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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Guest Author Post: Allison Snyder. Ah, the Writer’s Craft. It’s Like a Good Zabaglione. Part Deux.

I’ve recently completed a manuscript and proposal for a middle-grade fiction cat memoir. The working title is Laddie: A Story about Landing on Your Feet. Dorette graciously asked if I’d like to pass along some thoughts and experience about the writer’s craft. I am honored that she asked and surprised I accepted, since I have an aversion to getting up in front of people. Here are some upshots I’ve learned along the way so far. Happy reading and writing!

Hi! Welcome back to the writer’s craft. And you didn’t even need your code word!
So prior to completing the kids’ novel, I had done some writing for my church, had a couple of recipes and essays published in the local papers. I wrote for a dog magazine. None of it’s been paid writing, but good experience and exposure. I hope some money comes at some point. It may not. I’ll know when to keep plugging or let go. Regardless, I am not going to quit my day job.

Boy, the Cat. Boy, The Muse, Showing a Little Leg

Upshot #4 - Don’t quit your day job.

There’s a pretty wacky reason why I now have a complete manuscript and proposal: My best friend was crazy about my cat. He was a big, gorgeous male tabby that my husband and I had adopted as an adult cat from one of his clients. My friend spent a lot of time around the cat, me, and my daughter. Little by little, this cat started to take on a persona and history all his own – completely fabricated, of course, by me and my friend. But that’s one of the fun things about fiction-writing. You get to make things up! And no one’s going to judge you.

Our kitty became a lazy, handsome, inquisitive British viscount (Hugh Grant meets Curious George) who had been abandoned by his opera singing mother, Catarina Caterwaul. (I never could warm up to opera.) Hard to blame her since he was an adult cat who was still hanging around the estate. Here’s my elevator pitch: uppity British noble cat gets adopted by ordinary middle-class American family and discovers those things money and a title can never buy: love, family, and hope.

I then started to think more about the hope thing, about the language of pet adoption and how similar it is to the language of the gospel. Words and phrases like adopt, rescue, save, forever home, new name, new life began to pop into my brain. Wow, I thought, this is like our relationship with God. What if I could write something that would point kids to a healthy relationship with God, not based on fear or performance, but unconditional love? What if I could try to make it funny, make the cat sort of rude, entitled, good-looking, self-obsessed but rescued and loved, anyway. What if I could make him human, give him human abilities (like memoir-writing) and traits? That’s what we do with our pets anyway, so why not use that proclivity we all have to point kids to loving truth about how God feels about them? “He has drawn us with loving-kindness…He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness.”

Upshot #5 – Write about what you know.

We entertained ourselves so royally (pun, pun) at my cat’s expense, we decided to meet weekly at Starbucks to pen his memoir. Then my friend, having better things to do, like work a paid job as a banking executive and take care of her elderly mom, sort of bowed out. But I kept writing with her encouragement.

 In fact, had she not kept on expecting me – with a straight face – to continue with the project that had started as our little lark, I would not have finished the manuscript and proposal. I laughed at her when she said the book was a viable, good story. People like us don’t publish books, Lu Ann, I declared. She did not laugh back. So I quit laughing and put my head down and butt up. (I was raised on a farm, so that’s agri-speak for manual labor like weeding a garden.) Before she bailed on me though, we found a great professional editor who told us everything that was wrong about the book and a few key things that were right.

Upshot #6 – Cultivate friends who believe in you, even if they have to bail on you. And don’t be ashamed to buy good advice. That’s an editor.

Finally, writing is manual labor plus learned skill. Yes, you use your brain and your heart, but it’s just work. Trust me. Once you have your idea and notes, you’ve got to start. Don’t turn it into this grand, I-know-I- can-be-the-next-Faulkner thing. Stop that.

And if you wait for the muse to strike (whoever, whatever he or she is), you will find that, at best, he is a fickle friend. Think of the one who habitually cancels at the last minute. He will no longer be your friend after a while, will he? At worst, he will try to talk you into thinking your value is tied up with how much and how well he inspires you. So shut him up. The best way to do that is to write. Write well some days. Write nothing some days. Write lousy on others. Just write. And take notes on what pops into your head at odd moments, like when you’re swiffering the floor or taking a walk or when, say, a disagreement with a loved one becomes fodder for good dialogue.

