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eat dessert first!

Posted on August 18, 2010

After spending so much time writing about Eat Pray Love, I’m kind of shocked that I didn’t devote more space to eating. So, I’d like to introduce you to three new cookbooks which are, of course, all about desserts.

Farmer’s Market Desserts by Jennie Schacht

You know all those gorgeous fresh and home-grown ingredients you salivate over at the farmer’s market but can’t really rationalize splurging on? This book is the ideal resource, giving you dozens of great excuses to bring home a bagful of persimmons (Persimmon Swirl Cheesecake in a Gingersnap Crust), that goat cheese you sample every week (Meyer Lemon-Goat Cheese Souffle Cakes) or locally-grown lavender blossoms (Lavender Walnut Sandies). The photographs are as appealing as the recipes, and there are lots of great tips for selecting and storing ingredients, top seasonal and between-season choices, and a guide to specific markets nationwide. With farmers’ markets popping up all over the country, this is a book you will turn to again and again.

Spice Dreams: Flavored Ice Creams and Other Frozen Treats by Sara Engram and Katie Luber

We pride ourselves on being ice cream connoisseurs so this innovative book took us by — very pleasant — surprise. In The Spice Kitchen, Sara Engram and Katie Luber (who founded two award-winning lines of organic spices: tsp spices and Smart Spice) taught us how to literally spice up everyday – a.k.a. bland and boring – meals. Now, they’re shaking up that classic dessert. These recipes are not for the faint-hearted; making ice cream takes effort. But once you’ve tasted Almond Ice Cream with Turmeric, Cardamom and Cloves, Basil Ice Cream or Chile-Lemongrass Ice Cream, you just may be screaming for spice cream.

Super-Charged Smoothies by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford

Smoothies are those rare treats that taste so yummy, you can’t believe they’re good for you. This great little guide ups the ante with more than 60 recipes meant to make you look and feel better than ever. Featuring ingredients like pomegranate juice, Greek yogurt and fresh fruits, they’ll make your hair and skin glow, and turn your immune system into a thing of beauty. Smoothie queens – and identical twins! — Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening have already written two bestselling books on the subject, and this one takes the drink to a whole new level. Smooth!


Leave a comment below, and you just may win one of these books! Giveaway ends Sunday, August 22 at midnight Pacific time. Winners will be notified by return email.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

“Women, Food and God” by Geneen Roth: A Review by Tiffany Farnsworth

Posted on August 16, 2010

“Hmm, this must be a knock-off of Eat, Pray, Love,” I thought when I received Women, Food and God. I imagined it would be a fun beach read, focusing on a woman’s escapades at cooking school over an adventurous summer in Italy or maybe France. My own longing for immersion into continental cuisine may have inspired this notion because, in fact, it was pure projection. My first impression had absolutely nothing to do with the content of this book.

Geneen Roth’s new book is neither summer pap nor a romantic twist on a female adventure. It is a serious, in-depth exploration of overcoming compulsive eating.

Although Oprah has taken this book to heart and devoted an entire show to it, it is very similar to Roth’s other works. The author continues to impart wisdom from her own food struggles and recovery and from studying and pursuing emotional/psychological health over the past three decades. Roth has written many books focusing on women’s physical and psychological health as it relates to food. Some of her most well-known titles include When Food is Love and The Hungry Heart.

This genre may best be suited for those interested in dedicating thoughtful inquiry and reflection into their reading experience. Readers who are interested in issues of self-esteem and body image may also find this work meaningful. While I thought to myself,  “I need some potato chips for this” when I read Roth’s lines, “I turned to Hostess Sno Balls the same year I gave up on God. I was eleven years old and had been praying nightly for thick hair and a boyfriend, but mostly for my parents to stop screaming at each other.”  This genre is not for everyone.

The text is divided into three sections: “Principles,” “Practices” and “Eating.”  In “Principles,” Roth discusses the history of her abusive relationship with food and spiritual growth. She also conveys many examples of personal and anguished anecdotes from clients attending her compulsive eating retreats.

In “Practices,” Roth expands upon her utilization of meditation and the power of our minds. In this short, four-chapter section, Roth teaches the reader about inquiry. This is an interesting section in which she asks the reader to think about differentiating what they are feeling from what they think they should be feeling. This is a thought-provoking process which Roth illuminates with examples from her semi-annual retreats.  As a part of this practice, Roth tells her students (and readers) that they need to remember two things: to eat what they want when they’re hungry and to feel when they’re not.

In “Eating,” Roth continues to pull from religious traditions such as Sufism to guide her readers toward practices and beliefs that liberate them from food addiction and guide them toward a rich life in which food sustains rather than consumes them. The crux is eating with awareness. Listen to your body; as Roth puts it, “When I first realized how simple it was to end the compulsion with food — eat what your body wants when you’re hungry, stop when you’ve had enough — I felt as if I had popped out of life as I knew it and suddenly found myself in another galaxy.”

Roth started to eat what she wanted and quickly realized she was able to able to eat foods that had been “forbidden” on many of her diets. However, after coming to terms with her emotions and beliefs, her body told her it needed nurturing and nutrition — not sugary snacks and bags of potato chips.

Does Roth teach her readers useful lessons? Yes. Be present, truly feel your feelings, trust yourself and treat yourself as you would a child, with love and kindness.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

“Eat Pray Love” And the Big Picture by Scott Stevenson

Posted on August 13, 2010

Toward the end of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about a Buddhist philosophy in which an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time:  the acorn, which grows into the tree, and the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. She says, “I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was this future me – this happy balanced me – who pulled the younger, more confused and struggling me forward during those hard years. The younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the future me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: Grow! Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist.”

