Friday, February 28, 2014

Out of the Garden- Part Five

Read the story from the beginning here

Part five by Bonnie Grove

They swarmed my doorstep, more of them than I’d planned. Margaret, my daughter, her husband, Klaus, a Santa Claus of a man, his parents, Herb and Greta, both sharp angles and corners. My two grandchildren, teenagers now, looking bored. And a surprise, Peta, a cousin on my Mother’s side, all nose, and pursed lips, and elbows in your side as she flew past, a hummingbird among a flock of geese.
            “Long time,” Peta air-kissed both cheeks touching neither my face nor my heart. Where had they picked her up?
            My daughter, Margaret, mouthed the word Sorry and scurried to the kitchen to help. Sandwiches, cakes, and tea. It had sounded so homey when I invited them, so normal. Now, with The Her hidden under my bed, I could barely manage a polite greeting.
            Margaret frowned at my confusion but mobilized the troops and in minutes our outdoor party was ready. I lingered in the kitchen pretending to fuss over my lackluster variety of teas. Peta, too, remained in the house, darting eyes sizing up, summing up my solitary life. “Long time,” she said.
            “Too long,” I chirped.
            “You don’t mean that.” A deviled egg disappeared into her mouth.
            “I certainly—”
            “Save it.” A bony wrist waved away my manners. “I’ve heard all the niceties from Margaret already.” She leaned a hip against the counter. “Bet you were surprised, though.”
            “What’s the story?”
            “I thought I knew,” she shrugged, her shoulders tents of bone rising to her ears, falling again. “But now that I’m here, I’m not so sure.”
            We were close in age. Raised by sisters, but we couldn’t be more different. As children, I adored Peta. But that was before. I fumbled with the tea, and spilled some on the floor.
            Peta watched my hands, read my posture, the slight tremor that betrayed my nerves. “I’ll get the broom, shall I?”
            “No,” a near shout. “I’ll see to it. Please, join the others in the backyard and I’ll be out in a jiffy.”
            Peta stared, eyes locked on mine, searching. It had been years since we’d seen or spoken to each other. Decades. Not nearly long enough. “Something’s up, Cous.” She smiled. “I can feel it.” That grin pulled upwards. “Smell it, too.”
            “Out,” I said, trying for some kind of firmness in my voice.
            “Do you want Margaret? I’ll send her in.” The question felt like a test.
            “No.” I said, too quickly, failing.
            She moved toward the back door, paused, sniffed the air. “Just don’t forget what you are.”
            I waited until the screen door slammed shut before letting myself rest heavy on the counter. What had she meant? But the spinning in my head, the jackhammer rhythm of my heart said some old part of me understood.
            Not who.

Bonnie Grove is a regular contributor to Novel Matters. 

There is room for you! We are still welcoming contributors. If you'd like to contribute to Out of the Garden, email us at and we will slot you in and explain the whole process. Remember, you will have time to write, rewrite, think, edit, and ponder your contribution--the story awaits you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I hadn't yet published a novel when Jan Karon first shared her Mitford character's recipes - in magazines, long before her Cookbook and Kitchen Reader came out - but I knew enough then to to be astonished that she found the time to write both novels and recipes.

And - being a less enthusiastic cook then than I am now - I didn't see the point.

What changed my view was Laura Esquibel's Like Water For Chocolate, in which every chapter begins with a recipe, and each recipe becomes a character in the story. Esquibel made me see that there are many ways to tell a story, that there are strange and marvelous paths being forged all the time, and one of the paths into story is food. She awakened for me a wanderlust for new narrative techniques, and also, I think, an appetite for creative cooking.

And that made me just a little less apprehensive when The Feast of Saint Bertie's publisher suggested I let them print India's recipe for the cinnamon rolls whose aroma wound it's way between the words of my book.

So here's a delicious idea: I'll print here India's recipe, and ask you to share a favorite recipe you found in a novel.

