Invitation to Time Travel

I was recently asked for an interview with the Pittsburgh Examiner. This turned out to be questions about History in general, with an invitation to time travel. Here are my answers. You can imagine yours.

(I’m traveling without much internet, so I can’t pretty up this post. Sorry).

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Just life, WWWS

Life gives writing prompt

imagesThe other day I was crossing the parking lot of the Knoxville Museum of Art when a young man got out of a dusty van wearing a full length tie-dyed robe. Time warp to the Sixties? He seemed to be leading a Great Dane. No. It was a billy goat with decorated halter. “Excuse me,” said the man.  “Do you know where I can find some wi-fi?”
Not the question I expected. “Someplace you can take him?” Meaning the companion animal.
“No. My friend needs it.” He pointed vaguely at the van. A shadow inside might be the “friend.” Or another goat. I directed them to the public library, which unfortunately only allows service animals (including goats?) and has no forage nearby. But it was the closest wi-fi I could think of.
The van license said Virginia.
I’m wracking my brain for structure of a fourth novel which (so far) features no goats. So the opener is yours. What drove them from Virginia to Knoxville?  Where are they headed? Why the goat? Why the robe? What were they going to Google? Have fun.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Writing

Too much audience involvement

imagesWhen I was about 11, my parents took me to a Broadway production of All the Way Home which nearly ended badly from an excess of dramatic involvement. Based on Agee’s Death in the Family, a young father dies in a car accident on a bumpy back road. The grieving widow’s none-too-helpful brother is explaining how Jay hit his chin just hard enough on just the exact “right” spot to create a fatal blow. A half inch over, the brother continues, and Jay would be right here with us, or . . .  a little to the left or right, or with less force, he would be horribly crippled. Imagine, just that one spot . . .

The drama barreled on, but I didn’t, musing on the mystery of that spot. I leaned forward, tapping my chin thoughtfully on the seat in front of me until a strong hand took me by the shoulder and yanked me back. “Stop that!” my father whispered.

“I was just trying to find . . . ”

“Well don’t.” That’s the problem with drama. You want audience involvement but maybe not too much.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Just life

Terror of hired hands

3759007Years ago there was a children’s book, Flossie and Bossie, about two Bantam hens, the good, drab one, Flossie, and the mean, beautiful, vain Bossie. And their transforming friendship. I remember it as pretty gripping.

imagesHowever there was a spook element for me in this drama of the hen house. Major figures are the hired hands, who I believe don’t have names. See the black and white illustration by the great Garth Williams (he also did  E.B. White’s children’s books). Only hands. Never a body. Somehow these “hands” walked, talked, thought, ate. So of course I was spooked, especially when it turns out they lived in a house which first Flossie and then Bossie visit. A special house built for hands?  What did their chairs look like? Did they sleep in hand-beds? Was the boss a regular person or was he a hands-only being too? It’s the sort of thing to keep a kid up at night.


Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Just life

What’s your excuse?

images“Writer’s block” adds a lovely sense of entitlement and specialness to the malaise. After all, nobody sanctions “pediatrician’s block” or “fireman’s block,” as in: “You know, I just don’t feel like taking care of your kid, or putting out your house fire today. I’m just not into it.” Other professionals just cowboy up and do their work.

Yet writing is so much about walking off a cliff. The time lapse between the first idea and the book/digital copy in your hand is so long, and the vagaries of “success” are so many. It’s just so hard, and so difficult to know when you’ve got it right. So one thinks . . .

I’m too old/young to do this.
My life has been too easy/hard to write.
Who cares about my idea?
My idea is great but XYZ did it better.
My style is too risky/mainstream.
The opening was OK, but it’s falling apart in the middle.
I can’t end this thing.
Other people have more important jobs.
I should do one of those other jobs.
Look, the garden needs weeding. The clothes need washing.
Someone has to watch the paint dry.
Something’s not working but I don’t know what.
I know what the fix is but I don’t know if I can do it.
Look at the trash that’s gobbled up. Who wants what I do?
Just a little more research . . . just a lot more research . . . and then I’ll write.
My life is difficult enough. I don’t want to feel my character’s pain too.
I thought I had “it” but maybe I lost “it.”

