Posts Tagged ‘Little Gale Gumbo’

In LITTLE GALE GUMBO, there’s a scene where Camille shows Ben how to cook gumbo. Like Ben, I learned how to make the famous New Orleans dish from a reliable source: my husband Ian, who is a native New Orleanian and an incredible cook.

I thought it would be fun to have him share a bit of his experience growing up around so much great food.

Tell us about yourself. I was born and raised in New Orleans, and my roots in Louisiana run far back on both sides of my family. My great-grandmother grew up in Houma, Louisiana and spoke only French until she was fifteen when the family moved to New Orleans. One of my favorite stories of hers was how she became Episcopalian which was very unusual for a Cajun. Her family lived so remotely that when my great-great grandfather became gravely ill, the only priest who ventured into the swamp to console him was the Episcopal priest, so when my great-great-grandfather recovered, he switched to the Episcopal Church.

Why do you think food is such a central part of New Orleans culturally? I think it’s a pervasive part of all cultures to have food at special gatherings of family and friends, so New Orleans isn’t unique that way. The difference with New Orleanians is that food is the special occasion and they don’t need the excuse of a holiday or some other big event to eat extravagantly. The vast majority of family gatherings I remember as a kid were because my grandfather got 40 pounds of crawfish or someone gave him a bunch of blue crabs or oysters or whatever was in season at the time.

What are some of your earliest memories of food? My grandparents always made huge vats of gumbo and froze it, so they would always have a bowl of gumbo waiting for me when I came to visit, chock full of blue crab bodies still in the shell.

Crawfish boils were also a big part of growing up. My grandfather would cook the crawfish in these huge tin wash bins and I have very distinct memories of watching him and being amazed at the amount of cayenne pepper and salt he would pour into these boils. Whole jars of cayenne. Then when they were done cooking, he’d dump the steaming crawfish out onto three picnic tables lined up end-to-end and my cousins and I would sit around them and it was always a race to peel the crawfish before they were all gone.

Your grandfather was a shrimper in Lake Pontchartrain for many years. Did you ever get to go with him? Lots of times. What I remember most was getting up at three in morning and getting out on the water and it would be completely dark. While we were trawling, I can remember sitting under the bulkhead and I couldn’t see anything—all I could feel was these big waves hitting the hull and I remember being certain we were going to sink. Then by the time light came, we’d be finished trawling and my job would be to pick the crabs and the fish out of the shrimp. You had to watch out for the small crabs because their pinch was the worst.

Tell us something people may not know about New Orleans food. New Orleanians are not purists when it comes to their food. I remember my grandfather started putting his etouffee over pasta instead of the traditional rice and it became quite popular among his fellow shrimpers.

What’s your favorite New Orleans dish to cook and your favorite to eat? Definitely gumbo. To me, it’s the one dish I most associate with growing up in New Orleans. But I miss those blue crabs.

* * * *

When Ian isn’t teaching his wife how to make traditional New Orleans dishes, he’s teaching Biology and Anatomy.

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Summer is here–and as I am the fortunate bride of a high-school biology teacher, summer means even more time with my beloved and our family–and the first part of the summer usually finds us returning to Maine which we did indeed get to do again for a brief but bountiful trip.

Highlights included my New Orleanian husband boiling his first lobster (I was off in a corner, whispering my apologies to the dear crustacean. Yes, I am a card-carrying hypocrite who eats meat on occasion but can’t bear to take responsibility for the process of ending its life for my belly. Even writing this, I’m feeling latent guilt.) Now even though we were in Maine and Mainers boil lobster in salted water, my husband felt compelled to New Orleans-ify the boil, and so in went the bay leaves, the thyme, the onion, the garlic and the celery. Yup, it was out of this world.

We walked the beach every chance we could. Even Olive combed.

There was some research on my WIP. Hint: lighthouses.

And there was even a very special opportunity to visit a small island off the coast of Maine for a weekend, and you know as I was standing on the deck of the ferry watching the shoreline draw ever closer, I couldn’t help thinking of the Bergeron women of LITTLE GALE GUMBO, drawing closer to their new home, their brave, new world. With that novel long out of my hands now, I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to be connected to my dear characters again. I’ve missed them.

