, I loved it.

Plus…the Aga heats the kitchen so well (which for me is a dream, since my Raynaud’s starts to flare up this time of year).

Wyrd Words came at an interesting time this year, right after the kids began school and just before the launch of our cookbook, FORKING GOOD (out on October 22nd!)  I had ambitious goals for everything I hoped to accomplish (as always), and I didn’t get it all done, but I did make every moment count: I wrote every day, slept in, cooked and ate meals with people I love, and had moments of exploration and reflection.

We survived driving across Scotland in a large van (on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car!)

Plus I got to explore Glasgow a little (I want to go back!) and I saw my dear friend Alison for a whirlwind 24 hours.

Some places grab hold of your heart. Scotland is another of those places for me.

We’ll be back.

 

 

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.