Double Duty

As I was preparing a workshop for the California Dreamin’ Conference, I began to think about the concept of making one element of your work, whether scene, sentence or character, do double duty. I’ve decided that this concept may be one of the “secrets of the writing universe.”

First I’ll show you five ways that Double Duty can be introduced into your books. You can probably think of others. Then we’ll talk about the effect it can have on your finished product.

1. The simplest form of double-duty is probably the kind you use for attributions of dialogue.

Instead of saying, “he said,” or “she expostulated” after a line of dialogue, you leave off the attribution and start a new sentence that implies who is speaking, such as: “‘I can’t believe you said that.” Her voice broke and she turned away.”

If this is a scene between a man and a woman, we know the woman was the one who spoke even though we are not technically given an attribution but an action description. The reader makes an assumption based on proximity. Of course you do this already. It’s great for varying the sentence patterns in your dialogue scenes.

WHAT IT DOES: Great for pacing. Speeds up your book and makes it a page-turner.

2. That pair of sentences I just made up does double duty in another way too. The description of the action tells the character’s emotion as well as describes the action, as well as tells you who was speaking. Without it, the character could be only angry rather than also deeply hurt.

WHAT IT DOES: Shorthand description is great for pacing. It also deepens the reader’s perception of the character.

3. Scenes can do double duty as well. As a matter of fact, they nearly always should.

Examples are “introducing the villain and showing the protagonist’s internal dilemma in the same scene.” Or, an action scene that advances the plot and shows the heroine that she must take responsibility for her mistakes. You get the idea.

WHAT IT DOES: Keeps the book from dragging. Excellent for tight middles. (And who doesn’t want one of those?)

4. One of the skills that make an actor great is being able to show more than one emotion at once.

To take a recent example, Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln had a great scene with Sally Filed who played his wife. She showed clearly that he was exasperated with her for not getting over their son’s death, that he loved her anyway, and that he was guilty over his role in the death AND his ability to push it to the side to focus on the national interest. Wow. Oscar time.

Your characters need to have more than one emotion simultaneously too. You can do that in the description of their complicated feelings. Or you can do that by showing what they feel while they are talking, which can be very different than what they’re saying. This doesn’t mean you need to show EVERY emotion in great detail. Just hint that two things are going on at once. Readers love to be “in the know.”

Rather than comb through books for examples of characters meaning two things at once, let me just make one up. You’ll be able to think of your own, better examples too.

“You know we need to talk.” Her tone was flat, but he wasn’t fooled.
What did she want from him? “Damn it, Sally. It’s not my fault your little brother can’t hold his drink.” True, as far as it went. That didn’t mean he wasn’t culpable in other ways and he knew it.
“No.” She just stared at him. Way too calm. He liked the yelling last night better. “That’s not your fault.”
“If you think I care what you think of me, well, think again.” He ran his hands over his three-day stubble.
“You’ve made it very clear that you don’t care what people think about you.”
“Then you know what to expect from me now.” He picked up his jacket and pushed out through the screen door, letting it bang behind him.
Christ Almighty. Now he was going to have to go bail out Junior, or risk losing the good opinion of the one person in the world he cared about.

Pretty pathetic as an example, but I hope you see what I mean. As you revise your work, you can layer in even more complexity.

WHAT IT DOES: Deepns the character and makes them more engaging. Involved the readers because they “figure out” what’s really going on.

5. Characters can be made to serve two purposes.

Some books need lots of characters, like family sagas or sweeping historical fiction. That’s their nature. But if you have two characters in your book that serve similar purposes, the book is often improved by combining them.

Donald Maas takes it one step further in his advice in Writing the Breakout Novel.. He thinks you can combine characters who have very different purposes into one character, often making them more complex and interesting in the process. I did that on two occasions and it works. Can the mentor also be the betrayer? Can the hero be the one that precipitates the twist instead of the best friend’s mother? You see what I mean.

WHAT IT DOES: Makes characters more complex and thus engaging to the reader. Speeds up the book because you don’t have to introduce and pay attention to another secondary character.

