Does Sheila Turnage have a way with words! Mo, the twelve-year-old heroine in her 2012 debut middle-grade novel, Three Times Lucky, wouldn’t know a cliché if it hit her in the face (and she’d never use that tired old expression). Think how hard it is to find an interesting way to describe a heart racing with elation or fear. Mo: “My heart leaped like the cheerleader I will never be.” Here’s another nice line: “Uneasiness ran its fingertips across my shoulders.” And when she’s down: “I feel like a sky without stars.” You want to read this book now, don’t you?
Obsessing over Thanksgiving meal for family, for no particularly good reason. They could not be more easy going when it comes to food (and that may be the only way in which they are easy going). The tried and true is all anyone wants at Thanksgiving–nonetheless I’ve spent hours leafing through recipes and testing new ones. Brussels sprouts with pancetta instead of mixed roasted vegetables? But then is that too much meat, if I make that stuffing with the sausage? How about red cabbage? Or squash no sweet potatoes but we’re having mashed how about peas and baby onions? Tested two Brussels spouts recipes before my husband Dan casually allowed: “I don’t really like Brussels sprouts.” I stared at him. This after countless meals featuring the little green things. Okay, then: no sprouts for Thanksgiving. Phew. We’ll stick with roasted root vegetables, which everyone loves, or least doesn’t complain about. Next I made a pecan and chocolate tart out of the November 2012 Bon Appétit, on the off chance it might trump my own much beloved pecan-pie recipe. And it didn’t. The chocolate overwhelmed the flavor of the pecans, and the tart crust was oddly tasteless. Served me right. The recipe that works every time for me strikes just the right balance between nuttiness and sweetness.
Alex’s Pecan Pie (an amalgam of recipes from the Silver Palate, Epicurious and others):
4 large eggs
2 cups chopped pecans, 1 cup or so pecan halves
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 stick sweet butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
9-inch prepared or homemade pie crust, unbaked
(3 oz. good-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips, if desired)
In a 250-degree oven, crisp the nuts on a cookie tray for 5 to 10 minutes, until fragrant and crunchy.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch glass pie dish with crust (or bring store-bought to room temperature). Whisk sugar, eggs, butter, syrup, vanilla and cinnamon together. Reserve a handful of the chopped nuts and put aside. Spread the rest in the bottom of the pie shell and pour in the filling until you reach the top edge of the crust (you can add the chocolate chips, also, if desired). Use the handful of nuts you saved on any spots that don’t appear to have enough nuts. Arrange the pecan halves around the edge of the pie as decoration. Bake on a baking tray on the middle oven rack for around 40 minutes, until the filling has gelled but no means hard. If crust is browning too quickly, cover with foil. Cool at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
My newest guilty pleasure is ordering a book on my iPad and starting to read it right then and there, in the middle of the day, when there are other more important things to do–like work on my novel revision. My latest download was The List, a YA contemporary novel by an author with an incredibly cool name, Siobhan Vivian. On her blog, literary agent Molly Jaffa called it one of her favorite books of 2012. I’d never heard of it, so I idly checked out the first page on Amazon. Well. I had to download it immediately. This is the first sentence: “For as long as anyone can remember, the students at Mount Washington High have arrived at school on the last Monday of September to find a list naming the prettiest and the ugliest girl in each grade.” Irresistible, right? Vivian gives a voice to each of the eight girls during the week before the homecoming dance. Being named one of the prettiest confers instant fame and popularity–or for those who were already popular, like Margo, affirmation of the status quo. Could anything go wrong once you’ve been named one of the prettiest girls in school? As it turns out, yes. Being on the list pushes Bridget into the grip of anorexia just as she’s trying to escape it. The friends Lauren attracts, thanks to her new status, convinces her mother to withdraw her from the school against her will. Counter-intuitively, the girls on the ugliest list weren’t as bad off as I expected them to be. I figured they’d be devastated, humiliated to the point of disfunction. That’s how I would’ve been. I would’ve had to switch schools. I would’ve needed therapy. One girl, Jennifer, who’s made the list every year of high school–a record–is indeed a mess. Thank goodness she’s a senior, because she needs to get out of town, asap. But the other girls rally They work through the shame and anger. Granted, they aren’t actually physically unattractive, and two of the three have boyfriends. But wait a minute. Am I saying these girls aren’t ugly enough to be on the ugly list? If I start to judging who is and who isn’t, I’m no better than the list maker. Ms. Vivian: I’m better, I swear! If I had the power to put an end to the list, I’d do it. I really would.
Have you heard of schmagents? I had not until recently, when Brooks Sherman of Fine Print Literary mentioned them in an excellent Writer’s Digest webinair on writing queries for middle-grade manuscripts. Schmucky agents: In gentler terms, agents who act unethically. They charge fees to read manuscripts or take on clients (a reputable agent does not do this), steer your work to vanity publishers or pressure writers to buy editing services. Then there are agents who just don’t know what they are doing and can’t sell a book to save their lives. Morale: Do your research! Writer Beware (www.sfwa.org), the website of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Committee on Writing Scams, has got lots of useful and updated information.