Upshot #7 - Remind yourself often that writing is, like bowling, a learned skill. It’s something you do and maybe even get better at, the more you do it. You may never be a professional bowler or a best-selling author. Writing is not something that defines who you are. It is one component of the marvelous whole. And while you will inevitably do so more on some days than on others, enjoy it!

Zabaglione, Ready For It's Close-Up

PS: Zabaglione is a simple Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. It is usually served warm, though it can be served cold, or as a sauce, or even frozen.

Allison Snyder was raised on a dairy farm in western New York where her fascination with reading, writing, and cats began in earnest and never left. She loves to write about pies and cakes, too. Her food and pet essays have appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer, The Triangle Dog, and The News of Orange County. She is also an assistant chef and team-building coach at C’est Si Bon Cooking School in Chapel Hill, NC. A French major at North Carolina State University, Allison studied fiction writing there under the late Tim McLaurin. She makes her home in Orange County, North Carolina, with her husband and daughter. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guest Author Post: Allison Snyder. Ah, the Writer’s Craft. It’s Like a Good Zabaglione.

Bonjour! I am so excited to introduce you to Allison Snyder -- Author, and one of our extraordinary Kitchen Team members at C'est si Bon! In this Guest Post she warms you with her tale of how she became a writer, tickles your funny bone and shares the recipe for a delightful sweet - something for which Allison is well known. 

Allison Snyder, Team Building Coach, C’est Si Bon Cooking School

I’ve recently completed a manuscript and proposal for a middle-grade fiction cat memoir. The working title is Laddie: A Story about Landing on Your Feet. Dorette graciously asked if I’d like to pass along some thoughts and experience about the writer’s craft. I am honored that she asked and surprised I accepted, since I have an aversion to getting up in front of people. Here are seven things I’ve learned along the way so far. Happy reading and writing!

Ah, the writer’s craft. It’s like a good zabaglione.

Both sound wildly creative and mysterious, with overtones suggestive of real consumption.

I’ll be honest. That is what all writers hope for – consumption, readership - because all of us, writers or not, are relational beings. We are hard-wired to share ourselves with others. And sharing always involves risk, putting yourself out there, whether navigating the waters of friendship, marriage, dating, parenting, writing, publishing, cooking or baking a new recipe. Living is risky business. As my dad used to say, the alternative is so much worse. I think I’ll take the risk. How about you?

Mom & Dad outside the Officer’s Club; Waco, Texas

Me? I have always been a late bloomer. I had my daughter a few days shy of my 38th birthday. Depending on whether you believe Time (ca. 2002) or The Atlantic (ca. 2013), she was something of a miracle baby. Not that every day at home with her was a 100% barrel of laughs. Any human being out there – never mind mothers – knows that life never works that way. As writers, we are taught to avoid the never statement. This is one case where we should embrace it.

Like all first-time parents – especially those nearing geezer age for first-time parenthood like my husband and I were - we had to get over the shock-and-awe hurdle. Yes, no going back. Fortunately, we all get nine months to get used to that fact, right? In most ways it is like waiting for Christmas to come, a beautiful gift to look forward to. In other ways it is like getting a diagnosis of a chronic condition - I’m sorry, ma’am, you’ve got parenthood.

 But I really did like being a mom and being in the home. Part of that had to do with loving being at home with my mom when I was small. Maybe it was also because I’d been a corporate type and came to realize that while money is a lot of things, it really is not everything. But you have to unload half your income to really test that theory.

So I gave up clothes that had to be dry-cleaned in favor of poop-stain-resistant wash ‘n’ wear from the Target sale rack and Goodwill. I gave up expense account lunches in favor of spoon feeding strained peas to a little human who was a great eater. A different form of client services to be sure.

I came to appreciate – even adore - the heretofore-despised, climate-controlled predictability of walking in the mall. Hip, sketchy neighborhoods with bumpy, historic sidewalks are less than ideal for strollers, not to mention Mama’s peace of mind.

And speaking of predictability, I enjoyed the nap times. I enjoyed the ritual of every day after lunch, taking off the chunk-laden bib (speaking of which, when we relocated to Hillsborough when my daughter had just turned 10, a petrified, dirty bib revealed itself upon moving the washer. Aww…memories), chasing my chubby-legged little one around for a while to tire her out while enjoying her squeals. This along with the full tummy would cause her to nap for a good two to three hours.

It was during this time that I began to write.

Upshot #1 -Take for your writing time whatever predictable opening that presents itself.

