Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A PIE, A SPELL...AND LITERARY MAGIC

susan's blueberry pie
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 Last August, I was a an unpublished waitress, tempering my wild dreams as I polished the novel my agent planned to circulate in the fall.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?)

literary blues pie

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.

40 comments:

rdl said...

I guess Mrs. Smith's wouldn't count.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

This post seems very timely for me both in my literary career, and because I love blueberries with a passion bordering on the criminal.

Where do I find the recipe for this particular pie?

xo
J

Patry Francis said...

r: Serve a frozen pie and you might get a frozen muse!

j: As a blueberry criminal, you HAVE to bake this pie. The recipe is in the
link BAKE A PIE FOR YOUR MUSE.

kathryn said...

My muse has been playing hard to get of late, so I definitely will try to woo her with blueberry pie. What an inspired idea!

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Patry, thank you for sharing your particular brand of magic! And oh my gosh, the book looks absolutely beautiful - what a treat to get a glimpse of it here. The pies look pretty darn good, too.

Sustenance Scout said...

Ditto, Patry! Love the cover!!

Susan Messer said...

I'll be honest, Patry. I didn't share my pie with too many people. I planned to because I was expecting my sisters and their husbands to visit--a rare event for us, since we're scattered across the country. There was my pie, ready and waiting. But most bizarrely, after weeks of planning and anticipation, airline reservations and pickup times coordinated, none of my sisters or their husbands arrived (illness, airline hassles). In the end, I did share the pie with Bill, a wonderful friend who had come over to fix my computer (and a piece to take home to his wife). But mainly it became a bonding thing with my daughter, who is leaving for college next week (sob). Every night, we sat down to blueberry pie together, a slice for her, a slice for me. And that was pretty special pie eating, whether or not the muse was impressed.

Patry Francis said...

kathryn: Make sure to post a picture so I can link to it!

sharon: Thank you! I'm pretty proud of that cover myself.

scout: I'm halfway through a really great book. Thanks again!


Susan: I can't imagine a more meaningful way to share the pie than with your daughter at this pivotal time in both your lives. How can the muse help but be bedazzled?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Love the cover Patry.

Tarakuanyin said...

Yumm. I'll have to try it. And your book is beautiful.

Amishlaw said...

Oh, my God! You had dinner with Marilynne Robinson, before she became famous with "Gilead"! My respect for both of you just went up another couple of notches. Unfortunately, I can't eat pie right now, but when I can, I'm baking a blueberry pie and will see whether that will lure the muse and Marilynne to my little Midwestern town.

P. A. Moed said...

Well, Patry, if you and Marilyn Robinson recommend this, count me in!
Did you hear whether the apple pie (the mystics say that the apple is the symbol of the feminine god) has the same power to invoke the muse?

P. A. Moed said...

Well, Patry, if you and Marilyn Robinson recommend this, count me in!
Did you hear whether the apple pie (the mystics say that the apple is the symbol of the feminine god) has the same power to invoke the muse?

Fred Garber said...

Patry....Please share with us the recipe that you use for that pie! I will try contacting my muse....but I think that I have been hanging out with Lorca's duende for too long. The duende beat up my muse one night and he has been hiding.

Patry Francis said...

Sandra: Thanks, and I love your new, impish photograph. Somehow I suspect that's the real you.

tarakuanyin: Thanks, and please do try the pie!

amishlaw: Yes, before she wrote Gilead, but after she was famous for Housekeeping (which remains my favorite.) Though already a literary luminary, M.R. was lovely and gracious (not to mention a fabulous cook). I, on the other hand, behaved a bit like a starstruck dorkflake.

Patti: First of all, so happy to see you back! I have no experience with apple pies, but it sounds like an interesting possibility--and I'm sure you could make a spectacular one.

Fred: Sounds like you definitely need a counter spell to break the duende's hold. The recipe is linked in the post. Please come back and share the results!

MB said...

I see a little baking in my future.

Patry, thanks for all your wonderful writing. Really.

Patry Francis said...

mb: baking, writing poetry, singing...your talents have no end. Such a pleasure to know you.

Brenda said...

Having your pie and eating it too :) And sharing it! A wonderful writing year for you; I love the photo of you and the book cover! And here's to even more great and wonderful books and events in the future! (And blueberry pie-baking, of course.)

elsie said...

I haven't baked a pie in years, but this weekend, I'll change that streak. Blueberries for my muse, coming right up. What an inspired idea!

Anonymous said...

I live in Maine. We have blueberries. I am also a witch. Your spell is kitchen witchery, and that is a purely good thing. Nothing is better than simple.

I might add, though: when eating the pie, say "yummy for my tummy" over and over. You ARE allowed to laugh; it's good for the spell. Then wish all those good feelings at your muse :)

Anonymous said...

