Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts Turn to Farming

Late-breaking news: The remarkable Aine Greaney graciously invited me to guest post on her blog about writing with a day job. Thanks, Aine. Anybody out there who hasn't read Dance Lessons and her other work, you should. And we'd love you to stop by and leave a comment. How do you integrate your day job with your creative work?

Now, about farms. Farms, you say? Sure. Think organic. Think local foods. Think Commun
ity Supported Agriculture. Think the Five Star Organic Farm in the early nineties in my former town of West Newbury. It was the smallest organic farm in Essex County, Massachusetts. It was certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and I was the farmer.

Nestled up against the Merrimac River, our small piece of land enabled me to grow a
nd sell vegetables and fruits. My (now-ex) husband hauled manure and turned compost, and we were co-owners, but I was the full-time farmer. I was home with our little children after leaving a job in hi-tech when they wouldn't offer part-time work or flexible hours. I'd always wanted to grow more food on a larger plot than a small kitchen garden. The chance arose and we seized it.

Farming is really hard work, and it's drudge work. Aerobic exercise, it's not. But you get to be outdoors with the seasons and the birds and the earth. As a day job you can do a lot worse.
I sold at the Newburyport Farmer's Market. I put up an honor-system farmstand out on the road. And I started a Community Supported Agriculture program in 1993, an early bud in a now-blossoming trend.

When I started writing mystery fiction during the last year of my farming life, my first book featured a female organic farmer and the intrigues of her life. I didn't finish that book. Looking back I realize how much of a novice writer I was then.

I'm now d
usting off and updating that character for a possible new series, and I'm having a blast. Cam Flaherty has a CSA that includes a Locavore Club, the leader of which has read Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal Vegetable Miracle. The farm has a Facebook page. The potential for mayhem on an organic farm seems without limit.

Stay tuned!
Let me know your ideas for locavore lunacy, your experience with CSAs, what organic means or doesn't mean to you.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I won a book on the Jungle Red Writers blog recently that I want everybody to read. It's Aftertaste, by Meredith Mileti.

The story is not technically a mystery, but mysteries do arise as we follow chef Mira Rinaldi through her anger-management classes, cooking at her acclaimed New York restaurant Grappa, and returning with her baby daughter to her family and roots in Pittsburgh.
Will her husband acknowledge his daughter? Will Mira be able to hang onto her temper? Will Pittsburgh keep her from returning to New York? Will she follow her passion in work and love?

This is a wonderful book. Great characters, intriguing plot, beautiful writing. I par
ticularly liked experiencing the inside scoop on what the life of a chef is like. Mileti's writing about food - its preparation and enjoyment - made me hungry page after page, although I don't think I have it in me to work the long hard hours of a professional chef. I asked Meredith how she learned so much about the restaurant business. This is what she was gracious enough to share with me:

"I actually did a fair amount of research for the novel. Oh, it was a tough job! I love to travel and eat out--food stands, greasy spoons, as well as more "serious" restaurants, and everything in between. So, for the years I spent writing the book we certainly did quite a bit of that. Many chefs were kind enough to answer my questions and some were kinder still in allowing me to peek into their kitchens. And, I cooked lots of Italian food, which I love. I learned to roll out homemade pasta with a rolling pin, an accomplishment I'm really proud of. (My husband jokes he gained twenty pounds during the writing of this novel!) I also read a lot. In particular, I found Michael Rhulman's series of books (The Making of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef, The Reach of a Chef) very enlightening. Bill Buford's Heat was helpful as well, not to mention tremendous fun."

Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Islieb) at Jungle Red interviewed Meredith here, which is where I learned about her. It was fitting for Lucy to interview Meredith, since Lucy's first book about a restaurant reviewer will be out shortly.

I hope you'll find time to pick up Aftertaste and let me know what you think. And what's your favorite chef story? Best restaurant meal?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

25-Word Fiction

The Guppies (the Great Unpublished) online subgroup of Sisters in Crime, of which I am an active member, has been soliciting 25-word flash crime stories to celebrate Sisters in Crime's 25th anniversary.

Sisters in Crime (SinC) is an international organization founded in 1986 to promote the professional development and advancement of women writing crime fiction. The early founders, notably Sara Paretsky, saw that female crime and mystery authors weren't being published or reviewed in any of the same numbers as male authors, despite the past influence of blockbusters like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (and many others).

SinC is now 25 years old and has made a huge difference in the professional - and personal, most likely - lives of countless women who write crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

Here's what I submitted to the Guppies solicitation for 25-word stories:

"Just like prison, Doc," George quavered.

Dorothy administered her husband's final dose, winked at Brigitte.

"Death is like prison, too."

The plane to Rio awaited.

Fun, right? Some of the other entries have been very intriguing, to say the least. And I thought 150-word and 600-word flash fiction ( the last entry on my Publications tab) were a challenge!

Our New England chapter of Sisters in Crime threw a gala luncheon In Concord, Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary. We were honored by several New England chapter founders and early active chapter members - Kate Flora, Linda Barnes, and Margaret Press, as well as past presidents Ruth McCarty and Pat Remick. Current president, Sheila Connolly presided. Our intrepid photographer Mo Walsh's photographs are here (she's here on the right!).

All our Goddess-Luminaries shared their memories of the early days of Sisters in Crime and what being part of a local chapter meant to them as budding writers. (Mo's photo of the Goddesses at left in thumbnail.)

Multiple dozens of writers consumed a tasty lunch, schmoozed, and networked all afternoon. Nobody offered up 25-word flash fiction on the spot, (but then, that was a different contest). Some then adjourned to visit the local bookstore or Louisa May Alcott's birthplace.

SinC New England is a large and active chapter. For the non-writer readers out there, we have a vibrant Speakers Bureau that provides libraries, book clubs, and bookstores with writer panels for all occasions. For writers, we hold workshops and subsidize courses by big-name teachers.

Who would you like to hear talk about writing? Who would you like to learn about writing from? If you're a writer, have you joined Sisters in Crime and the New England chapter? Most important, what's YOUR 25-word crime fiction? Share it here!