And speaking of missing…I’ve missed my blogging friends hugely. Before this hiatus, being “off the grid” never seemed strange. I was wondering how summer is treating Averil (whose luscious novel THE KEY was my very first Kindle purchase!). I wondered how Teri is savoring her post-graduate days, what Downith is reading, what Amy is writing, what Melissa is seeing, what Julia is thinking, where Jackie and Reggie are walking, and what is making Amanda laugh.

Not to mention I wondered what Sarah is making, what Tom is finding, what MSB, Sherry, Lizi, Jenny and Lyra are discovering now that school’s out, and how Teresa’s feeling with her debut’s release finally here. And what about Elena‘s newest projects,  Roz‘s novel that is on submission as we speak/write, Barb‘s newest art, and Linda‘s WIP?

Simply put, I am thrilled to be catching up with you all.

Happy, happy summer everyone.

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Rising dough. Paying off a student loan. On hold with your insurance provider.

These are things that take time.

But what about the timeline for a novel? Does that have a built-in life expectancy?

For LITTLE GALE GUMBO, I took my time. Almost forty years, to be exact. When we first meet Camille Bergeron, she is a shy teenager helping her mother work a spell in the back of their Voodoo shop in New Orleans. By the story’s end, she has left a legacy on an island off the coast of Maine, started a Creole cafe that will become an island staple, and raised two remarkable daughters who share their own struggles and celebrations throughout the course of the novel.

Wait for it...Wait for it...Some things take time. Like bird photography. And, if you're this heron, a good meal.

So when I sat down to write my next novel, it was hard to imagine, but I was feeling a little less, well, patient. The story that was coming to me wanted to be told faster. MUCH faster. As in, one week faster.

Is that possible? Is that blasphemy? Can a reader care about people who have the literary lifespan of a fruit fly?

Why not?  Just because a story takes place over a short period of time doesn’t mean its characters can’t develop believable relationships, does it? Admittedly, it’s a challenge. In particular, building romances. No reader accepts the love-at-first-sight clause without proof. And what about the ending? Can you provide resolution for your reader–believable resolution–when only a matter of days have transpired? I mean, how much can a character REALLY grow in seven days?

Well, I’ll let you know. I’m finding that out right now, and I’m here to say, I think they can grow quite a lot. But I am holding fast to one rule: Be it seven days or seven years, the evolution of a character requires consistency and authenticity above all else.

Frankly, I’m loving the challenge of this structure. I love the idea of a compact story with bursting characters whose years of history aren’t nearly as crucial as the seven days in which that history comes to the forefront and collides with their future and those around them who hope to be a part of it.

It’s almost like accelerated dog years. For every seven years of character development, I get one day to let it live.

So what about you all? Do you find it’s easier to write a story that spans a long chronology–or do you prefer to keep your timeline short? Any examples come to mind of short-termed storylines that left you feeling full or midnight-munchies starving?

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We’re Covered!


File this under: Now It Feels Real. LITTLE GALE GUMBO is now covered, friends!

Huge thanks to three very talented people for this beauty: Mimi Bark for the cover design, Tom Hallman for the illustration and Nate Williams for the handlettering.

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So I know it’s early and it’s Monday, but I’m hoping, dear friends, you all might be willing to indulge me in a little discussion about book trailers.

I’m in the process of making one for LITTLE GALE GUMBO, and frankly, I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on the little devils.

Do they entice you?
Annoy you?
Surprise you?
Do you like ones that play like a movie trailer? Or do you like the ones that play more like a documentary?

OR (and this IS a possible answer) do you simply not have a feeling one way or another about them?

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My apologies for being absent from so many of my favorite blogs and visiting with everyone. I’ve been neck-deep in reading through the copyedited version of LITTLE GALE GUMBO, and let me just say, to all the copyeditors out there, I raise my glass to you.

As a moviegoer who can’t help but notice when a certain actor’s drink is half-full in one shot and then miraculously filled to the rim in the next, I was determined to take great pains to keep any continuity issues out of my novel. Copyeditors catch those (among other things) and I am in awe of what they do. How they keep it all straight (dates, ages, names, eye color–you name it!) is a mystery to me, but I’m so grateful to them for it.

Every lily has its thorns? (Or something like that...)

But before the copyedited manuscript arrived last week, I was making a bit of progress on my WIP when, oh jeez…I found myself stalled again. Remember the same fella who was giving me pause? Well, he’s at it again.

Twenty pages in, I realized he wasn’t just coming off as flawed, he was coming off as, well, not very likeable.

Sounds like a job for “the scene”! You know, the one that reveals the soft, smushy, maybe even lovable underbelly of your character. The one that confirms to your reader that this person deserves their attention and their sympathy (when called upon, of course).

Now I know there are umpteen debates on whether a character has to be likable to be enjoyed. For me, I not only have to like a character to read them, I REALLY have to like them to write them. Otherwise I find myself wondering why we’re spending time together. Sure, they should be flawed, make bad choices, the works. But at their core, they MUST have a good heart to lead my story. Now, don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying EVERY character has to glow from the inside–just the ones your reader is supposed to care and root for.

You can’t assume your reader will simply like your character. Like any person we want to get to know, or feel for, we have to learn about them. We have to see them in action over time (or pages). Case in point, I once had dinner with a guy I was newly dating (and liking) only to have him berate our poor waitress because she’d neglected to serve my sandwich with mayo. (And by berate, I don’t mean “point out gently”, I mean “raise voice and throw up hands”.) So much for Mr. Nice Guy. I knew before the check arrived, I didn’t need to know anything more about this guy except how to get away from him as fast as possible. And we all know our readers won’t even wait for the check.

Now I’m not suggesting you need to have your character pull a busload of puppies from a live volcano, or that a flashy show of concern will miraculously erase twenty pages of schmuckness. Like anything believable, the reveal of character should be as natural and genuine as possible.

Writers, have you found yourself in a similar state of conflict with a character?

Readers, have you recently encountered a character who left you a little cold when you were supposed to be warm and fuzzy?

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Having had a lot of experience in theater over the years, one of the things I always enjoyed when I was acting was having a prop in a scene. Food to be eaten, clothes to be packed, dishes to be set, you name it. I always felt an inherent ease and believability in having a task to accompany my performance, something to keep my hands busy while my head was immersed.

But props in a play aren’t always a good idea. When chosen poorly, they can appear contrived, or distracting, drawing the viewer’s focus from the emotional core of the scene.

It’s the same in writing. Just like in acting, props have to have a place in a scene to work, and using them well can be tougher than it seems.

For starters, props can be structurally tricky. Much in the way some of us nit-pickers can’t help but notice that a film actor’s glass of wine/cigarette/sandwich grows and vanishes, grows and vanishes during the course of a five-minute scene, props in writing must be organized and consistent.

Eating and drinking scenes are especially tough. Sometimes characters are gluttonous–you can have them serving themselves twelve slices of pizza before you realize it–or refilling their coffee so often your reader wonders if they don’t have a leaky mug. Dressing your character (or undressing, whichever the case may be)? Be careful they don’t put on more than one pair of socks (unless they’re going skating on a pond in Maine in January) or zip up those button-fly jeans, or tie those sneakers so many times your reader will wonder if they’re practicing knot-tying for a merit badge.

Frequency is another stickler when employing props in your scenes. I’ve re-read scenes of mine where my use of props was so prominent, I wondered if I was writing a scene or a recipe. (In my defense, there is a scene in LITTLE GALE GUMBO where the goal is to teach one of the characters how to make gumbo, so the actions of the “props” took on an unusual focus in the scene. But in most cases, you don’t want your props to overwhelm your scene.)

So when do props work?

1. When they are part of the background, there to reinforce/give authenticity to your setting: Julian handed Anna the menu and she smiled as she took it. “Brunch is my favorite,” she said, setting it down. “I hear the Eggs Benedict here is wonderful.” She couldn’t help checking out the stack of individual jams in their shiny metal basket. It was nothing to alphabetize them while he looked over the Specials Board.

When they reinforce the goal or mindset of a character:  Anna pulled out a second napkin and set it in her lap so he wouldn’t think she was prone to spills this time. OR Anna worked the napkin in her lap, shredding it to ribbons while she listened to him explain Margot’s perfect triple axel.

I like props, I do, but I have to remind myself they are part of the background, bit parts, never leads.

So how do you all use props in your writing? Any favorites you find your characters using from story to story?

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Author blurbs.

We’ve all seen them on books, and maybe once or twice we’ve even been inspired to buy from a debut author because someone we love loved what they wrote.

Well, I’m about to become one of those debut authors looking for love.

Since LITTLE GALE GUMBO is on its way to production and talk of cover art is in the works, the next step in this journey is getting author blurbs, and I will admit, the prospect has me excited and nervous and, well, mulling over some inappropriate thoughts.

Two words: banana bread.

I’ll confess I’ve never considered the inclusion of gifts before on this road to publication–but how could I not now? When I already feel so fortunate to be on this journey, and then I get to hope that one of the authors I have loved for so long, who have been inspiration for me for the last 20+ years of my writing and submitting, that one of those authors will not only be willing to READ my book but also say something nice about it!? Tell me, how can I just ASK for that, empty-handed? How can I not deliver that request with a lifetime supply of banana bread? A sampler box of Zapp’s? A keg of egg nog? (Note to self: ask homebrewing hubby if such a thing is possible and get busy.)

OR…I suppose, I could just ask, with the utmost courtesy and professionalism, with humility, with gratitude, and maybe even a few loaves of reverence, like lots of debuting authors have done before me, and hope that maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be fortunate enough to return the favor to someone else.

In the meantime, I can learn from others who’ve been doing it much longer and who have lots of great advice on the subject. This guest post from Nathan Bransford’s blog is tops. Thank you, Lauren Baratz-Logsted.

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It was so great to open the big blogosphere envelope this morning and read the fabulous news of a fellow blogger’s book deal–congratulations, Teresa!

My own publishing journey is likely gearing up for another burst of activity in the next few weeks as LITTLE GALE GUMBO is now on its way to production and I will see it again only to make any small needed changes (Thanks for asking, Karen!).

In the meantime, I am, as my posts have indicated, busy writing/editing/hoarding words on book number 2, all the while knowing that LGG’s release date of October 2011 SEEMS like a long way away, but there is much to be done to fill in the weeks between now and then (most of which will not involve copious amounts of homemade egg nog, surprisingly).

What always amazes me in the process of writing is how utterly dualistic the experience can be–like a love affair, it seems to know only extremes in the beginning–some days are: Weeee! I was BORN to write this book–we were made for each other! Then just as quickly, the next day comes: I don’t know who this book is! I can’t believe I ever loved this book–what was I THINKING?! Then the next day, you’re back in crazy mad love, the earlier hour’s crushing doubt washed blissfully away…

Exhausting, isn’t it? And then, oh and then…one day, the two ends of the spectrum seem to move closer together and there’s less of the doubt, less of the angst, and more of the joy, the confidence, the delight in the flow of your work, and that delight grows and grows and…Yeah, it’s awesome.

So—where are all of you in your literary love affairs at the moment?

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Now that LITTLE GALE GUMBO is almost out the door (my door, that is) and I have a tentative publication date (October 2011!), the discussion of possible cover art is starting. My editor very generously offered me the chance to weigh in on the subject, asking if I had any ideas for the cover, or if I could provide her with a list of covers I had seen that I liked. Exciting? You bet. But not nearly as easy as I would have imagined. If I thought summarizing a 400 page novel into a one-page synopsis was hard, what about summarizing a whole book in a single image?

Thankfully there are talented designers and marketing professionals with the expertise to know how to take a book and distill its essence into a succinct and spot-on visual representation. As a graphic designer in a past life, I know there is much that goes into the decision from an aesthetic point of view–but what about the less-familiar influence of marketing? I can’t imagine the layers and research for that one (soft-focus versus sharpened-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life Test Groups?), but I do hope I get to be privy to the conditions that will influence the decision when it is made. Frankly there is nothing about this process that doesn’t rock my world. (Translation: don’t be surprised by future posts on the chemical make-up of binding adhesives. You’ve all been warned.)

But maybe it’s not too early to begin to think about covers for your own projects…if for no other reason, it can be a wonderful exercise in distillation, when a novel begins to press dangerously at its seams, and the forest that’s supposed to be there among all those trees is entirely hidden from view.

So, anyone have any thoughts on their own covers? Any covers on the shelves currently (or in the past) that are your favorites?


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