So here it is:

Note from India: It's up to me to keep the author honest. When Kathleen tried this recipe, I shamed her into using free-range eggs-just look up how they treat the chickens that lay the eggs you eat in the morning and ask yourself if any of God's creatures deserve such cruelty. But Kathleen wrote "organic" all over the place just so I'd shut up. Still, it's true, you can even find organic shortening if you look for it, and it's better for you. I make cinnamon rolls with organic white flour to keep my customers happy, but it wouldn't hurt you to make them whole wheat. Kathleen did, and even she admits they were delicious.
Grease enough muffin pans to hold twelve cinnamon rolls.
1/2 cup hormone-free milk
1/2 pkg. yeast
3T organic shortening
1T organic butter
1/3 c organic sugar
1/2 t salt
1 free-range egg yolk, beaten
1 1/2 c sifted whole wheat flour, or, alternately, white flour
melted organic butter
1/4 c organic brown sugar, packed
2 t cinnamon
1/3 c organic raisins
1/3 c organic walnuts
1/2 c organic corn syrup
1/2 c organic brown sugar, firmly packed
1/8 c butter

Heat the milk to boiling, and allow to cool till it's just warm. Sprinkle yeast over top. Cream shortening plus 1 tablespoon of the butter; stir in 1/3 cup sugar and 1/z teaspoon salt. Beat together till light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, the yeast/milk mixture and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured board. Roll the dough into a square about 1/4 inch thick. Brush the square with butter. Mix together the 1/4 cup of brown sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle the square of dough with this mixture, plus the raisins and walnuts. Roll the square of dough up like you're rolling a rug. Cut the roll into 12 slices.
Make the syrup by heating in a small pan 1/2 cup of corn syrup, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 1/8 cup of butter, till all are melted together. Pour a little of this mixture into each cup of your muffin pans. Place the slices in the muffin pans. Cover and let sit for an hour, or if you used white flour, till the dough rises to twice its size. Bake in a hot oven at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven, flip over the pans, and loosen the rolls. Then while the rolls are still upside down, lay the pan back over the tops of them, so the syrup will ooze into the rolls.

Now you go. I can't wait to taste what you have to cook.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Author Interview: Susan Meissner and A FALL OF MARIGOLDS

Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of fifteen books, including The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.

1. Susan, tell us where the idea for A Fall of Marigolds came from.
I’ve long been a history junkie, especially with regard to historical events that involve ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. A couple years ago I viewed a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the section of Ellis Island no one really has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are falling into ruins, a sad predicament the documentary aptly addresses. The documentary’s images of the rooms where the sick of a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. I knew there were a thousand stories pressed into those walls of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life in America. They were so close they could almost taste it. But unless they could be cured of whatever disease they’d arrived with, they would never set foot on her shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate in-between place – it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story.

2. What is the story about, in a nutshell?
The book is about two women who never meet as they are separated by a century. One woman, Taryn, is a 9/11 widow and single mother who is about to mark the tenth anniversary of her husband’s passing. The other is a nurse, Clara, who witnessed the tragic death of the man she loved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Manhattan in 1911.In her sorrow, Clara imposes on herself an exile of sorts; she takes a post at the hospital on Ellis Island so that she can hover in an in-between place while she wrestles with her grief. She meets an immigrant who wears the scarf of the wife he lost crossing the Atlantic, a scarf patterned in marigolds. The scarf becomes emblematic of the beauty and risk inherent in loving people, and it eventually finds it way to Taryn one hundred years later on the morning a plane crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.

3. Why a scarf of marigolds? What is their significance?
Marigolds aren’t like most other flowers. They aren’t beautiful and fragrant. You don’t see them in bridal bouquets or prom corsages or funeral sprays. They don’t come in gentle colors like pink and lavender and baby blue. Marigolds are hearty, pungent and brassy. They are able to bloom in the autumn months, well past the point when many other flowers can’t. In that respect, I see marigolds as being symbolic of the strength of the human spirit to risk loving again after loss. Because, face it. We live in a messy world. Yet it’s the only one we’ve got. We either love here or we don’t. The title of the book has a sort of double-meaning. Both the historical and contemporary story take place primarily in the autumn. Secondarily, when Clara sees the scarf for the first time, dangling from an immigrant’s shoulders as he enters the hospital building, she sees the floral pattern in the threads, notes how similar they are to the flames she saw in the fire that changed everything for her, and she describes the cascading blooms woven into the scarf as “a fall of marigolds.”

