Tag: Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross

Feeding the Hungry Reader

French Comfort Food, by Hillary Davis, one of my favorite cookbooks,    How would you like a buttery grilled cheese sandwich filled with Cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and bacon right now? Or perhaps a tuna melt on rye bulging with melted Gruyere? Maybe a plate of creamy macaroni and a combination of three cheeses, not one? Too plebian? We could add chunks of lobster.            Not feeling savory at the moment? Could I get you a plate of warm chewy chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven? Or a piece of apple pie with feathery light flaky crust? No? I could dish up a piece of moist golden cake with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting if you’d prefer.            If you aren’t hungry by now, you may not be human. Just the very description of these foods, often categorized as “comfort food” is enough to make a reader salivate, which is why most readers and writers are captivated by food in stories. Food helps to create atmosphere and lends authenticity to an environment. I defy you to read Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series and not crave lobster. When Stone Barrington cuts into a steak at the legendary, now defunct, Elaine’s in Stuart Woods’ wildly popular series, most readers find their mouths mysteriously open.            Food enhances reading. Food enriches writing. Food brings joy to life. Cozy mystery writers have long understood this. Joanne Fluke (Blueberry Pie Murder), Diane Mott Davidson (Sticks and Scones), Lucy Burdette (Killer Takeout), and Edith Maxwell (When the Grits Hit the Fan) all have written popular series with variations in food themes.            Other mystery subgenres feature food regularly. Olivier cooks up a gastronomic storm at his bistro in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, while Clara serves comfort food to friends at her kitchen table. From Steak Frites with Mayonnaise to Coq Au Vin with a Hint of Maple, readers feast on Canadian specialties when not merely content to munch on a steady diet of buttery croissants.            Readers, myself included, have been driven to patronize restaurants featured in books. Margaret Truman’s books enticed me to try the old Le Lion D’Or in Washington D.C. when my daughter was in college there. My husband didn’t get it, especially when the tab arrived. He was on board when we headed to a Spanish restaurant in Harvard Square where William Tapply had his protagonist, Brady Coyne frequenting.            Writers use food more than gratuitously. It can be part of the plot as in Tana French’s recent release, The Trespasser, where a romantic dinner prepared by the murder victim but never shared, became an integral part of the story.            In Permanent Sunset, I chose the bride’s choice of her wedding menu as a window into her soul. I later used the wedding meal, which was never served to guests due to the untimely death of the bride, to color a police officer corrupt and to paint a portrait of the surviving family members.            I happen to love writing about food, possibly because I love reading about it (I own a few hundred cookbooks and this is after “downsizing”), only slightly less than cooking it. For me, it is as much pleasure deciding what to serve my characters as it is what to serve guests in my home. I recently created a meatloaf dinner for my grieving protagonist, which she quite enjoyed.            Fortunately, calories don’t count when you are writing about food. Only pleasure. What brings you please when you read or write about food?                       Dessert from Hillary Davis                       

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COMING HOME (Tales of a Tindominium #5)

