Thursday, July 6, 2017

Urban Fourth of July

Ever since my beloved dad died in 1997, I have dreaded Fourth of July. That was his birthday, and no one celebrated a birthday--or the Fourth--like my dad. He woke early and started drinking beer, grilling food, and playing John Philip Sousa marches as loud as possible. By noon, hordes of friends and family had arrived, and the partying continued long into the night, always ending with sparklers and Roman candles and bottle rockets, and sometimes ending with Dad and various uncles and pals marching up the street with pots on their heads and broomsticks and mops over their shoulders.

The year he died, we all fled to Mexico, where margaritas and the ocean dulled our pain and no one was celebrating the Fourth of July. As time went on, I've managed to mostly avoid the holiday. For years, I taught in North Carolina that whole week. Sometimes I went to friends' parties, but usually left early.

This year, I found myself dividing the long weekend between my two homes, in NYC and in Providence, with my wonderful new husband (who was missing his own dad too).

While in NYC, we took in a new play at the Cherry Lane Theater and dinner afterward at Chumley's (more on that later), followed by bourbons at Barbuto where we could get all mushy reliving our wedding. In true NYC tradition, we bought out Sunday NYT late Saturday night so that we could wake up on Sunday, drink coffee, eat croissants, and read the newspaper all morning. Then we went up to The Met to see the Irving Penn show--which isn't to be missed! We had a light lunch at Bouchon Bakery before heading back downtown to see Sweeney Todd at The Barrow Street Theater--another not to be missed! Before the show you have meat pies and mash in an authentically recreated British pie shop, which to our utter delight and surprise, the entire play takes place. You haven't lived until you've had Norm Lewis singing on your table.

Monday we drove to Providence, where my son's theater company, WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBORS SAY?, was waiting at the loft. Tuesday we brought an entire barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers and all the fixins to Gogo's, then came home to nap and start cooking again: ribs and black beans and zucchini salad (made for me by my husband to convince me that zicchini can actually taste like more than tepid water--it worked!) on the roof with WWTNS. As we ate, fireworks started all over Rhode Island, and we could see them all. By the time we walked across the roof to our neighbors for apple pie and vino, the whole sky was exploding! We stayed up late playing a lively game or three of Code Names. And I went to bed, happy for this Fourth of July filled with love and food and fireworks and cityscapes...

My digression on Chumley's:
If you are a real New Yorker--meaning you lived there for many years as an adult during the worst times in NYC--you hung out at Chumley's, the hidden Prohibition era speakeasy at 86 Bedford Street (where the restaurant term 86 originated!). The place had good cheap(ish) pub food, lots of atmosphere, drunken writers at the bar, and was just one of everyone in the Village's favorite spots. Sadly, it closed about a decade ago, and rumors of its reopening circulated, always met with great excitement.

One day last fall, my beloved and I were walking down Bedford Street and to our delight saw a sign announcing the upcoming reopening of Chumley's. We got ourselves there pretty quickly after it opened, only to find our shaggy dog pub turned into a fancy restaurant (with prices to match). That night we ate oysters at the bar and drank overpriced cocktails, disappointed. Still, word that it served the best hamburger in the city brought us back the other night, because I am a girl who loved my burgers. But...not for $28. Cocktails? $18. Wine? Nothing under $60. And all the black and white photos of writers that now fill the walls (not many writers I know can afford to hang out at the bar there anymore!) made for fun guessing who's who, but no one who worked there knew the answers! Google helped, a little.

Ah well. Nothing, not even an overpriced burger in a bygone place, could ruin our weekend. But I still choose to remember the Chumley's of old, where I'd sit and drink beer with my writing buddy Phil, eat pot roast, and listen to ghosts.

WWTNS is leaving us this afternoon, so we will eat dinner at The Slow Rhode, one of my favorite little spots in my fabulous neighborhood and curl up with a movie back home. Lots of fun with friends planned over the next few days before Annabelle and I head to our yearly week in truro, where I teach at Castle Hill and then she and I play mini golf and go to the drive-in and meet up with dear friends for lobster rolls and clams.

When we return from Truro, it's only to repack before a week in Provincetown teaching at the Fine Arts Center, a week teaching in Dingle Ireland, a week of (mostly) vacation in Naples, Italy, then a week teaching at the post-graduate conference at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and then two glorious weeks teaching at Breadloaf, where in 1988 my now husband called out to me...and I walked away. Sigh!

I hope your summer brings to mind Henry James:

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”



Enjoy your summer afternoons!

Ann

My new book is available for pre-order!

I am so excited that my new memoir, MORNINGSTAR: GROWING UP WITH BOOKS, is available for pre-order from your favorite bookstore!

Library Journal calls it "poignant and enlightening" and Booklist says it is "affecting and inspiring". I hope you all find it so too!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Chicken Marbella and me

Hello Everyone! Happy Flag Day!

Last night I hosted a dinner for three colleagues to help with the exciting plans for a Low Residency MFA program in Newport RI at Salve Regina College, launching in June 2018 with fabulous poet Jen McClanaghan and me at the helm. As anyone in New England knows, it has been very hot and very steamy here. For dinner I was thinking of cold food--panzanella salad maybe. Corn salad. And I had pretty much landed on Laurie Colwin's yummy mustard chicken when my darling husband suggested I make Chicken Marbella, my no fail recipe from The Silver Palate.

He was in NYC doing publicity for his new book, so he wasn't going to partake in my Chicken Marbella. But I could almost see the twinkle in his eye when he suggested I make it.

Back in 2011, I wrote an essay about my beloved Chicken Marbella for the sadly now defunct literary journal Alimentum, which was dedicated to all food writing. That essay won a Best Food Writing Award that year, and unfortunately that's the only way you can still read it as it isn't available online.

"The Golden Silver Palate" told about my history with Chicken Marbella, and how in some ways it turned me into a cook--mostly because you can't mess it up. I've forgotten the brown sugar, the wine, marinated it too long and too short, and it's always delicious. So the first time I cooked for Michael (well, it was technically the second time, the first being spaghetti cacio e pepe, but that's another story) I was so nervous--I was madly in love! With a chef!--the only thing I could make that I knew wouldn't fail was Chicken Marbella.

So organized was I! I set up the chicken to marinade the night before he arrived. I snipped the parsley for the garnish, measured the brown sugar and wine for the baking, and...

It was terrible. I mean, really really bad. Michael likes to tell the story of how I woke in the middle of the night and said: I forgot the olives! But this was more than that: flabby chicken and tasteless juice.

Almost every woman I know who came of age in the 80s makes Chicken Marbella as her go to dish--BECAUSE YOU CAN'T MESS IT UP. When Michael and I tell about the first meal I made him, when I say I messed up the Chicken Marbella, we always get the same response: That's impossible!

Alas, it's true. But seven months later, at my sweetie's prodding, I made it again. And it came out perfectly. Check out my Instagram at annhood56 or my Facebook page for pictures of its yumminess. I guess it proves no dish is foolproof. Or maybe that you can be so blinded by love that you can even mess up Chicken Marbella?

It's been a truly lovely week, this victorious dish only adding to it. Michael and I drove to Coney Island with Cousin GJ and her beau on Friday night for a walk on the boardwalk and dinner at a new restaurant. Then we headed to Cousin Chippy's beach house in Breezy Point for a weekend of food and wine--pizzas in the pizza oven, long beach walks, lots of vino, lots of cousin love when Cousin Tony and his Girlfriend showed up and Marina arrived too, and our traditional Sunday morning ribs slow cooked all night in aforementioned pizza oven for breakfast. Perfect weather to boot.

I am still knitting away on the Churchmouse Yarns Airport Shawl in alpaca. This week I've been reading A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles.

Tomorrow I'm meeting my beloved in NYC for our friend's art show opening and the performance of the daughter of another friend. On friday I'm on  a panel at Hunter College's Summer Symposium, then we are going to see the play WHIRLIGIG with my theater crush Norbert Leo Butz in it.

And then we are off to northern California for a week for some reading, writing and romance. Looking forward to eating lots of oysters, drinking lots of California wine, working on my new novel, reading Maggie O'Farrell novels, and well...the romance part!

I hope you are enjoying Flag Day wherever you are. And that you are eating and drinking and reading to your heart's content!

