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Sorry for missing a post yesterday, but here ‘tis. As I didn’t get frantic messages looking for it yesterday, I’m thinking no one was emotionally distressed by its absence.

Bastards.

Anyway, I have been able to rediscover a part of me that had to be shoved aside for the past few years of shelter instability: cooking and baking. I cooked: made one-dish dinners, pan fried meats, built salads and microwaved stuff, but it wasn’t my kind of cooking. I am one of those freaks that loves the challenge of Thanksgiving dinner. I experiment with meatloaf. My grandmother was one of the greatest cooks I’ve ever met and I can make her stuffed cabbage (Haven’t mastered her pot roast yet, though). Other than the cramps in my upper back from stuffing cabbage leaves, it’s all good.

This past week, I made a pan of brownies. Just an 8” x 8” of the family brownie recipe (that I tweaked and improved, much to my mother’s annoyance). They were fantastic.

And I’m going to do it again. Producing something to share with others feeds me as well, especially when it turns out well. I like to give back. (well, on my terms. Someone asked for my tiramisu recipe and I laughed at her. I think she whined to Mom afterwards because I heard about it).

Way back in the 1970s, we had a subscription to Gourmet magazine. I pored over those things, studying the pictures and the recipes. As a pre-teen in Vermont (not knocking the state, but this was before the foodie movement was born and garlic was an exotic spice), I didn’t understand a lot of the ingredients or cooking methods, but I did take on one recipe:

Baked Alaska.

I don’t know how I persuaded my parents to let me give it a shot, but Dad (whose birthday was today, Feb 7) cut a small board for me to use as the platform (according to the directions) and the folks bought 3 kinds of ice cream, brandy, and rum, and everything else. I studied that recipe for  a couple of days before making it, and then…

Game day: supporting cake made, soaked in brandy. Ice cream whipped and frozen into 3 layers, and egg whites beaten into fluffy insulating meringue. Assembly, quick browning under the broiler, which caused a leak which made me cry but then, who else has made Baked Alaska? At 13? I was too stupid to know I could fail.

Anyway, I made another one later and it worked. Unfortunately, that was the last because my brother took my board and used it for his fish gutting operation.

I’m looking for that recipe. I’m going to make it again. And cheesecake. And stuffed cabbage. It brings me joy. Joy is in short supply these days.

 

The Electronic Soapbox

I’m going to use this space, my space, to address something.

If you know me in real life, you know I’m not a shrinking violet. You also know that I think the current President is a “disastuh,” to use one of his favorite words, and I genuinely believe the United States of America may have actually passed from democracy to oligarchy. This angers and grieves me no end. Prior to this administration, my political activity was voting and running my mouth, in person and on social media. The picture here is something I first saw in an American History textbook I still have from my second semester at UVM (1980. You do the math). I think it fits our current situation.

Do you not see what's coming?

Do you not see what’s coming?

Since the 2016 election, I have joined the ACLU (not as an attorney), EMILY’s List, Brand New Congress, and other organizations loosely known as “The Resistance.” If you’re a regular reader of this blog, we’ve covered this territory.

However,

I participated in a Facebook comment thread the other day on another author’s page. The topic was about readers unfollowing authors because they’ve become too political. (Notice that I didn’t put that in quotes. I’m not repeating that sarcastically or ironically. It’s someone else’s view). One of the comments said that books are an escape from real life and the person who posted the comment didn’t want her experience with books to be polluted by real life (well, she phrased it differently, but you get the idea. I don’t remember how she phrased it). Please note, I am not disagreeing with or judging or deriding her.

I can see that viewpoint. It’s a valid one. Sometimes, our psychic (not ESP, but mental) barrier between the imaginary worlds that are an escape and the real world from which we want the escape are delicate. If the real world intrudes just once, the barrier may be destroyed forever and that lovely oasis lost. I get that.

On the other hand…

Novels like “Animal Farm” and “1984,” the two biggies, have been influential in changing thought (and with the current Administration, we have our Napoleon, our Squealer, and you can make the novel fit). Upton Sinclair’s novel, “The Jungle,” while not a political book, helped lead to slaughterhouse reform and “cleaner” food.

