Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

December 19, 2012

A Velva Jean Christmas

When it got toward supper, I went into the kitchen and rolled up my sleeves and started cutting up vegetables for soup. For some reason, it was the only thing I could think to make. There was an actual icebox, not just a springhouse, but the stove was the same– an old comfort stove just like Mama had and just like Ruby Poole had. Granny still used a Dutch oven. I tried not to think of what Granny would be fixing over at home.

Velva Jean Learns to Drive

Minnie Kinsley Justice, better known as Velva Jean’s beloved Granny, is based in part on my great-grandmother Florence Fain. Mama, as the family called her, married my great-granddaddy (they called him Papa) on the North Carolina-Tennessee line just four days after her twentieth birthday.

Afterward, they moved to Murphy, North Carolina, to live on Fain Mountain, named for her family. They raised ten children there when they weren’t following Papa’s blacksmithing work over to Copperhill, Tennessee, or Ducktown, Tennessee, or up to Woodfin near Asheville, North Carolina.

Mama played the auto harp. She loved her children and her husband, even though he was in and out of trouble for most of their married life (he was, after all, descended from outlaws). He called her Bebe. She called him Old Mule. Like Velva Jean’s Granny, Mama was a wonderful cook.

In honor of Christmas and family, tradition and Velva Jean, here is one of Granny’s holiday recipes.

Dried Apple Stack Cake

Cooking time: about 18 minutes

Ingredients:

6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preparation:

Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Cream the shortening and sugar, then add molasses and mix well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Add the buttermilk alternately with flour, mixing well. Place the dough on a floured surface. Work in enough flour to make it easy to handle, but not enough to make it stiff. Divide the dough into 9 portions and shape these into balls. Place 1 ball in a greased 9-inch round pan. Press the dough with your hands evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly before removing from the pan. Continue the same process for each ball of dough. You can use the same pans again, but grease them each time.

Stack the layers with apple filling (below). Store the cake in an airtight container or wrap it well at least over night for the very best flavor and moisture. (The cake freezes well.)

Filling:

1 pound dried apples
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Wash and cook the apples in water until tender. Drain and then mash well, and then mix with sugars and cinnamon.

September 18, 2012

Rumi on my desk

Rumi was named for the Persian poet and mystic, famous for his poems of love, which is very fitting since Rumi the cat is the most loving creature I know. His purr runs all day and night– he doesn’t even turn it off at the vet. He’s been keeping me company at my desk since he was a kitten, and has seen me through every Velva Jean book. So with Becoming Clementine due to come out one week from today, here’s a little tribute to the sweetest literary kitty of all.

June 4, 2012

Velva Jean Goes Online

Velva Jean Hart, heroine of my novels Velva Jean Learns to Drive, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and the upcoming Becoming Clementine (due out September 25), has taught herself to drive and fly, she’s flown as a member of the WASP in World War II, spied for the OSS, and fought with the French Resistance. Now comes her latest adventure: tackling the world of social media.

You can read and follow her style diary, “Lipsticks, Looks & Lifestyles,” on tumblr.

Follow her on twitter for pictures, thoughts, info, videos, book updates, etc.

And like her facebook fan page, where she’s posting everything from family photos to family recipes, songs and maps, as well as info on the women who spy, fly, and drive, WASP and spy-related events, and 1940s beauty tips.

January 24, 2012

Behind the Book — Naming a Book

Book titles are tricky. Sometimes they come to you naturally and easily and sometimes (most of the time) they’re more evasive. John Steinbeck said, “I have never been a title man. I don’t give a damn what it is called.” But I do. I think titles are important.

Tennessee Williams said, “The title comes last.” This has, for the most part, been my experience. I spent two years researching and writing The Ice Master before choosing the title, which was suggested by my mother. After my editor and I settled on The Ice Master, we came up with a subtitle: “The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk and the Miraculous Rescue of Her Survivors,” which became simply “The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk” because my editor felt the former was too wordy and gave too much away.

I went through at least fifty titles for my memoir about high school (including the uninspired High School and the more inspired Riding in Trans-Ams with Boys) before my editor– during our brainstorm of 1980’s-related words and phenomena– came up with The Aqua Net Diaries.

In the case of my first novel, Penguin originally wanted to change the name Velva Jean Learns to Drive so that it wouldn’t be confused with a children’s book or a young adult book, but I stood firm and convinced them otherwise. When it came time to choose a title for Velva Jean Learns to Fly, Penguin wanted to change the name to something that could stand alone and didn’t mention Velva Jean (the sales and marketing teams have very good and convincing reasons for this). But I wanted Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and I fought for it.

With this third novel in the Velva Jean series, sales and marketing have again stated their case– more emphatically this time– about leaving Velva Jean out of the title. After all, they argue, she’ll be mentioned in the jacket copy and also on the front cover (which will say: “Author of Velva Jean Learns to Drive“). The few readers I’ve mentioned this to have reacted almost violently– they want Velva Jean’s name in there! I understand this because part of me does to. I like the symmetry of Velva Jean Learns to… But this third time around, I’m ready for a change.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want potential readers to pick up the book and think, “Oh, it’s some series about some girl named Velva Jean, and I haven’t read the first two so I can’t start with this one,” or maybe it’s because I’m, every now and again, feeling the itch to move beyond Velva Jean into new characters and new settings, or maybe it’s because of the nature of this third book– it’s a darker, broader, more epic tale, full of adventure, danger, intrigue, and action (and a grown-up love story!). Or maybe it’s because sales and marketing make a really good case. Whatever the reason, I feel ready for a new title.

The challenge about revealing said title is that, until you read the book, it’s going to be hard to really get its meaning and impact. But then, aren’t so many good titles like that?

E.L. Doctorow said, “You’ll find a title and it’ll have a certain excitement for you; it will evoke the book, it will push you along. Eventually, you will use it up and you will have to choose another title. When you find the one that doesn’t get used up, that’s the title you go with.”

That’s how I feel about this new one. I had a couple of other titles for it at first, but I wore those out. Then my editor suggested one– what ultimately became the final one– and I wasn’t sure at first. I mulled it over, I tried to think of others, I tried living with this one or that one for a day or two. But I kept coming back to the one she suggested. And now I like it. I really do.

So what is the final title for Velva Jean #3? You’ll have to tune in here tomorrow for the reveal…

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