Other Projects

About a year ago, I began editing a friend’s manuscript about her travels on a homestay program in Estonia in the late 1990s. I’m happy to announce that the book, Once Around the Room: Discovering Estonia, is now available in paperback (and soon in Kindle and Nook formats) on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Once-Around-Room-Discovering-Estonia/dp/0982902808 A portion of the book’s proceeds will benefit the International 4-H Youth Exchange Program, a cultural exchange program in which 4-H alumni and other young adults live with host families in other countries to increase global awareness, develop independent study interests, and improve language skills.

About the BOOK

In the autumn of 1995, while still in college, Jennifer Doherty applied to a program that would change her life. Winning a spot on the International Four-H Youth Exchange program, an immersive homestay experience abroad, she left behind her rural Colorado ranching roots and a close-knit college community in the South to travel to Estonia for six months, staying with host families and learning the country’s language, traditions, and charms.

Arriving in Estonia fewer than ten years after the fall of Communism, Doherty describes a country straining to catch up with the West while wrestling with its turbulent history under Soviet rule. Through her travels around the country and the Baltic region, striking contrasts emerge, captured in candid detail: women sweep the sidewalks in front of Soviet-era concrete apartment buildings with twig brooms while tourists hustle to the medieval Old Town a few blocks away.

As it spirits readers around Estonia on a journey filled with long talks at kitchen tables, sauna soaks, blueberry-picking in the forest, and haymaking in the countryside, Once Around the Room offers an intimate look at the delights and quirks of becoming immersed in a foreign country. Chronicling the struggle to understand the philosophical and practical goals of cultural exchange as well as the struggle to strengthen one’s faith in a foreign country, Doherty composes a sensitive and poignant portrayal of the risks and rewards of fully immersing yourself in another culture, heart and soul.

About the Author

A founding faculty member and the assistant principal of an award-winning charter high school in Colorado Springs, Jennifer Doherty has worked in secondary education for the last twelve years. In addition to writing and teaching English, she loves traveling, skiing the Rockies, scrapbooking, and visiting her nephews on the cattle ranch that has been in her family for six generations. Recently married, Jennifer and her husband live in northern New Mexico.

About DEADRISE BOOKS

Deadrise Books is a micropublisher of travel-oriented nonfiction.

April 3rd MWA Panel, Part 2: Where Do You Get Your (Criminal) Ideas?

In this part: that favorite tool of writers, eavesdropping; logic and world-building; and how to structure a mystery novel.

Richie Narvaez: How about you, Jonathan? Where do you get your ideas?

Jonathan Maberry: Most writers have more ideas than they have time. The characters start talking to me in my head. I worked as a tv salesman, and a guy would come in in a black trenchcoat, buttoned up, sweating; he looked at the same tv each day, but he didn’t buy it. He’d just leave. My boss probably just thought he was a freak, and left it at that, but in my imagination, there was a story there. Clearly, the guy originally owned this tv, and there was something buried inside it…

When I was 14 and met Ray Bradbury, he told me: “Writing is 99% thinking about it. The rest is typing.” It’s hard to get your spouse to understand this, sometimes.

Writers are perfect eavesdroppers—people will sometimes think I’m an introvert, because I’ll be standing at a party pretty quietly, but, really, I’m watching everyone. I was at a party where a guy was four different people with each group. With co-workers, he was using all the latest buzz and lingo; with teenagers, he was the kind dad.

Richie: Is there a difference in gathering ideas for YA versus gathering them for adult fiction?

Chris Grabenstein: It’s the same process of keeping your eyes and ears open. I try to remember what it was like in sixth grade. I usually go to schools to give talks once a week, and I eavesdrop.

I have to live in New York, because if I need a character I just walk around the block.

Most middle-grade [fiction] is: “Who am I?” There’s something at age 10, 11, 12, going on in there—look at Harry Potter. “Who am I? I don’t belong with these people. I really belong at this school for wizards.”

Alison Gaylin: I have a ten-year-old daughter, and I was trying to write something she could read. What I wanted to write was—well, as my day job, I work at InTouch Weekly, and we write a lot about reality shows, and I’m fascinated by the kids in these families. They didn’t ask to be famous. What if you were growing up in a reality show? I got to read it to my daughter as I wrote it, and she loved it. She was casting it with the actors from Glee, and she was putting more pressure on me than any editor I ever had.

To engage a kid is a great means to an end.

Jonathan: YA is becoming a bigger part of my career; I have a four-part series that came about because I’ve never quite matured. We make stuff up for a living.

