From the moment I met Evie Glass, the protagonist in Deb Amy’s engrossing debut, THE GLASS WIVES, I felt as if I knew her. She seemed so…well, so real. Evie is a Jewish woman who went to Northwestern and likes to bake cookies. I am a Jewish woman…who went to Northwestern*…and likes to bake cookies. Hmm…
Okay, so there are numerous ways in which Evie’s struggles and crises are different than my own (thank goodness!), but Amy portrays Evie’s story so vividly that I could identify with all the challenges Evie faced throughout the story.
There were so many things I loved about THE GLASS WIVES, from the layered, complicated friendships to the evolving notion of “family,” but for this Jewish gal who likes to bake cookies, I particularly appreciated the references to Jewish food and culture peppered throughout the story. The book opens at a shiva and closes at a Passover seder, with a smattering of Jewish and Yiddish references in between. There’s talk of brisket and chopped liver and Tam Tams and macaroons. Be still my heart!
As you may have gathered from my previous posts, I love all things food and cooking, and Amy totally nails the importance of food in Jewish culture. Jews like to feed people. It is what we do. In the opening chapter, as people bring Tupperwares and foil-wrapped trays filled with food to the shiva after the death of Evie’s ex-husband, Amy writes, “Death was horrifying enough, but death and hunger would be a shanda, a disgrace.”
Yes. A thousand times yes.
One character brings rugelach, a cookie-like Jewish pastry, and so I figured to celebrate the launch of THE GLASS WIVES (Out TODAY!! Go buy your copy!!) I would share my Hungarian great grandmother’s recipe for rugelach. For some reason, my family always called these schnecken when I was growing up, which doesn’t really make sense because I’ve since discovered schnecken are an entirely different Hungarian pastry, but I digress…
So, without further ado, I give you the Greenspon family rugelach recipe. Let’s all bake cookies and celebrate with Deb Amy as her book baby enters the world! And if you’d like to win a copy of THE GLASS WIVES, just comment below and tell us what roll food plays in your family and/or culture!
* Okay, so I went to Northwestern for grad school, not undergrad, but for the sake of my argument, let’s not quibble over details.
Image by imperatricks via Flickr Creative Commons
Rugelach (or as my family called them, schnecken)
Yield: ~60 rugelach
You can fill your rugelach with whatever you like — raspberry jam, chocolate chips, nuts, you name it. My favorite fillings are apricot jam and golden raisins, or raspberry jam.
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1/2 lb. cream cheese
2 cups sifted flour
1 egg yolk (save the white)
1 cup sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon
Fillings of your choice (apricot jam + golden raisins, raspberry jam, Nutella, etc)
To make the dough, mix all of the dough ingredients together in a stand mixer or food processor until the dough comes together. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before making the rugelach. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the dough into 7 wedges. Using one wedge at a time, roll out into a flat circle about 1/8″ thick. Spread a thin layer of preserves or other spreadable filling along the outer edge of the circle. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar evenly all over the inside of the circle. If using apricot preserves, line the edges of the circle with golden raisins. Cut the circle into eighths. Roll each eighth from the outer edge in, forming a crescent shape. Seal the ends. Brush with the reserved egg white and roll in the remaining cinnamon sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
One of the aspects of cover art I find most fascinating is how one book can have multiple covers, depending on where the book is being sold. For example, here are four different covers for GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. From left to right, you have covers from the US, UK, Germany, and Italy:
Same book. Same author. Four different covers. Here is another example, with the same countries, for Sophie Kinsella’s I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER:
So what makes one cover work in one market, and not in another? Why would a book like Curtis Sittenfeld’s AMERICAN WIFE work better in the States with a bride on the cover, whereas in the UK the cover works better with a girl on a bicycle on a windswept plain? Obviously different cultures identify with different images and media, but beyond that, I don’t have a good answer. Particularly when it comes to the US and UK — two countries that, on the surface at least, seem so similar — I am consistently intrigued by how differently they approach cover art.
This is especially true with so-called chick lit, an umbrella under which my book seems to fall. In the States, most chick lit covers involve photographic renderings (a faceless girl, a cupcake, a group of beach chairs), whereas in the UK, illustrations (often cartoon-like and involving swirly lettering) predominate. I don’t universally prefer one over the other. Sometimes I think the US style works better; other times, I much prefer the UK illustration.
