Saturday, August 23, 2008

THE PIE PRODUCES ANOTHER MIRACLE

By now, most of you know the story. You know how my friend, Susan Messer, and I bonded over a pie one August. But for those who don't, here's the short version: I'd written about a particularly wonderful blueberry affair I'd been served by no less the writer Marilyn Robinson. Susan contacted me to say she was sure she had the recipe.

Through e-mail, we came to know each other, two aspiring novelists who had placed short stories in literary publications, and won contests who worried that our dream of a novel would forever be elusive. We knew how fierce the competition was. We packed up our queries and our manuscripts hopefully. Agents wrote back to say they were sorry; but they just didn't love it. (Writers, you know how those lines ...you've memorized them, and probably taken them more personally than you should have. Not lovable? ME?...I knew it! Editors, already facing daunting stacks of agented work, would not even take a look.

It seemed a vicious spiral. So did Susan and I despair? Well, maybe for the odd day or two. But stop writing? Never. Every August, no matter what, we resolved we would bake the magical blueberry pie for our muse. And we would believe! (We would also have happy palates and famileis because this is a particularly delicious pie.)

This year, however, when blueberry season rolled around, Susan was worried. My health wasn't good and I was spending most of my days on the couch: how could I ever bake a pie?

I WOULD, I insisted. This, after all was a very important year, and I was going to recognize the muses if it killed me! This was the year when Susan had sold her novel!

I spotted the announcement in Publishers' Marketplace even before Susan did, and quickly zapped her an e-mail.

"Susan Messer's REMNANTS, Like Dust in Pocket Seams, exploring the human face of class, race, and ethnic frictions taking place in Detroit in 1967, the summer of the riots, to Christopher Hebert at the University of Michigan Press, for publication in Spring 2009, by Colleen Mohyde at the Doe Coover Agency (World)."



I'll always remember her response. "Wow, that sounds like a very serious book."

And it is. Serious and beautiful and filled with characters you will never forget.

I bought berries and cream, then urged my family to eat them before they went bad. I wasn't up to making a pie. Then I bought some more, and did the same thing.

But the third time, the blueberries (organics from Vermont) were particularly plump and sweet, and I was scheduled for surgery the next day. It was now or never! My son Theo dragged a stool into the kitchen so I could sit as I cooked...and behold, the muse was pleased. The pie was my best effort ever.

I asked Susan if she wanted to share something about our joint effort here, and she wrote back:

DSCF0326 (1)

"I guess the main thing I want to say is what a pleasure it's been to share this tradition with you for lo these many years. And as for writing metaphors . . . something I noticed this year . . . there's a point in the process when (regardless of past success) I'm filled with doubts. It's that step when you put the berries in a pot with the sugar and corn starch and lemon juice. You turn on the heat, and the instructions say to cook until the liquid thickens and the berries soften. But it just looks so . . . dry . . . for a few minutes there. It is dry. It's impossible to imagine that it's going to turn into something juicy. And I kind of push the mess around with my wooden spoon wondering. Until, without fail, the magic occurs. A complete transformation into something deep and blue and beautiful and bubbling. I have my crust anxieties, too, of course. Whether it will hold together and so forth. But that dry mix in the pot. I'm telling you."

DSCF0327 (1)

(I agree that it's a great metaphor for writing, but I've got to add it's helped me a lot in dealing with my illness.)

If you're a writer, you have to know how difficult it is for two novelists to dream and sweat and polish their novels into creation, and then to achieve publication. But that's what happened to Susan and me. Was it the pie that created the magic? I don't know, but I'm not taking any chances. Every August, for as long as I'm able (and sometimes, like this year when I'm not quite) I'm going to be buying organic blueberries; I'm going to be standing or sitting at the stove; and I'm going to be begging the muse for a story that will change hearts, and leave readers craving more.



DSCF0330 (1)

40 comments:

Zhoen said...

Muses love π.

Patry Francis said...

Zhoen: Husbands and kids, too...though I've got to admit that this year, I was my own biggest fan.

Alexandra Saperstein said...

Patry! The surgery is behind you and you're on the mend!!!!! and this pie looks unbelievably tasty!!!!! Did you ever see the movie Waitress? If not, I highly recommend it and think you would enjoy it, beginning with the pie parts! Sending love and hugs your way!

liz elayne lamoreux said...

this post moves me so deeply. how you write my dear...oh how you write.

you just might have inspired me to make my very first blueberry pie. (never made a pie without grandma or mom before...just might now.)

sending you blessings and warm, healing light.

