Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Song Lyrics That Apply To My Writing

As I roamed around YouTube recently looking for songs to practice up for karaoke on my next cruise, I discovered some lyrics that reflect my life as a writer.  “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” as Fleetwood Mac advises, reminds me that writing is about moving forward, being available in all the right places, and doggedly persisting in the hard work required to have a successful career.  A support group of empathetic writer friends, especially my Sisters of the Quill, have been the “Wind Beneath my Wings” as Bette Midler called it.   

There are times when even my diligence and best laid plans are thwarted by a lack of time.  Jim Croce’s “If I Could Save Time in a Bottle” reminds me that finding time is unlikely but sacrificing sleep is possible.  I’ve been nurtured by seasoned writers, mentored.  And I believe in giving back.  As often as time permits, I help out, advising those who need it, and say to them “You've Got a Friend in Me” as did Randy Newman.  Donna Summers’ song, “She works hard for the money,” is self explanatory.  The Beatles remind me to “Let it be, let it be,” when it comes to receiving critique.  Instead of defending my words to agents or beta readers, I take notes and decide after digesting them what I want to do with those suggestions.  Though I can feel raw at times when hearing what I’m not prepared to hear, questioning input while receiving it is likely to shut doors in the faces of those who might otherwise help me in the future.  I listen and learn.

There’s one song that particularly applies to my journey; Smokey Robinson’s “I’ll Try Something New.” When one genre didn’t pan out, I tried another and another and another.  This train of “tries” freed me up for different successes.  I started with a mainstream novel.  My agent at the time took that novel to auction.  It failed to sell (which is another story).  I’ve written in numerous genres since, some now in a drawer.  Others met with more success: short stories, poetry, nonfiction articles, screenplays, and a cookbook.  It turned out I had nothing to lose in branching out and trying other genres.  It gave me experience in a wide variety of work leading to a part time editing job, publication in glossies, a produced screenplay, teaching opportunities at conferences, retreats, and on cruises, and ghostwriting gigs (including a life-lesson celebrity experience).  Exposure over time led to offers of representation by five literary agents, a Hollywood agent, and most recently an invitation to write a column for Barnes & Noble partner BTSemagazine—apropos, the column capitalizes on my many writing detours.  Additional forays have led to guest blogging invitations and other social networking opportunities that will help when a novel comes out, a screenplay hits the theaters, or a cook in England tries one of my recipes.  

That brings me to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” reminding me that I am and will continue to be rewarded for all my efforts.  And you will, too. 
What songs speak to your writing life?   -  Inkpot

Monday, August 19, 2013

Foggy Book Trailers!

Trail Winds
by Janet Fogg

Fogg in the Cockpit
by Richard and Janet Fogg

by Janet Fogg

Sunday, August 11, 2013


One of my favorite food related adventures was the Tuesday food exchange with my Columbian friend, Zahydee.

Every first and third Tuesday of the month, I tapped into my cache of memorized recipes and doubled up on a coordinated meal. I called Zahydee. She bounced down the sidewalk, sniffed her way through my door, down the hall, and into my kitchen. We sat down to one of my well-rehearsed spreads: Greek or Persian, sometimes Italian or Hungarian. All the time I’d spent experimenting paid off in her smile.

On the second and fourth Tuesdays, I was treated with an exotic array: Columbian empanadas, cucumber salad, and a no-holds-barred version of tripe soup quite different than the menudo I’d enjoyed in good Mexican restaurants.

Zahydee's tamales
 My favorite, by far, were the Columbian tamales. By now I’d wrapped a variety of husk-filled little logs representative of several Mexican regions. But her green bundles were new to me, each an enfolded bit of paradise.

Replacing the more familiar cornhusk with emerald green banana leaves, the steamed result delighted with uniquely flavored masa, onions, and chicken. Upon digging deeper, I found unexpected carrots and green olives.