I can so relate to this. Several years ago, right after we were married, my wife, Susan, and I went through a dramatic period during which our physical, emotional, and financial well-being were threatened.  I was forty-six at the time, and it was my first marriage. It was Susan’s third. As an architect who had worked ten-hour days at my own small firm for most of my working life, I was ready to give it a rest. Susan was a massage therapist, and although she loved her work, she was also ready for a change.  We decided to retire and move to a small mountain town in Julian, California, build our dream home, and live the simple life.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. Before we could start construction on our mountain home, Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer and totally flipped out.  Ever since Susan was a child, she had been afraid of dying from cancer, and, now that she had been diagnosed, she was sure that her days were numbered.  I jumped in, trying to do what I could: I attended all her doctor appointments, massaged her to sleep when she was stressed out, tried to just listen and not force my logical opinions onto her emotional behavior and, in general, let her know that she wasn’t alone.

Susan had always taken the natural approach to health but was anxious to get the cancerous tumor out of her breast as quickly as possible. She decided on surgery to remove the tumor, and then skipped radiation and chemotherapy in favor of holistic treatments including natural foods, supplements, meditation, and psychotherapy.

About this same time, my sister informed us that she was filing for a divorce from an abusive husband. We had no idea that her husband was abusive but discovered that he had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. What else could Susan and I do but jump in with both feet to help out?

Meanwhile, our dream of building our retirement home had come to almost a complete standstill.  We were building the house ourselves, and, between all the medical appointments, court hearings, attorney meetings, helping my sister with the mountain of paperwork it required to make it through a divorce, and trying to protect her and the children from their abusive father, there just wasn’t a lot of time left over to work on the house.

Finally, after three long years, Susan and I moved into our mountain home. It was one of the happiest days of our lives — but we didn’t have long to enjoy it.  A few months later, the California wildfires raced through our small community. Holding out until the last moment, trying to save our home, we were eventually forced to evacuate when a thousand-foot wall of smoke and flames were within a hundred yards of our back door.  The Cedar Fire turned seventy per cent of the homes in our neighborhood – including ours — into six-inch layers of ash.

Susan and I were devastated. Our dream home and the beautiful forest that surrounded us were gone.  We had no idea where we were giving to live, and, to top it off, we were still dealing with the Susan’s cancer and helping my sister with her divorce.  And, oh yeah, did I mention we were penniless?  We had invested our retirement money in the stock market which soon began a slide that ended up in the biggest drop since the Great Depression.  Our retirement money, like our home and the forest, were gone.

The thing that most helped Susan and I through this tough period of our lives – not just to make it through but to actually come out smiling and feeling stronger for the experiences – was that we tried to view these events from the perspective of what I call the “Big Picture” view of life.  We tried not to get caught up in the overwhelming emotions of the moment, to step back from the anger, the worry, the frustration, and see the experiences for what they really were.  And what we discovered was that by stepping back, we could find ways to learn from them, ways in which we could help others dealing with the same issues, and ways in which we could laugh at what was happening. It’s amazing how funny things are when you look for the humor in them.  It’s also amazing how hard it is to feel sorry for yourself when you’re trying to learn, help others, and laugh.

You’ll notice I used the word “tried.” There’s no question it was hard to step back when I was overwhelmed by anger, frustration or worry. The last thing on my mind at those times was to look at the Big Picture. But when I untangled myself from the overwhelming emotions of the moment, I could gain a different perspective. The results were definitely worth the effort, and I even wrote a book about our experiences, Looks Easy Enough: A Joyful Memoir of Overcoming Disease, Divorce and Disaster.

I think of Elizabeth Gilbert’s words and truly believe that the future me and the future Susan did have a hand in pulling us through those tough times.  And in an effort to help, they made us — the younger and struggling me and Susan — aware of the Big Picture view of life so that we could come out smiling. They brought us into the future.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

Leah Stewart on “Husband and Wife”

Posted on August 12, 2010

Does a woman’s identity change after marriage? Does she lose herself once she becomes a “wife?” This fascinating subject lies at the heart of “Husband and Wife,” a must-read that explores a couple’s changing relationship. Here’s what author Leah Stewart told me about her latest novel.

I think this is a book all women will relate to, whether they’re artists or not. What’s been the response so far? I would imagine women would be grabbing on to you, asking you how you knew what they were thinking.

I’ve heard from and talked to people who identified strongly with Sarah and were really moved by the book. I’ve been thanked for portraying the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood with honesty. I’ve also seen some online reviews by people who find the narrator immature and/or self-involved. I saw these love/hate reactions to the narrator of my second book, too. Maybe this is because both books have very interior first-person narrators who reveal their more self-serving thoughts and impulses as well as their more selfless ones. Both books also deal with a narrator debating whether to forgive another character, and in some cases readers have sided with the other character. When a reader hates your narrator so much she seems furious with you, that’s hard to read, but I suppose I should feel I’ve done something right if someone can respond as dramatically to my character as they might to a real person.

You’re a writer, you’re married and you have two young children so I have to ask — how much of the story is based on your own life?

None of the story (as in, the events of the plot) is based on my life. But some of the set-up is. I used our old house in North Carolina as Sarah and Nathan’s house, because it was easier to describe what I could picture so readily. (Though I added a bedroom to it—virtual remodeling!) Sarah works where my husband and I used to work, in the Department of Neurobiology at Duke, though she has a different job than we did. (I was a secretary; he was the grants manager.) I also modeled Mattie and Binx on my children, who were three and about seven months when I started the book. My daughter is delighted that Mattie is modeled on her, down to her habit of sucking her fingers and twisting her hair. I thought I should take advantage of this now, as in a few years I imagine the last thing she’ll want is to appear in something I write.

