Missed connections…

This quite lovely piece appeared last Tuesday on Craigslist under “Missed Connections,” where people post notices hoping to connect with a stranger they’ve seen somewhere —  on the bus, at the library, at a party — and hope to see again. It’s since been flagged for removal, so I thought I’d put it here for all eternity…

I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train.

I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do.

You got on at DeKalb and sat across from me and we made eye contact, briefly. I fell in love with you a little bit, in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you’re looking at and fall in love with that person. But still I think there was something there.

Several times we looked at each other and then looked away. I tried to think of something to say to you — maybe pretend I didn’t know where I was going and ask you for directions or say something nice about your boot-shaped earrings, or just say, “Hot day.” It all seemed so stupid.

At one point, I caught you staring at me and you immediately averted your eyes. You pulled a book out of your bag and started reading it — a biography of Lyndon Johnson — but I noticed you never once turned a page.

My stop was Union Square, but at Union Square I decided to stay on, rationalizing that I could just as easily transfer to the 7 at 42nd Street, but then I didn’t get off at 42nd Street either. You must have missed your stop as well, because when we got all the way to the end of the line at Ditmars, we both just sat there in the car, waiting.

I cocked my head at you inquisitively. You shrugged and held up your book as if that was the reason.

Still I said nothing.

We took the train all the way back down — down through Astoria, across the East River, weaving through midtown, from Times Square to Herald Square to Union Square, under SoHo and Chinatown, up across the bridge back into Brooklyn, past Barclays and Prospect Park, past Flatbush and Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, all the way to Coney Island. And when we got to Coney Island, I knew I had to say something.

Still I said nothing.

And so we went back up.

Up and down the Q line, over and over. We caught the rush hour crowds and then saw them thin out again. We watched the sun set over Manhattan as we crossed the East River. I gave myself deadlines: I’ll talk to her before Newkirk; I’ll talk to her before Canal. Still I remained silent.

For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles. When the train went above ground I’d get text messages and voicemails (“Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?”) until my phone ran out of battery.

I’ll talk to her before daybreak; I’ll talk to her before Tuesday. The longer I waited, the harder it got. What could I possibly say to you now, now that we’ve passed this same station for the hundredth time? Maybe if I could go back to the first time the Q switched over to the local R line for the weekend, I could have said, “Well, this is inconvenient,” but I couldn’t very well say it now, could I? I would kick myself for days after every time you sneezed — why hadn’t I said “Bless You”? That tiny gesture could have been enough to pivot us into a conversation, but here in stupid silence still we sat.

There were nights when we were the only two souls in the car, perhaps even on the whole train, and even then I felt self-conscious about bothering you. She’s reading her book, I thought, she doesn’t want to talk to me. Still, there were moments when I felt a connection. Someone would shout something crazy about Jesus and we’d immediately look at each other to register our reactions. A couple of teenagers would exit, holding hands, and we’d both think: Young Love.

For sixty years, we sat in that car, just barely pretending not to notice each other. I got to know you so well, if only peripherally. I memorized the folds of your body, the contours of your face, the patterns of your breath. I saw you cry once after you’d glanced at a neighbor’s newspaper. I wondered if you were crying about something specific, or just the general passage of time, so unnoticeable until suddenly noticeable. I wanted to comfort you, wrap my arms around you, assure you I knew everything would be fine, but it felt too familiar; I stayed glued to my seat.

One day, in the middle of the afternoon, you stood up as the train pulled into Queensboro Plaza. It was difficult for you, this simple task of standing up, you hadn’t done it in sixty years. Holding onto the rails, you managed to get yourself to the door. You hesitated briefly there, perhaps waiting for me to say something, giving me one last chance to stop you, but rather than spit out a lifetime of suppressed almost-conversations I said nothing, and I watched you slip out between the closing sliding doors.

It took me a few more stops before I realized you were really gone. I kept waiting for you to reenter the subway car, sit down next to me, rest your head on my shoulder. Nothing would be said. Nothing would need to be said.