Monday, June 5, 2017

I say it just begins to live that day...

Beginning this post with a quote from my beloved Emily Dickinson is fitting today because I just spent three glorious hours making words live. (Full poem is at end of post)

Woke at my beautiful loft in RI with Annabelle beside me. the loft has been (happily!) taken over by Sam and the theatre company he and his friends have formed, What Will the Neighbors Say? (WARNING: proud mom approaching) They are doing a month long residency in RI, bringing the acclaimed play IN HER OWN WORDS: THE DIANA TAPES that played at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh last summer and a new musical for kids, UNTITLED SHAPE SHOW to Providence. I had a great time feeding them all, and playing cards and dancing into the night. 

But today I left them with a fridge full of food to come to NYC for the launch meeting of Penguin Workshop, which my new YA novel, SHE LOVES YOU (YEAH YEAH YEAH) is debuting in! So so excited for this. 

On the train here I reread the 47 pages I have of my new adult novel, THE MUSEUM OF TEARS, and cut 12 pages, four characters, and one sub plot! I love a day like this, lost in words and story. I was able to rearrange and add sentences here and there, all to get ready to bring it to life. Just this morning the story led me to Pablo Neruda poetry, uniforms for waitresses at IHops in 1972, and the Merimekko website. God, i love my job!

When I looked up, ready to take a break and knit (Churchmouse Yarns airplane shawl), I was fifteen minutes from NYC! 

Now it's off to Penguin, and dinner with my wonderful editor and friend, and then a very early wake up tomorrow to catch a flight to Cleveland where my darling husband awaits me. He's doing publicity for his new book, GROCERY, which is selling like gangbusters, and I'm excited to be at his upcoming events at Heinens grocery store downtown tomorrow and on Pepper Pike on Wednesday, as well as his reading at Loganberry Books. If you are a Clevelander, come and say hi!

Thursday we fly back to Providence, ever so briefly, before a family weekend at the beach in Brooklyn. Hopefully the rain will pause (the hole in my ceiling and the leak from it would be especially grateful).

And here, as promised, the full Emily Dickinson:

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just begins
to live that day.
– Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

On Books and Knitting

After a busy, fun-filled long weekend in Chicago with Annabelle and two cousins of mine, I am happily home in my loft with my kittens and my husband and my kid. We got perfect weather in Chicago and did such wonderful things--the architectural river tour, the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute (I went back alone just to gaze at the Impressionist art there), and of course HAMILTON, which blew me away. We ate well too: of course deep dish pizza at Gino's East, but also Fonda Frontera, Roister, and my favorite The Girl and The Goat. Our hotel, The Chicago Athletic Association, is now among my favorites (having Shake Shack room service was a plus!).

Before I left, I sent off revisions of my new YA novel, which I am very excited about! Tentative title is She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) and I will tell you details (pub date, basic story) here soon.

As I wrote about last week, I'm also celebrating thirty years with my very first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, which has been in print ever since its debut. So proud of that little book, and the life it began for me.

Today, as my darling husband works across from me on his new book, I am taking out index cards to begin a blueprint of my new (adult) novel, The Museum of Tears. I began it many months ago and this is the second time that the start of a novel got interrupted by other work. And the second time that the months away from it made me, as Joseph Conrad said, re-vision it. Even though I wasn't actively writing, I was thinking the story. And this time thinking and not writing has opened up the story in a new and dazzling way. Our rush to putting words on paper isn't always the best route to the story we should be writing, I think. Now that my writing time has returned, I am even more excited to tell this story in this way. I cannot wait to begin!

But first, the promised knitting updates too. Yesterday I finished the Summer Scarf from Mason-Dixon Knitting's Snippets newsletter. This was a very fun knitting project, using cotton yarn in two different colors and the helical striping technique. I liked it so much that I'm going to knit another one later this summer (it's a great travel knitting project). Until then, I am going to start a summer wrap from Churchmouse Yarns and continue the swoncho from The Yarn Lady (my home knitting project). All of this finishing and beginning made me reflect on beginnings and endings on the flight home yesterday as I cast off that summer scarf.