One of my heroes is Dorothy Parker, founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, aka “The Vicious Circle,” and an icon of hit and run snark.

She' still the gold standard

She’ still the gold standard

Any politics (other than gender politics) in Dottie’s writing are coded. However, she was not afraid to take a stand and put her money where her wit was and protest injustice, whether it was Sacco and Vanzetti (2 innocent men convicted and executed for a murder because they were belonged to an anarchist movement)

Dorothy protesting for Sacco and Vanzetti

Dorothy protesting for Sacco and Vanzetti

or against HUAC (the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Joe McCarthy. Red plague, Commies, all that jazz. His buddy, Roy Cohn, a deeply closeted gay man who used his influence to ruin the lives of other gay men, wrote President #45’s pre-nuptial agreement for his first marriage. The one that #45 weaseled out of. Schmuck).

They didn't keep quiet

They didn’t keep quiet

We are in a different time from the 1920s, 1950s. Duh. I can tell you that the lines are blurred on social media (for me, anyway) between personal and “professional” as an author. I have one Twitter account that I use for both. And this blog. If I tweet or retweet something political, it’s going to show up on my Facebook feed (because those are the settings I established before President # 45 even declared his candidacy). People will approve, be disgusted, unfollow me (What the hell, two of my siblings have BLOCKED me on Facebook. One I used to worship, then that person did a bunch of shit that felt like I was just someone to be taken advantage of, the other one has hated me from Day 1. Destroyed anything of mine that I left unguarded (collectibles, dresses, pictures) while telling me “You’re lucky I’m so forgiving.” No, Sweetie, I forgive you because your shit will bite you in the ass. But I digress)

I will make an effort to keep my personal out of the professional (not that I have a shit ton of followers in the first place), although I have notes, notes, notes, and an unfinished manuscript for a political farce (and how that has resurfaced is a whooooole other blog post). I had a separate email address for my authorship activities, but that has been “abandoned” so long, Google can’t verify my ownership and I can’t retrieve what’s there (offers to sell my stories for millions of dollars, praise from Oprah Winfrey and Cher, a lucrative publishing deal). However, I encourage, exhort, urge (and I have a bigger vocab than #45. I have a lot more words. I have even better words than your tired, overused “best words.”) my fellow Americans to get involved in politics beyond just voting (and if you agree with #45, but you didn’t even vote, I don’t care. Get off your butt and get involved NOW. Democracy doesn’t run on autopilot).

In the near future, I will use this space to announce new Twitter handles (maybe) and a new email address for “author stuff.” Until then, go buy my books. It’ll keep me busy and quiet.

Character Study: Judge Frank McCafferty

This is the sixth post in a series  exploring the important characters of “These Foolish Things,” who they are, some background, and how I came up with them.

Meet Judge Frank McCafferty.

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My writing process is best described as watching a movie in my head and translating it into words. Movies need actors and I cast Charles Durning (in case you didn’t recognize him).

Frank is a Superior Court judge for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and sits on the bench In his native Boston. He’s known as a tough but fair jurist with little or no tolerance for nonsense in his courtroom. The judge is famous for handing out contempt of court citations by asking the offending attorneys if they’d brought a toothbrush.

Frank is taken with Liz Gardner’s legal writing skill and her ability to out argue one of the best litigators in the country, Ty Hadley. Because he thinks he sees so,etching between them, Frank uses a courtroom faux pas by Hadley to issue a contempt citation and gives him a choice: either jail time or take Liz out on a date. Ty chooses the date and things go from there. Like Beanie ( Character Study: Beanie) , McCafferty is one of the catalysts in the story and is never too far from the main narrative.

Like Ty, Fank is an alcoholic, but he’s been in recovery for years and volunteers with the substance abuse prevention section of the Bar Association (there is such a thing. And I am a member of the Mass Bar), mentoring attorneys recovering from substance abuse. Frank becomes a father figure to Ty. As for Liz, her persuades her to come work for him as a clerk.

