Monday, June 28, 2010

My Pixar Moment

My range oven hasn't worked since it went crazy Thanksgiving day last year.  It's electronic brain just couldn't take it any more, so the default setting became EVERYTHING ON ALL THE TIME!!!  This turns out to be a very fast method of cooking, which would be fine if you planned on having dinner at 9:30 a.m.  We hadn't.

Most people opt for a meal time in early to mid afternoon on Thanksgiving.  The perpetual parade of football bowl games sometimes lingers in the background; the soundtrack of an American holiday.  This timing gives all gathered a chance to gorge, unbuckle, swoon & eventually head back to their own humble abodes down ribbons of highway engulfed in the gloom of a Pacific Northwest November.  I work on holidays, and by the time I got home, the frazzle effect on my spouse of the recalcitrant appliance was fully deployed.  Her immediate solution had been to turn off the breaker for the stove.  Then turn it on again when the oven cooled some, then off, then on.  Ingenious to be sure, but not very efficient, and it deprived her of practical use of the stove top, which otherwise worked fine.

I should mention that I am the go-to-guy for fixing things in my family.  I have tools of every description and actually know how to use them.  Upon arrival I deployed my diagnostic skills to great advantage and tackled the problem.  After several quick tests I had reached my conclusion:  "It's broken", I announced.  Apparently that had already been ascertained by the assembled hungry hordes.  My assessment was greeted with stifled yawns, glances at watches and an exhortation of exasperation from my beleaguered wife.

The immediate fix was to deploy some portable gas burners left over from our catering days, and fire up the BBQ to use as a makeshift roaster.  Dinner was achieved, gorge ensued, and the day ended happily enough.  The aftermath was this:  To repair the oven by replacing the computer board-$400.  Disconnect the oven elements-$-0-.  No-brainer, we now have a range-top with a large central storage capacity.

I told you that story so I can tell you this one:  For reasons irrelevant to this post, we don't own a microwave.  We do, however, have a toaster oven.  A nice toaster oven with a convection function we never use.  Another relic from catering.

A couple of days ago I was giving this little gem a thorough cleaning.  The sort of OCD cleaning that guys who fix things occasionally do, with the lingering notion of a full restoration.  OK, I'm probably not going to get the '63 Caddy Coupe deVille I've always wanted to make better-than-showroom, but I will by-gawd get this '98 Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven pristine.  This is when I had my Pixar moment.  

I found myself imagining the toaster oven as Woody in Toy Story 2.  Paint worn, arm coming un-stitched,  stuffing falling out.  Then the oven chimed in.

"Oh, sure," it huffed.  "Little Miss Cuisinart gets the royal treatment.  Look at you, shining her chrome, polishing her glass.  I had one little problem and now I get the cold shoulder."

"But she's earned it!"  I exclaimed in my mind.  (I get enough crazy looks from my wife without trying to explain defending a toaster oven to a range.)  "She's never let me down.  She's done so much more than just toast.  I've even used her to cook ribs low and slow overnight.  And bread pudding!  Don't forget the bread pudding."

The stove just sat there and stared at me.  Then quietly it said, "I know what you're planning."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You're gonna trade me in.  I know, I'm not a youngster anymore.  I'm not as stylish as I once was."  There was a wistfulness in her voice that was hard to miss.

 "No, I'm not," I said a little too quickly, trying to hide my guilt at having had that thought exactly.  "It's that your repair just isn't in the budget right now.  There's just Nancy and I, and we simply don't need a big oven all that much."

Stove eyed me closely, trying to decide if I was telling the truth.  I could see the doubt in her burners.

"Truly, we'll get you fixed before the next big holiday.  Besides, you know we cook outside a lot in the summer.  Think of it as a vacation."

"Ooooh, listen to her!"  The shrill voice of Cuisinart broke in.  "Those big, bright burners on top.  They're so showy, but she can't control herself when it really counts."

Oh, great, I thought, a feud between my range and my toaster oven.  This isn't going to end pretty.

Stove pulled in her bottom drawer a bit to draw herself up.  "You listen here, pip-squeak, you may be Ms. Reliable, but you can't cook a pizza.  You're too small, dainty, even." 

 "Okay, that's enough!  This discussion is closed," I announced.  I went back to cleaning Miss Cuisinart, and Stove sat fuming in silence.

When I had finished, I returned the toaster oven to its customary place of honor.  I plugged her in and set her clock, then stood back to admire my work.

"You know," I mumbled sotto voce to the little appliance, "Stove is right.  You can't handle a pizza."  Her clock flickered with a passing shiver of fear.

As I left the kitchen I thought I heard Stove say, "You just wait, both our days are numbered here."  Must have been my imagination.

Yesterday I was strolling the aisles of BB&B, looking at the housewares, thinking about sushi plates and wasabi bowls when I happened to wander through the small appliance sectionSitting there among her lesser rivals was Cuisinart's granddaughter.  She was sleek, modern, sexy.

"I can cook a pizza," she cooed as I walked by.  I stopped and turned to look at her.  I fondled her price tag.

"Ooooh, shiny!"  I said.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Reading to write right. Right?

Among the things of which I am sure-and those diminish at an alarming rate as I age-is that writers read.  Good writers read a lot, great writers read obsessively.  I daresay you could ask any serious writer what they are currently reading and most would give you a laundry list of novels, non-fiction, magazines, blogs, newspapers, cereal boxes, trade publications, political opinions and even other peoples' shopping lists.  This would most likely be in addition to the material dedicated to research on whatever projects are ongoing in the writer's own work.

Writers read for the same reason non-writers do:  To inform themselves, to derive entertainment, to escape from their own work and world for a moment to inhabit another, and often, for inspiration.  Most of us in the writing life have the requisite number of How-To books, Strunk & Whites, dictionaria, thesauri, Bartlett's Quotations, a few atlases, and sagging shelves of classic and contemporary authors.  We also read for the sheer pleasure of seeing the language used gracefully; for that sweet turn of phrase and, of course, to see where we might pilfer an idea or just steal a grand metaphor.  Unlike most businesses-writers don't have trade secrets-we pour our recipe ingredients onto the pages of our work and pray that the world will come to taste our creation.  The cruel reality is that many deserving writers will labor in obscurity.  Their work will never go beyond their circle of family and friends not because it unworthy, but just because it is unlucky.

I have long since abandoned the notion of 'catching up' on my reading.  There is just too much.  I won't have the time to get to everything F. Scott Fitzgerald or Jane Austen wrote.  I'm particularly fond of Dickens and Shakespeare, but can't imagine I'll ever finish my studies.  My imagination was fired and illuminated by Bradbury and Asimov;  educated by Chekhov and Poe on the short-story.  Harper Lee and Upton Sinclair kindled a modern social conscience.  And these were all writers of fiction.  I haven't even begun on the writers of biographies, science, politics, history and music.  Nonetheless, writers have fans, and are fans.  In the contemporary writers of fiction category I'm a fan of Ken Follet, Khaled Hosseni, David Guterson, and two fellow laborers in the literary garden, Robert Dugoni and Mike Lawson.

At a recent Northwest Pacific Writers Association event I had the opportunity to meet both of these authors and introduce myself to their work.  I'm glad I did.

Robert Dugoni is a New York Times bestselling author of legal thrillers that should put Scott Turow and John Grisham on notice:  There's a new voice in town and he's taking no prisoners.  Introducing attorney David Sloane in his breakout work The Jury Master, Dugoni showed that, well defined characters, crisp pacing, relentless action and page-turning excitement is just the beginning of a well-plotted, suspenseful series.  In this case I decided to start with the first book in the series.  Robert followed with Damage Control, Wrongful Death and is well into the promotion phase of his fourth, Bodily Harm, with this character--and now I have a new must-read author on my list.  Thanks, Robert, for the encouragement in my own work, and the entertainment I derive from yours.  Now all I have to do is catch up.  Sigh..a reader's work is never done!

Mike Lawson, also a New York Times bestseller, was gracious enough to sign and gift an ARC copy of his latest political thriller, House Justice, (ARC is publishing-speak for advanced readers copy-what is usually sent out for reviewers prior to publication).  This time I found myself engrossed in established characters, with back-stories I now must explore from his previous books.  Political intrigue in high places, shadowy figures, dead CIA operatives, bodies piling up, all linked to the mysterious 'unnamed source' of a journalist desperately trying so salvage a failing career, add up to a splendid yarn where no one in the book is quite sure who all the players are until the dramatic conclusion.  His style is straightforward, filled with tension, insight into the machinations of Washington D.C., and a firm grasp of unremitting motion in plot and characterizations.  Unforgettable and another fun read for thriller fans.  I highly recommend it, and look forward to catching up with his series, starting once again at the beginning with Inside the Ring.  From there I'll move on to The Second Perimeter, House Rules and House Secrets, while the rest of you are reading his latest.  Again, my appreciation to Mike for his motivation and kind words.

There you have it, this is just a peek at what writers do to write right.