4. What led you to dovetail the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 with 9/11?
When I first began pulling at story threads, my first instinct was to tell a story about an immigrant struggling to remain hopeful as an unwilling patient at Ellis Island hospital. But the more I toyed with whose story this was, the more I saw instead a young nurse, posting herself to a place where every disease known and unknown showed up. It was a place like no other; a waiting place – a place where the dozens of languages spoken added to the unnatural homelessness of it. Why was she here? Why did she choose this post? Why did she refuse to get on the ferry on Saturday nights to reconnect with the real world? What kind of person would send herself to Ellis not just to work, but to live? Someone who needed a place to hover suspended. I knew something catastrophic had to happen to her to make her run to Ellis for cover. As I began researching possible scenarios, I came across the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which up until 9/11 was arguably the worst urban disaster to befall Manhattan. There were similarities between that fire and 9/11, including the tragic fact that many trapped workers jumped to their deaths rather than perish in the flames.  For every person lost in disasters such as these, there is always his or her individual story, and the stories of those who loved them. I wanted to imagine two of those stories.

5. One important plot element is the moral dilemma Clara faces when she discovers something about the dead immigrant’s wife that he does not know. What led you to include this story thread?
A good story has to have tension; there has to be some kind of force tightening the screws, forcing the characters to react and respond. The main character of any novel wants something and the tension increases whenever what she wants eludes her. Clara is desperate to keep love golden, perfect in her mind, and without sharp edges. This moral dilemma I impose on her forces her to truly ponder what she thinks she wants. Is love really at its grandest when there are no sharp edges to it all? I don’t think so. I think to love at its fullest means we might get hurt. Probably will. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth sharing, giving, and having. I include a line in the book that sums it up for me. “Love was both the softest edge and the sharpest edge of what made life real.” I think if we’re honest with ourselves we don’t want to settle for love being just as safe as “like.” Clara wrestles with what to do with her knowledge because she doesn’t want the beauty of love to somehow be tarnished; even it’s tarnished by truth.

6. Your last few novels have had historical components interwoven within a contemporary story. Why do you prefer that kind of story construction?
I think living in Europe for five years awakened my love for history. It’s like it was always there but my time spent overseas just woke it up. When I think back to the subjects I did well in and that came easy to me in high school and college, it was always English and history, never math or science. I appreciate the artistry of math and the complexity of science, but neither subject comes easy to me.  History has the word “story” in it. That’s what it is. It’s the story of everyone and everything. How could I not love it?  Study history and you learn very quickly what we value as people; what we love, what we fear, what we hate, what we are willing die for. History shows us where we’ve been and usually has lessons for us to help us chart where we’re going.

7. Are you working on anything new at the moment?
My next book is set entirely in England, mostly during The London Blitz. My main character starts out as a young, aspiring bridal gown designer evacuated to the countryside with her seven-year-old sister in the summer of 1940. Though only fifteen, Emmy is on the eve of being made an apprentice to a renowned costumer and she resents her single mother’s decision to send her away. She sneaks back to London – with her sister in tow – several months later but the two become separated when the Luftwaffe begins its terrible and deadly attack on the East End on the first night of the Blitz. War has a way of separating from us what we most value, and often shows how little we realized that value. I have always found the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside – some for the entire duration of the war – utterly compelling. How hard it must have been for those parents and their children. I went on a research trip to the U.K. in the fall of 2013 and I spoke with many individuals who were children during the war; some were separated from their parents, some were bombed out of their homes, some slept night after night in underground Tube stations, some watched in fascination as children from the city came to their towns and villages to live with them. This book explores issues of loss and longing, but also the bonds of sisters, and always, the power of love.

8. Where can readers connect with you?

You can find me at and on Facebook at my Author page, Susan .Meissner, and on Twitter at SusanMeissner. I blog at I also send out a newsletter via email four times a year. You can sign up for it on my website. I love connecting with readers! You are the reason I write.