There is a Mrs. McCafferty, but we never meet her as she is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and confined to a treatment facility. Frank has been lonely because of it and welcomes his inclusion in the lives of Liz and Ty.

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Brian Dennehy would make a good McCafferty.

Or

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Larry Miller. He is best known as a comic, but did you see his two “Law & Order” episodes? Stone cold.

Or

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Yes. That’s Harrison Ford. Why not? Might be an Oscar in it for him.

There are some notoriously eccentric  judges in the Bay State. And there are judges whose offbeat sentences (like wearing a sign  or T shirt with the crime printed on it, or sentencing teenagers to do community service at a retirement home.  My Civil Procedure professor frequently told us stories about Boston judges and “Did you pack a toothbrush?” ?I have seen a couple of them in action (observer for school, not as a party to an action).

McCafferty’s admonishment to Liz (“Only the ones wearing the robes get to swear in the courtroom”) came from a Boston courtroom.

I guess one of the underlying themes of these two books is people with fractured family histories coming together to build a new loving family of choice.

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Character Study: Beanie

This is the fifth post in a series about the key characters in “These Foolish Things,” discussing their origins and inspirations. Beanie is Liz Gardner’s cat.

It may be a head scratcher to some people as to why I’d go in depth about the character of a cat. Especially one that doesn’t talk or do anything other than be a cat. Beanie is important to the story. Before Ty Hadley comes on the scene, he is her closest companion and his arc is a catalyst of the action.

Beanie is a cat who found Liz as she was in treatment for breast cancer. He was a stray on the grounds of the hospital whre she was being treated, jumped into her bag and hitched a ride home with her.

This is the inspiration for Beanie:

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He knew he looked adorable.

His name was Toulouse (aka Loosey). A friend of mine was vacationing in Florida when a friendly stray cat approached her outside her hotel. She petted him on the head and went back to retrieving her bags from the rental car. When she got the bags into her hotel room, Toulouse popped out of one of them. She said he was skinny, filthy, covered in fleas and mites, but so charming she couldn’t resist. Given his markings and lively personality, he was at least part Turkish Van.

Loose eventually became one of my cats when he came for an extended visit and bonded so tightly with my cat, George that the two moped when they were separated.

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George is the orange one.  Squirrel watching was one of their favorite pastimes when they weren’t wrestling. The term coined for the two of them was “Bouncy Cat Boys.”

Toulouse was one of the smartest cats I’ve ever met and I’ve never met a dumb cat. He figured out how to open cabinets and doors, knew how to charm the neighbors, and if I was eating something he thought was interesting, a white paw would reach over and gently guide my hand with the spoon to his mouth. Or try. I didn’t let him win very often. He really did learn “Get your furry ass out of there.” That all-black tail of his seemed to have its own little control because it was always in motion, especially when he was figuring out something naughty to do.

One January night in New Hampshire (and it was bitterly cold), Toulouse dove out the front door during a Chinese food delivery. I searched for him and couldn’t find him in the dark. The next morning, I was outside with a bag of cat cat food and the little bugger popped right up and came in as if nothing had happened. He spent the next two days sleeping.

Loose went from being a Florida cat to Virginia to New Hampshire and finally out to California. I lost him on May 28, 2003 to kidney cancer.

As I was writing “These Foolish Things,” I had “help” from Toulouse (and George and Cookie and Sam) and it seemed natural to include a cat in the story. Writing Beanie was easy because I was just relating Toulouse’s antics.

As I said, Beanie acted as a catalyst in the story and as comic relief. The name came from the old Beanie & Cecil cartoon.

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The name seemed like a good one; it just popped into my head. As Liz was an attorney (or an aspiring one), it seemed natural to come up with a link to law for him and I worked backwards to make it short for “Breaking & Entering.” Beanie’s inspiration, Toulouse, was a master of cat burglary.

I will not put spoilers here, but Beanie’s story isn’t completely happy. I miss his inspiration, Toulouse, every day.

If I could inspire readers to any kind of action, I would tell them to go adopt a cat from the local animal shelter or volunteer. Toulouse was proof that there are wonderful, loving, entertaining animals out there just waiting for a home. Go find a Beani of your own.