Monday, April 27, 2009

Ask Clarissa

I never set out to be the kind of person who is good at giving advice. And you have to realize there is a difference between being a person who gives good advice and being a person who is good at giving advice.

Think about it.

You could be a wisdom powerhouse but have not one scrap of skill on how to give anyone good advice. I'm sure you've met smart people who have all the answers but who suck at advising people on what to do.

I know I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been told when I do give someone advice, they never feel stupid. They never feel like they should’ve been able to figure it out on their own. And I guess I’d rather be good at giving advice that may not always be 100% perfect than bad at giving advice. Obviously if you give good advice badly no one will listen to anything you say. If you give mostly good advice, well, eight times out of ten you will have made difference in a person’s life, perhaps for the rest of their life.

Abigail asked Lauren and I last night if we thought she should buy Graham a car. A used one. So he can look for a job. I didn’t answer back with, “Why should a healthy, capable 50-year-old who has struggled all his life to be free of your well-meaning, but back-firing enabling miss out on the joy and challenge of buying his own car?” Instead, I just told her what she really already knew. She wouldn’t asked if she didn’t already know: Buying Graham a car will keep him in poverty – every kind of poverty there is.

“He doesn’t have any money,” Abigail said.

“People with jobs have money.” I said. “And you can’t just give him one of those, either.” Which she already knows.

She asked me how a person without a car can possibly find a job.

“People without cars find jobs all the time. It’s their determination that gets them where they want to go, not four wheels and a steering wheel. You never give Graham any reason to be resolute. About anything.”

Lauren told me later she thought I had told Abigail something she had needed to hear for decades.

Surprised the heck out of me. I wonder how many dunderheads tried to tell Abigail she was totally blowing it with Graham and totally blew it themselves. I wonder if they even bothered.

Almost makes me want to change my major.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Author Intrusion

Pardon me while I stop in to let you know a new interview is up on the Book Club Queen.

If you've ever wondered where the idea for The Shape of Mercy came from or how writing it affected me or what's on the drawing board next, head on over and take a peek.

You can also read a review of The Shape of Mercy by the Book Club Queen Bee right here. The site is chock full of other reviews, so grab a cuppa and browse. Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

I am writing this to you while sitting in a not-very-comfortable chair at JFK. My dad and Meghan are in line for Starbucks. It’s been a long day; we could all use a little jolt from a tall latte.

We meet today with the publisher that I feel is the best option for me for Mercy’s diary. They are a relatively small house, by New York standards, but I felt strangely at home in their offices. Everyone there loves history; that’s what they love. They want success, but they don’t love it. What they love is seeing something as priceless and remarkable as Mercy’s diary immortalized and accessible to every generation that will come after me. I just like that.

Meghan thinks we should go to auction for the publishing rights but I just don’t feel right about that. She explained all the different offers she has received and what each publishing house has promised – and what they haven’t – but she told me in the end, it’s my decision and I should feel good about what I decide.

And my dad? He has surprised me by letting me choose. He told me in the taxi over here that some business deals are about money, some are about people, some are about posterity.

He has read the diary.

The publisher I like is preparing a contract and they will send it to Meghan later this week. If I sign off on it, the wheels will start turning. The diary will be in print by Christmas.

I hope I am doing the right thing. It’s the right thing, isn’t it? If Mercy knew what I was doing would she approve? Would she want the world to know what she wrote in secret? Would she?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mercy's Quill

From Mercy's book of poems and stories - 1692

The blacksmith’s daughter was known throughout the sleepy village as a maiden who knew not when to keep silent. Her name was Verity and an apt name it was. Verity always spoke whatever words filled her mind, whether they be words anyone should want to hear or not. If a villager mistreated his horse, she would ask him in a loud voice in front of all if he would like his Master to so treat him. If the married women took to gossiping on the steps of the Meeting House, she would caution them not to trip down the stairs since the long white robes of holy judges tend to wrap around the ankles.

The blacksmith and his wife were quiet, docile folk and knew not how to silence Verity’s tongue. And the blacksmith secretly enjoyed Verity’s brash and honest comments because she often said what he only dreamt of saying.

But when the time came for her to be married, few men would consider taking her to wife, even though she was as beautiful as a morning sunrise. Her golden tresses and dove-gray eyes were as comely as her tongue was untamed.

The only match the blacksmith could make was with the miller's son, a young man who never ventured from the grindstone. The man’s name was Jacob and he could neither speak nor hear. A long and terrible illness when he was but a babe had stolen away his voice and ears. Ah! The perfect match, the villagers snickered. No one, especially the gossips, could speak of anything else for days; nay even weeks after the couple were married. Verity had finally met her match.

But, as fate would have it, Verity grew to love the quiet man who let her speak on and on and never once lifted a finger to silence her. And his quiet acquiescence allowed her to speak all the more loudly about that which vexed her spirit, because who could silence her now that she was married, but her good husband, and he cared not that she had an opinion on so many matters.

They lived a happy life, Verity and Jacob, and were blessed with six daughters who were encouraged by their mother to speak whenever words were desperately needed.

And always in front of their cottage, on the dirt and in the mud, were myriads of little pictures drawn by a stick or a stone, etched there by Jacob, and which Verity never swept away. For they were messages from her quiet husband – pictures of his pleasure - because he who had no voice now had seven.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

Esperanza here. So everyone in America likes to make the Mexican Wedding Cookies for Christmas, but in my house, my mamacita always made them for Easter.

I am making them today for the girls to take home to their families. Lauren has invited Abigail – who is finally well – to come home with her to Santa Barbara for Easter dinner on Sunday. At first she said no when Lauren asked her. Then she suddenly changed her mind. And after she said yes, she went into her library and closed the door and she is there still.

Anyway. Here they are. Don’t eat too many jelly beans this weekend.

Esperanza’s Mexican Wedding Cookies

About 2 cups of flour (you know me, I don’t measure)
¼ tsp salt
2 sticks of soft butter (don’t even say a word)
1 heaping cup of powdered sugar
Vanilla extract – maybe a little more than a teaspoon, dash of almond extract, too
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

Stir the flour and salt together then in another bowl mix together the butter and half the pwdered sugar until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract and then the flour mixture until nicely blended. Then stir in the nuts. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 2 hours or until it is firm enough to work with. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Shape the dough into balls that are about 1 inch in diameter. Place the balls on ungreased baking sheets with about an inch between the cookies. One sheet at a time, bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes or until set, but not brown. Put the other half of the of the powdered sugar in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for 2 to 4 minutes. Carefully remove the cookies and roll each one in the sugar to coat. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.
When cool, store the cookies in an airtight container. These cookies freeze very nice. Makes about 40 cookies.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

I am in no mood to discuss anything with anyone.

I've a fever and a headache and Esperanza is hovering over me, suffocating me with worry and tortilla chicken soup.

Lauren knows better than to treat me like a child, Ryan is plain afraid of me and my germs, and Clarissa is simply too elated not to have to discuss As I Lay Dying with me. Oh, the irony in that. As I Lay Dying.

It's obvious to me Clarissa didn't like the book. I never expected her to like it. It isn't a story to be liked. It's the writing that is likeable, for pity's sake. You don't have to like Hannibal Lecter to appreciate the intricacies of his character.

I really don't have the energy or initiative to expound on any of this. I just want a hot cup of tea, Sonnets From the Portuguese, and solitude.

It's not like I wish the girls weren't here in the house with me. I didn't say I wanted silence. I can hear them getting ready for class and dates and work, and I don't mind the sounds that I hear.

I just want to be alone as I listen.

Leave me.