Susan is giving to one lucky winner a gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card, a copy of the book, the DVD Forgotten Ellis Island, and a beautiful re-purposed infinity scarf patterned in marigolds and made from a vintage Indian sari. To be eligible, just leave a comment here between today and midnight Eastern on Friday, February 28. If you would like to see a list of the other participating blogs on this tour, just click here. Feel free to visit those blogs and increase your chances of winning by posting one comment on those blogs as well. One comment per blog will be eligible.
Additionally, there will be one winner of a signed copy of A Fall of Marigolds from among those who comment on this blog. Just leave a comment by Friday, Feb. 28 and you’re in the running for the grand prize as well as a signed copy of the book. Good luck!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Out of the Garden, part four

Part Four by Josey Bozzo ...

To read the full ongoing story, click here.

Yes, help her. That was exactly what I had to do. But how in the world was I supposed to do that? Where do I find medicine for a fairy? Touching her seemed unwise. Mishandling her fragile form might break her beyond repair.
Her weeping worried me. Was she in pain? With all the talk of liver damage from this pain reliever and recurring illness from others, just what was I to administer to a mythical creature? Perhaps she didn’t have a liver. I thought to Google “how to fix a fairy,” but quickly dismissed the idea.
            I longed to talk to Granny, but she was gone now. When I’d stayed at her house as a child, her stories enticed me to believe in fairies. I wish I’d paid better attention, but Granny had never told me what to do if a fairy landed broken on my doorstep. I was sure of that.
Granny’s stories were lovely, taking me back to a time when magic had been possible. Many a nights I'd slid into sleep with blissful thoughts of twirling around the garden in the moonlight with dozens of fairies flittering around me, the breeze from their wings moving my hair away from my face and tickling my cheeks.
I dropped to the floor again and peered into the box. Those were just dreams, this was real.
My head whipped up. My family had arrived. I looked down at Her one last time, reaching for the box lid, and said, “I have to go.”
I looked at Hector. The cat stared back, his amber eyes wide with interest. She’d spoken. The Her had spoken. I bent closer.
“Neachtar…” she said again, and closed her eyes, drifting, I hoped, into to healing sleep.

. . . To be continued next Friday.

Thank you, Josey!

Josey Bozzo is a treasured regular here at Novel Matters. You can read more of Josey on her blog here.
If you'd like to contribute to our ongoing story, contact us at and we'll add you to our schedule.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Take it – or Give it—Like a Man

With few notable exceptions, most of our NovelMatters community is female. And on Patti’s excellent Movie Monday post, the esteemed Amy Tan discussed why she wouldn’t want to write in the voice of another gender.

One writer, Brian McKenzie on his blog, Superhero Nation sagely advised that it can be done, if you are bold:

Because everyone knows at least some males, we all have expectations (stereotypes) about what a male character should be like. So I would encourage any woman writing a novel or story about a male character to be bold. Don’t be afraid to show men acting or thinking differently than females… we’re not just women with short hair! The worst case scenario is that your guys are too stereotypically male, which is easy to fix. Beta reviewers can point that out for you. It’s much harder for a beta reviewer to circle a passage and say “this is too timid– I think this guy should be more masculine here.” So I urge you to paint in bold strokes, rather than worrying about offending men or looking unknowledgeable.

(How's that for bold?)

I’ve tried my hand at that. In fact, one of my WIPs is told from both a female and a male point of view. Thought you might like to see my first-person-male account of an amnesiac who awakens among the dead on the battlefield of Antietam:

Not many people have the privilege I have, or perhaps it is a curse, to remember one’s own birth.

Of course it is all preceded by the time of great emptiness, where there is nothing; and only later does one acknowledge the time of nothing, the time before which things must have existed, but which I cannot access.

So I speak of what I first know, the time of great blackness, so profound that it pushes on the eyesockets like fists, to prevent them from opening.

The sounds. The sounds of moaning. The sounds of screams, of cries for help, of cries for God, of cries for mother, father, lover, wife.

Of cries for the mercy of death.

But I am mute, for I do not know what to say.

And I feel the press of wet humanity around me, first warm, then cool and stiffened like starched clothes left on a line.

And I—

I yearn for breath.

(From The Mists of Antietam, copyright Latayne C. Scott)

Admittedly, this person doesn’t have to be male. But later in the novel as he gains consciousness, I have to give him maleness; because no matter how profound his memory loss, he hasn’t forgotten that he is a man.

At the risk of inviting unfavorable comparisons of my slender work to those of literary giants, I ask you for other examples of people you know who created memorable characters of a gender other than his or her own.