  Though jobs inevitably took Zahydee and me to different states, ending our Tuesday swap, she gave me a parting gift I’ll be forever grateful for. She taught me how to make Columbian tamales. I couldn’t bear the thought of depriving myself of the occasional banana leaf wrapped wonder. Thank you Zahydee for teaching me one more recipe I could add to my cookbook!
-Good Cooking!  - Inkpot (AKA Karen Albright Lin)
Columbian Tamales

Thursday, August 8, 2013

COOKBOOK TALK: Why I Cook in Leaves

My infatuation over the Galloping Gourmet ended abruptly once I discovered three-dimensional real-time boys.
     Latino hunk, Manuel, swept me off my middle school, size five feet.  It was on his tie-dyed bedding, surrounded by black velvet rock art and the required black lights, that I had my first…
     The doctored masa with a choice of fillings steamed in cornhusk qualifies in my book as food cooked in leaves.  What’s a husk if not a glorified leaf with static cling?  I must have known I’d someday write this cookbook.  You could say I used Manuel for my tamale education.  But, he got even ten-fold using me for my social studies test answers.  Our mutual opportunism ended after a mouthwatering two weeks.
     I honed my taste for the exotic with Freshmen crush, Eric.  His Behemian father gave me smuggling tips for getting betal leaves into the US.  They are stimulants and anti flatulents (the latter, I joked, was the reason commercial importations are banned). 
betal leaves
The mildly addictive cousin of cocaine is commonly sold on the streets throughout Asia where people wrap betel nuts, lime and spices in them. 
Pate in Cabbage Leaves
A Hungarian defector helped me refine my stuffed cabbage galumpkies. At left is a later rendition, an entire cabbage stuffed with pate and served cold as an appetizer.  Later a twine-thin African American broke every food stereotype by eating only endives (sans the filling I offer up in the cookbook). 
Stuffed Endives
His anorexia made him much less appealing around meal times.  Then there was the Jewish intellect.  He liked kosher stuffed cabbages but not his mother’s corn flakes-coated gefilte fish.  He confused me with one set of dishes for dairy and one for meat, a yearly clearing of the yeast, and his inability to de-bone fish on the Sabbath. 
Then came first generation Christophoros, AKA Greek God.  I loved him as only a food-crazed high school girl can love.  Everything about him tantalized my senses. 
I could smell his house from a block away, like approaching the Greek Orthodox gate into heaven: garlic, onions and green peppers browning in extra-virgin olive oil, tomato and lemon juice simmering with bulgar, goat feta and something briny that turned out to be preserved grape leaves, which developed into an obsession that lasted beyond the six years we dated. 
Chris’s mother, Helena Papos, was an olive-chubby Cypriot who stood only as tall as my shoulders.  But she was a giant if measured by her pastichio and baklava.
She taught me what I needed to know to marry her son.  The path to his eternal devotion, she assured me, led right to his stomach.
No one could more skillfully incorporate kasseri cheese into bread, fold spanikopita into perfect triangles, or better teach the fine art of filling and rolling vine leaves into dolmathes.  
“Every girl should make dolmas,” Helena said with pinched Os and not-quite D’s. 
She instructed, “Pull the clump of leaves from the jar.  Rinse.  Flatten one out on the counter, veins up. Now add filling like this.”
I emulated.

“No, no, not enough.  You’ll starve my Christophoros to death with that pea-sized filling.”
I scooped more onto the leaf.
“Roll like this.  Like a cigar.”
I was suppose to know how cigars were rolled?
“Side near you up.  Two sides in.”
I copied her motions.
Over the next half hour, we rolled and wrapped and packed the Dolmas until we had enough to satiate all the circle dancing members of a typical Greek wedding reception.  We’d sealed the stuffed leaves, we’d sealed our friendship.
Thanks to Helena, I was hooked on cooking in Leaves.
Inky - AKA Karen Albright Lin

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Teaching Through the Baltic – Copenhagen

Rosenborg Castle
I kept a journal as I visited ports, befriended people of various nationalities, and taught writing courses on sea days. My trip informed my writing. I learned a lot about people from the Baltic, an area of the world I’d never explored. True of all my trips abroad, travel exposed me to the authentic cuisines of other countries, important since I’m a food writer among other genres.
http://sistersofthequill.blogspot.com/2013/07/teaching-through-baltic-part-three-beer.html   I conquered preconceived notions while conversing with post cold war Russians and two beer-drinking, twice-our-size brothers from Amsterdam: I wiped out a few stereotypes like discovering that few Scandinavians are tall, blonde, and model beautiful--at least in the cities we visited.

Crown Jewels
I learned that people on the other side of the pond are even more politically frustrated than we are. The Brits and Danes resent high taxes, welfare run-amok, national health care, and immigration of Muslims who don’t assimilate. The Scotts resent the Brit’s control over them “for the oil” and their disparity of wealth. Every country represented on ship and shore was crushed by inflation (9 dollars for a gallon of gas).

Rosenborg Castle
 Unusual characters in life might just inspire protagonists and antagonists on the page. We found super quirky in Copenhagen. Danes have a sense of humor. Or at least Christian the IV did. He covered his insecurity and paranoia with hodgepodge décor, a slapped-together art collection, pompous attempts to wow his visitors, and a penchant for practical jokes. Though St. Petersburg’s Church of Spilled Blood had the most remarkable building exterior of the trip,  http://sistersofthequill.blogspot.com/2013/07/teaching-through-baltic-part-two.html The Rosenborg Castle had the most memorable interior. Built between 1606 and 1617 it contains peep holes in the bedroom doors, as if enemies could somehow make it past guards. He added secret tiles in the floors that allowed music to mysteriously drift up from the orchestra the king relegated to the basement, all to wow his guests. He had deceptive tapestries woven to depict himself triumphant on horseback, leading Denmark as it won battles against their neighbors; we were assured by the museum docents that they won some sea battles but never the land battles and ultimately they lost.

Unicorn Horn Chair

Envying other royals the king had minions travel about purchasing random art. They trimmed them down to fit panels in his home, creating a mosaic of unidentified works on his ceilings and walls proving him to be a snob with bad taste. He claimed his ivory throne was really made of unicorn horn. An ornate tile restroom reminded us of the wanting hygiene of the day; a hole in a wooden bench led right out to the Castle’s moat. If the King’s bad taste didn’t drive them away the stinky moat surely would have. The four corners of a long hall had different corners of the world represented.  Europe with an owl, Asia with a camel, Africa with a lion, and the Americas with a head with an arrow shot through it.

The highlight of tacky was the king’s “wet pants chair.” He asked a guest to sit in a red velvet chair, anchored him in at the arms then poured water down a custom cut hole in the back. It dripped down and wet the pants of his victim. Then to add insult to injury, when the hapless visitor stood, the chair made a farting sound, a velvet whoopee cushion. This king was a piece of work, and if the portrait of him in a long hall was any indication, he was extremely ugly, too. So ugly Wen thought the painting might even be a joke, but I doubted it since his Majesty was insecure and wouldn’t likely allow anybody to depict him in this way without chopping off a head.

As writers we sometimes go on unexpected adventures. Copenhagen was no different for us. We hopped on and climbed to the top of an open-air bus to make our way past the famous Tivoli Garden amusement park (claimed to be the most famous in the world – Disney step aside). After several minutes and the departure of other tourists, Wen noticed we were quite a ways off the map’s route. Fun sidetrack? Not really since we were going to be late for the departure of the ship if the route wasn’t as advertised. I climbed down and heard the gasp of the driver as I approached with a map and asked where we were. He didn’t realize anybody was still up top and was almost to the bus depot! So he headed to the port, huffing resentment that his day was going to be thrust back on its usual schedule; he wouldn’t get to quit for the day an hour early.

Little Mermaid
We got off before the usual port stop a short walk from the ship to see the Little Mermaid who inspired the Disney movie but had a more European fate, having lost her land-locked love after giving up her tail for him. A forlorn wisp of a girl, she was smaller than I had imagined her.
Many things in Copenhagen weren’t as I’d imagined them. I like that about travels. I like that about writing fiction. What was the most unexpected thing you ever saw or did while traveling? 

- Inkpot