Patry Francis said...

alexandra: Yes, I'm on the mend! Right now, the process feels very slow, but I have to remind myself how much better I feel now than I did a week ago. I loved Waitress! Oh, those wonderful pies!

liz elayne: So good to see you here! I hope you do make a blueberry pie. This one is particularly easy, and since most of the blueberries are left raw, the anti-oxidants are maintained.

gary said...

Now all is right with the muse...Blueberry pie is what was needed.

Get strong, get well, then get writing...we miss ya.

mapelba said...

I remember last year's pie, and am impressed. Maybe this year I should give it a try...

Many best wishes and god dreams to you.

Patry Francis said...

Gary: Thanks for being the first person to remind me that it was blueberry season, and for coming back to see the final result.

mapelba: Please do! The recipe is on the blog if you use the search function. I wanted to link to it, as well as to the other writers who made the pie, but linking was too much for me today. Thanks for the good wishes.

Lisa said...

I was thinking of this pie, wondering if there would be one this year, or if the muse would have to wait until next year. I'm so glad you were feeling well enough to bake it and share it with us. I'm so glad you are feeling better. You are amazing. Love from Denver. xo

kate said...

dang woman, posting a pic of that pie is just cruel (i'm on a no sugar/flour diet) may i have just a small taste? just one bite? please? ::sound of human attempting to eat a computer screen::nom.nom.nom.nom::

rdl said...

my mouth is watering, that is the most beautifully delicious looking pie ever!! wish i was there! next year!

tinker said...

You've convinced me - I've been depriving my muse, and my family (and me:) - we're all in need of a blueberry pie fix. I can't keep putting off baking that pie, for another August, whether it heats up the kitchen or not...
Congratulations to Susan - and you, for baking that pie, no matter what!

Dale said...

:-)

leslee said...

Oh yum, that looks so good!(As I sit here eating my blueberry pancakes - so much faster than pie!) Glad to hear you're doing better, and wishing you continued good recovery.

Dawn Anon said...

"I'm going to be begging the muse for a story that will change hearts, and leave readers craving more."


um, i believe that happens everytime you blog.

:)

robin andrea said...

A beautiful and tasty ritual to court the muses. Delicious art.

Carleen Brice said...

This brought tears. Congrats and love and great luck to you and your friend Susan!

Sky said...

i went back and found your recipe. thanks! next year when we harvest our blueberries i will make my honey one. i am always looking for new ways to use blueberries. it looks heavenly. :)

Patry Francis said...

lisa: It's not August without the pie! Love back to you.

kate: Maybe there's some way to adapt the recipe? I think it would be good crustless, and if you don't mind fake sugar...

r: I'll have to make you one some year for your birthday...You are a bit of a muse.

tinker: I'm thrilled for Susan! Thanks for the good wishes. x

dale: I never know what those symbols mean, but I'm sure it's something good...

leslee: Blueberry pancaskes! Nothing beats them.

oh dawn, you made my day!

robin: Unfortunately, the art didn't last long. I don't know about the muse, but I'm already craving another one.

carleen: Thanks! As one who understands the thrill of selling a book, you can relate.

sky: It's a great recipe, and I bet you have fabulous blueberries out there!

Becca said...

SO happy you were able to make the pie! That's a wonderful tradition, and obviously well worth continuing!

Congratulations to Susan on her novel - I'll be looking out for it, especially since I was grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and remember those horrible days of the riots - very frightening.

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

You have indeed honored the muses Patry, and the kitchen fairy as well. That pie looks scrumptious. I love the way you bake the crust first, then spread cream cheese? and then the berries. We've had a wild blueberry year out here, and the wild raspberries have been going non stop for the entire month. I find bear scat on my lawn but the bird feeders remain intact. Must be all those berries and bears with full tummies.xzsent

Patry Francis said...

becca: I'm so glad you remembered my blueberry pie tradition. It really has become something special. As for Susan's novel, it's a difficult part of our history. Maybe we're finally ready for an honest exploration.

beryl: Hmm...raspberries? I bet the pie would be great with a combination of raspberries and blueberries. I wouldn't want to mess with the official muse pie, of course, but I'm always looking for an excuse to make another one. Thanks for checking in on me, love.

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog on a link from Neil Gaiman about the Patry Francis Day. Since then I have checked everal times a week to see how you're doing and what delightful new thing you have to talk about.
I have read your book and found it haunting and and highly readable. Do you have another book in the works when you get your strength back?
God bless you.
Ancient Reader

JP/deb said...