So, you probably sense a theme here. Making various elements in your book do double duty speeds up your book and creates a page-turner, which is just what we all want as authors. It makes your characters more compelling and it engages your reader if figuring out what’s going on–a deeply satisfying experience.

In short, it’s a key to making your book thrill agents, editors and readers. That definitely qualifies it as a secret of the universe to me.

Family

When does a family stop being full of characters, and become a character itself?

I recently started a new series, THE CHILDREN OF MERLIN. It follows the Tremaine family over a period of about ten years. They are descended from the wizard of Camelot, and carry the magic gene. Each gains a magical power when they meet their destined mate, who also has the gene. Each book will follow one of the Tremaine children as they discover true love, sometimes in surprising places, and all the wonderful and frightening magical power that comes with it.

I have to admit I had NO idea what I was getting into when I started writing about the large and boisterous Tremaine family. There are three brothers and three sisters, assorted friends and relatives, as well as Brian and Brina Tremaine, the sometimes wise and sometimes bewildered parents of their brood. During the course of the series we’ll see them grow up, pray to achieve their destiny or try desperately to escape it, encounter obstacles, sorrow, and joy.

That means I have to introduce all of them, and they have to be true to their character, even in the first book, DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?. Each has a character arc, and things they have to learn. I have to keep their stories straight, and so does the reader. And let’s not forget the people they find and marry. And even big, loving families are not always all sweetness and light. Parents make judgment errors. There are alliances and rivalries. Yikes!

So why on earth did I commit to a complex, six-book cycle about a family?

First, I realized I wrote dark paranormal books where the hero and/or heroine always seemed to be orphaned, or one of the parents was the villain. I did that subconsciously so they wouldn’t have unconditional love and support they could rely on. That makes their situation more desperate. Readers probably assume I came from a rotten background when in reality I had a great family.

I like reading about families just because they’re so complex. I’m a Regency fan and Georgette Heyer did great families, like the one in COTILLION. Julia Quinn wrote the Bridgerton Series, which I loved. Stephanie Plum’s family is half the fun of Janet Evanovich’s mystery series. The examples could go on and on.

So I took the plunge and my fascination with Merlin and Camelot, put it in a contemporary setting, and added a big dollop of family to it. Don’t get me wrong, these are first and foremost love stories. And since the Tremaines aren’t the only ones with magic DNA, they have enemies, which brings in elements of suspense. But the one thing each protagonist in these books can count on is that the family supports them in the end.

Now that I’m nearly finished with book four, NIGHT MAGIC, the family has started to be more than just an aggregation of characters. It has become a character in itself.

How did that happen? Families don’t always become a character of their own. Stephanie Plum’s family is a group of fantastic characters, but I don’t feel as if they have become a single character. I did feel that the Bridgerton family was a character of its own, though.

That gave me a hint. In the “ONE FOR THE MONEY” series, Stephanie’s family affects the action as individuals, more like her fellow bail bond workers do. Grandma Mazur’s attendance at important wakes, Cousin Vinny’s “eccentric” management style, Lula’s bounty assists or Connie’s assignment of cases, are all important elements of the plot. But they affect the action separately, not as a unit. In the Bridgerton series, on the other hand, the family takes action to support their members, they confer with each other, and each plays their part in the larger family plan. The family acts as s whole to affect the story.

I think that’s what happened in THE CHILDREN OF MERLIN.

So, question for all of you–what are your favorite family novels? I’d love to hear about a few. And was the family itself a character, or was it a collection of individual characters? Obviously, since I have four more books to write–I’m very interested in your thoughts!

Gearing up for a Reader’s Conference

Publisher’s Weekly Readers Appreciation Event is coming up fast. It’s next week in Milwaukee.And it’s a wonderful event. Barbara Vey is the hostess and organizer, and she does a terrific job. There will be more than 50 authors there, (some really big names like Debbie Macomber) and some old friends as well, and more than 400 readers.

Reader’s events are a lot of work for an author. You bring small gifts for the people at your table. You usually donate a raffle prize or two. If you want to promote self-published books as well as those from your Publisher, you have to ship them ahead. And then you have to show up in a far locale.

But I love them. Many writers only go to writer’s conferences. They hang out with other writers and talk shop at the bar after the awards ceremony or the presentations on the latest trends in publishing. That’s fun, of course. But I think talking to readers is even more fun. It isn’t just about selling books. It’s about connecting with your audience and talking about what they read and what they’d like to read. It’s a more direct link to the real point of writing. Because we all started writing because we had stories to tell and we wanted to share them with people. Unless you’re writing a journal, having readers is what it’s all about. Knowing what they think about your books and what they want to read is really connecting to the reason you wanted to write in the first place.

So I’m going to two readers conferences in the next six weeks. In addition to the Publisher’s Weekly sponsored event, I’m heading out to Phoenix to the Arizona Dreamin’ readers event on May 30 and June 1. I’m anxious to get my fix on connecting with readers and remembering why I write. Always a good thing.

Susan

Surfing USA

Don’t get me wrong, I have never surfed, and I’m way past the age of trying. Even swimming isn’t my strong suit. But I live four blocks from the beach in Southern California, and I love watching other people surf. I see the kids’ surf camps set up along the beach in the summer as I’m walking my dogs on the path high above the water. The Pacific can look like a lake the waves are so small. There are surfers in my town all year long, and several classic surf beaches in the area. Sometimes the swell is actually crowded with boards. In the winter, when we get bigger waves before or after a storm, the really good surfers show up. They are fewer, but their rides are pretty spectacular. The surfing subculture crosses all ages and income levels. One day when the waves were big I saw a teenager cruise up on his skateboard, his surfboard under his arm. A guy with gray hair was getting out of his Range Rover, board strapped on top, telling his secretary on his cell that he wouldn’t be in until 10 a.m. They waved and nodded. They knew each other, through their mutual love of riding the waves.

I know why they love surfing. It’s why I loved jumping horses, and why ice skaters love the ice. I think it frees you from your limitations. For a while, you are faster or stronger or less hampered by gravity than you are in everyday life. And who wouldn’t want to experience that transformation, even if just for a little while? You have mastered something that makes you feel powerful.

So when I set my Children of Merlin in Southern California, and had the Tremaines, who have magic in their genes, living on a bluff above the water, I knew that one of the Tremaine boys had to be a surfer. I finally get around to Devin’s story in Waiting for Magic. He’s the orphan who was adopted by the big and boisterous Tremaine family when his own parents died in a plane crash. He has never felt like he belonged. But when Brina Tremaine gave him surfing lessons, he found an element where he belonged absolutely. He has an affinity for the waves that makes him a very, very good surfer.

Researching how to make Devin into a surfer was fun. Of course, I always like to watch male surfers. All those sleek muscles dripping with salt water, with their wet suits peeled back to their hips (the Pacific is cold most of the year). Who wouldn’t like that kind of research? I talked to several people who surf, both men and women. My neighbor across the street is an avid surfer, as are the younger guys down the street. I watched movies. Endless Summer, Chasing Mavericks, Point Break… all good choices, though there are others. I really tried hard to capture the magic of surfing, of the big waves, of that feeling that you must be doing what you do. You can’t do anything else.

Creating Devin was fun in more ways than one. I love tortured heroes, and he certainly is that. I love making good boys into bad boys, and Devin becomes a very bad boy with a core of honor and protectiveness. But it was also fun to try to feel, through Devin, what it would be like to hear the call of the waves, and know you had no choice but to answer.
surferboy1

“Accident” by Joanne Tailele

I just finished reading a book called “Accident” by Joanne Tailele. Joanne is a good writer, though she does use some words incorrectly and the book could have benefited from a copyeditor. But that’s just me being a perfectionist (and mistakes have certainly sneaked by in my own books, even using a copyeditor). The story is an intense one. It begins as a woman runs into a tree while driving drunk with her mother and her children in the car. One child is killed, the older daughter is left in a coma with an amputated leg, and the grandmother is severely injured as well. The mother is arrested, tried and sent to prison. Her weak husband deserts her. In prison, she tries to get herself straight, even though her daughter (now out of a coma) won’t speak to her and her husband remarries. She begins a diary. We find out that she is an alcoholic because she was molested by her church’s youth counselor, the same man who is now the pastor at her daughter’s church. Her cellmate gives the diary to her daughter who begins to understand and forgive her mother. Rather inexplicably, the pastor who formerly molested her speaks for her at her parole hearing and she is finally released. There is some redemption, as mother and daughter combine to find victims of the pastor and finally get him jailed for his crimes.

