Pie-of-the-month-club – Stephanie Burgis

On the menu today — Stephanie Burgis, who stopped by to whet our appetites for her new book (available this month in the UK, and next spring here in the U.S.).  Oh, and to dish about pie, too, of course!

Stephanie Burgis

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

The funny thing is, my book came directly FROM my cooking, even though I’m a very reluctant cook. I love baking muffins and brownies, but when I’m doing plain cooking, my mind tends to wander … which is exactly what happened as I chopped onions way back in 2006 and the first lines of my book suddenly and unexpectedly popped into my head! I abandoned my chopping and raced to the living room to grab my notebook and capture them.

A Most Improper Magick (Templar Publishing), which will be published in the U.S. next spring as Kat, Incorrigible (Simon & Schuster), is the first in the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, a trilogy of fantasy adventures set in a slightly different version of 1803. In Kat’s Regency England, magic is the greatest scandal of all … but that’s not about to stop her when there are highwaymen to foil, sinister aristocrats to defeat, and true loves to capture for her two older sisters!

You’ve also whipped up a little something to whet our appetities, haven’t you?  A slice of the pie, if you will.

Yes!  People can read the first three chapters of the novel on my website.

I have, and all I can say is — YUM!  Absolutely scrumptious.  Regency England, a sassy young heroine, and a touch of magic?  What’s not to love?  I can’t wait to read the rest.

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

The most wonderful moment of the whole process so far came this spring when I got an email  from someone I’d never met. She’s twelve years old, she lives in Canada, many thousands of miles away from me, and this was months before my book came out anywhere in the world … but she wrote to me because her local bookstore manager had handed her a copy of my ARC. She wants to be a writer herself, she loves so many of the same authors I loved at her age, and as I read her email about how much she loved Kat, I actually teared up because this was my impossible fantasy come true.

I wrote A Most Improper Magick because it was the book I’d always wanted to read when I was twelve years old (combining the two genres I most loved – Regency romantic comedies and fantasy adventure), and here was a girl of exactly that age who loved it, just as I’d dreamed way back in 2006, back when I didn’t even believe that the book would ever be published. It was an amazing, amazing feeling to get that email.

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 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…)

OH, yeah. When I was first starting to send short stories out to magazines, I got a really nice rejection from one of my very favorite magazines. The editor said all sorts of great things about my writing style, and said how close the story had come to being published, but she still turned it down. Well, I was feeling sick with a cold and very sorry for myself that day, and I ended up letting it all out by venting on my journal (ohhhh, I still cringe when I remember this!) all about how the nice rejections are always the most frustrating ones … and although I didn’t name any names, I quoted a line from that rejection email in my whine.

Guess what? Half an hour later, another email popped into my inbox, from that same editor – who had just read my blog entry! OMG. I wanted to burst into flames with pure shame and embarrassment. I was much, much luckier than I deserved. She wrote to tell me that she hadn’t just been saying those nice things – that she’d really meant them and really did want me to send more stories to her magazine.

I immediately deleted the entry from my blog and apologized to her profusely … and amazingly, since then we’ve become friends.  (And she’s published four of my stories!)  She’s a very, very kind and understanding person.

But I learned my lesson, and ever since, I have NEVER complained about a rejection online! Not all editors would react with so much grace and good humor.

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?

My absolute favorite kind is pecan pie. In my family, every Thanksgiving celebration has to include both pecan pie and pumpkin pie, and I looked forward to every Thanksgiving dessert session just for that fabulous pecan pie! It’s the only pie I’ve ever baked as an adult, and I love it.

Now that I’m living in Wales, I invite all of my in-laws to come over for Thanksgiving dinner each year (although we have to move Thanksgiving to the weekend, since British workers aren’t given that Thursday off !), and we end the meal with pecan pie. My husband often cooks the main meal, but the pie is always my job.

I have to admit that I tend to buy a pre-baked pie crust from the store. (I feel like such a wimp for confessing that…but it is true.)   However, this is the recipe for the pastry filling that I inherited from my parents, who copied it down from a cookbook a long time ago. None of us can figure out which cookbook it came from – so if anyone recognizes it, please let me know!

A MOST MAGICAL PECAN PIE

Ingredients:

1 recipe pastry for single-crust pie
1/2 cup butter (or vegetable shortening)
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup maple syrup
1 T. flour
1-1/2 cups pecan halves or pieces

Directions:

Melt butter in small saucepan and set aside. In a medium bowl beat eggs and salt for about 3 minutes (or until light and lemon colored). Add vanilla. Beat in the sugar 1/4 cup at a time. Pour the syrup into the warm butter and stir well to blend. With a wire whisk, fold the butter and syrup mixture into the eggs. Stir or fold slowly until all the ingredients are blended. Blend in the tablespoon of flour.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Place the pecans on the crust and then pour the filling into the shell.

Place pie on the middle shelf of the hot oven. After 10 minutes reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Continue baking for  30 minutes, or until a silver knife inserted near the center of the pie comes out clean. (The heat continues to cook the filling even after it is removed from the oven, so don’t leave overlong in the oven.)