Dear Patry,

Tradition and ritual grounds us ... it's a sense of belonging and belief that we're part of something greater. peace, JP/deb

floots said...

thank you both for taking me back to a hill in new england
where i first discovered that blueberries don't just grow in packets :)
and you've made me hungry again too
muses and metaphors watch ou

damianm said...

Oh Patry, you're making my mouth water very badly on a Monday morning. And now I'll have to try mixing the blueberries with cornstarch and lemon juice.

You're 'co-baker's' novel sounds like my cup of tea. Look forward to reading it on publication.

Susan Messer said...

Patry,
Thanks so much for this lovely post. It has been a pleasure to have this annual ritual with you and to see how many people you've managed to bring along with us. I'm working on final (I hope) revisions of the novel now (due out in fall 2009), but I don't think I'll make any revisions in the pie recipe. Though once, I did use a mix of raspberries and blueberries (splendid). And Beryl, it's whipped cream, not cream cheese, though I'm guessing cream cheese would be pretty wonderful.

Anyway, Patry, it was heroic that you managed to make a pie this year, and I am grateful for that. And thanks to Becca and damianm for your interest in my novel.

Patry Francis said...

jp: You're so right. This particular ritual even made me forget my illness for a day.

floots: Thank YOU for reminding me how fortunate we are to have blueberries locally. There's so much we take for granted wherever we are.

damian: I have only read an excerpt from Susan's novel, but I'm sure you'll love it.

susan: The pleasure has been mine, dear. I'm so glad the pie brought us together.

Patry Francis said...

Ancient Reader! How did I miss your wonderful message? Thanks so much for your kind words on THE LIAR'S DIARY. And, YES, I'm working on a new novel. Hope to have it to my editor by this fall. P.S. Neil Gaiman brought me the most terrific readers...I'll always be grateful.

colleen said...

Good for you, Patry! This is a wonderfully uplifting story and sequence of photos, with a wonderful resolution/product in the end. The Muses must be smiling. I am.

I had a blueberry pie at my 40th class reunion dinner this year and thought of you. Then, I couldn't stop thinking about the pie (it was homemade) and wanted to go back to the restaurant to eat more but never got around to it. I followed that beach trip with one in Bethany Beach to visit Joe's family. His sister made all these desserts, none of which interested me, brownies and such. I secretly said to Joe, "I wish she made pie." Lo and Behold the next night a friend and neighbor came by with a still warm cherry pie (my second favor pie)! People couldn't understand why I was so excited and didn't know that I had been craving pie for weeks. My enthusiasm was so obvious, the guy (yes, a guy baked it) said, "Wow, I think I might get lucky tonight." A photo of me and him with the pie on our plates is one of my favorites from the summer.

Sustenance Scout said...

Have to comment that Colleen's story just cracked me up! There's nothing like pie for a pie craving. I'm also grateful for this tradition, Patry, though my family thinks I only follow it because "you have to make blueberry pie in August." My muse (and you) know better, though. Your story, btw, is indeed heroic. Hugs, kiddo. Love, K.

Patry Francis said...

colleen: I almost popped my staples laughing about the guy and his cherry pie (which I'm now craving.)

K: I'm so glad you made the pie, and that your family now sees it as an August ritual. Love to you in Denver. Must be a pretty exciting place to be right now!

deb said...

"I'm going to be begging the muse for a story that will change hearts and leave readers craving more." ... ah, Patry, the muse delivers. :)

Blessings on you, your pie, and all the other bits of jucinesses in your life. (and thanks for sharing them w/us ...) xo Deb

Fiona Robyn said...

That pie looks SO good. I just saw your comment on Cheerio Road - I love Karen's writing so much. She's very wise, so you have that in common... Seems like a very small world sometimes! Hope all's good with you, Patry.

Patry Francis said...

deb: I feel those blessings, every one. Thank you for being here.

fiona: Yes, the blogosphere brings people together in inexplicable ways. I was thrilled to find Cheerio Road!

paris parfait said...

Oh Patry, your tradition seems magical. So glad your friend had good news too. xo

Liquid said...

Slurp!

Anonymous said...

Nice blog~
www.gold007.net

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

徵信,徵信,徵信,徵信,徵信,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,

Anonymous said...

Before finding out about links of london uk watches you should be familiar with some of the terminology. cheap links of london The word horology has two meanings; it is the study or science of measuring time links london jewellery or the art of making clocks, watches, and devices for telling links of london sale time.Since the first appearance of man on the earth an effort has links of london silver been made to determine time.The tracking of the sun's movement across discount links of london the sky, candles that were marked at intervals.Water clocks did links of london bracelet not depend on the observation of the sky or the sun.