Yes, I'm beginning a new novel just as my new memoir, Morningstar: Growing Up With Books is being published (in August! Available by pre-order now!), and I'm casting off and casting on knitting projects.

So this week is all about books and knitting for me. And cooking and loving. I hope your week is full of all these good things too.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chicago!

What a week my darling husband and I have had! While he was wowing people on the west coast with his new book GROCERY, I was revising my new YA novel. He got home in time to come to Goat Hill's memoir panel with the most wonderful Andre Dubus lll and Dani Shapiro. Sold out crowd, which makes me so thrilled. This crazy idea of mine to bring the literary world to RI with Hester Kaplan and Taylor Polites has been more successful than I ever imagined. We are meeting next week to plan our next season so stay tuned!

Then we were off to Boston where he had a dinner and meetings and I had the great good fortune to be one of the writers at Alice Hoffman's Pink Pages, an incredible event that raises money for the Hoffman Breast Cancer Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital. I was so proud to share the stage with Diane Ackerman, ZZ Packer, Geraldine Brooks, and other writers whom I admire. Afterward we stayed late into the night drinking wine and eating snacks. A night to remember for certain.

One of the many things my husband and I enjoy doing together is riding the train. So we happily rode from Boston to NYC on Tuesday, working and knitting--yes! He finished his first dish rag! I frogged it about four times but it came out damn good! Me, I'm still happily Knitting the summer scarf from Mason Dixon's Snippets. Helical stripes and great cotton yarn. I'll do another after I finish since Annabelle wants this one.

After an early evening movie we went to Barbuto where we had our lovely wedding luncheon. Got all dreamy and warm there remembering the fun we had just a month ago there. Then played highly competitive cards into the night. The next day we had a real NYC day, with breakfast at the Odeon, him on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, lunch at the Ear Inn, an afternoon of writing before his event with Ruth Reichl and Dan Barber at the 92nd St Y. They rocked the place! Wine and gnudi after, and talk of books and writing and Northern California where we are heading for a romantic getaway in a couple of weeks.

But first! Chicago! When you can't get HAMILTON tickets until 2019, and then for way too much money, you go to Chicago where tickets are plentiful and cheap(er). The cousins and Annabelle and I fly out tomorrow. We have dinner at The Girl and the Goat, deep dish pizza, the aquarium, the Art Institute, and yes, HAMILTON!

So excited!

Taking the Richard Ford memoir and the new Denise Mina for the trip, and the aforementioned Summer Scarf Knitting.

And next week, when I'm home from Chicago, I get to work on THE MUSEUM OF TEARS, my next adult novel. Cannot wait.

I hope you all have a weekend of fun. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE

 Over 30 years ago, I was working as an international flight attendant for TWA. I was also attending graduate school at NYU, getting my MA in American literature. But most importantly, I was writing my first novel. To be fair,  for many years as I worked as a flight attendant I wrote in longhand a novel which I threw in a dumpster on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village in 1982. I never finished that book, mostly because when I reread it I realized how terrible it was. For new writers this is an important lesson.  If you are anything like me, lacking in formal training on how to write, and therefore a total autodidact, you need that practice manuscript. The one where you make every mistake beginning writers need to make: thinly  veiled real life, imitative of writers  you admire, uneven prose, mistakes in plot – – if you even have a plot – – and characters and, well, in just about everything. I never finished that first  disastrous novel. But I might have. Instead the inner critic and editor in me recognized it for what it was, a bold and risky attempt to tell a story. I suppose that's what all fiction is. In nonfiction, which as you know I write a lot of, you already know your story and your job is how to distill it,  what to omit, how to organize the truth. When you write a novel however, you start with just that blank page and your enormous imagination. Lucky for me that imagination began forming stories when I was just eight years old. I would sit in my classroom and stare out the window and make up characters and stories. What if a little girl found an abandoned carousel that began to whirl when she got on it and brought her back in time? (that was in fact the first short story I wrote!) Here's a little aside:  my darling husband had a similar experience, beginning in fifth grade. As you know from my blog posts and the New York Times Vows section that I posted the link For here, our connections run deep. This early desire to become a writer is one of our greatest bonds.  His reasons for turning to predominately nonfiction writing are interesting ones, but he has the soul of a fiction writer too. And it is one of the things I cannot wait to see him do more of. OK. Enough digression. After that first novel, the Betrayal of Sam Pepper, landed in that dumpster on  Sullivan Street, I went right back upstairs to my tiny apartment, put a blank piece of paper into the typewriter, and wrote these words: to sparrow, her father was a man standing in front of a lime green Volkswagen van in 1969. That sentence remains as the first sentence to my first novel, somewhere off The coast of Maine.