Perhaps most importantly, the story certainly emerged from some of the pressing concerns in my post-motherhood life and that of my friends, several of whom have given up writing and/or seen their marriages change in ways good and bad. Once you have kids, are you yourself as a mother, or has your identity changed in some essential way?

The book title is so simple and so perfect. Can you talk a little about its significance, and if/how someone’s identity changes once they become a husband or wife? And what do you think are the differences are in people’s perceptions of husbands versus wives?

I just read The Group by Mary McCarthy, and that book, which is set in the 1930s and was published in the 1960s, is in part about how dramatically women’s lives change when they become wives. For myself and many people I know, this is less true than it was then, when the culture at-large still told women to submit to their husbands’ will. Sarah and Nathan, who lived together for some time before marriage, didn’t really have to change much except what they called each other when they got married. But becoming a mother and father, and therefore the leaders of a family unit, forces them to examine what those other roles mean. Sarah, for instance, worries a great deal about her identity being reduced to “the betrayed wife” if other people find out about Nathan’s infidelity.

My guess is that “husband” is still more of a practical description (i.e. the guy’s married to somebody) than “wife,” which suggests more of an identity. Would anyone call a show “The Good Husband?”

I wanted to smack Nathan for telling Sarah about his affair since the confession was so self-serving. Men seem to feel the need to do that way more than women do, and nothing good ever comes out of it. What are your feelings about that?

I think how you feel about confessing infidelity depends on what you value more: principles of honesty or day-to-day reality. If Nathan hadn’t confessed, nothing that happens in the book would have happened. I don’t actually know if that would have been better, not having tried to write that version, but certainly they would have just kept on functioning in their daily lives without all the emotional upheaval that results from his confession. I’m generalizing wildly here, but it seems to me that men often rely on their wives for emotional support, while women get that support from a variety of sources. So perhaps it’s harder for men to keep such a large secret from the primary person they talk to about their feelings. Nathan confesses in part because he thinks keeping the secret is affecting his closeness to Sarah, and their relationship has always been about being friends and colleagues as much as husband and wife. But, of course, he’s also being self-serving, in that he hopes to make himself feel better, and in doing so makes her feel a great deal worse.

As someone who has also cursed in front of her children and not always handled motherhood gracefully, I thought Sarah was so real. Were you worried about readers’ reactions to some of her “Bad Mother” moments like when she imitates her daughter’s lisp or tells her to pretend the baby isn’t crying?

Sure. It’s always dangerous to write about motherhood in any sort of complicated way, as Ayelet Waldman can attest. But I think the most judgmental people aren’t being truthful, because, honestly, who has always handled motherhood gracefully? We as mothers would be a lot less hard on ourselves if we didn’t believe that we were always supposed to do everything right, and that all other mothers were either besting us or failing. We go to the “bad mother” place so easily. And though fathers are so much more involved than they used to be, there’s still not the same level of cultural or self-produced pressure on them. There was an article a few months about how if you Googled “bad father” it came up: Did you mean bad mother?

I literally laughed out loud and almost spit my iced tea all over the place when I read the scene at McDonald’s because I have been there – and survived! This was such a signature motherhood moment but one I don’t think fathers often experience, interestingly enough. Why did you include a scene like this, and have you been there, too?

Oh, absolutely. My son did indeed have a diaper explosion all over me in a truck stop McDonald’s. The crucial difference between that scene and my life was that my husband was there and could run out to the car for the diaper bag and stand at the bathroom door to collect the dirty clothes and keep an eye on our daughter so I wasn’t juggling both a disastrously messy infant and a toddler. I included the scene because I thought about how much more difficult it would have been to be in that situation without his help, and that’s the part of the book where Sarah’s experimenting with single motherhood.

This may sound like a sexist question but why do you think women’s priorities tend to shift after they have children while men’s don’t? Is it just because women are expected to take that role?

Yes, that’s certainly a large part of it. The hormonal effects of motherhood are also undeniable. I remember reading about a study when my daughter was a few months old that found that it was physically painful for new mothers to hear their babies cry. This doesn’t happen to men.

I don’t think I’d argue that men’s priorities don’t shift. What I’ve observed, at least, is that men are more likely to think that children should be one of their priorities, and women are more likely to think that the children should be the priority, or sometimes to feel like they should think that and feel guilty if they don’t.

The scene in which Nathan tells Sarah she’s not the same person any more is a great moment in domestic fiction and made me gasp in its truth, especially as it makes Sarah realize how much she misses “herself” as well. How many of us are the same person our spouse married? Can we be? Is this why the divorce rate is so high?

You know, I wish I knew the answer to those questions. The desire to explore those questions is one reason I wrote the book, but I’m not sure I found an answer, or at least not an answer that’s universally right.

How do you think the story would have been different if Sarah or Nathan weren’t both writers?

Their sense of what’s changed in the marriage would have been very different. One of the aspects of their relationship that interested me was the fact that they were once so completely in sync with each other and, now that Sarah’s not writing, no longer are.

You’ve now covered marriage, children and friendship in your books. What relationship is next?


This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

Jeffrey Koterba on Becoming a Cartoonist, Growing Up with Tourette’s Syndrome and His New Book, “Inklings”

Posted on August 2, 2010

One of the most valuable aspects of reading memoirs is being able to get an inside look at a way of life so different from yours and learning how other people cope with the challenges they have to face. Award-winning political cartoonist Jeffrey Koterba has written an open, honest and completely intriguing account of growing up with Tourette’s Syndrome — and a volatile family — which I felt compelled to share with our readers. Here’s my interview with the amazing author (and musician!):

“Inklings” – a brilliant title, by the way — is fascinating on so many levels. It gives much insight into surviving a dysfunctional family, growing up with Tourette’s Syndrome and becoming an award-winning political cartoonist and successful musician. Which of these did you most want to write about or was it more important to show how all of those elements combined?