This is emotionally written and extremely heart-felt. It was perhaps a bit too unrelentingly grim for me, but it shows the main characters changing and growing as a result of their experiences, and that’s always satisfying.

Looking for Key Lime Pie

Well, I finally found it. Harry has a thing for Key Lime Pie. When we had to be away from the house for more than a month last year while they were doing the demolition for our remodel, one of the things we did was a week in the Florida Keys and two weeks on a Caribbean cruise. Great fun. And we ate our way around the Keys looking for the best absolute Key Lime pie. We were reminded of that quest recently when we were in Catalina. We were in a really good restaurant, fabulous food, but they said their specialty was Key Lime pie. Harry was all over that. But it wasn’t Key Lime. Not that it wasn’t good pie. Fluffy green interior, lots of whipped cream. Problem there is that the best Key Lime pie we had wasn’t green. It was more yellow. Chartreuse if you really squinted and imagined some green. And this pie tasted like they’d used Roses Lime Juice, and not very much of that.

I made a rash promise. If Harry would find me Key Limes, and juice them (they are tiny little things, and very annoying to juice) I’d make him a real Key Lime pie. We discussed strategy. I have a great lemon meringue recipe with a bit of milk in it, and we decided to use that and just sub out the Key Lime for the lemon. He brought home two bags of Key limes. I had a homemade pie crust in the fridge waiting to be rolled out (left over from the fresh pumpkin pie I made at Thanksgiving. Make two crusts, just in case you end up throwing one on the floor. Don’t ask me how I got into that habit.)

Yay!!! Result was great. True Key lime. Yellow, because of the egg yolks in the meringue. It seems hard, but you can do it a piece at a time and then do other things, and do some more. Or you can make the filling in advance, even make the crust in advance and then finish the rest on the day you want it.

So, forthwith, a REAL Key Lime Pie recipe:

KEY LIME CREAM MERINGUE PIE
Recipe adapted from one in Gourmet Magazine

Buy or make your favorite Pie Dough for a one-crust pie

Filling:
2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
18-22 Key Limes (they’re tiny) for zest and juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Meringue:
4 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt

Prepare and chill the dough.

Filling: To make the filling, combine the milk and sugar in a nonreactive saucepan, preferably enameled iron. Strip the zest from the limes with a sharp vegetable peeler, making sure you remove the green zest but none of the white pith beneath. If you do remove some of the white pith, scrape it off the strips of zest with the point of a paring knife and discard it. Add the zest to the milk and sugar and bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes; remove the strips of zest with a slotted spoon or skimmer and discard them.

Squeeze the zested Key Limes to make 1/2 cup strained juice. Place the juice in a mixing bowl and whisk in the cornstarch, then yolks.

Return the milk and sugar mixture to a boil over low heat and whisk about a third of the boiling milk into the lemon juice mixture. Return the remaining milk and sugar mixture to a boil once more and whisk the lemon juice and yolk mixture back into it, whisking constantly until the filling comes to a boil and thickens. Allow to boil, whisking constantly, for about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, whisk in the butter, and pour into a nonreactive bowl. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the filling and chill until it is approximately 75 degrees. (If you prepare the filling in advance, let it come to room temperature before proceeding.)

Set a rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough to make a bottom crust and arrange in the pan and create a decorative edge. Chill the crust until firm, about 20 minutes.

To bake the crust, pierce it all over with the tines of a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until the crust is golden brown. Cool the crust on a rack.