For comparison, here are four of my book covers, from the same countries listed above: US, UK, Germany, Italy. Which one do YOU prefer? Don’t be shy. I have my favorites, too!
(Also, I’d be curious to know your thoughts on different covers in different markets!)
Last week, when I saw the topic for this week’s post, I thought, “UGH. A secret I can share? Do I have any of those?”
And then I got a call from my agent on Thursday.
What was this call about, you ask? Well, I can’t tell you quite yet, making it the perfect topic for this post. But suffice it to say, our conversation involved books. Specifically, books written by me. Also, a new publisher. And maybe exciting things like…contracts.
Have I piqued your interest? If so, then you may want to follow me on Twitter and/or like me on Facebook, where I will be making an announcement in a matter of days (or, by the time you read this, possibly hours). In the meantime…I’ll let your imagination run wild…
If you read Deb Kerry’s post yesterday, then you’ll understand why I’m having trouble conveying my thoughts with even a shred of her eloquence. She nailed it. As I read, I kept nodding and thinking, “Yes, yes, yes.”
Last week’s news cycle was one of the worst I can remember in quite some time. At times, my Facebook and Twitter feeds threatened to suffocate me — one bad story after the next, everyone emoting into cyberspace, some seeking a connection and others simply seeking catharsis. I felt smothered. It was too much.
And it made me realize that sometimes it’s okay to check out. It’s okay not to tweet or post or email or watch CNN on an endless loop. Sometimes it’s okay to turn to your husband and baby and say, “I love you, and you’re what matters to me right now,” and be thankful for the small blessings in life.
Sometimes writing helps. Getting lost in a story or a cast of characters can put the real world on mute for a while, and all that matters is plot and dialogue and imaginary conflict. I can shut out the noise and lose myself in my imaginary world.
But sometimes, for me at least, I need to check out of the writing process, too. Rather than beat myself up because the words aren’t coming and the plot isn’t working and oh my gosh, on top of that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I close my laptop, take a deep breath, and step away from my desk.
Given all the sadness and tragedy in the world, I could obviously use the “hell in a hand basket” excuse every day to avoid writing. If I did that, I would never finish a book, which is kind of a problem if I want my books published. And since I do want my books published, I don’t encourage checking out of the writing process on a regular basis.
But so often as writers we beat ourselves up if we have a bad writing day or if life gets in the way and thwarts our best-laid plans to write two more chapters. We shouldn’t. Life is full of twists and turns — some of them welcome, some of them not — and some days we need to step away from our stories and simply surround ourselves with the people we love most. Some days we have to say, “I’ll write more tomorrow. Today I’m going to take care of myself.” And you know what? That’s okay.
When it comes to writing advice, a few pithy phrases make the rounds again and again. Let me know if you’ve heard any of these before:
“Kill your darlings.”
“Show, don’t tell.”
“Write what you know.”
“Writing is rewriting.”
“Raise the stakes.”
Any of those sound familiar? Thought so. But just because advice is well-worn doesn’t make it any less useful. I’ve followed all of those bits of advice at one time or another, and my writing has been better for it.
The piece of advice I’ve found most helpful in my writing career is another one of those oft-quoted tropes and, in my opinion at least, is something all writers
“Find your voice.”
Sounds obvious, right? I mean, duh. Whose voice are you going to find? Big Bird’s?
But for many aspiring writers, “voice” can be elusive. You want to be the next Hemingway. Or Hornby. Or Atwood. And so you sit down and start to mimic those writers — their cadence, their themes, their tone. But soon you get frustrated because…well, something isn’t quite working.
I’ll tell you what isn’t working: your voice — or rather your lack thereof. Because guess what? You aren’t going to be the next any of those people. You are going to be the first YOU, and to do that, you need to find your voice, a voice that could not belong to any other author past or present because it is yours. When I stopped worrying about sounding a certain way so that professors and readers would take me seriously, I started sounding like ME, and when that happened, the writing started flowing in chatty, unrestrained gushes.
I don’t mean to suggest that once I found my voice, a novel rolled off my fingertips in a matter of days. But once I let my writing sound like me, I didn’t have to worry about finding the right words and instead could focus on telling the right story.