Thank you for your kind words. This may sound strange, but I sort of keep forgetting that the book is actually out in the world. I mean, I know it’s a physical book that exists—I’ve seen it in bookstores—but it’s surrealistic and exciting beyond belief that people I’ve never met are reading it. Regarding the title, I usually struggle with titles—but this one came naturally, literally in a flash. So I suppose it was meant to be. Regarding the overall theme of my memoir, I really wanted to show, best I could, how everything is interconnected. If not for the events and complexities of my childhood, and the Tourette’s, I might not ever have become a writer, cartoonist and musician.

You certainly had many obstacles to overcome to reach your goal of becoming a cartoonist but you never gave up, and I think your story will inspire many others to do the same. What gave you the courage and drive to pursue your dreams?

It’s funny you use the word “obstacles.” The other day, the phrase, “Let your obstacles become your muse,” came to me. Maybe because I have to often remind myself of my own life’s lessons. Instead of looking at the obstacles as a roadblock, I try to remember that in the past, my obstacles have often been exactly what I needed at that time, providing opportunities for growth. We all have struggles; the real challenge is how we deal with them, turning those challenges into blessings in disguise. I hope readers of “Inklings” will get that message.

What was it about cartoons that was appealing to you, as opposed to any other form of art?

That’s a great question. I think cartooning is part of my DNA or something. I’ve been cartooning as long as I can remember. Later, in high school and college, I thought I wanted to become a painter—the more abstract the better—but I kept coming back to cartoons—especially editorial cartoons. There’s just something so immediate and accessible about cartoons, but depending on what type of cartoon it is, there’s often a deeper layer. I’m all about the deeper layers. And sometimes, even though a cartoon might be pleasant to look at, the idea might be a bit dark or poignant. Ultimately, it’s not really about the drawing at all, but the message behind it.

Because Tourette’s is so visible, it must be especially difficult when you’re young. You touch upon the fact that other children teased you but don’t dwell on that in the book. How did you handle that?

I didn’t want “Inklings” to come off as a “poor me” kind of memoir, certainly, that’s one reason I didn’t dwell too much on the Tourette’s. And while Tourette’s obviously plays an important role in my creative life—I’m convinced that without the twitches and tics, I wouldn’t do all the things I do—it doesn’t define me. Kids can be cruel, but I certainly don’t hold grudges. In fact, looking back, it makes me sad for them—I wonder what kind of struggles were occurring in their lives, what obstacles they were contending with. The journalist in me would give anything to go back in time, to take notes of everything that happened, to interview those kids. But otherwise, I sure wouldn’t want to replay my childhood, although I’m grateful for my experiences, good and bad.

It seems that your family life would almost be harder to deal with than the Tourette’s. Do you think your dad was what would now be called a hoarder? For all your father’s craziness, though, what made me saddest was your mom secretly dressing you like a girl and calling you her daughter. What kind of effect did that have on you?

Because my father grew up during the Great Depression, in a large family without a father, and certainly with little money, when he discovered garage sales, he was in heaven. He could buy TVs, radios, stereos, sometimes for the change in his pocket. By today’s standards was he a hoarder? Maybe. But I can’t cast any stones. I’m currently in the process of moving and found I needed a place to store my stuff. As it happens, the house where I grew up is still in the family so I’m using it to store my cartoons. Bins and bins of cartoons and sketchbooks. All kinds of writings and drawings and musical items. I’m feeling like a bit of a hoarder myself. Another point about my father which refers to the earlier question about obstacles: As a kid I could see how sad and regretful my father was for not pursuing his dreams. I vowed to never have any regrets. Even if I failed, I would know that I tried.

Regarding my mom dressing me as “Cindy,” well, I don’t know, I like to think that as a male, it somehow gave me early access to my feminine side. As a boy I was pretty typical in that I played sports and liked to get my hands dirty and loved motorcycles, but I also loved, from an early age, the perfumed scent of a woman, the beautiful nuances of a woman’s face, what makes them look different from men. I think it helped me as an artist. I hope so, anyway.

How did your life change once you learned that there was actually a name for your tics? How do you think your family’s life might have been different if your father – and you — had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome many years earlier?

Growing up, I had what my father called “nervous habits.” He had them, too. And although Tourette’s is genetic, neither of us knew what caused the tics. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, there simply weren’t the resources now available. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I was diagnosed, and although that diagnosis assured me that the habits weren’t simply something I could stop if I wanted, in a way I’m grateful for not knowing sooner. I mean, what if I had known as a kid and what if I latched on to that diagnosis and had defined myself as a Tourette’s kid? Of course, there’s really no way of knowing how things might have been different had I known. Maybe it would have saved me a lot of grief on the playground. But then, in a way, that grief inspired me to try harder, to prove myself that I wasn’t a failure.

As an adult looking back at your childhood, were you surprised to remember certain events? Did you gain any new insight or perspective in the process? Was it empowering to realize how far you’ve come?

I had been lugging around my stories ever since I was a kid. Frankly, I was getting tired of them. So it was a relief to finally get them down on paper and let them go. Still, I have more I need to get out of my system. It’s often said that a first-time writer puts everything into his or her book; on the contrary for me—there was so much I had to leave out, so many more stories. In the end I had to decide what served the overall story. While writing early drafts, however, I found myself twitching more than usual—my Tourette’s often gets worse when I’m stressed out, physically or emotionally. So to a certain extent it was a bit uncomfortable going through those first drafts. However, it was also while writing that I began to see all these connections in my life, in an even more profound way–events and connections with people that on first glance might have seemingly only played a small role in my life, but as it turns out, were significant in helping shape the person I am, for better or worse.