 I knew nothing about writing books, publishing books, getting agents, or finding an editor. I just sat on those airplanes flying over the Atlantic at 35,000 feet and wrote my heart out. Oh! New writers out there! If I had one piece of advice to give you that would be it: write your heart out. Eliminate all of the noise of publishing and editors and agents and the literary world. Just write your heart out! That is what I did over the course of two years. And then one day my wonderful boyfriend asked to read whatever it was I typed and scribbled all the time. Hesitantly I gave it to him, because he was a huge and smart reader. I gave it to him and I fled my little apartment, this one on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Why did I flee? Sheer terror.  Although I wrote poems and short stories and yes novels or attempts at novels ever since third grade, I really did not show my writing to anyone. Or at least not to anyone who really mattered to me. This was a guy I loved  like crazy and if he thought my effort was pathetic or week or futile I honestly don't know what I would have done. But alas, he did not think it was any of those things. Instead he looked at me and told me that he thought it was really good. And that I should go over to NYU, which was kind of around the corner, and show it to someone who taught writing there.

To make an eternal story short, I did that and had the great pleasure of studying with EL Doctorow,  Who did not read our stories but instead had us read many many novels that he then talked about from a writer's point of view.  Excited and engaged by this new literary world I had stuck my toes into, I took a workshop with a man named William Decker, who had been a senior editor at Viking and had edited the likes of Katharine Anne Porter, Hemingway, and Zane Grey. Bill Decker did read our stories and brought to them the cool critical editor's eye that I so desperately wanted and needed. It was Bill Decker who invited me to his apartment one afternoon, looking over Washington Square Park, and said the words I'd dreamed of since I was eight years old: you've got it. You're a writer. With those words I felt my cells actually fall into place. And when he recommended me to go to the bread loaf writers conference  in Vermont that summer he gave me a ticket into the world I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. That summer changed my life of course. I worked with Nicholas Delbanco,  who gave  me encouragement and suggestions that propelled me to turn the interconnected short stories I was writing into the novel that would become somewhere off the coast of Maine. From that two weeks on that mountain in Vermont, I landed an agent and very quickly a book contract. It took me a couple of years to finish that novel, teaching myself how to do it as I wrote.

In 1986, TWA went on strike and all of the flight attendants were euphemistically replaced.  I found myself, a year from the book's publication date, suddenly a full-time writer. One of the best lessons my parents taught me was to never become a victim. We are a pull yourself up by your bootstraps family, and no matter what comes our way – – and readers here kniw all of the things that have come our way – – you do not Give into them. You grieve. You cry. And you move forward, stronger than ever.  So with my mortgage due and no job in sight, I wrote my first short story that got published in mademoiselle magazine, and my first essay that was published in the Washington Post style section. And then I started a second novel, even before the first had been published.  In a matter of weeks I was a full-time writer.

 On May 21, 1987 somewhere off the coast of Maine was published. It became an international bestseller, and launched my career as a writer, a career which has had its ups and downs but never let me down. Many people think that the knitting circle was my first novel, probably because there were so many years  in between it and the one before it. Those were the years when my Gracie died and I was struggling to save myself and my family. But now you know in case you didn't before you read this, that my first novel came out 30 years ago this month. And that little book, that little gift of love, has never gone out of print. It has had four different covers in the United States, been published in more countries than I can count, and still gets me royalties every year. I admit sometimes the royalties are as little as $.80, but sometimes they are in the thousands still. A joy which has not diminished. Nor has seeing it on library, bookstore, and home bookshelves.

 I am asking everyone to join me in celebrating that gift of somewhere off the coast of Maine this month. If you haven't read it yet, please go to your favorite bookstore and get a copy. I would love for it to have a little burst of life on its anniversary.

write your heart out!