Spread the cooled filling evenly in the cooled crust. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

To make the meringue, bring a small pan of water to a boil. Lower the heat so that the water simmers. Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer or, if you are using a hand whisk, in another heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk the egg white mixture gently for about 2 minutes, until the egg whites are hot and the sugar has dissolved. Whip the meringue on medium speed until it has cooled, shiny, and is able to hold a shape, but it should not look dry. Distribute spoonfuls of the meringue all over the top of the pie, then use the back of a spoon to spread the meringue evenly. It should cover the top of the pie and touch the edges of the crust all around. Here and there, bring up the surface of the meringue so that it is swirled. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until the meringue is colored evenly.

Cool on a rack.

Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Easy
Yield: 1 pie serving 8

Snippet Saturday

Okay, got a book coming out this week, so you’re getting a snippet from that one: Waiting for Magic. This is an “arranged date” scene. Kee, the middle Tremaine sister, is a docent at the museum. Her mother has invited Christian Coombs, the curator of the museum, and Kee’s boss for dinner. The Tremaines are major donors, but her mother has a different reason for inviting Christian. She’s always eager to help her children find their soul-mate, someone who also has magic from Merlin in their DNA. Only that way can her children realize their destiny and their magic. I loved writing this scene. Who hasn’t suffered through a date, or even just an introduction arranged with the best intentions, through their mother?

“So, Mrs. Tremaine has been telling me all sorts of things about you.”
Kee looked up at Christian in dismay and glanced around. Kemble and her father were off in a corner, talking business. Her little brother, Lanyon, was providing background music at the piano. Tammy was discussing her mare’s progress learning to jump with Jane, and the two couples with magic were laughing and talking together like they shared a special bond. Which they did. Devin seemed to be drifting from group to group. That left her to entertain their guest. She’d bet anything her mother had left detailed instructions with her family to ensure that happened. And her mother had been talking her up to Christian. That meant he knew exactly why he’d been invited. It was a wonder he even got the courage to show up.
“What…?” She cleared her throat. “What could she possibly have to say about me?”
“Quite a lot, actually.”
Oh, dear.
He was handsome, of course. Blond, blue eyes, chiseled jaw. For a guy who hung around museums he had broad shoulders. They usually tended to be the gaunt, intense type in her experience, with leather patches on their jacket sleeves. Christian’s navy sport coat was designer wool. Along with the crisp lavender shirt, the gray wool slacks, and a steel bracelet made of Celtic knots, it hit the perfect note of casual elegance paired with an artistic nature. Showed just the right amount of respect to his donors without being overdressed, too. She, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to contain her love of color. So her bodice was magenta but the flouncy short skirt that attached to it was more plum. A very vibrant plum. With streaks of silver in it. Which did go with her strappy silver heels and the broad silver belt. But she felt a little overly colored. She glanced to Drew and practically groaned. Little black dress with gently ruffled cap sleeves. Hair swept up to show her diamond earrings. Enough to make Kee want to poke her sister’s eyes out with a fork or something. Why couldn’t she be more like Drew?
Swallowing once, she turned her attention back to the handsome man before her. “Then… then we should talk about you,” she managed. Didn’t Mother always tell her that when she was pressed for conversation topics she should ask about her partner? “Where did you get your degree?” Oh, lamer than lame.
“Yale. School of Fine Art.”
Oh. “Then you’re actually an artist?”
He gave an easy laugh. “Most curators are, but not very good ones.”
Kee was shocked he would admit that. Could people just accept that they weren’t a very good artist? The very possibility frightened Kee.
“When you find that out,” Christian continued, with what Kee considered remarkable calm, “you go on to get an advanced degree in museum studies. I got my MFA in sculpture at Yale, and my Ph.D. in museum studies at Georgetown.”
What dared she say? “So, uh, sculpture. What drew you to that medium?”
He narrowed his eyes in thought. “The gooshy feel of the clay, I think. Reminded me of making a goopy mess in kindergarten.” He shrugged. “Only at the end of the day you had made something out of all that glop.”
Kee couldn’t help a smile. “I can see that.” Kind of surprising, from a curator. They were usually so stuffy. “But you like the historical artifacts too. You’re very drawn to the Anglo-Saxon collection, I can tell.”
“Oh, art is all around us and always has been. In the jewelry and the furniture and the dishes, as well as the painting and the sculpture. One of the reasons I campaigned for the job here is that the museum casts such a wide net in its collections. You’re a painter, I understand.”
Kee swallowed hard, then rolled her eyes in defense. “As I’m sure my mother told you. Mothers don’t care if you’re not really good. Did you get the tour of the house? She hangs everything I can stand to let her keep.”
He actually chuckled. “Yeah. I got the tour.”
“So you saw the many phases of what we might loosely call my growth as an artist.” Might as well make light of it. “Well, except for the abstract expressionism. She relegates that to Father’s offices. I can copy any style. Just can’t come up with anything original.” Why was she admitting something that painful, to scare him away or to make a connection? It was a surprise that there might be a connection. It turned out that they were both failed artists.
“Oh, but nobody can at first. It all needs to get shaken up inside us. Then the subconscious picks pieces of this and that, whisks it around with your experiences, and before you know it you’ve started a new trend.”
“Why didn’t that happen with you?”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t original. I just wasn’t very good.” He actually chuckled before he gave a resigned sigh. “You’ve got good technique. It will happen for you.”
“That’s kind, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
“I rather like the Georgia O’Keefe period.” He went crinkly around the eyes. She had to admit that was very attractive.
“Forgive me. I was seventeen.”
“Ancient history, then.”
She pretended severity. She didn’t need a reminder that he was much older than she was. “Very ancient,” she corrected.
There was a little awkward silence.