You’re the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the swing band, the Prairie Cats, as well as an incredibly talented cartoonist. You have to believe there’s truth to your doctor’s explanation that most people who have Tourette’s are artists in some form. Have you taken medication or are you concerned it will somehow mess with the creative process?

Over the years I have tried various medications, all to varying degree of success. In some cases, the medications seemed to have made my tics worse. But the stress might have had to do with outside forces. It’s difficult to know for sure. And yes, certainly, my biggest concern has always been that I don’t want to mess with a good thing—don’t want to dampen my creativity. But who knows? What if there is a drug out there that might ease the symptoms, but also give me more energy to create? The good news is that with age, the tics have seemed to lessen in severity and also a proper diet of avoiding caffeine and sugar, and also exercising regularly, has helped quite a bit. I’m always a bit concerned when I give a talk at a Tourette’s support group and all around they have snacks in the form of sweets. But that just might be my take on things, regarding sugar. Regarding those groups, by the way, it’s a great place to let go—of your tics, that is. That’s a place you don’t have to worry about people looking at you funny.

What were your parents’ reactions to the book?

Initially, they were worried what friends and family would say. Some of their concerns came from the level of detail I write about, and my parents, being very private people, were worried how others might judge them. Some of their reaction might have been a generational thing, too, my parents coming from an era when you “just don’t talk about such private things.” Growing up, we didn’t have many books in the house—certainly nothing like a memoir—so I’m sure it was a bit surrealistic for my parents to read about themselves so specifically. I did my best to remind them that many families have complexities and dysfunction. My overall intent wasn’t to point out my father’s weaknesses or faults, but rather, to show, how he rose above his disappointments and loved his family. And as part of loving me, he inspired me nearly every day, pushing me to be original and unique, to push my own personal envelope.

What advice would you give children with Tourette’s? How have they reacted to your book?

I once had a mother and her daughter who has Tourette’s come to see me at the newspaper. The daughter was in grade school and was already showing great promise as an artist and playwright. In front of her daughter, the mother asked me if I thought her daughter could live a “normal life.” That absolutely broke my heart. “Of course,” I answered. “In fact,” I remember saying, “not only will she live a normal life, she’ll live a great life!” The little girl looked up to me and smiled. That still gets to me.

I loved spending time on your site, going through the cartoon gallery. How are you so prolific? What do you do when you have cartoonist’s block?!

Well, I have to admit, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with everything, especially because I’m itching to write another book. Having said that, I do often find that doing one thing often feeds me in other areas. Sometimes when I can’t come up with a cartoon idea, I might pick up the guitar. Just the act of strumming might free up my brain to come up with a cartoon idea. It’s all integrated, really, not separate things I do, but all connected in some grand way in my brain. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Is there a specific subject you especially like to draw, that you find yourself returning to over and over? Which cartoon is your all-time favorite?

Even though drawing local cartoons typically doesn’t win national journalism prizes, those are probably my favorite. Mostly, because I know that the people I’m drawing about will see the cartoon. If I draw a cartoon about the leader of a foreign country, probably not. And picking one favorite is tough. I draw six cartoons a week, so in baseball terms, if I can get on base every time, I figure I’m doing well. If at least one of those makes it over the outfield fence, I’m happy.

What’s next for you? A subject you haven’t touched yet? A cartoon set to swing music?

I like that—a cartoon set to swing music would be awesome! Well, I am fiddling with a TV show idea with a friend of mine and an “Inklings” screenplay is in the works, so we’ll see. Otherwise, I’m mapping out my next book project. The problem is I have too many ideas and there’s only so much time. Maybe I should be working on a machine that would somehow expand time.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I feel really privileged to get to know you a little better.

For me, the sign of a great question is when that question gets me to think about my life in ways I hadn’t previously considered. Your questions did that for me. Thank you so much.

Jeffrey Koterba is generously giving an autographed copy of “Inklings” and his latest Prairie Cats’ CD to one lucky subscriber. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment below by midnight Pacific time on Sunday, August 8. Winner will be notified by return email.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

Happy 75th Anniversary, Penguin Books!

Posted on July 30, 2010


Happy anniversary, Penguin Books!

Seventy five years ago, today, Allen Lane changed the course of publishing by launching a new line of inexpensive, paperback books. His secretary came up with the company name, and he sent a designer to the zoo to capture the essence of that little bird which has since become an instantly-recognizable icon.

Penguin began with a 10-title launch, and critics laughed at Lane’s idea. By the end of the year, the little-publisher-that-could had sold more than three million books, and now has bragging rights for an author list that includes everyone from Hemingway and Tolstoy to Stephen King and Don DeLillo.

Believing that you actually can judge a book by its cover, Penguin has always paid as much attention to design as content. “Penguin 75” is a stunning representation of the publisher’s three quarters of a century of book cover design, with revealing commentary by the authors and artists.

As part of the anniversary celebration, Bravo’s series, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” challenged designers to create a book cover for a Penguin classic which would introduce it to a whole new generation of readers. John Parot’s winning – and eye-popping — design for H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” now graces the book’s cover, giving it a fresh new look.

Six additional titles also boast new covers – designed by some of the world’s best illustrators and tattoo artists. Check out these gorgeous new Inked editions of “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “The Broom of the System.”

You can read all about Penguin’s anniversary events on their website, and find out if the Penguin Mobile is coming to your town!

Meanwhile, we’re celebrating Penguin’s anniversary by giving away one of our favorite Penguin classics, “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner, as well as the winning Bravo cover design edition of “The Time Machine” and the Inked edition of “The Broom of the System.”

