Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Starting Over

Lent arrived last Wednesday, and with it came the inspiration not only to give something up but to use the time to renew a practice to which I had once been strongly committed--writing regularly here on my blog. Oh, I can offer lots of excuses for my disappearance--immersion in researching and writing my newest book, wearing multiple hats on my new day job--but it's not really about time or distraction. It's about commitment. 

So, here I am, starting over.

After a long period of isolation filling my narrow-ruled notepads with my new story, I suddenly find myself the recipient of several invitations to speak. Out loud instead of in my head. I have not forgotten how much talking to readers feeds my writing, and I am excited about all the opportunities to connect--not only through the written word but also through the spoken. The give-and-take, the curiosity about how and why I write, and the immediacy presented by book events is thrilling to me.

I hope if you are in the area where I am speaking you will stop by, listen and react.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bringing Back a Favorite Christmas Dish

NPR has been running a series this week on holiday food traditions among various cultures. Yesterday morning, it was Southern Italy’s turn with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The food described—everything was breaded and fried—was nothing like the meal I remember my grandmother and then my mother preparing, but the story nevertheless awakened some culinary longing.

My mother had a kitchen in our basement that I only recall being used for this Christmas Eve spectacular. The fish arrived early in the morning from Abel’s Fish Market, packed in wooden crates filled with chopped ice.

Shrimp, clams, calamari (squid), polpi (octopus) and lobsters were my mother’s responsibility. Baccala (dried salt cod) and eels were the specialties of my Aunt Susie.

These days, the only remnant of the seven fishes that still graces our Christmas Eve table has been shrimp, served cold with cocktail sauce, just as my mother did. But when my mouth started watering as I listened to the radio on my way to work, I realized I needed to recreate at least one other of my mother’s dishes this year to satisfy what is clearly more than a fond memory.

I decided it would be octopus. Succulent morsels of purple and white flesh, dressed lightly in olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and garlic. Most people cringe when I describe the huge pots of water simmering on my mother’s downstairs range with these many-tentacled creatures bobbing gently. It took a few phone calls to locate octopus in my very New England town, but I succeeded in cornering four of the twenty pounds the fish manager at my local supermarket had managed to secure. The octopus arrives next Friday, just in time for Christmas Eve. This is how I intend to prepare it:

4 pounds of octopus, cleaned and rinsed

1 whole garlic clove

1 bay leaf

1 cup celery, chopped in small dice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 4 lemons

1/4 cup chopped parsley

4 garlic cloves, chopped fine

Salt and pepper

Fill a large stock pot with water and bring to the boil. Holding the octopus with tongs, plunge it into the boiling water for 10 seconds. Repeat two more times, then return octopus to the pot and boil about an hour together with a clove of garlic and bay leaf. When done, you should be able to pierce it easily with a fork.

Allow the octopus to cool and then cut it into small chunks.

Blend the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and chopped garlic.

Toss the octopus with the celery and the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and garlic mixture.

Drizzle with additional olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Celebrating--Italian Style

I received an impromtu invitation last night to join the family party a friend of mine was hosting as a farewell to her cousins from Italy. They come from the same area of Italy as my paternal grandmother (Avellino), the setting for part of my novel, Dancing on Sunday Afternoons.

It was pouring rain and approaching darkness when I decided to take her up on the invitation. I threw on a raincoat, grabbed an umbrella and headed across town. It wasn't hard to find her mother's house--dance music was throbbing, the backyard was lit up and a tarp extended from the garage to protect guests from the rain. I was instantly embraced, kissed, dragged to meet all the relatives and handed a glass of homemade wine and a plate piled with gnocchi, meatballs and green beans sauteed in olive oil with wild mushrooms.

Three generations filled the backyard; my friend's brother, a musician, acted as DJ; everyone was dancing or singing. I looked around and felt as if I had been transported to my grandmother's house. Overhead was a grape arbor. Half of the backyard was a vegetable garden. In the basement, a second kitchen--not unlike the ones my grandmother, my mother and my aunt each had--served as the center for preparing meals for a crowd. As the evening wound down, someone pulled out an acoustic guitar. A father played while his daughters sang.

Everything about the evening was an affirmation and a reminder of my heritage. It echoed a scene from my book, Across the Table--a graduation party for Rose and Al's oldest son. When I went back tonight to read the passage, I was struck by the similarities:

"What a party! We received permission from the city to use the vacant lot behind the building. We strung Christmas lights and hired a band to play live music. Al's cousin welded some oil drums together and made us big grills to cook the sausage and peppers. We had all of Al Jr.'s favorite foods--lasagne, eggplant parm, sfogliatelle, even big tubs of lemon ice from Mike's Pastry Shop...The kids danced. My aunts sat on their plastic beach chairs, fanning themselves and pinching Al Jr.'s cheeks as if he were still a little boy. Papa and my uncles sat at a back table playing pinochle."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Craft/Making the Abstract Concrete

This is another wonderful exercise adapted from What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

Take one of the abstract concepts below and, using sensory details, give it life.