Let’s face it. As far as books go, one person’s life-changer is another person’s appliance manual. That’s the nature of reading. In fact, many of you may have stopped reading this blog post, and that’s OK. And I will keep on telling myself that as I face the mounds of rejection that will surely come as I enter this new phase of finding an agent or publisher.

 Yet selling a book is surely a little bit like selling a house in a challenging market. For those of us who have ever undertaken this project, we know that we only need one realtor (literary agent) and one buyer (publisher) to close the deal.

Upshot #2 - Get over thinking every agent or publisher will love your writing. Do you love everything you read? No. The good news is you’re not looking for every agent or publisher, just one of each. So take heart.

You already know this, but it bears repeating: writing comes from reading. I come from a long line of compulsive readers on a vast array of subjects. From my dad, I get my love of Civil War generals and uppity news magazines. From my mom, my proclivity to be guiltily (not my mom – me) but inexorably drawn to The National Enquirer while standing in the checkout line at Walmart. Oh, I should be reading about Mother Theresa or at least William Tecumseh Sherman. Too bad they’re not in the Enquirer. I am a terrible person. At least I never buy it. Oh great, that means I steal it.

Upshot #3 – Keep reading for the joy of it and let it shape what you write.

And stay tuned to this blog. Check in soon for more upshots. Code word: zabaglione.

Read Part Deux of Ah, The Writer's Craft is Like a Good Zabaglione.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Twelve Days in Paris and Gascony: What was the best thing you ate in France?

I recently returned from C'est si Bon!'s Twelve Days in Paris and Gascony and I am anxious to tell you everything, but slowly, as if in the best French repast. I will be hosting another week and invite you to join me, and the staff of C'est si Bon! at the stunning La Belle Gasconne this coming summer and fall 2015. Please read more about this exquisite opportunity here.

Now back to the question; what was the best thing you ate in France?

I hear that pretty often, and yet, my response is often -- well, you can't really say. I apologize if my answer sounds like an oxymoron or a platitude. Or that I am avoiding the question.

But let me ask, how do you define your best meal? Let's talk.

Is it about stars, or the chef? The anticipation?

Or about the most local or the most veggie or the most of anything, really? 

And here's a hot question, what is the root of the deal? Is it always to rave about ....the food?

Celery Root from Bon Marche that traveled by TGV to Gascony

Bio (organic) Pomme at Marche in the Marais

Is the aroma at the table or wafting (is permeating better? wafting.. lord..I hate that word...) from the kitchen spurring your conversation? Or is there an intriguing taste that leaves you speechless?

Oyster Mushrooms at Bon Marche in Paris

In Paris... I felt the enormity of sitting, and yes, eating at the restaurant tables we snuggled up to!

Around 9:30 am on the 3rd Day in the Twelve Day Tour I felt the pleasure of drinking in the deep and reflective experience of being with Cori and Brenda and Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light author and travel, food, wine and pilgrim extraordinaire, David Downie who Michael Ondatjie says is "The master of educated curiosity." He and his amazing photographer wife, Allison Harris, showed us the secrets of the Marais. We walked into (yes, not just by...) the small and chi-chi Chez L'Ami Louis, frequented by Bill Clinton and other celebs, then through Marche des Enfants Rouge, were led to the gorgeous boutique of astonishing chocolate, Jacques Genin and ate an authentic bistro lunch at Cafe des Musees. Allison and David were generous, gentle and energetic historians of the many layers of the Marais; which must be made of stone, chocolate and Moroccan delicacies. It was at the Cafe des Musees where we also returned to the Veau Debacle.

See any Presidents? 

Marche les Enfants Rouge

Merci beaucoup! to David Downie and Allison Harris 

And on the 2nd Day of Paris with Cori, Brenda, and Judy we found and arrived, as planned, to La Procope, a restaurant that had been in my mind for a long time. I swear almost since the day it was founded in 1686! Now La Procope still sports Napoleon's bicorn hat. Wow. Napoleon had not one, but two corns. That hat might have been the best "meal" there. But this was also the beginning of the Veau Debacle.

Judy and the Crepes 

Cori and the Glace 

Brenda and the Parfait 

 The balcony of La Procope

More, La Procope (is that Napoleon off to the left?) 

And going back in the tour (not in actual time..) even further, on the very first day I was in Paris with Cori, my assistant, we were planning and frankly, we got so incredibly hungry! For dinner we visited Parnassus 138 in -- I know you'll be surprised -- Montparnasse.  It was fun to show Cori, and fun to waych their crack-up-laugh-out-loud video. The little place has retained and remained a small neighborhood jewel. 