For YA, let’s take the same premise, a post-apocalytpic world. Some survive…and then what? You still have to do ordinary things. What would growing up in the apocalypse be like? The kid is 15, and he has to get a job. Well, how do people earn a living? What’s their culture like? That became the foundation of my story. What would entertainment be for these kids? When I was growing up, I collected and traded cards, so I created zombie cards for the series. All of my ideas are, “What, logically, would this be like?” That won the Bram Stoker award, and the first one in the series has just been optioned.

But everything in it makes sense. No matter how fantastical, in all my stuff, it has to make sense. Continue reading

April 3rd MWA Panel, Part 1: Where Do You Get Your (Criminal) Ideas?

The NYPL elevators still freak me out, but I’ll keep attending these (although I may write a will before the next one)! As usual, this was ninety minutes of interviews with great mystery novelists, and it was packed with advice. In this first part of the write-up: keystone books and formative moments for each of the three writers, each writer’s path to his/her first book, and why America dumped vampires for zombies. (I’ll post the rest later this week…provided I’m not eaten by zombies first.)

Tuesday night’s Mystery Writers of America panel, “Where Do You Get Your (Criminal) Ideas?,” featured Richie Narvaez (Moderator), Alison Gaylin, Chris Grabenstein, and Jonathan Maberry. (Marco Conelli was scheduled to be on the panel but could not attend.)

Richie: Alison, you’ve mentioned you read Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders as a kid. What was it about this book that gave you an idea and got you going?

Alison: I was in fifth grade, and I thought it was a book about the Beatles. But before long, I was hooked. There was something about crime fiction and true crime that fascinated me—something about lifting up that rock and looking under it, seeing the dark side of human nature. I was reading a lot of Judy Blume at the same time. But my friends were reading fantasy and science fiction, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and were escaping into better worlds. I liked escaping into this one, and finding that maybe it wasn’t so good as it looked.

Chris: I read Helter Skelter, too, along with The Exorcist, and a lot of Mad magazine.

Jonathan: I read comic books in order to learn how to read. (The Philadelphia school system wasn’t doing a great job of teaching me to read). There was a copy of Ed McBain’s Cop Hater (87th Precinct), slipped in with a stack of comic books.

Ed McBain for dialogue and character development, John D. MacDonald for the intellectual side of things, [MacDonald's character] Travis McGee and Quick Red Fox (Travis McGee, No. 4)—these all did a lot to inform the way I think.

Richie: Jonathan, your grandmother’s stories played a big role in your development, right?

Jonathan: She was a wonderfully creepy old lady. She was old when she had my mother—she was 81 in 1958. She believed in the larger world. She knew all the folklore of Europe; she was from Alsace-Lorraine and had roots in Scotland. When I was ten, she taught me to read tarot cards and tea leaves. So folklore, myth, legends [are key parts of my background]. When I discovered horror, it was by looking for folklore roots.

In 2000, I found notes I’d made [when I was] eleven, and started researching. I pitched Vampire Universe but had to write it under a pen name because all my previous work was on martial arts. That book ended up outselling my martial arts works (collectively) by thirty to one.

I first began to be interested in zombies when I snuck into Midway Theater at ten to see Night of the Living Dead. I went with a friend, who had nightmares after it; I stayed to see it twice. Continue reading

Mazanec: Czech Easter Bread

In contrast to the elaborate painted eggs and gingerbread you usually see around Prague at Easter, the relatively simple Easter sweet bread, Mazanec, is one of my favorite things. Starting from the same dough used for Vánočka, Czech Christmas bread, mazanec is a light, eggy sweet bread studded with raisins, almonds, and lemon zest. It’s always reminded me of panettone, a staple in my family at Christmastime, which is maybe why I like it so much.

It’s easy to make, and it’s great toastedalthough, given how J. yelped, “What is this country’s obsession with toasting things?!” when I suggested toasting it for breakfast, this might be solely an American preference. (I’m not going to tell him that I think you could make really great biscotti-ish slices from it.)

The recipe (inside) makes one large loaf, but you could also do small buns, instead—this recipe would yield at least six or seven popover-sized buns, I think. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Hell’s Kitchen Poppyseed Cake

Our neighborhood’s block-long apartment buildings occasionally hide shortcuts to the next street, and the one I usually take leads directly to the new branch of Sur la Table on West 57th. I love walking by and pausing to see which classes are in progress in the demo kitchen, which has a wall of windows facing the street.

On Saturday morning, the class just getting underway was clearly breakfast food—customers in aprons sipped orange juice from wine glasses, and a platter of blueberry strudel was waiting, up on a ledge. I started to think about the giant 1967 Czech cookbook I’d unearthed from one of our bookshelves on Friday—it had fallen open to a faintly spattered page with recipes for bábovka (cake).

We didn’t have all the ingredients for poppyseed strudel, but we did for cake. I merged two recipes—one from the big cookbook, Kuchařka naší vesnice, and one from the Czech cooking magazine Apetit—to get a rich (ok, really rich) poppyseed cake that goes well with coffee and/or whatever liqueur you have on hand, tucked away in a kitchen cabinet.

