Pie-of-the-month-club – Cynthia Leitich Smith

My year of “pies” is rapidly drawing to a close, but not before I serve up one more special treat.  On the menu today — Cynthia Leitich Smith, who stopped by to tell us about her new, fresh-out-of-the-oven picture book!  And to dish about dessert, too, of course…

Cynthia Leitich Smith

What have you been cooking up for readers, Cyn?  Can you tell us about your new book, and how it came about?

Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010) is a Southwestern tall tale about a little boy who’s so LOUD that the pecans fall from the pecan trees and the prickly pear cacti sprout more needles. So LOUD that every hound dog in the county rolls up his ears and tosses back his head to bay.

The book was inspired by loud children in the world. We’re no longer in an age where the theory is that kids should be seen and not heard, but making noise is like any superpower. It’s all in how you use it.

You and I are both primarily novelists.  I’m curious as to how you approach writing a picture book, and how you feel about handing over your “baby” to an artist.

Because my picture books tend to be character-driven stories (as opposed to, say, poetry or concept books), in many ways it’s much the same. I begin with a protagonist, his or her internal/external wants, and toss obstacles in the way until I hit that epiphany that triggers character growth.

I love working visually, and I’m thrilled to have my text partnered with art. I consider a key part of my job to offer a stage for the illustrator to play on and then get out of their way. I feel that even more now that I’m writing YA graphic novels, which is an intrinsically more collaborative format. Then again, from Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu on Jingle Dancer to Steve Bjorkman on Santa Knows to Barry Gott on Holler Loudly, and now Ming Doyle on my graphics, I’ve been blessed by having been paired with remarkable visual talents. Those folks raise up my words and heroes!

How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Have you had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments that was special to you?

I hosted a private two-day workshop at my home in Austin for advanced writers, many of whom I’d worked with in critique groups or mentored or knew socially through the community. My motivation was for them to get to know each other better, to toss some glue at a community of quickly rising stars.

At the end, the group presented me with a painted and otherwise embellished (with dollhouse furniture) birdhouse on a platform. It included a reading chair and scattered books. I’ve added to it the squirrel that sat atop my grandfather’s candy dish until broken off in a move. That gift meant a great deal to me.

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?  (I did, big-time, when as a fledgling author I showed up at a major chain bookstore for what I thought was just a signing and found to my chagrin was educator night – dozens of shining faces looking at me expectantly, and I hadn’t prepared a talk.)

I’d love to know what you did next!

Um, I tap-danced, metaphorically speaking.  Alas, I am a terrible dancer, even metaphorically.  My husband was there to witness the fiasco, and took me out for pie afterwards to cheer me up.  There are few things in this world more cheering than pie.  Except husbands.

So back to your humble pie experience…

The biggest challenge for me is remembering names and faces. When you’re center-stage, or the author greeting one reader after another in an autograph line, it’s much easier for folks to get a solid impression of you than vice versa. Even with event planners, if they’re hosting one author a year, but you’ve headlined or participated in a hundred programs since — well, let’s just say that these days I’m cautious about introducing myself first on the assumption I haven’t already met someone.

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?

I’m fond of banana cream pie, probably because Grandma Dorothy would serve it sometimes. That said, I think most of those pies started out in the frozen foods aisle or were picked up at the Pippin’s counter.

My Aunt Nannie made pecan pie, though. I don’t remember reaching for it, but my dad always did!

This will sound a little strange, but the truth is that my favorite dessert is a bowl of shoepeg corn in butter sauce with a little salt and pepper. When I was growing up, I would walk away from the traditional sweets at the holidays. Instead, Grandma Dorothy would heat up some frozen corn in a little pot of water on her stove top in a Kansas City kitchen barely big enough to turn around in, serve it up to me and my cousin in bowls, and we run off by ourselves to a back bedroom to giggle and share stories and eat it by the spoonful.

I’m more inclined to microwave than use the stove top, I can’t imagine what it was like in the wood stove days. But I recommend Green Giant.  Heat it for two minutes–Grandma and cousin required.

Corn, huh?  Who knew?   Sounds good, though.  OK, Maybe not as good as PIE but then for this pie-fanatic, nothing else could possibly measure up!

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As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books of mine that debuted this fall (“Babyberry Pie” and “Pies & Prejudice” – learn more here), I started a pie-of-the-month club to showcase new books by friends and colleagues.

Other recent “pies” include Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer Ward, Susan Blackaby, Jennifer Jacobson, Frederic HunterKimberley Griffiths LittleStephanie BurgisAndrea BeatySusan Fletcher, Amy Schwartz, and Debra Moffitt.

Enjoy!

Candid reader camera

Writers don’t often get to see their readers in action, which is why it’s always a treat when a fan – or the mother of a fan in this case – sends me a candid shot.

Isn’t she gorgeous?   I just love the way she’s completely absorbed in the story (and of course the fact that she’s absorbed in my story makes my heart sing!).  And look how hip she is — from that fabulous headband to the torn jeans peeking out from beneath her quilt.  Love that cozy room, too.

My readers rock!

Calling all Bay Area fans!

California, here I come!

