Julia Glass Answers the HN Questionnaire

Writer: Julia Glass

Currently residing in: Marblehead, Massachusetts

Website: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorJuliaGlass (This page, maintained by my publisher, is the closest thing I have to a website.)

Blog: Periodic ramblings on the Facebook page

On Twitter? You mean Twaddle?

What’s going on in your writing life right now? Aside from too much procrastination (my chief enablers a recalcitrant garden and two scofflaw puppies), I’m well into writing my next novel. I’m also trying to catch up on Facebook blogging now that my most recent novel, The Widower’s Tale, is out in paperback.

What’s your writing routine? I am, to my chagrin, as capable of maintaining a routine as I am of skippering an aircraft carrier. Fiction is my most important work, and I do spend part of every day pondering and scheming out the lives of my characters, but I transcribe those daydreams only in sprints: say, for a few hours daily over two or three weeks. Then I may go for another couple of weeks without adding a word; often I’ll work on nonfiction writing then.

What do you usually eat for breakfast? As of a year ago, I eat the same breakfast virtually every day: vanilla Greek yogurt with fresh or home-frozen fruit: usually berries; stone fruit if in season (plus wimpy American coffee with lots of milk).

What good books have you read recently? To the End of the Land (David Grossman), The More I Owe You (Michael Sledge), Emily, Alone (Stewart O’Nan), A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True (Brigid Pasulka), Extraordinary Renditions (Andrew Ervin)

What did you eat for dinner last night? Vegetarian chili, inspired by orphan veggies from our weekly CSA farm share, with grated Parrano cheese and whole-wheat garlic bread. For dessert, blueberry cake—the recipe an heirloom from my Maine-raised mother-in-law—with vanilla ice cream.

Writing rules you live by: Persevere, even to the point of denial. Read well. Revise like crazy. Back up files. Don’t visit the refrigerator too often.

Foodstuffs you’re fiending these days: Corn, tomatoes, purslane, berries, peaches (all the carpe diem summer produce that’s good for such a brief time); ice cream (because it’s so hot . . . but that’s just an excuse); chocolate (the mother of all cravings)

A scene or piece you’ve written that features food: The protagonist of my second book, The Whole World Over, is a pastry chef. I had wondered, at first just for amusement’s sake, if I could write an entire novel whose events unfold because a particular person eats a very particular piece of cake. Well, I did. The story begins when the (fictional) governor of New Mexico, while in New York City for a convention of Republican governors, tastes my protagonist’s signature coconut cake and invites her to “audition” for the job as his personal chef in Santa Fe. I described the cake in detail—a figment of my sweet-tooth fancy—and after the book came out, a flesh-and-blood pastry chef brought it to confectionary life for a literary festival event. She was faithful to my description but declared it too sweet. She was right; I loved it anyway. I wish I’d made her give me the recipe.

Favorite restaurants:
Morandi, Union Square Café, Blue Ribbon on Sullivan St., Mary’s Fish Camp, Don Giovanni, The Red Cat (all NYC); Lucques (L.A.); Fore Street Grill, Corner Room, Pacariello (Portland, Maine); The Barnacle, Five Corners Kitchen (Marblehead, Mass.); My Place by the Sea (Rockport, Mass.); Alchemy (Gloucester, Mass.); The Red Inn (Provincetown, Mass.)

Three formative books from your youth: The Diamond in the Window (Jane Langton), D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths (those famous beloved D’Aulaires), Waiting for God (Simone Weil)

Three formative books from your adulthood: Daniel Deronda (George Eliot), Andre Dubus’s short stories (several collections), the best novels of Iris Murdoch

Dishes/recipes in regular rotation in your cooking repertoire:

Cold weather: penne with roast winter squash and kale pesto; vegetarian lasagne; oven-roasted yams and root vegetables; roast chicken with orange-mustard-honey glaze; curried chicken baked in tomato-coconut-pepper sauce; lentil and bean soups; pureed green soup (using spinach, Swiss chard, leftover salads, etc.); paella; baby spinach/arugula with dried cranberries, pistachio nuts, and feta (our house salad).

Hot weather: chicken and fish grilled several ways (favorite marinades: spicy cashew for chicken; lime-ginger-garlic-beer for fish); beets or potatoes cooked with onions and olive oil in foil on the grill; curried couscous salad with nuts, dried fruits, and veggies, caprese salad.

All year: fruit pies and cakes (favorites: pear-almond pie, three-layer red velvet cake with cream-cheese frosting).

Tell us about this specific cake:

While staying in Umbria this spring, at the artists’ retreat Civitella Ranieri, I made a birthday cake for another resident. I used a reliable recipe I choose for people averse to dairy: an orange-cornmeal cake made with olive oil, glazed with lemon. The challenge was finding the right ingredients at the grocery store without native assistance (never mind converting the recipe to metric, in a kitchen with no measuring utensils!). Somehow I managed to buy bread instead of cake flour, baking soda instead of powder, polenta instead of cornmeal. But I forged ahead. The result was a cake that collapsed in the middle (which I camouflaged by inserting a tumbler of roses) and had a very rustic, grainy texture. But it tasted wonderful all the same, and the blood oranges I found for the garnish were heavenly.

Random bits of writing advice: Resist the undertow of guilt or illegitimacy created by all those mythical “musts” (write every day, write what you know, show don’t tell, blah blah blah). If other people’s commandments work for you, great. If not, figure out your own. Another myth? Writer’s block. You write or you don’t. Some days you struggle; other days you’re in the Zone. Sometimes it seems pointless, absurd, or impossible. Seems is the operative word. On days like that, just doodle; make notes—or take a break. Ever heard of nurse’s block? Auto mechanic’s block? Carpenter’s block? (How about pastry chef’s block?) The job of writing is nothing special or magical exempt from the general principles of work at large.

What do you do when not writing, eating or reading? Try to keep up with two boys and two puppies. Play badminton (the serious, indoor kind; no lawn parties involved). Plan the next meal.

What’s your idea of comfort food and comfort reading? Sublime indolence defined: consuming layer cake left over from a good dinner party while listening to Sondheim while paging through cookbooks . . . or my older son’s latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine (if I can get my hands on it).

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