Learning Balance

Sometimes I think we spend our whole lives learning to inject balance. When you’re a teenager, the highs are high and the lows are VERY low, and you have no balance at all. Infatuations are all consuming and rejection makes you feel suicidal. You stay up all night doing things you love (sometimes self-destructive things, I admit) and then you sleep for days.

Whether it’s a good thing or not, you can’t live like that, or most people can’t anyway. Somehow you have to get some balance in your life. To do that, you have to sacrifice a little bit off the top of some of those highs. That’s a shame. I can see how people fight losing that. But as you learn to sail the boat without rocking it so hard you slosh water into the bottom, there are compensations. You don’t feel like you’re on the verge of drowning all the time, for instance.

I admit it was always a little difficult for me to balance work and the rest of my life. I had a big job that consumed a lot of energy as time went on. At times, I also felt chained to the wheel by the good money I made. Sometimes I put work before my relationships. When I wanted to write, I accepted that I had to do that in my “spare” time. I wrote the first novel. It sucked. I went to classes to learn how to write well. I joined critique groups and went to conferences. Luckily, my husband was on that journey too, and we could take it together. That helped the balance on the relationship side. I sold my first book and wrote under contract to various New York publishers for thirteen years. Balance in my life was hard to come by, but I worked hard at it. I didn’t think I’d burn out because I was doing what I loved. But I did. I was so miserable that I made my husband miserable right along with me. Always one to take action, I ran the numbers and found I could quit the day-job. That was the good news.

I was burned out on writing too. Only now I was retired from the day-job and burned out. No stories were clamoring to be written. I didn’t know whether I’d ever get back to writing. No balance again. It took a while to adjust. I went on cruise control. Husband and I did some traveling. We remodeled the house–enough to keep anyone busy. But–really? What was I going to do then? Luckily the stories started coming back. I started writing a new series. I like this series, called the Children of Merlin. Next week book # 3 comes out, Waiting for Magic. I made time for old friends again, and made some new friends as well. I went to the gym and walked the dogs. I worked with them on obedience degrees. I took up knitting again.

Funny thing, though. Writing was back, but it wasn’t enough. That shocked me a bit. But writing is a pretty solitary activity. You stare at a a computer. A lot. I was young to retire, and I’m not dead yet. I needed more. I took on teaching a 12 week on-line class–everything I know about writing romance. I wrote twelve lessons over the summer, and started the class for Media Bistro in the fall. That was really satisfying. It’s a chance to give back and use my experience, as well as interact with burgeoning writers. But…still not enough. Then a friend wrote me on Facebook and asked if I could give some consulting hours to his company using the experience I got in 30 years of the day-job. And you know? I did it and it feels good. I’m really busy again, though I don’t let consulting take more than 20 hours a week. I love helping this very nice company with very nice people using skills I got through years of hard work. Satisfying. And lower pressure than the full time day job ever was.

