February 18, 2015

Writing Tip: Show, Don't Tell - Trite or True?

The number one rule in fiction writing: show, don't tell. Trite? Maybe. But it's action that draws the reader into your story; the characters, the setting, the details, and action. Narrative keeps us distant.
So when I started reading Anne Tyler's latest (and supposedly her last) book, A Spool of Blue Thread, I was struck when at 8% (according to my Kindle, which would be approximately 30 pages if I were reading the hard cover version), nothing had happened. There was some dialogue, introduction of a number of characters, but no scenes.
The story begins in 1994 with a phone call from a son to his father, announcing that he's gay. That grabbed my interest. But the thread ends there. It goes nowhere. I'm now at 18% and I have no idea if the kid is gay. If he's not, why did he tell his parents that? No clue. And at 18% of the way through the book it's suddenly 2012 (we're moving at the speed of light here!) and the kid's been married (twice, I think) and has a kid of his own. But I don't know much more about him.
I usually give a book 50 pages. If I'm not engaged by then I move on to the next. But I'm beyond the 50 now and haven't given up. Because it's Anne Tyler. This is her 20th book and I have loved so many of them. This isn't one, and that makes me sad. I so wanted to love this.
I can't help but wonder if this book would have gotten published if it wasn't Anne Tyler. And I can't help but wonder why her editor didn't say something. Because it's Anne Tyler, I suppose, and people will buy this book just because her name is on it. Just like I did. And isn't that too bad? If I were an author of Tyler's reputation and caliber and I had made an announcement that this was my last book I'd want it to be my best.
It's premature, I know, but I doubt if she's going to be able to say that.

February 15, 2015

Movie Review: Nightcrawler ****

Jake Gyllenhaal is gaunt as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, and suitably creepy as a sort of autistic, idiot savant who happens upon a new career path as a news videographer, and takes it to new levels.
He's a fast learner, he's fond of telling people, and he is, reciting research robot-like off the Internet, and learning his new craft as if he's gone through the Evelyn Woods School of Videography.
Rene Russo is the director of the lowest-rated news show on TV and when Bloom brings her some particularly gory footage she knows this is the key to her contract that's coming up for renewal, though it's going to cost more than she expects.
The movie amps up and amps up, and toward the end my stomach churned as I waited to see what icky thing would happen next.
Nightcrawler is sleazy and sordid, and great fun to watch.
Four out of five stars for Nightcrawler.

February 4, 2015

Recipe: Broccoli Soup

This soup is beautiful, and it makes the house smell heavenly. Okay, so there's a little cream in it. The broccoli cancels that out, right? Make this soup. You can thank me later.

Broccoli Soup
3-4 servings

4 T butter
1 1/2 lbs broccoli
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
salt and pepper
3 T flour
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cups half and half
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Parmesan rind

Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.
Add broccoli, onion, carrot, s & p, and saute until onion is translucent, about 6 min.
Add the flour and cook for 1 min.
Add stock and Parmesan rind, and bring to a boil.
Simmer covered until broccoli is tender, about 15 min.
Add cream and nutmeg. Simmer 5 min.
Remove parmesan rind.
With an immersible blender (my favorite kitchen gadget!), puree the soup a little - leave it a little chunky. Add s & p to taste. Heat through.
Enjoy!

February 1, 2015

I'm Obsessed with Savory Cookies

What do you do on a snowy Super Bowl Sunday in Chicago?
View from the 22nd floor
Watch CBS Sunday Morning.
Check.
Read the Sunday paper.
Check.
Work on the revision of your novel.
Check.
Take a nap.
Check.
Take extreme close-up of Sophie Tucker as she lays on your chest. 
Check.
Bake. 
Check. 



I'm obsessed with appetizer cookies. A couple weeks ago I made cheddar thumbprints with roasted onion and garlic jam (yum). Last week I made jalapeno cheddar cookies. Today I made appetizer cookies with red pepper flakes and Piave Vecchio cheese. They are all delicious - a perfect accompaniment for soup or chili or a nice cold Guinness

Appetizer Cookies
Handy dandy cheese-grating
attachment to my
immersible blender.
Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
Indulge
1 ¾ sticks cold unsalted butter, ½” dice
5 oz. cheese, grated - sharp cheddar or any firm, strong cheese - I used Piave Vecchio and they were delicious 
1 T chili powder
3 T ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 T milk for egg wash
Fleur de sel


  • Put flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor with the steel blade. Pulse to mix.
  • Add butter and pulse until it resembles coarse meal.
  • Add cheese, jalapeno and chili powder and pulse again.
  • With processor running, add ice water all at once.
  • Continue pulsing until the mixture begins to form a ball.
  • Dump dough onto a floured board and roll into a 14” log.
  • Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • Cut dough into 3/8” thick slices. Put on sheet pan, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with fleur de sel.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Unbaked rolls keep for 2 weeks in the fridge and up to 6 months in the freezer. Defrost before baking.

January 27, 2015

Movie Review: A Most Violent Year**

A Most Violent Year in a Most Boring Two Hours.
Oscar Isaac drew me into his character, Jessica Chastain not so much, but it wasn't the performances I had a problem with, it was the writing. I couldn't wait for this film to end. Too many holes, too long, too contrived, characters I didn't care about. Need I say more?
Two out of Five Stars for A Most Violent Year.

January 25, 2015

Movie Review: American Sniper *****

I sat with my hand over my mouth for this entire film, wanting to see what was happening and not wanting to see. Bradley Cooper's performance is riveting, and the film feels like a documentary.
I'm about 50/50 on Clint Eastwood's films but this is a big five for me. There's a lot of controversy surrounding this movie but for my money a film works if I'm engrossed from beginning to end, if I'm not checking my watch, if I have feelings about the characters, if I feel I have a stake in what happens. Yes, yes, yes and yes.
American Sniper works for me. Big time.
5 out of 5 stars for American Sniper.

Movie Review: Still Alice ****1/2

Isn't it everyone's nightmare to have Alzheimer's disease? I'm too old for early onset, so that's a relief of sorts, but who knows what's to come?
Still Alice is the story of a 50-year-old woman; an intellectual, a world-renowned linguist, someone whose intelligence is her identity, and she's diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's; the ultimate irony.
I unfortunately didn't like the book the movie is based on but I loved the play that was done by Lookingglass Theatre. And I loved the film.
Julianne Moore, who's not one of my favorite actors (she doesn't seem to melt into the characters she plays) is very moving in this film. Alec Baldwin's part is not big but his performance is poignant and authentic.
Still Alice is tough to watch - it hits too close to home - but it's worth the tears, and the tissues you'll need during this movie.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars for Still Alice.