For those of you who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ll be appearing at the Castro Valley Library on Tuesday, November 16th from 6:30-7:30.  This event is a writing workshop geared for 4th-8th graders (with wiggle room in the age range), and the library is asking participants to pre-register, so give them a call at 510-667-7900.  A book signing will follow.

The Castro Valley Library is at 3600 Norbridge Ave, Castro Valley, CA 94546.  Hope to see you there!

Pie-of-the-month-club – Debra Moffitt

On the menu today — Debra Moffitt, who stopped by to whet our appetites for her new book.  Oh, and to dish about pie, too, of course!

Debra, what have you been cooking up for readers?  Can you tell us a bit about your new book, and how it came about?

Only Girls Allowed begins a four-book series called the Pink Locker Society. Three BFFs in 8th grade learn they have been chosen to run a secret website. Their job? To answer questions from other girls about puberty and middle school life.

The girls in the book are fictional, but the book series was inspired by very real girls who emailed me at KidsHealth, where I’m an editor. Girls have LOTS of questions about growing up. When we launched the Pink Locker Society website, I invited girls to send in their questions. So far, I’ve received 25,000 of them!

How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Have you had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments that was special to you?

Having a book published is a huge thrill, but it’s been really exciting to watch girls interact on the website’s blog. They’re so energetic and bubbly and earnest. In other words, there’s no shortage of exclamation points or words spelled out in all caps.

I take questions that girls submit (What should I do about my crush? When can I wear a bra?) and publish them on the blog so other girls can give advice. It’s heartwarming to see all the caring suggestions girls make. And it always knocks me out when the girl who asked the question in the first place writes in to say THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?  (I did, big-time, when as a fledgling author I showed up at a major chain bookstore for what I thought was just a signing and found to my chagrin was educator night – dozens of shining faces looking at me expectantly, and I hadn’t prepared a talk…)

Most definitely. I was a newspaper reporter from age 16 until 33 so, until then, I had zero experience writing fiction. I had confidence in my writing, though, and joined a well-known fiction writers’ workshop in Philadelphia. I worked hard on my first short story and I imagined the workshop’s moderator would adore it.

My night came to read an excerpt and get critiqued by him and the rest of the class. No one adored it. I got feedback – reams of it. The moderator wrote me an entire page of notes in very small handwriting. My workshop mates had questions – troubling questions. Where was the conflict? What was at stake? Where were my insights? What about the emotional payoff for the reader? I was clueless. But the criticism was intended to be helpful and, eventually, I started asking myself those questions as I was writing. I learned fiction is not for sissies and I would have to work harder.

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?  How about the recipe you’re sharing – can you give us a little background on it?

I am probably your only contributor who doesn’t like pie.

Say it ain’t so, Debra!

I’m much more of a cookie girl (which is probably why my favorite pie is my mother-in-law’s peanut butter ice cream pie with graham cracker crust.)

But my husband and three sons LOVE traditional pies and clamor for them, so I learned to make them. I learned slowly. Especially when it came to the crust. My grandmother, now 93, is a virtuoso of pie making. When I was in my 20s, I complained to her that I just couldn’t do it. When I tried, the pie dough would tear and shred and stick to the rolling pin. She seemed especially concerned when I told her I swore like a sailor during the crust-making process.

“Did your mother give you the recipe with vinegar in the crust?” No, she had not! So that prompted my grandmother to share her Never Fail Pie Crust recipe. It’s an easy-going pie crust that wants to be your friend. It works with any filling, but I’ll share the blueberry pie version in honor of my grandma Helen.

In her younger days, she’d head into the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with an armload of coffee can pails. She’d come out loaded down with wild “huckleberries” – small, sweet, and a powdery midnight purple. Then she’d work her magic and create a knockout pie. It was shared around her kitchen table after Saturday evening Mass. And everyone washed it down with cups of high-test coffee from her silver bullet percolator.

Blueberry Pie with Never-Fail Pie Crust

Crust

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups shortening

6 tablespoons ice water

1 egg

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Filling

3 cups fresh blueberries

½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

  1. Wash berries.
  2. Spill sugar and flour over berries. Toss and coat well. Set aside.
  3. Combine flour and salt.
  4. Add shortening. Cut in well.
  5. All at once, add ice water, egg, vinegar, and sugar.
  6. Mix until a smooth dough forms.
  7. Roll into 3 or 4 balls. Place in a Ziploc bag in freezer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  8. Roll out pie crust onto waxed paper.
  9. Place bottom crust in pie pan
  10. Add berry mixture.
  11. Cover with top crust. Use a knife to cut slits to let out the steam.
  12. Bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake until crust is brown and pie filling is bubbly.

As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books of mine that debuted this fall (“Babyberry Pie” and “Pies & Prejudice” – learn more here), I started a pie-of-the-month club to showcase new books by friends and colleagues.

Other recent “pies” include Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer Ward, Susan Blackaby, Jennifer Jacobson, Frederic HunterKimberley Griffiths LittleStephanie Burgis, Andrea Beaty, Susan Fletcher, and Amy Schwartz.  Be sure and drop by again soon, because I’ll be continuing to serve up more stellar books by some of my favorite authors and illustrators.

Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course.   Pie is ALWAYS on the menu here on my blog.  Enjoy!