That is FANTASTIC!!! The power of blueberry pie--- oh I loved this.

~bluepoppy

Patry Francis said...

brenda: having my pie and eating it, too--is the only way, as I'm sure that you, with your beautiful spirit, know!

elsie: Please come back and share your results!

anon. from Maine: Kitchen Witchery sounds like a good book title. Maybe in a few years there will be so many success stories from the Literary Blues Spell that I can compile them into a book.

Unfortunately, the pies were gobbled up immediately after I photographed them, and I don't think anyone said "Yummy for my tummy." Maybe next year? My sense is that the spell grows in potency the more people participate.

Blue poppy: As someone who obviously understands the muse's affinity for the color blue, your words mean a lot! Thanks for taking time from all the recent excitement in your own life to stop by.

chiefbiscuit said...

mmm very a-musing! And very appetisingly tantalising!

colleen said...

Well, my muse must be my son. I bake him a blueberry pie every summer for his birthday (which fulls smack in the middle of blueberry season) and have some wonderful photos of him with his pies. He has been incredibly lucky with his art career this year, so maybe ?? My blueberry season is over, so I'll have to try this next year. For now, I'll walk in moonlight. I know my muses like that!

Sara said...

Uh-oh...

Here's the problem: My blueberries are simply not making it into pies this year. Hell, it's all I can do to share them with my true love on our picnics. We've been eating them greedily raw, in big handfuls mixed with red grapes. That kind of mouthful is right up there with summer tomatoes in terms of power to remind a body why to live.

colleen said...

PS I forgot to say: Congratulations on manifestation of the book. It looks great!

elsie said...

Anyone who's interested can see my pie offering (along with a wordy post) at emotionaldiet.blogspot.com. The post is called: Blues for my Muse. Enjoy!

trish said...

What a great idea. The pie is cooling in the fridge as I type and I can feel my muse creeping closer...

Beautiful book cover and always interesting blog posts. Thanks for the reading.

Left-handed Trees... said...

I made the pie! I took pictures of it...I haven't posted them or anything yet--but, I DON'T cook so that I actually went ahead and created a homemade pie for my muse must surely count for some kind of extra credit! I am a new reader to your blog...but I went out on a limb, b/c who couldn't use a little creative mojo? Thanks for sharing it.

ainelivia said...

Oh so lucky, you live where blueberries grow. That photo of pies it is so mouthwatering, can't wait to try out your pie-spell, though it will be apple pie...

Susan Messer said...

Elsie,

I saw your pie but couldn't leave a message there because I don't have a password. It looks wonderful. And it's so funny and cool, to see these pies multiplying, reproducing.

By the way, how did you like your pie?

elsie said...

Susan, thanks! The pie was delicious, and inspiring. :)

Patry Francis said...

chiefbiscuit: "a-musing"--very good word. I'll have to find a way to work it in to next year's blueberry bakeoff!

colleen: From everything you've written about your son, I can tell he inspires you every day. (He even inspires me vicariously!) Enjoy that walk in the moonlight.

sara: Sounds like you don't need to make a pie. The kind of joy you bring to blueberry eating (and much else, from what I can tell) is surely enough to keep any number of muses happy.

Trish: Thank you! Meanwhile, I hope you'll come back and tell us how the pie was. Did you make three wishes?

Left-handed Trees: "Creative mojo"--a very good term. So happy you made the pie. I'll be watching your blog for results.

ainelivia: Hope you'll post pictures of the apple variation!

susan: Isn't it amazing to see the pies proliferating? I can imagine muses everywhere growing fatter and happier by the day--all due to your marvelous recipe. Thanks for all the inspiration you give me--and for always being the first to remember blueberry season.

Natalie said...

Patry, your book cover looks great - can we see a full picture of it? What joy!
I'm going to look at that pie recipe right now. I'll have to use ordinary supermarket blueberries but if baking this pie is what it takes to get that muse working for me, I'll bake it. I need her to make me go faster on finishing the preparation of the "God Interviews" for printing, and then to make it a huge success.
Thanks for this hint and fantastic good fortune with your book.

paris parfait said...

Wonderful, magical post. It's wonderful to see the advance copy of your book - and that dreams do come to fruition, pie or not. Great tradition - baking pies to feed the muse.

Patry Francis said...

Natalie: If you click on the pie photo, you can see the book cover in all its resplendence on Flickr.

Oh, and yes, you MUST make the pie. Rumor has it that even God is not immune to the power of the blueberry.

Paris: Thank you--and great to see you back!

Marilyn said...

What a year!! I am so very happy for your success. Although we've never met, I can't help but think that you completely deserve everything that's coming your way.

Patry Francis said...

Thank you, Marilyn, and I do believe we will meet!

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