Tuesday, August 15, 2006
A PIE, A SPELL...AND LITERARY MAGIC
Susan, her books, and her pie
Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.
--Henry David Thoreau
Around here blueberry season is awaited with particularly joyful expectaion. The plump little berry is not just gorgeous, succulent, and loaded with anti-oxidants, it's also reputed to be a favorite of muses everywhere. And anyone who's ever sat before a keyboard or a notebook trying to coax a story from a recalcitrant muse can tell you how just how finicky they can be.
Thus my friend Susan Messer and I began an August tradition. Every summer when the heat abates enough to turn on the oven and the blueberries appear in mesmerizing clusters, we bake a pie for our muses.
Like all traditions, this one has a history. The inspiration for this pie came from none other than Marilynne Robinson, who served me a similar concoction when I was was invited to her home for dinner. (The story of that, err, rather embarrassing, meal is here: SIMPLY WAIT: MY DINNER WITH A PULITZER PRIZE WINNER.)
Last year, we invited writers and creative people everywhere to join us as we attempted to spoil, delight and honor our muses with Susan's delectable pie recipe. As far as I know, no one did, but Susan and I baked with purpose and zest anyway.
Whether or not you believe in a little white magic, the results were startling. Last August, I was a an unpublished waitress, tempering my wild dreams as I polished the novel my agent planned to circulate in the fall. This August I'm holding the beautiful advanced review copy in my hand. (Is it just a coincidence that the cover is blue?)
Susan, too, had a remarkable year as a writer.
"Even I am impressed when I look back and see what's happened to me writing-wise this year ("this year" meaning July 2005 [post-pie baking, or ppb] through July 2006). I had a story come out in Glimmer Train (after years of submissions), an essay accepted by Fourth Genre, and a piece of creative nonfiction published in an anthology called Vacations: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I won second place in the Guild Complex creative nonfiction competition (judged by Alex Kotlowitz) and first place in the Moment magazine short fiction competition (judged by Judy Budnitz). As part of that prize, Moment flew me to Washington DC (where the mag is published) to read at an awards ceremony. An important sidelight: the winning story is the basis of the novel I am now working on. Other wonderful experiences included being interviewed on WBEZ (Chicago public radio) and WYEP (in Pittsburgh) about my writing, and being photographed as a writer (the portrait of me behind the pie) for a photography project. With all this in mind, I was more than anxious to see the blueberries come in this year at my local farmers' market, and once they appeared and I had them safely in my kitchen, I worked with special concentration on the pate brisee, cutting it and sprinkling it and tossing it and rolling it with far more than flour, salt, butter, vegetable shortening, and ice water."
If anyone would like to join us this year, please do--and make sure you post a picture and leave a comment so I can link to it.
The official literary blues recipe is here: SIMPLY WAIT: BAKE A PIE FOR YOUR MUSE.
And the spell is a fairly simple one, as magic goes (no bat wings or rabbit hearts necessary).
1. Ask your muse for three things--the answer to a tricky plot question, perhaps or insight into a character. (Don't ask me why there has to be three, but that seems to be a rule when it comes to magic..)
2. Listen intently for the answers.
3. Pay particular heed to your dreams.
Oh yes, and make sure you share the pie with someone you love. One thing I've learned from fairy tales is that magic never works if you don't share it.