When the train returned to Queensboro Plaza, I craned my neck as we entered the station. Perhaps you were there, on the platform, still waiting. Perhaps I would see you, smiling and bright, your long gray hair waving in the wind from the oncoming train.

But no, you were gone. And I realized most likely I would never see you again. And I thought about how amazing it is that you can know somebody for sixty years and yet still not really know that person at all.

I stayed on the train until it got to Union Square, at which point I got off and transferred to the L.

Cora’s Chocolate Bread

A reader wrote today saying that every mention of Cora’s chocolate bread made her mouth water. I figure that’s occasion enough to repost some recipes!

This is from a post by Blaize on April 26, 2010…

Readers of the Dixie Hemingway mystery series are familiar with Cora’s chocolate bread, an item I borrowed from a real chocolate bread a friend used to make in an old bread making machine. The friend is gone now, and she never divulged the secret of her bread. The King Arthur Flour professional bakers created a recipe they think would recreate what I remember, which I’ve already posted.  Several readers have come up with their own versions, and they all sound delicious. The real bread and the fictional Cora’s bread were both made in a bread-making machine, but one reader has created a regular loaf to be cooked in the oven. If you’re a fan of Cora’s chocolate bread, or would just like to give it a try, here are two new recipes.

Sally Hayes, a reader who loves to bake, created this version for a bread machine:

1-1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups bread flour (Sally used regular flour)
1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoon bread machine yeast
1/2 cup regular chocolate chips, plus about 3/4 c. frozen chocolate chips

In the order recommended by the manufacturer, put all ingredients except the chocolate chips into the bread machine. Set the machine for white or raisin bread. (Sally used the sweet bread and light crust settings on her machine.) At the “beep,” which happens about 20-30 min. into the process, add the chocolate chips.

Sally says the entire time from start to finish took about 3 hours. She also says that, like Cora’s, the bread likes to be torn in chunks, although hers sliced nicely too.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Beverly, who is sort of a neighbor of Dixie’s because she lives on Anna Maria Island, created this recipe to be baked in a regular oven. She says her husband picks up the ingredients and brings them to her whenever he feels the need of a chocolate bread fix.

Beverly’s Chocolate Bread (Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan)

2-1/2 cups of self-rising flour (OR 2-1/2 cups of sifted all-purpose flour + 3 teaspoons baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup soft butter or margarine
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, Lite
1/2  cup water (you can use milk instead)
1 cup Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Sift flour and set aside.
In mixing bowl, beat sugar, butter and eggs until smooth. Add chocolate syrup and water, mixing well.  Add flour and beat just until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake about 1 hour.  At about 57 minutes, check it to see if it’s done. (Stick a table knife in the center. If it comes out mostly clean, take it out of the oven.)

Enjoy! Yummy!Image

 

Photo Oops

I’m shamefully bad at self-promotion. In fact I’m much more comfortable singing somebody else’s praises than I am my own − I would’ve made a lousy peacock and/or motivational speaker. I just want to sit all alone in my little room and write my little books. Then I want a magical combination of telekinesis and word-of-mouth to let the masses know that they want to read them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. (If Pixar or Disney comes out with a motivational-speaking peacock next year, I expect a royalty check.)

 This past weekend, at the 25th anniversary of Malice Domestic, I had lots of opportunities for self-promotion. I was the moderator for a panel that included Carole Nelson Douglas (a past Malice Domestic Guest of Honor), Laurie King (this year’s Guest of Honor), Felix Francis (international best-selling author), and Joanna Campbell Slan (whose written more books than I have years, and that’s saying something). I could have had my picture taken with all of them. Did I do that? No. I had lunch with Catriona McPherson (this year’s Edgar Award winner for Best Historical Novel) and Donna Andrews (whose list of literary awards takes an afternoon to read through). Did I have my picture taken with them? No.

 Did I even think of having my picture taken with them? Yes, just now as I’m writing this.

Here I am with Felix Francis. We were so amused that we’d worn the same tie that day.