Friday, July 9, 2010


Yikes! I've been away a long time--enmeshed in the exhilarating and sometimes exhausting process of launching my new book, Across the Table. I've been traveling, meeting with readers and answering mail. As I've told the wonderful people who take the time to send me a note, I cherish every word. Knowing that my book has touched someone is one of the special rewards of being a writer.

I want to say a special "thank you" to my first Amazon reviewers. Here are a few excerpts:

"This is a story about families. Their love, struggles and their bond. The descriptive writing makes you feel like you are part of their world. You feel Rose's love for her family and Toni's pain to become her own woman. When you read Linda's stories you feel like you are inside the story. You become a part of her characters world. It is a must read and you won't want it to end."

"Linda's fluid writing style mixed with a touching personable doorway into cherished family stories captivates her audience and warms the heart in ways unexplainable."

I'm now off to a family wedding in New York. Lots to write about when I return!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Encounters/Book Expo America

More than twenty years ago, as a newly arrived expatriate living in Germany, I took advantage of my proximity to Frankfurt and spent a glorious day at the legendary Frankfurt Book Fair. I wandered from floor to floor, awed and excited about the range of human creativity contained between the covers of the thousands of books on display. By that time I was a published author in nonfiction, but still nurturing the dream of one day writing fiction. I left the Book Fair inspired (and exhausted!) and began writing my first novel the next day.

Fast forward to another book fair--the ongoing Book Expo America currently underway in New York at the Jacob Javits Center. I'm incredibly excited as I type this, because I'm about to leave for the city to attend the event as a signing author. Tomorrow, at the Harlequin booth at 11:00 in the morning and at the Romance Writers of America booth at 2:30 in the afternoon, I'll be autographing copies of my new release, Across the Table! If you are in New York and love books, please stop by for a chat, a book and some delicious biscotti.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Food/Pasta e Fagioli

I came home late this evening after a brain-numbing day reviewing my organization's Form 990--the tax return for nonprofit organizations. Traffic on the Mass Pike was at a standstill for awhile, an ominous reminder that my Friday evening commute lengthens as the weather turns warm. While waiting for things to start moving, my stomach started growling and I began to long for the comfort of a bowl of pasta. When I arrived at last in the kitchen, it was easy to pull together a staple of my mother's repertoire--pasta e fagioli--or, as it is commonly pronounced, "pasta fazool." A can of chick peas, a jar of chopped tomatoes, an onion, some garlic, basil and parsley, and a pound of pasta. We lingered over supper, as I hope you will too. Here's a simple version:

Pasta e Fagioli

1 pound shaped pasta, such as shells, elbows or ditalini
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 15.5-ounce can chick peas

Cook pasta according to directions.
In a deep saucepan, saute onions in olive oil until soft.
Add garlic and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes.
Add parsley and basil and stir to blend.
Add tomatoes and chick peas.
Simmer for ten minutes on medium heat, stirring frequently.
Serve with pasta.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Craft/Writing Prompt--More First Lines

I've been busy building my new website (soon to be launched--stay tuned), so today's writing prompt has been pulled from the pages of The New York Times. Some writers cull their ideas from the headlines; these prompts are the first lines of news articles. Have fun.

By age 12, she knew how to bake bread from scratch, braid a horse's mane, pin a kilt and set a dinner table correctly.

He clambered up and then down a narrow, rocky footpath that snaked around some hills, paying no heed to coffins that, in keeping with a local funeral tradition, hung from the surrounding sheer cliffs.

The monks, stifling their rage, mumbled a Tibetan prayer for the dead.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


In the last two weeks, I've encountered three widows--one a dear friend, another the writer Elinor Lipman, and the third a woman I know only by name who works in my building. They are all young by the standards one usually expects among the widowed. I cannot fathom the loss and the sense of unreality that shrouds their experience. My husband is standing at the kitchen sink right now, washing the dishes as he has done throughout our marriage. I drank from his glass as we sat at the table tonight, batting back and forth a decision our youngest child needs to make about traveling home from college after exams. Later on this evening, I know with assurance that I will be wrapped in his arms as soon as I climb into bed.

As a wife, I don't want to consider widowhood. But as a writer, I find myself in awe of the women who, confronted by such loss, try to find their way in this new and unwelcome role. My close friend, widowed only six months ago, is astounding in her reaching out to others not for her own solace, but to offer with grace and wit the friendship and mentoring that has been her trademark. She continues to give as she always has. A group of her friends--about 30 of us--celebrated her birthday in January, and everyone of us had a story of the influence and impact she had had on our lives.

Have you experienced a loss as profound as widowhood?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Inspiration/Marathon Running

My daughter ran the Boston Marathon on Monday, the culmination of months of training and incredible focus, not to mention the realization of a goal that probably had its origins when she was eleven years old and joined her middle school's cross-country team.

I'm in awe of her accomplishment, her dedication and perseverance. Her achievement makes one acutely aware of the possibilities open to us if we commit to the work and the practice. Running a marathon truly is putting one foot in front of the other--a phrase I often repeat to myself when I feel overwhelmed.

In writing, it's putting one word after another.