Can I come to your house for Thanksgiving, Stephanie?  That sounds absolutely delicious!  Thanks again for stopping by.

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As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books that I have coming out 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. To read other selections on the “pie-of-the-month club” menu, check out my interviews with Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer Ward, Susan Blackaby, Jennifer Jacobson, Frederic Hunter, and Kimberley Griffiths Little.  Be sure and drop by again soon, because throughout 2010 I’ll be serving 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!

Pie-of-the-month club – Frederic Hunter

A little something different on the menu this month — a book for adults instead of young readers.  Frederic Hunter stopped by to talk about his new novel “Abe and Molly: The Lincoln Courtship” and to share his favorite recipe for — what else?  — pie!

Author Frederic Hunter

Fred and I are both “alumni” of  The Christian Science Monitor, where I was a staff reporter and children’s book review editor and he was a glamorous foreign correspondent (he covered sub-Saharan Africa).  He also served as a foreign service officer in Brussels, Belgium, and at Coquilhatville and Bukavu in the ex-Belgian Congo. Later, he wrote screenplays for film and television, including “Lincoln and the War Within for PBS, which triggered his interest in the Lincoln courtship. His writings include “The Hemingway Play” and “Africa, Africa!,” a collection of fifteen stories. Fred and his wife Donanne have a website spanning fifty years of experiences in Africa.

What have you been cooking up for readers, Fred?  Tell us about your new book, and how it came about.

Some years ago, I wrote a show for PBS about the first three months of the Lincoln Administration, aired as Lincoln and the War Within. While doing research for that project, I stumbled on the story of Lincoln’s courtship.  Abe and Molly:  The Lincoln Courtship is quite a romantic tale: rich girl of aristocratic background and good education falls in love with a self-educated attorney from a dirt-poor background, with few social graces and even less money.  Once they become engaged, her family forces Lincoln to break the engagement.  As they say, complications ensue.  My publisher calls it Pride and Prejudice on the American frontier.  Lincoln takes the Elizabeth Bennet role and Mary (Molly) Todd is Mr. Darcy, except that she’s caged in 19th-century strictures on what women should and should not do (like be interested in politics).

You had me at “Pride and Prejudice” on the American frontier.  I can’t wait to read it!

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?

In high school my late twin brother and I wrote a one-act musical.  It was performed the night of the annual one-act play contest, but out of competition because a faculty member had helped us write down the music.  The audience liked it so much that it was immediately re-performed.  That very evening.  Can that possibly be right?  At this distance from high school that seems improbable, but that’s my recollection of it.  Later, in college, my brother and I wrote a musical revue.  At one point I went out to introduce the next act and the audience’s applause flooded up at me.  Applause is a narcotic.  It’s damaged a lot of lives – maybe even mine.

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?  (I did, big-time, when 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…)

Worst moment?  The evening the first TV show I ever wrote (an adaptation of Ring Lardner’s “The Golden Honeymoon” for PBS) was first broadcast.  My wife and I had filled the living room with friends.  I had not seen the show.  It seemed disastrous!  It was about a guy who couldn’t stop talking, and the director had long moments of silence, showing faces and locales.  Eeeek!  I writhed in horror on the floor before our assembled guests.  They thought the show was OK — it was on PBS, wasn’t it? (It wasn’t as bad as I thought; nor as good as it should have been.)  I learned never to invite friends to see my work until AFTER I’d already taken a look at it.

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?

The recipe for the pie I’m sharing is probably my favorite.  I married into this recipe.  It’s been in my wife’s family for years and was originally called “Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie.” Velma Hile of Virginia, who was a dear friend of my wife’s grandmother, is the source, and now four generations of our family and dinner guests have enjoyed it.  

Most pecan pies at restaurants have too few pecans, too much syrup (or molasses?), and are never made with butter.  This is “caviar for the general.”  Rich whipped cream on top never hurts, either.

“ABE AND MOLLY’S” SOUTHERN PECAN PIE

4 eggs
1-1/2 cups corn syrup
1-1/2 cups pecans
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
Unbaked pie shell

Boil sugar, syrup, and salt together for three minutes in a large pot.  Beat eggs; not too stiff.  Slowly pour hot syrup into eggs while stirring.  Add butter, vanilla, and pecans.  Pour into an unbaked pie shell.  Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350, bake for an additional 35-45 minutes.  When tested, knife inserted should come out clean.  Serve at room temperature with whipped cream.




OK, I don’t care if it’s the middle of July and 90 degrees, I’m heading right to the kitchen to make this.  Thanks so much, Fred!

As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books that I have coming out 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. To read other selections on the “pie-of-the-month club” menu, check out my interviews with Jennifer JacobsonJane KurtzToni BuzzeoLisa SchroederJennifer Ward, and Susan Blackaby.  Be sure and drop by again soon, because throughout 2010 I’ll be serving 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!