Do I have balance now? Hmmmm. Sometimes I think I’m too busy again. Other times, it just feels good, like maybe if I’d only worked 20 hours a week all along, I could have written books at the same pace and not burned out. And the part about giving back my experience just feels right at a certain time in your life. I still make time for friends, and I still work with the dogs. I knit catch as catch can. And I try to be absolutely obsessive about—nothing.

They say that older people are happier. I always thought that was funny. Don’t older people drag around all this baggage of things they wished they’d said, and embarrassing experiences, etc.? But now I understand it. You’ve accepted the things you can’t change about yourself. You’ve embraced the things you like about who you are. And because you’ve been around the block a time or two, things just don’t seem so dire.

Husband is coming in from the (relative) cold here at the beach. There’s a fire in the fireplace. Time for left over turkey and a movie. Now that’s something I once would never have had time for. I may not have balance yet, but I’m getting better at it….

Across the Sea

Well, the most thoughtful husband in the world surprised me by taking me to Catalina Island for three days for my birthday. We’ve lived in L.A. forever and had never been. It was wonderful. Off season, so it wasn’t crowded, beautiful weather for November–high was about 65 two days and 70 the day we left. We found wonderful restaurants, and a Tiki bar (for Harry mainly). The people were nice and we were able to do some cool things. We aren’t exactly zip-liners (though there is one there). But we did do a semi-submersable tour of the marine preserve and see all the beautiful fish swarming through the kelp forest. And we took a tour inland where you can’t take cars and saw both the way the man had abused the island by introducing cattle and goats, and the way they are trying to restore it. The most amazing thing to me is that the island was owned by a single family, the Wrigleys, until they gave 88% of it to the Conservancy they had formed. They still own 10%, and that includes almost all the land under the only real town, Avalon. It’s astounding that people can be wealthy enough to buy 86 square mile island. Right now they are planting a vineyard where there Arabian Horse ranch used to be in the interior. They’re about four years away from completion.

I have been able to see Catalina floating like a blue dream across the channel from the South Bay where we have lived the last seventeen years. Now I’ve finally been there. It won’t be the last time we go. I’d love to do some hiking there, and take the tour that goes entirely around the island.

One of the reasons I wanted to go is that Catalina will be a setting in the last book of my current series. That one will be called This Magic Moment, and Catalina Island will be a big part of it. So this was a research trip!

What do you do with Zucchini?

I used to cry into my stewed zucchini when I was little, because my mother would say I had to sit at the table until I ate it. She usually relented after I’d sat there crying for a while. Stewed zucchini still isn’t on my preferred foods list. But I do like zucchini in other ways. Like zucchini bread, for instance. I’ve never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like.

But this time of year, there are still fresh zucchini and Italian squashes in the farmer’s market, and I’m always wondering what I can do with them. And I’m always looking for a vegetarian dish we can have mid-week to cut down on our colesterol. One of my favorite solutions to both questions follows:

Vita’s Zucchini Pie
or
Torte di Zucchine

grate 2 zucchini (about 2 cups) add:

2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup flour
about 1 cup grated cheese (I used a mixture of Parmesan & Mozzarella)
optional: press in 1 garlic clove, add whatever herbs you might like
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Mix well & pour into a well greased 10″ pie pan. Bake at 400 about 35-40 minutes. If you like a more crunchy top, brush with a little olive oil about halfway through baking. When it has cooled for about 10 minutes loosen the lovely golden brown crust with a spatula so it won’t break apart later. Top however you like and reheat at 400 until heated through, maybe 10 minutes.
Topping suggestions:
sliced tomato, mozzerella slices, basil leaves, sauteed mushrooms, whatever you like. It’s as quick & easy as pizza, but somehow a little fancier.
Mangia!