What’s your take on “voice”? Did you find yours right away or did it take time?
I am not a crier.
It wasn’t until senior year of college that my best friend and roommate of three years actually saw me cry. When it happened, she was in the middle of studying for a biology midterm, and I came in her room and, through tears, explained that the guy I’d been dating just broke up with me. Her eyes widened, shock painted across her face — not at the news I’d just shared but because oh my god, Dana was crying. She dropped her four-inch-thick textbook on the floor and beckoned me to her bed for a hug because clearly this was serious.
So, having said all that, my road to publication? It was — and continues to be — paved with tears. Some of those tears were happy tears (“I’m getting published! It’s actually happening!”), others were sad tears (“The agent of my dreams passed on my manuscript…sniffle, sniffle…”), and still others were tears of frustration (“My publisher is changing my title, and it’s really long, and why are they doing this to me???).
I wish I could blame the waterworks on pregnancy hormones, but I started sending out my manuscript in February 2011, and I just gave birth a month ago, so…you do the math.
No, in truth, I think I can attribute my crybaby ways to the publication process itself because honestly? Getting published is emotional, y’all. You’ve probably heard other writers call it a roller coaster. It is. Except on this roller coaster, the highs are like soaring to the moon and the lows are like crashing back down to earth and catching fire.
Here is what I’ve learned about getting published and crying:
(1) It’s okay to cry. No, I’ll go a step further: it’s necessary to cry. Bringing a book into the world is wonderful, stressful, frustrating and fulfilling all at once, and if you try to cage up all of the emotions that come along with the process, you’ll eventually explode. Crying is a release valve. Let it out. You’ll be glad you did — even if you’re not a crier.
(2) Find a shoulder to cry on. Yes, it’s a cliche, but writing is a solitary discipline, and as cathartic as a good cry can be, it’s important to have a support network to share in the good times and buoy your spirits in the bad ones. Whether it’s other writers or a spouse or family, find a sympathetic shoulder and use it.
So tell me, am I the only one who’s had a tear-filled writing experience? When is the last time you had a good cry?
I’m not a prankster. Whether that’s down to a lack of imagination or an aversion to getting in trouble, I’m not sure, but all I know is that if there is a prank to be had, I’m usually at the receiving end.
Some might say I’m gullible. I say I’m “trusting” and “earnest.” Whatever the case, if you tell me there is such at thing as “Skittlebrau,” a beer flavored with Skittles, or that the server in my college dining hall is actually Sade’s mother, I will probably believe you. (Note: In the latter case, said dining hall server did actually believe she was Sade’s mother, so it wasn’t so much a prank as it was a case of extreme delusion…)
All of that being the case, I’m more likely to enjoy reading about a good prank than participating in one. And since this is a blog hosted by writers, I thought I’d share some of my favorite literary pranks, in no particular order.
The VW Beetle Prank in A Prayer for Owen Meany: When Owen gets mad at the school-appointed psychologist for continually parking his VW Beetle in Owen’s parking space at school, Owen gets the basketball team to carry the car from the parking space to the school auditorium, where everyone will see it on stage at the morning meeting. Hijinks ensue.
Minny’s Pie in The Help: I dare you to find a reader who didn’t revel in Minny’s “terrible awful,” which gave Hilly Holbrook quite the surprise. Schadenfreude, anyone?
Creative Toilet Disposal in The Help: Another prank at Hilly Holbrook’s expense. Loved it.
Office Pranks in Then We Came to the End: Hiding sushi rolls in Joe Pope’s cubicle (and leaving them to fester)…rotating the coveted office chairs around the office…Joshua Ferris’ debut novel was filled with A+ office pranks.
Lisbeth Salander’s Tattoo on Nils Bjurman in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: This isn’t a funny ha-ha prank, but as a reader, I cheered for Lisbeth as she gave her abusive guardian his comeuppance.
Dear reader, I know there are many other pranks I’ve enjoyed in books over the years, but at the moment, my brain cannot recall more than these five. Why? Probably because I’ve been up with a newborn for the past three weeks and am working on minimal amounts of sleep. So help me out. What are YOUR favorite pranks in literature? Do tell!