Enter to win by leaving a comment below. Let us know which one you’d like for your collection, and tell us which of the Penguin 75 is your favorite. Winners will be selected on August 9 and will be notified by return email.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

Deb Wainscott Reviews “Tinkers” by Paul Harding

Posted on July 29, 2010

This Pulitzer Prize winning book is astounding and dense — and it is only 192 pages. It’s very hard to put down once you start it.

The story is told in the voices of three generations of a dysfunctional family. The old man is on his deathbed, in the dining room of his home, and the book covers his last eight days of life. He hallucinates, recalls and reflects on his life.

You flip from him growing up in Maine and then Massachusetts, and becoming a horologist (someone who makes clocks and watches). Then you learn about his father — a tinker with epilepsy — and his mother, who is contrary & cantankerous. My favorite line of hers is, “Don’t you try to make me feel better!”

The whole story is like the winding down of a clock, which is ironic since clocks were this man’s life.

You can almost feel every single thing that the author describes because the scenes are so vivid.

A spectacular first book for Mr. Harding.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

Attorney Todd Doyle Reviews “Supreme Justice” by Philip Margolin

Posted on July 27, 2010

Accompanied by a Corona Lite or Mojito, this is the perfect light book for a summer beach day.

Author Philip Margolin is an ex-criminal attorney who, like John Grisham, went the way of fiction to make millions and enjoy the law without the mundane parts.  This is Margolin’s 14th novel, and it uses a number of characters from his 2006 best seller “Executive Privilege” to help solve crimes, bring some justice to the world and lay down a little punishment along the way. You don’t need to have read the prior book to figure out what’s going on here despite the numerous references to their prior collaboration.  The book is much less about the judicial system or Supreme Court than the title or cover would lead the reader believe.  But, then, you know the saying about a book’s cover …

The heavily plot driven story involves Sarah Woodruff, an Oregon cop, who’s on death row for murdering her lover, John Finley. Finley is (was), at various times, an import/export executive, a drug dealer, or a CIA operative. The triad of prior Margolin characters (Brad Miller – Supreme Court Law Clerk, Keith Evans – FBI, and Dana Cutler – Private Eye) get involved because Woodruff has filed a request for Supreme Court certiorari (cert for those in the law biz). This is a prisoner’s last chance for a review of their case and chance for a retrial. Without cert, its certain that Woodruff will be put to death.  In Woodruff’s case, the basis upon which cert is sought involves a mysterious ship that was docked in a small town in Oregon 6 years earlier. That ship left several men dead. But the ship disappeared, along with a possible large cache of drugs on board, and therein lies the backbone of the story.  Powerful people in Washington D.C. want to keep the ship’s existence and any evidence related to it a “state-secrets privilege,” meaning Woodruff can not use the ship’s connection to her case as a defense. Without that evidence, Woodruff is sure to face the gas chamber. You have puppet masters playing chess with real people while common folk with connections try to outwit and solve the mystery before it’s “too late.” This multi-layered situation results in some unscrupulous acts, legal maneuvering, detective work, assassination attempts and some killings. The author uses about 20 different characters in at least three different time periods to tell the story.

The danger and killing in the book are certainly not on par with one episode of Jack Bauer in “24,” but are still very entertaining. The multiple stories are woven together in a simplistic albeit an enjoyable way. The reader races side by side with the characters as they piece this puzzle together. There are no long scene descriptions or chapters devoted to character development. This is a quick-paced story that is driven through dialogue, some of which is rather uninspired.  The book is 310 pages, broken into 65 chapters, many of which are short mini-cliffhangers that will have you saying to yourself, “One more chapter.”  Easy stuff since many of those chapters are only 3 to 5 pages long. The multiple storylines get woven together like a 25 piece puzzle – in big chunks – which are wrapped up into a cohesive story with some twists.

The writing is easy to read, the story is plausible enough, the settings are interesting and there is enough mystery, suspense and thrill that I give “Supreme Justice” a B grade.  It will take even the slowest of readers — like me — only a few days to finish, and you quickies will plow through it in a day.  Don’t overanalyze or dissect the implausible parts and you will have enjoyable entertainment for your beach, pool or other vacation spot this summer.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

david nicholls, author of “one day,” takes us behind the scenes with emma and dex

Posted on July 26, 2010

The hot book of the summer, One Day is the captivating story of Emma and Dexter, who meet on the day of their college graduation and start a relationship that goes from lovers to friends and everything in between over the course of twenty years. The story picks up on July 15 of each year, and is so emotional, funny, smart and well-written, you will not be able to put it down. After I finished reading it — in almost “one day” — I immediately got in touch with author David Nicholls to talk about my new favorite book.

First, I have to tell you that I truly loved this book and felt a rare and profound connection to it. I read it in two days in Las Vegas, sending my husband off to play blackjack so I could keep reading. I literally couldn’t put the book down — which seems to be the consensus of everyone who’s read it. Why do you think readers are reacting so strongly to the story?

Well, that’s extremely kind of you. I sincerely hope your husband won at blackjack.

As to the appeal, well I think the structure helps – it means the reader is always actively filling in the gaps between the years, which is quite a potent hook. I also wanted to write a big emotional story — lots of humor, but lots of drama and sadness too — and I think that’s quite a rare find in fiction.

And, at the risk of sounding pompous or pretentious, I wanted to write a book that had the same emotional affect as a great pop song – it’s “God Only Knows” or “I Say a Little Prayer” for me. That bittersweet feeling – joy and sadness mixed. Does that sound pretentious? Too late now.