Poppyseed purists (not to mention Czechs and Hungarians) will be horrified that I didn’t grind the seeds, but since we now have only half a cake left, it didn’t seem to affect the taste that much…

And as for the recipe name—well, it can hardly be called “Czech,” since I dispensed with much of the meticulous Czech poppyseed TLC, and it owes its inspiration to that Saturday-morning walk. “Hell’s Kitchen Poppyseed Cake” it is, then!

Full recipe inside… Continue reading

NoRuz at the Met

Since today marks NoRuz, the Iranian New Year, it’s a good excuse to break out the photos from earlier this month, when J. and I spent a starry-eyed evening in the Met’s Temple of Dendur at a NoRuz dinner that raised funds for Iranian art and cultural projects. The New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands showcase the Met’s collection of Iranian art, and the new exhibit, “Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection,” highlights art from three generations of Iranian artists. The setting was spectacular: hundreds of tea lights covered the grand staircase to the second floor and surrounded the temple moat, and Iranian art from the Met’s collection played in a loop on one vast end wall of the Sackler Wing.

“Stunning” doesn’t really go far enough.

It wasn’t until we were inside the temple wing that I realized that it is surrounded by a moat. On Thursday night, the moat was ringed with rows of tea lights. I had visions of stumbling in my strappy sandals, catching a hem in one of the ten thousand tea lights, and landing, aflame, in the moat. J.’s career would probably recover, but I would have to spend the rest of my life in New York in hiding.

Fortunately, we glided to our table without setting anything on fire. Here I am in my Cinderella pose, dazzled by the art projected on the wall above.

The menu is worth including–it had some of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. The first two dishes are traditionally eaten on NoRuz, as are the small cookies in the last photo. Those, and the saffron-rosewater-pistachio ice cream, were incredible. The cookies (some made with chickpea flour, some with whole-wheat flour, one of J.’s colleagues explained) were the size of dimes, and each was topped with delicate dot of something sweet. Through superhuman effort, I restrained myself and had only about four.

Dolme-ye Barg-e Mo
Stuffed Grape Leaves

Kuku Sabzi
Fresh Herb Quiche

Nan-o Panir-o Sabzi
Lavash Roll, Feta Cheese, Walnuts & Herbs

Borani
Yogurt and Spinach Dip

Spring Salad

Baghali Polo Ba Goosht
Rice with Dill & Fava Beans
Braised Short Ribs with Sauce

Albaloo Polo Ba Morgh
Rice with Sour Cherries
Saffron Chicken Breast

Dessert
Shirini–Persian Sweets, Pistachio & Almond Sprinkles
Trio of Faloodeh (Sorbet with Noodles, Lime Juice), Bastani (Traditional Ice Cream with Saffron, Rosewater, Pistachio), & Pomegranate Sorbet
Pomegranate Juice with Vodka

All in all, it was wildly enjoyable–and seemed like a dream, the next morning.

Happy NoRuz!

February 16th: Caridad Piñeiro at Sisters in Crime (New York)

Untitled (New York, 52nd Street, 1948), William P. Gottlieb (via the Library of Congress Flickr stream)

On a rainy night last week, I finally went to one of the monthly Sisters in Crime (New York) meetings in the Muhlenberg branch of the NYPL. Confession time: I’d been a member for about a year before working up the courage to go. All those writers! In their bestseller-y best! Then I went and they were nice. Not just nice—welcoming! Funny. Warm. Witty.

All the way home on the A train, I kicked myself for not having attended meetings sooner.

The speaker last week was the multitalented Caridad Piñeiro, who spoke about her experience in writing and publishing romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal novels in the cross-genre market. But it was her discussion of how the Chicas books were marketed (and how mainstream publishing treats Latina writers) that was the most gripping.

Caridad’s great advice ranged from the macro (know the expectations of readers in your genre) to the micro (for authors just diving into Facebook, get a fan page, lest your readers track you down and stand, adoringly, on your doorstep).

Her tips on what agents are looking for in the cross-genre market:

  • Romantic suspense needs a strong female lead, with a clear emotional arc.
  • The market for paranormal suspense is picking up again—this includes urban fantasy with a hint of suspense or mystery. But the manuscript has to be something out of the ordinary—it’s a crowded market.
  • Inspirationals are coming back.
  • The market is good for cross-genre books.

Also, writers, let me warn you that you’re going to be blown away by the “Resources for Writers” section of Caridad’s site. You should just block out about six hours tomorrow on your calendar and make up meetings, if need be: “MEETING WITH CFO, CTO, CMO, IT, PTA, AND FRANK” has worked for me in the past.