Home: 1. Residence; 2. family group; 3. Birthplace; 4. Native habitat; 5. Place of origin; 6. Headquarters; 7. Safe place.            After almost six months in paradise, we left St. John, returning to Massachusetts. But this time we weren’t heading to Scituate, where we had lived for thirty-three years. This time, we were off to live “over the bridge,” on outer Cape Cod, where until now, we had only vacationed.            We arrived at our tindominium in Wellfleet on Friday, the 13th of May, our 39th anniversary. Steve and I had been married once before, a million years ago, each to high school sweethearts, which didn’t turn out so sweet. We intentionally chose to be married on a Friday the 13th, sticking our nose up at any suggestion of bad luck. Almost four decades later, we had come full circle.            The term tindominium came from a writer friend. When I was asked the previous fall at a writing committee dinner where I would be living when not in St. John, I had hesitated. How do you tell people that you are going to live in a trailer? By choice? Even my avant-garde writing colleagues would question my sanity, for sure. I began to describe where and what my new home was, searching for words, when Barbara Ross got it. “Oh, you mean you’re moving into a tindominium,” she said, with delight, sharing she had family who were doing the same. I relaxed, realizing I should always trust my writing tribe to understand writers don’t always do things the way normal people do.            Pulling into the driveway, seeing the tindominium for the first time in a long time, I had an  “Oh shit, what have we done?” moment. Nothing had changed since the first day I set my eyes on my new home, a 1995 Sportsman trailer with wheels that had been flat forever. The tindo hadn’t been on the road in decades. But it had been the vacation home for a family that had been kind and affectionate to it. It just had some wear and tear, and it was dated.            The blue couch and chair with huge gaudy flowers on it felt as if they were from a television set for All in the Family. The bedspread on the queen-size bed matched. The carpet was shag, the linoleum dirty beige, and the “woodwork” dark with gold trim.            The stove was so tiny, the double sinks so miniature, I was sure I was in a Barbie kitchen, grateful at least that it wasn’t pink. There was no dishwasher, no washer and dryer. And all of the work we hoped would be completed before we arrived had never happened. I wasn’t surprised.            But the toilet flushed and there was water running from the faucets. We had electricity and a refrigerator that worked. The stove lit.            Neighbors came by to say hello and offer a hand. Our builder promised us we’d have our improvements in no time.            I knew we had made a commitment to a radical change in lifestyle, but this day, more than any, made me wonder, were we nuts? If I closed my eyes, would I be back in a house with modern appliances and a view of the ocean? I couldn’t help but speculating what my Irish lace mother would think of her daughter living in a trailer park, even if it was next to an Audubon sanctuary. Should we have just stayed in St. John in our little cottage?            No. We knew what we had done and what we were going to do. Giving up living space physically meant we were opening our hearts to chance and choice. We were creating room for the adventures we wanted to share and this was just the beginning.            We celebrated our anniversary with a marvelous dinner at Petit Boulangerie Bistro and then sipped brandy before turning in at our new Home. 

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A Different Kind of Launch Party

 No you didn’t miss the evite. And yes, thank you for asking about whether there would be a launch party for Permanent Sunset, the second book in the Sabrina Salter series published today by Crooked Lane Books. More than anything, my gratitude to readers’ who bought and enjoyed No Virgin Island and eagerly anticipated and pre-ordered Permanent Sunset. I had no idea how gratifying it would be to hear from people who read and supported my first book. I hope Permanent Sunset brings you even more pleasure.            So it would seem logical perhaps to celebrate the second in the series with another launch party. After all, the first was a great party held at the James Library in Norwell, Massachusetts, which was attended by more than 100 people, including friends, relatives, clients, fellow-writers, and former classmates. The very generous, effervescent, and talented Hank Phillippi Ryan interviewed me with her usual charm and wit. Later, she wrote, “Now that was a launch party.” As I looked out at the crowd of people who had so kindly supported me, I thought, this is like being at your own wake. The final honor came when relatives of a murder victim in St. John whom I had mentioned in the acknowledgements of No Virgin Island came to honor me and to buy my books.            But somehow, a second launch was feeling a little off to me, or as in the wisdom of the great Barbara Ross, kind of like a baby shower for a second baby. It isn’t that we don’t love and welcome that second baby as much as the first. It’s more that the joy is more subtle and relished. A little less like, “Whew, you finally published one of those suckers,” and more like, “Good for you, daring to put yourself and your creation out there again.” And then there is geography. With readers from all over the country and especially those in the Virgin Islands and Caribbean, an inclusive launch would have to be online. Unfortunately, a glass of virtual prosecco falls a little flat.            Still, I wanted to honor those who have supported me, propping me up when the doubt and dismay weigh me down. The people who have generously shared with me the joy my writing has brought them. And especially those who have made me laugh when I was taking this writing gig way too seriously.            When Hurricane Matthew fell upon Haiti last week, I finally figured how I could do this. In a time when we are divided politically, few can argue that lightning has indeed struck twice on this tiny Caribbean nation where children have suffered unimaginably and cholera is a way of life.            So today, I have created a fundraising page (https://www.classy.org/fundraiser/794775) on Sow A Seed, an organization, whose mission is to bring hope, reduce hardship and promote sustainable change in the lives of impoverished children, placing a special focus on orphans in the Caribbean. And yes I sent the prosecco and appetizer money to them (it won’t show for a bit) in honor of you and with the hope there will be a new sunrise for the children of Haiti.                            Save

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