I was so attached to Emma and Dex, I felt like I really knew them and was personally invested in their happiness. How did you make them so real? Are they based on people in your own life?

It’s certainly not an autobiographical book, though there’s a degree of personal experience in there, both my own and that of friends. A lot of my male friends had quite a wild, hedonistic time in London in the Nineties, and that’s gone into Dexter’s character. Sadly I had a much more Emma-ish time – terrible jobs, a lot of anxiety and self-pity and staying in – and some of that went into her character. Unfortunately I lack Emma’s integrity and wit, and there’s no single, real-life Em. She’s an amalgam – of me, of my female friends, of characters from fiction and film. Elizabeth Bennett, Annie Hall, Shirley Maclaine in The Apartment, Beatrice, Katharine Hepburn…

Why did you decide to use July 15, St. Swithin’s Day, as the one day?

St Swithin’s Day is sort of our Groundhog Day– if it rains on St Swithins Day, it will be a wet summer — though it goes largely unnoticed in the UK. I chose it because it is both an unremarkable day, but also a date that the characters can notice and remark upon when the story requires them to. I like the poetry of it – notions of fate and predicting the future. Also, it corresponds to graduation day, which always seems like quite a significant moment in one’s life.

But the main reason was a fine, sad Billy Bragg song called “St Swithin’s Day” – track it down – which is about a lost friendship. Lyrically, musically, it was the perfect match.

I found the relationship between Dexter and his mom very moving. Why was it important to you to include a bond like that?

Dexter’s such a flawed character – vain, selfish, not necessarily all that bright. I thought it was important to have a character who could see through all that to the decent man within – a sort of moral touchstone, someone who could speak entirely frankly to him. I also wanted to establish where all that confidence and charm came from.  I love Alison Mayhew – she’s Dexter’s conscience.

Emma is one of my favorite literary characters in a very long time – I want to be her friend! – and, sorry, but it’s just a little surprising to me that she was created by a guy! You totally nailed the female psyche; her neuroses and self-deprecating humor are dead-on. You’ve bravely entered what’s traditionally been chick lit territory but the writing and emotional depth of One Day is so strong, you may have to re-claim that turf as alpha male! What do you think a male author brings to the art of the love story that’s different?

Once again, that’s very kind of you. And I don’t want to sound creepy, but I found it much easier and more enjoyable to write Emma than Dexter. I think the trick, if there is one, is to have faith in the similarities between genders, rather than the differences. A lot of popular fiction and film sets up this false opposition between white-wine drinking, shoe-loving, conservative women and beer-drinking, sports-loving, commitment-fearing men, and this just doesn’t seem to match up with my experience or that of my female friends. Shoes are fine, but I don’t know any woman who’s obsessed with them, and my idea of hell is watching a football match in a room full of drunk men. Having said that, I think the next book may well be about an ex-Navy Seal turned professional footballer on a murderous rampage. In outer space.

Why was Emma the one who had to give up her boyfriend when Dexter was finally ready for a real relationship? Why was she the one who always had to be “available?”

Hm. Well, good question. Partly, I suppose, because of the one-day structure – decisions that might take longer in real-life have to be artificially condensed. And also because that particular relationship in the book is largely sex-based. It’s Emma’s sexy fling. I don’t think it’s a real emotional wrench for her (or that poor, dumped French boyfriend).

Sexual tension is often the most exciting part of a relationship, and it definitely keeps the reader reading. Were you worried about what would happen if/when Emma and Dexter finally got together? Did you know when you started the book how you would end it?

The ending was always there. It was actually the starting point for the book, but it’s hard to say anymore without giving too much away.

And yes, the great challenge of modern love stories is contriving ways to keep the characters apart – the traditional barriers of class, faith, marital status etc don’t have the same potency now. Which is why I thought it was fun to start the story with the characters in bed together. That first kiss is just the start of the story, not the end.

You capture the social and political culture of the time so vividly, readers will feel a sense of nostalgia as they go through the decades with Emma and Dexter. How did you spend the 1990’s?

I was an actor, which is another way of saying that I was unemployed. Like Emma, I felt so comfortable and happy at college in the Eighties that the noise and political chaos and uncertainty of the Nineties frightened me a little. Certainly I didn’t spend it at nightclubs and wild parties, like Dexter. I played a lot of small parts in bad plays, and worked in a lot of restaurants, and read and worried about money. What I didn’t do was write – not until 1997. After that things got a little better.

I went to see James Taylor and Carole King in concert the night I finished One Day, and thought – even though it was off by ten or fifteen years — it provided a great kind of soundtrack to the book because the two of them had been singing together for so long and had their own on-again, off-again relationship/friendship. What was the soundtrack going through your head as you wrote the book?

We’re working on the film at the moment and as “research” – a way to avoid real work – I compiled an Emma Morely playlist — 2000 songs long, it is a thing of great beauty. It ranges from Carole King and Joni Mitchell to Wire and The Slits through The Smiths and Cocteau Twins and The Cure and The Kinks, Patti Smith and Robert Wyatt, Massive Attack and Talking Heads and Underworld and Tracey Thorn – as you can tell, the music was very important to me. In fact, the mixtape that Emma makes for Dexter in the novel is on iTunes and my website – search for “Emma Morley.”

You’re frequently compared to Nick Hornby, who wrote a nice blurb on your book cover. What do you see as the similarities and differences in your work?

Well, I suppose we write sort-of romantic comedies, from both male and female points of view, often with a London setting, often with cultural references, which hopefully appeal to both male and female readers. We have quite “literary” tastes but are perceived of as “popular” writers. I suppose the main difference is that I’m totally indifferent to football.