Well, now I really don't know -- what was the best meal? What do you think!?

Come along with C'est si Bon! to La Belle Gasconne - and see for yourself.

Cori with her Plat du Jour at Parnassus 138 in Paris

My Salad of Duck Gizzards at Parnassus 138

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Beaucoup Fromage.....

We've coined some lovely phrases and methods of walking around Birdeaux. 

You're right, I should call it Bordeaux, but there are a lot of pigeons here. 

Maybe if I was a fresh traveler I wouldn't feel as if I am in some sort of video game.

In the obstacle section there are many things to avoid as you walk. 

Merde de chien.
Broken glass.
Slippery stones
Trolleys (trams) 
Voitures zipping 30 km an hour
Beaucoup Poubel

Not sure I won this video game in Birdeaux, but will leave you with some parting photos of our last few days. 

At the end of our street...

French Soup Card Game

St. Emillion

Next stop, Paris! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Since We Last Spoke ....

The sun has set over our time, for the time being, in Poudenas and I'm feeling a wee bit guilty about leaving you in the lurch! 

What have you been up to?

We've entered Phase Five - no Six - of our trip to France. 

It's hard to believe that soon it will be 2 weeks since our little group of "Twelve Days" disbanded. 

What's happened since? 

Rich and I had a couple of days to ramble around the small villages that lead out of (or into) Condom on the Chemin de Santiago, in preparation for where we are now. 

Plan de Lot et Garonne (a map of sorts) 

Then our sons, Erick and Jaryd arrived...what a long journey from their homes in Colorado and California.

We enjoyed cooking as a family and one night full of stars for the lovely entourage of Marie-Claude, Christian, Sandrine, Jean-Claude and Jean-Antoine. 

Then, beaucoup Le Market in Condom and Auch. 

Armagnac tasting at Gelas in Vic-Fezensac.

And then Kayla - Erick's girlfriend arrived - another long journey behind her.  Welcomed in the only proper way, a Reblochon Pizza from La Galerie. She shared a beautiful bottle of 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company! 

Wear 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit! 

Jaryd, Papa, Marie-Claude, Kayla, Jean-Claude, Christian, and Erick! 

The Arcade of La Galerie

 Nerac's amazing market..

Here are some litle moments from last week.

I bid you a lovely Vendredi, Friday! 

Erick and Jaryd in the kitchen at La Belle de Gasconne

Ah, the Hour of Pate c'est arrivee!

Jaryd and Erick hamming it up! 

Sleepy Chat in Fources

Door in Fources, the round bastide

Marie-Claude Gracia Rey, 
The Queen of Foie Gras! 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pruneaux, Figuer, and Potiron

The rain falls steadily, softly; marking tiny circles in the millpond of La Belle Gasconne.

An escargot marks a Chemin - a path - across the picture window of La Belle Gasconne. 

It's our little band's last full day of this trip and we have a bit more tumbling and rolling and stirring to do for a Fete Midi.

But in the meantime here are a few photos from our adventures in this beautiful and tranquile embrace of, and with, Gascony. 

                Madame Fromagier

            Michel and the Marmite

       Potage Potiron with Haricot Rouge,              Recipe of Marie-Claude Gracia.

Cocottes waiting for Flan aux Verveine, Marie-Claude Gracia's Recette. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Day Three with David Downie and Onward to Poudenas

Hello from Poudenas!

I am writing on my I-phone outside of Cafe Galerie on the main street of the village of 300 inhabitants, which includes
Marie-Claude Gracia Rey with her husband, Christian, and her sons, Jean-Claude and Jean-Antoine, and her daughter Marie-Christine. 

We are blessed to be in the company of one, Michel Lebecq, who is a renaissance man and a wood turner, a farmer and leader of our little band through many culinary experiences....

In Mezin ...

On the train from Paris with Judy..

Cori and Brenda piquenique-ing

Cooking in a Paris apartment off Rue Daguerre

With Isabelle Bachelard at Rungis Market

In the Marais with David and Alison...

We spent a lovely morning with author and punster, David Downie and his wife, Alison Harris - photographer of all beauty, touring the Marais delighting in the history of the Templars, where Presisent Clinton ate, the seductive aromas of Marche l'Enfant Rouge and the sights of bejeweled chocolates. Lunch apres at one of their favorite restaurants.

David Downie and Alison Harris
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