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Here I am with Laurie King… don’t know where my head was at when I got dressed that morning.

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And finally here I am with Catriona McPherson (she wouldn’t allow me to sit at her table, so this is as good as it gets.)

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An appeal to mystery lovers…

For the past several weeks, I’ve let Dixie Hemingway lounge in her hammock with a tall, iced tea while I gear up for Malice Domestic, which takes place this year in Bethesda, Maryland, on the first weekend in May. This will be my virgin “Malice,” so I’m not sure what to expect. I’m told it is the most friendly of the mystery fiction conventions, arguably the most fun, and possibly the best opportunity for mystery fans and writers alike to rub elbows.

Well, all that sounds great. Except I’m nervous. I’ve been asked to moderate one of the feature panels: “Old Characters Never Die: Giving New Life to Another Author’s Creations,” a topic that loyal readers of this blog will immediately recognize as one that I am particularly well-suited to discuss. So why am I nervous?

Here’s who’s on the panel: Joanna Campbell Slan, Carole Nelson Douglas, Felix Francis, and Laurie R. King.

Oh, did I mention Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of several popular mystery series and numerous short stories and non-fiction books? Oh, did I mention Carole Nelson Douglas is the author of more than sixty novels and that her work has been anthologized in numerous “year’s best” anthologies? Oh, did I mention Felix Francis has successfully carried on the work of his father, Dick Francis, who penned more than forty international best-sellers? Oh, did I mention that Laurie R. King, the multiple-award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of 28 novels (and counting) is Malice Domestic’s Guest of Honor this year?

Oh, did I mention I’m nervous?

“Whatevs,” my niece would say. I’ll be fine — although I could use a little help with the topics of discussion for the panel. All these writers have in some way expanded the world and characters created by other writers. For both Carole Nelson Douglas and Laurie R. King, it’s Sherlock Holmes. For Joanna Campbell Slan, it’s Jane Eyre. For Felix Francis, it’s his father’s world of horseracing.

As a reader, I’d first like to know where they got their inspiration. As a writer, tiptoeing as I am in the awesome path of my mother’s footprints, I’d like to know how they deal with the huge expectations of their readers, and if they feel (as I do) a profound sense of responsibility to the original creator of the characters they breathe new life into.

So, what would you ask them? In the days leading up to the conference I’ll be writing about my thoughts on this particular topic, and of course I’ll write about the panel afterwards. If there’s anything you’ve ever wanted to know about these four fantastic writers, now’s your chance. In other words, comments please!

Meanwhile, I’ll be rewriting my bio… I’m adding that I am the author of more than 120 international, best-selling novels, all of which have been translated into more than 20 languages (I know because I did the translations myself). Oh, also I’m a supermodel.

Would you like one, or two kitties with your tea?

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There’s a project underway on the popular crowd-funding site Indiegogo to help fund a cafe in London that serves coffee and tea. You’d think London wouldn’t need another cafe, but this one has a CATch. GET IT? Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself… Anyway, this one’s modeled on similar cafes popular in Taiwan and Japan, and on this beautiful, sunny morning I can’t think of a better idea.

There’s only one thing better than sitting in a cafe with a good book and a cup of tea, and that’s sitting in a cafe with a good book, a cup of tea, and a cat snoozing in your lap. 

Click here to see a video about the cafe.

A poem by Blaize Clement

I often think of this poem of my mother’s… so I thought I’d share it here on Valentine’s Day. It was originally published in Nature’s Echoes, The International Library of Poetry, Fall 2000.

Protection Racket

To get to my heart
you have to drive a
stake through its eye
and drain its juice
before you whack it
hard
with a hammer
pry apart its hairy shell
jagged edges
clawing to protect
its wet sweet glistening
flesh
laid out raw and hopeful
curving in a feigned attempt
to pull itself
together
even when it knows
it knows it knows
its purpose is to be
peeled shredded flaked
all its life squeezed out
burned out dried out
for love.