But it’s not something I think about. I admire Nick very much, in particular his support and passion for other writers, but I’d never dream of consciously writing in that particular vein. My biggest influences are Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, 1930s screwball comedy, British social novels of the 1950s…

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess will be playing Emma and Dexter in the movie version of One Day. You’re writing the screenplay, thank goodness, so we know it will stay true to the book. How did you feel about the casting?

Delighted. We’re shooting at present, and Anne and Jim are great. Inevitably Anne’s nationality has caused some comment, but her accent is spot-on and after a moment you entirely accept her as British. And Jim has a charm and boyishness that helps to mask Dexter’s more obnoxious excesses. A young British actor called Rafe Spall is playing Ian, and I’ve been watching him on set. He’s hysterical, a perfect piece of casting.

Maybe we can talk to you again when the movie comes out?

Yes, I’m always delighted to answer questions!

Amy Greene Talks About “Bloodroot” and Life in Appalachia

Posted on July 23, 2010

“Bloodroot” is the kind of book that transports you to a world you couldn’t even begin to imagine and introduces you to strong, solid characters who long remain with you. It’s a story of poverty and riches, magic and harsh reality, pure joy and deep sorrow. I had so much I wanted to ask author Amy Greene about her own background in the mountains of Appalachia and the different voices she created to tell this epic tale.

I immediately fell in love with the book for starting out in places called Chickweed Holler and Bloodroot Mountain. Your language is so musical and so descriptive and I’m going to give you the credit for that even if that’s just the way people really speak there! Having grown up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, were the names and dialogue natural for you to write?

Bringing the language I’ve heard all my life to the page came fairly easily. The voices of my family, friends and neighbors just flowed naturally into the narrative. I didn’t have much trouble deciding what to call the homes of the characters, either. Places here are often named after how the terrain looks or what grows in the area.

The characters ring so true and I was rooting hard for happy endings for them. Are any of these characters or situations based on people you knew or stories you heard during your childhood? Why did you decide to tell the story through a half dozen voices rather than one?

While the characters aren’t based on specific people, they’re like composites of all the people I’ve known and loved, with bits of myself thrown in. Bloodroot is told by six voices because each one seemed so important to me. I felt strongly that they all had something necessary to say about Myra, who was the heart of the story.

I’ve never been to Appalachia but, after reading this book, I feel like I have. It has such a powerful sense of place. What are the first few words that come to your mind to describe this area and that you really wanted to get across?

The first few words would be mysticism, folklore and beauty. I grew up surrounded by beautiful mountains. I also inherited a rich tradition of storytelling and folk belief, passed down through generations of my family. I wanted to portray my own vision of home in the pages of Bloodroot, and hope all those elements came through.

How important was the location to the actual story? To me, they felt so strongly connected – that these events could only have occurred in this specific place.

Place definitely played a central role in the telling of Bloodroot, because the landscape does so much to shape the lives and insides of the characters.

While I was reading the book, it seemed like time stood still and the outside world didn’t exist. I could completely feel the characters’ isolation, and the poverty and sense of hopelessness were so pervasive, the violence seemed almost inevitable. How did this kind of environment affect you when you lived there, and has it changed over time?

I did want to portray the isolation that comes with living here. I experienced it myself, growing up in a rural part of East Tennessee. I spent most of my childhood alone, exploring the hills around our house. Like Johnny and Laura, it was only when I went to school that I realized how sheltered I had been. I also addressed in Bloodroot some of the social issues that are a factor here, such as the poverty. I still live in Appalachia and can see that conditions have improved over the last few decades, but progress is bittersweet. The landscape I based Bloodroot Mountain on has changed a lot since I was a little girl, and not necessarily in a positive way.

Can you tell me a little about what the title – which is perfect — means to you?

I discovered the title when I was thinking about what to call the mountain my characters lived on. I considered what would grow there, what plants and flowers would be indigenous, and bloodroot occurred to me. It grows in the hills behind my childhood home. The delicate white flower and its red root sap, which has the power to both poison and heal, brought the story’s theme together in my mind. It signifies to me the complex nature not only of the human heart but of life in Appalachia, and also the blood ties that bind my characters in more ways than one.

I was completely enraptured by the folk magic and mysticism, and held my breath as Clifford cured Byrdie’s thrush by blowing into her mouth. There was something so intimate and beautiful about that – and something so shocking about eating a chicken heart to make a man fall in love. How much of this was based on incidents you really saw or experienced?

That kind of mysticism is very much part of the Appalachia I know. The scene where Clifford blows down Byrdie’s throat is based on a story my dad tells of his mother taking his baby sister to a neighbor man who cured her thrush the same way. My mom had an aunt who took off her warts by rubbing a stone in a circle around each one and then throwing the stones away. When I was small, a friend of the family moved out of her house in the holler because it was hainted. People here still believe in and practice folk magic today, especially the older generation.

The women are such strong characters here, as seems to always be the case in difficult circumstances. Are there traits that you think were just necessary for their survival there?

I do think the hardscrabble Appalachian way of life, subsistence farming and raising large families, has made strength necessary for both men and women.

The loving relationship between Myra and her grandmother made me cry. Did you have a grandmother like Byrdie – or wish you did? Can you see anyone in particular portray them in a movie version?

I never knew either of my grandmothers—they both died before I was born—so Byrdie definitely comes in part from my longing for one. It’s hard for me to envision actors as the people in my head, but someone at a book club meeting I attended recently mentioned Sissy Spacek as a possible Byrdie. That sounded right to me.

What are you working on next? I can’t wait to read your next book!

I’m currently editing my second novel, called Long Man. It’s set in the Tennessee Valley during the Great Depression, about a little girl who disappears from a town in the months before it’s scheduled to be flooded by a TVA dam.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

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