And so on. Yet we go on.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Writing

Elegance of Onion Sauce

images-1One wouldn’t think that a pasta sauce made mostly of onions would be so elegant, beguiling, and comforting too, but it is. With an abundance of onions this evening, I made a version of a heartier sauce I’d seen on menus in Naples. Here is a recipe for four people.


4 medium yellow onions, peeled & sliced thin

1 stick butter

chicken or vegetable broth

3/4 C heavy cream

Tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta, about 1 lb

Salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, parsley


Saute the onions in the butter over low heat until soft but not brown. Covering the pan tightly, but stirring often helps to avoid  browning. Add enough broth to barely cover. Cook, covered, 15-20 minutes, again, watchful that the onions don’t brown. You don’t want brown. (Meanwhile, start heating salted water of pasta)  Add the cream to the onions. Puree the mixture. I used an immersion blender. The point is not to over-blend. You want some texture. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg (freshly grated if possible). Keep warm while the pasta cooks. Drain the pasta, Mix with warm sauce. Put in bowls, sprinkle on parsley. Pass the Parmesan. I added some pitted salt-cured black olives because I love them, but that does complicate the color theme of cream with a touch of green from the parsley.

For a rumination on cooking onions and the creative process, see my blog: “Onions & the Cost of Fiction.”

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Food

Onions & the Cost of Fiction

imagesSome years ago, I came across a recipe for onion flowers, saw therein a metaphor for the cost of writing fiction, and wrote about that. I made a simplified onion flower today and thought I’d share the original piece with you.

To make an onion flower

To make an onion flower, peel the onion well, removing all its paper skin, but keep the root end whole. Then slice top to toe in parallel, but don’t cut through the root. Now give the whole a quarter turn and make your cuts again. The bulb will open like a flower. Set aside and go on to the next. Working thus with onions, most likely you will cry. There are tricks of course, we all know tricks: rinse your knife in water, hold a match between your teeth, squeeze a lemon on the board. But if you make this dish for many friends, get a towel to wipe your eyes and go on with your work. Push cloves of garlic and bits of butter deep inside each onion flower, then nest them in a buttered pan and sprinkle all with chopped pecans. Now bake at least an hour, basting all the time. It takes time and care to make an onion sweet.

When your guests arrive and see what you’ve prepared, they may exclaim, “Look at that, she made us onion flowers!” Most likely they won’t ask you if you cried. It’s enough to see them eat and ask for more, even those who don’t like onions. If once-filled plates wink back at you, your dinner’s a success.

Soon good talk rolls in waves around the table, stories hooked on stories. Perhaps you’ll tell your own, but not the new ones with their flavors all un-mixed and raw. It’s better you reach back. “A man I lived with seemed so good, but then he turned,” you may begin, “it happened in a day.” Now suddenly you taste again the bitter stench of burned-up dreams, like salt in tea, like soured milk you drank as if you had no choice. You wouldn’t now, but you did it then. Still, telling this won’t make you cry as the living it once did, in that old house when no trick helped, no match held tight between the teeth. For rinsed or not, a knife cuts deep and it has taken years to season pain and serve it up for guests. The others listen, nod, and then go on. Another tale, dessert and drinks, then someone says, “Let’s have a game.” When both teams break the rules to win, the captains laugh and call a tie. Now one by one your guests go home, all kissing you good-bye. They’ve had a lovely time.

But late that night, while stacking dishes up to wash, if you raise your fingers to your face, there’s no mistake: the onion smell remains – enough to make you cry again. For that smell can never leave the cook who keeps the root end whole and peels off all the paper skin.




Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Just life, Writing

August 5, Knoxville Welcome Wagon

August 12, Literary Rounds: University of Tennessee Medical Center

October 9-11. Southern Festival of Books, Nashville.

Swimming in the Moon will be published in German. November, 2015

For more events and specifics, please click on Events.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree"

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts.

Join 2,030 other followers


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,030 other followers

%d bloggers like this: