Quelle Horreur 😱 – monsters! family secrets! plus: the comforts of a decadent dessert!

Dear Ones,

First off, Hello! And, yes, I’m trying a new platform and I hope you’re patient with my gaffs, errors, and any fresh look to the newsletter as I try to figure this out in real time. I am my own tech-bro which is to say, uh-oh. Next, I know many of you are new friends to read.write.eat. and I welcome you!

I write to you from aboard a flight to Amsterdam. Everyone around me is asleep, some softly snoring. I’m listening to Gustave Malher in a dark fuselage jetting over the ocean, it feels slightly gloomy-doomy. Life is amazing and weird. I’m off to France to write, to teach, to see family, to read, eat, drink and investigate. I am so ready to be invigorated!

Meanwhile, summer is nearly here, and though I’m currently not a student, I feel like cramming for imaginary final exams. Here’s my cribsheet for undergrad life courses:

Relationship 101: Never, ever say to your partner, when (come on!) you already know the answer, “Someone’s in a bad mood.” Labeling a mood bad rather than giving plenty of latitude is bad form. Labeling makes no one feel better. Another 101, if a partner gently guides you to change the subject with a gentle kick beneath the table, or a light pinch on the arm, do not say “Ow,” at high volume! Not that either of these things has ever happened to me! 😉

Mental Hygiene 101: I am susceptible to a good anxious spiral, are you? A key tool in managing anxiety is switch one’s attention. Focus on your left ear, or your little toe, or the bird feeder, for 10 minutes. Try to anchor the gaze somewhere else in your body, near your body, to know that no feeling is final.

Body 101: The ‘bikini body’ is dead, long live the old body! 💪🏼 Lift weights, eat well, walk up the stairs, park far away, not for a bikini body, but for your old person body! Strong bones, flexible muscles, good balance. (Also, I don’t know what to say about Martha Stewart. I’ve already told you she ruined my 20’s with her unachievable dinner party standards. Now, the cover of Sports Illustrated and we are supposed to celebrate the sexualization of an eighty-something year old? I mean, yay Martha, if you feel good and sexy in your body. But Sports Illustrated gets no points from me for putting a surgically altered and photoshopped model on the cover as if it’s a wink and a bro shake that someone might still ‘do’ Martha.) I’m for the old lady body that keeps me moving, and getting up off the floor without using my hands.


read

  • LITTLE MONSTERS, by Adrienne Brodeur, is a tour de force of family dysfunction! You all know how I love that! It makes me feel less alone. Brodeur dives deep into family, friendship, mental health (+ a terrific therapist), parenthood, childhood, and politics, all in a beautiful setting she knows like the back of her hand. This novel, with its damaging secrets and shift toward healing, left me satiated, happy for the characters, but also with a lingering shadow of worry. Just like life. Buy this one for a terrific summer read.
  • Please also don’t miss Brodeur’s memoir, WILD GAME. I loved that book so much!
  • LONE WOMEN, by Victor LaValle, is a wonderful, twisty horror/western in which LaValle blends a bit of Frankenstein (the monster and the mob), Beloved (the damage and the haunting within families), and Women Talking (the careful and thoughtful conversations with a bend toward justice as well as forgiveness), mix in a little Pandora’s Box and the Badlands of Montana… voila! L’horreur!! LaValle hooked me with propulsive action, wonderful writing, and the big truth that secrets destroy us. Adelaide, the protagonist, says at one point, “There is no moment when a secret recedes. It’s a sound that never stops playing in one’s ear; a pain in the body that never quite seems to heal.” Gosh, if we all read this novel and took away the truth that secrets are caustic, if we unburdened ourselves from fear and shame, wouldn’t that be marvelous?
  • MONSTERS, Claire Dederer. How do we reconcile the art we love with the sometimes-vile behavior of the artist? And what about us, what about our sometimes-vile behavior? Dederer’s brain is expansive and impressive. Cannot wait to read.
  • I have a new essay up at Memoir Land, “Tell Me, What Do You Think of You” if you’d like to read it. 

I’ve made a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is a way you can support my newsletter.



write

The always generous and very smart Adrienne Brodeur answered some questions about writing in general and her novel, LITTLE MONSTERS specifially.

How do you know when your characters have come to life?

AB: I always have a sense of who my characters are, but I find it essential to give them time and space to come into their own. Characters, like people, should do unexpected and counterintuitive things in the face of complicated situations. It’s when they surprise me that I know they’re fully formed! 

Your novel is full of secrets, which are delicious and propulsive, tell me about why you include hidden truths.

AB: Secrets make for great storytelling because of the inherent tension surrounding them … the anxiety of when and how they will be revealed. I come from a long line of prodigious secret keepers, so it was a delight to invent a fictional family and have a kaleidoscopic look at their buried truths, and at the risks and rewards of confronting them. 

Your setting, Cape Cod, is gorgeously rendered. You clearly know it well (lucky you!). Can you say a bit about setting and how it informs your writing?

AB: Environment, whether urban or rural, makes for such powerful metaphor, it would be a waste to overlook it. Plus, by placing readers in a specific location at a specific time, you ground your readers and give them time to settle into your book.  


I have a tiny prompt for you. Write about your secret talent … maybe you make a sublime creme brûlée, maybe you are an olympic level sleeper, perhaps it’s capturing indoor spiders to set them free in your backyard. Whatever it is, celebrate it. Write about it. For inspiration check out this piece by the wonderful writer, Laura Moulton.

Big thanks to everyone who has bought me a coffee. I’m so grateful you enjoy my free newsletter, and that you took time to drop me a note and offer support. Yay!

Buy Me a Coffee 💛☕️



eat

Here is a monsterously decadent Fontainebleau recipe from Mumms Champagne website. I’ve become obsessed with this dessert since reading about it in a wonderful newsletter from David Lebowitz. We’ll be in France for one month, staying at an Airbnb and I hope to buy fresh fromage from the le marché each week and mix this up for a dessert on the terrace, who knows, a little champagne alongside will also be wonderful!

Well, we made it to the end. What would read.write.eat. be without a little bit of Stanley! He’s holding down the fort at home. Gosh, I hope the houseplants get plenty of water.

If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If you’d like to support the newsletter, please share with your funny and fun friends with the buttons below.

Please, remember to tell your people you love them.

xN

Good eggs, growing pains + a dinner party 🐣❤️️ ❤️‍🩹💪🎉

Dear Ones,

It’s spring! Dogs are happy, flowers are happy, I’m happy! What about you?Reasons for the uptick:

  • I’m taking online writing classes with a bunch of good eggs*! It delights me to be in a room with writers striving to reveal themselves in the awkward and beautiful medium of words.I just keep trying to make something out of words that you’d think couldn’t be made out of words.    ~ Deborah Eisenberg
  • The sun has been out and I’m doing chores around the house: ✅ Power wash and stain the deck ✅ Put my sweaters away ✅ Spread mulch in my tiny garden
  • I’ve been writing and submitting and getting rejected and figuring, oh well. I also have been chatting with a lot of writers about how we deal with gatekeepers, with rejection, what to celebrate (be pleased every time you press send!) and what we want from our writing life…umm, how about the pleasure of making?
  • Ada Limón, our US Poet Laureate, spoke here in Portland and she was wonderful. A highlight of the night was a question from the audience, something along the lines of, “How do you deal with the deep grief of being alive?” Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes! What a vulnerable and tender question. Being alive is wonderous, and yet shadows (pain, loss, fear) hover. Limón deals with the grief by thinking about the struggles her ancestors endured so that she could be here now. I recognize the painful hovering shadows which I’ve already survived that make clear moments more joyous. How, dear friends, do you deal with the deep grief of being alive?
  • I’ve also been listening to the playlist I put together with your suggestions. Thank you those who sent songs. Check the ahem, wide ranging, playlist here.  And please, it’s not too late to send the music that sets you in motion.
Speaking of good eggs*… here’s a quote I’ve saved for its weirdness and truth. No real reason to put here except the egg overlap and, yes, we are all confronting a high wall.If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall.
~Haruki Murakami


read

FOSTER, by Claire Keegan, is the best book I’ve read so far this year. It is a beautiful, small story. A perfect example of Meg Wolitzer’s note (see below: the ordinary contains the extraordinary). The novella is a master class in trusting your reader, in concision, and in deeply felt emotion revealed with a steady hand. Please don’t miss this book.

HELLO BEAUTIFUL, by Ann Napolitano, which is book-of-the-moment, was also a beautiful story. Ann is a good egg (I was lucky meet her- through email – when I had a story at One Story, and she’s wonderful). Her novel is vast in scope and an amazing example of how to write vivid and engaging summary. She “tells” with velocity and precision, knowing the exact right detail to bring a moment, a character, to life. I listened to the audio book, which was a delight, narrated by Maura Tierney.

I’m in the midst of Maggie Smith’s memoir, YOU COULD MAKE THIS PLACE BEAUTIFUL, and what I’m admiring is the way she plays with form. Some sections are a mere sentence long, some go for several pages. That delights me. Smith is beloved for unabashed honesty about the unraveling of her marriage, for being deeply human on the page, in both poetry and prose. I will admit to a little frustration, her shock at the way her marriage hit the rocks surprises me. Maybe I’m jaded, but it feels a trifle naïve to think that one will make it through without grief and disaster breaking in. (How do you deal with the deep grief of being alive?) Then she offers the wisdom, “Wish for more pain, because that’s how you’ll change.” I nod my head and underline.
Another weird/good egg* quote:

I’ve made a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is a way you can support my newsletter.

 

Big thanks to everyone who has bought me a coffee. I’m so grateful you enjoy my free newsletter, and that you took time to drop me a note and offer support. Yay! Cute button below for anyone who’d like to join in.

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️



write

As mentioned, I’m invigorated by a few online writing classes.

The first was a terrific class with Andrea Firth in which she gave really solid info about submitting to literary journals. I signed up to be helpful to my students, and I learned so much for me! Here are three takeaways, but I suggest you check out Andrea’s classes and the free, once a month submit-a-thon she offers.

  1. Chill Subs is a terrific resource to find magazines to fit your work
  2. Clifford Garstang has a great list that ranks literary magazines/journals
  3. Literature Map is a fun rabbit hole to fall in! Type a favorite writer in the search, see who populates the page around them to discover new writers to read, or to seek potential representation. For ex: think of a writer that would be a comp for your work. Type in their name and see who else comes up. Check the acknowledgement pages in the books of those writers to note the thanks they bestow upon their agent. Then check out the agent!

I’m enrolled in a Flash Creative Nonfiction course with terrific, smart, and exceptional egg, Brian Benson. Please, rattle yourself, take a class outside of your normal wheelhouse. I’ve been writing short pieces, reading new writers, arming myself with prompts for the future when I may (again) feel gummed up.

Finally, I took a one-off class with Meg Wolitzer, a fav writer of mine, in which she spoke about the thorny issue of writing about family. Three takeaways:

  1. Ordinary life contains the extraordinary
  2. The writing must always be moving. What is changing? Where is the turn?
  3. Write with honesty and charity. (From George Saunders: write people at the top of their register.)

 

*****
If you’re in need of a support for your writing project, whether developmental critique or editing a finished project, I am taking clients for June. Please check out my editorial page, or simply reply to this email.


eat

No, I am not giving you an egg recipe, though I have a fantastic one for Mother’s Day Brunch, if you celebrate, and if you’d like it, dm me.

I made this at the behest of a friend, and now you have to make it too. Click the link for the original recipe, and then follow below to see how I made it my own. It too would be a terrific Mother’s Day meal.

Salmon with Tomatoes, White Beans, and Salsa Verde

 

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • ½ c olive oil
  • 2 pints mixed cherry tomatoes
  • thyme sprigs
  • garlic cloves, thinly slivered (I used an entire bunch of green garlic, about 5. If using cloves, I’d say 3-4)
  • pinch chili flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1c packed parsley leaves
  • ¼ c capers
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 lb salmon
  • 28-ounce can cannellini beans (I used dried beans, cooked for a million hours till tender)
  1. Heat oven to 400°
  2. Combine the olive oil, tomatoes, thyme sprigs, garlic cloves, chili flakes, and a couple of generous pinches of salt in a lasagna-sized baking dish
  3. Place in oven and roast until tomatoes pop and spill their guts
  4. While the tomatoes are busy bursting, combine the chopped parsley, capers, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl.
  5. Cut the salmon into individual servings. Season with salt and paprika.
  6. Add the prepared beans to the tomatoes and return to the oven. (Okay, at this point I also added a slew of turnip greens I’d sautéed up with olive oil and spring onions) return to oven and heat through.
  7. Place the salmon on a sheet pan covered with parchment and roast in the oven for about 7 minutes. Check doneness at 5 minutes. I don’t like mine at all rare, please don’t judge.
  8. Spoon beans into individual pasta bowls, lay salmon on top and generously spoon the parsley mixture over the fish.

Your guests will rave and love you and clamor for more invitations to your house!

I served this olive oil cake for dessert. But! I wish I’d seen this recipe first. Pistachio cake is now on my to-be-baked list.

Wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all who celebrate. I know it’s a fraught holiday for many of us. In fact, I have a fraught essay coming out just in time! I’ll send the link in the next newsletter.

Finally, apropos of nothing, this throw which is both light and warm, would make a fabulous Mother’s Day gift. I’ve had one for about five years, it holds up beautifully. I’ve given away five or six over the years.

In case you’re in need of a little Stanley:
If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If you’d like to support the newsletter, please share with your funny and fun friends here. Or you can do so with the buttons below. If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.xN

Kneecapped by an email & eleven books about friendship 👋👋👋

Dear Ones,

Recently I was kneecapped by an email “What To Do If A Friend Ghosts You.” I have a painful relationship in which I’ve been soft-ghosted (you know, those anemic emoji responses that offer no language… just a like or 👍🏼 or ♥️). Apparently lots of us have this experience. Knowing that I’m not alone eases my pain a skootch, and still, it’s cruddy. I’ve gone from being deeply in-scene with the person, trudging along side-by-side, laughing, confiding, kibitzing through life, to suddenly being only in summary. How do we manage when someone we care about, a friend, a relative, fades from our life? According to the NYTs it affects:

  1. self-esteem
  2. sense of agency
  3. sense of belonging

(Soft)ghosting is ambiguous loss. Without closure we cling to hope that things can return to the once friendly and intimate glory. Boy, do I know how to cling!

The article names ways to heal:

  1. end the cycle of wondering by accepting things will not be the same
  2. name your feelings…anger, pain, confusion, sorrow
  3. work on fortifying other relationships that make you feel connected
  4. recognize that the ghosting may have nothing to do with you

Yeah, right NYTs, of course I think it’s me! Maybe the person recognized things I already dislike about myself? But ending the cycle of wondering (which would be a great title, right?), accepting that things will not be the same, that’s where I’ll invest my time.

Of course I’ve been a perpetrator of ambiguous loss as well. That too makes me feel cruddy. So I learned a new term, Caspering, (you know, the friendly ghost) which is a menschy alternative to vanishing when a friendship wanes. Be honest and kind about how you feel. Sounds hard. Seems the best route. Serious life goal.

read

I often look to literature for solace, to feel less alone, and to face hard things. Here are ten (+1) books that feature the solace and trials of friendship:

LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER, Stewart O’Nan
ORDINARY GIRLS, Jaquira Diaz
FIONA AND JANE, Jean Chen Ho
THE FRIEND WHO GOT AWAY, Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappall
THE JANE AUSTIN BOOK CLUB, Karen Joy Fowler
MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, Elena Ferrante
THE INTERESTINGS, Meg Wolitzer
INZANESVILLE, Jo Ann Beard
WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL, Lorrie Moore
WE ALL WANT IMPOSSIBLE THINGS, Catherine Newman
TRUTH AND BEAUTY, Ann Patchett
*****

My story, ADD TO CART, is online! It’s from my (in-progress and 😉 seeking a home) collection, MUST BE NICE, about four women grappling with how to be in the world when a son is arrested for stealing a dog from the SPCA, parents bust out of Assisted Living and return to the family home (which has already been sold) a sixteen-year-old daughter wants to freeze her eggs, a deadbeat ex-husband moves back in while he undergoes cancer treatment, and a humiliating hook up ends with a far more satisfying Zappos shopping spree. Despite all the tumult and pain, the women continue to fall in love, take care of each other, return to work, to eat and laugh and cook. Single, married, queer, newly divorced, they have ample opportunity to mess up and do their best, four friends, making their way through life.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is another way you can support my newsletter.



write

I dream of being in a writers’ room! Damn, sharing stories, ideas pinging and bouncing from person to person, the inspiration of the hive brain! Sounds like a dream to me. But a dream out of reach. Here are two other ways to include others, perhaps friends, in your writing.

Epistolary writing:

In HEADS OF COLORED PEOPLE, a terrific collection by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, there is a story, “Belles Lettres” in which two mothers exchange snide remarks through notes in their kids backpacks. It’s fun to trace their intimacy in the letters. Can you imagine writing a story in which a conflict is conducted completely through letters?

Sulieka Jaouad’s wonderful Substack newsletter, THE ISOLATION JOURNALS, recently had a post with several epistolary writing prompts in case you’d like to check them out.

Exquisite Corpse:

In which a group of people write a poem, or make a drawing, the only rule is that each consecutive person has no idea what the person ahead of them wrote (or drew). You simply use an anchor word, the previous line from the poem, or drawn lines for the next artist to connect to. This makes for surprising, funny and fantastical possibilities. The technique is a great ice breaker, a great way to make collaborative art.

A sample poem:

The dandelions darted across the field
like lions stalking a gazelle from afar
we paced back and forth in front of the doughnut shop
debating whether we should go in or go out

A sample drawing from IN THIS PLAYGROUND:



eat

What a terrific thing to do with friends! Here’s an amazing no-recipe-recipe for a potluck.

Pasta w/Feta

Buy a jar of cubed feta in oil. Like this one. Dump it in a large pasta bowl like this one. Add chopped sun dried tomatoes in oil. From a jar like this, I might rough chop and add about half or two-thirds. Definitely measure from your heart.  Rough chop one full head of cilantro and add to bowl. Cook one pound of fusilli according to package directions, strain and add to bowl with the other ingredients. The heat will cause the feta to melt just the right amount to bring all the ingredients together. If it looks a little dry, add some olive oil from the sundried tomato jar. Serve hot or at room temp. The dish travels to a potluck very easily.

Your friends will be so delighted and amazed ! It will be as if you’ve momentarily cured them of… everything!

As a side note, a very wonderful friend suggested this potluck equation: Gorgonzola + butter + toasted walnuts + freshly cooked spaghetti. Toss and bells will chime!

Thank you so damn much for reading my newsletter! I l love hearing back from you. If you haven’t yet sent me your fav song to get you going in the morning, please do. I’m building a playlist for us all.

Of course, here’s Stanley! (the best pal ever)

If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.

Please, remember to tell your people you love them.xN

Small bites, fictitious dogs, jouissance! I co-sign on all 3!!! 💋🐶😀

Dear Ones,

Between sunrise and sunset, all in the same day, it snowed and rained, hail beat the crap out of the camellias, and the sun shone. Spring in the PNW is quixotic, which I’ve come to love.

read

Dog round-up! My literary love of dogs began with HARRY THE DIRTY DOG. You know the story, right? A dog got so dirty his family didn’t recognize him. He had to convince them to give him a bath and when they realized the filthy mutt was indeed Harry, he was returned to their bosom like a prodigal. Perhaps little me recognized the book as a tale of unconditional love and redemption. Even if I royally screwed up, darn it, I was worthy of love, right?!

Here are three recent books in which the dogs are almost my favorite characters.

BIG SWISSby Jen Beagin, was snort-funny, weird, cringy, random, insightful, embarrassing, singular, and at times annoying. The novel is very fresh (in all senses of the word). It’s about Greta, who lives in a small town and works as a transcriber for a sex coach, who calls himself Om. (Henceforth I will never not laugh when I hear the word!) Everywhere Greta goes in town she recognizes the voices of his clients, about whom she knows, well, every scintillating thing!  Om is hilarious. Along with sexual peccadilloes, he discusses “healing your inner child,” or “re-parenting yourself,” which, ahem, I think I believe in (?) but which also makes me incredulous. (Me thinks I doth protest too much? Note my feelings about Harry and unconditional love above!) But I’m not here to talk about any of that because I want to talk about Piñon, the terrier! What a joy-burst! Take a look: 

Everyone liked to believe their dog was superior to every other dog, but in Piñon’s case, it was undeniable. He jumped rope. He could ride a scooter. He could surf, skateboard, somersault. He could balance a soccer ball on his nose. He caught balls with his front paws. He slept in until nine or ten, never begged or slobbered…in addition to being a highly gifted and trained athlete, he was a very powerful kisser…his beverage of choice was iced black coffee. In addition to exercise, he enjoyed a lot of sustained and intense eye contact. 

I’ve already recommended LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY, by Bonnie Garmus, so I won’t go into the story here. But, the dog, Six-Thirty is tremendous. He knows everything. He’s judgmental. He’s a caregiver, a worrier, a delight. Check this:

You’re a very smart dog,” she’d told him just yesterday, and he longed to agree, but the truth was, he still didn’t understand what “smart” meant. The word seemed to have as many definitions as there were species, and yet humans–with the exception of Elizabeth seemed to only recognize “smart” if and when it played by their own rules. “Dolphins are smart,” they’d say. “But cows aren’t.” This seemed partly based on the fact that cows didn’t do tricks. In Six-Thirty’s view this made cows smarter, not dumber. 

FOREIGN AFFAIRS, by Alison Lurie also provides us with some canine depth and frivolity. However, in this terrific book which won the Pulitzer Prize, the dog is pretend. See for yourself:

The dog that is trailing Vinnie, visible only to her imagination, is her familiar demon or demon familiar, known to her privately as Fido and representing self-pity. She visualizes him as a medium-sized dirty-white long-haired mutt, mainly Welsh terrier, sometimes trailing her silently, at other time whining and panting and nipping at her heels, when bolder, dashing around in circles trying to trip her up, or at least get her to stoop down so that he may rush at her, knock her to the ground, and cover her with sloppy kisses.

Have you a favorite dog character? Do write to let me know!
*****

I’ve made a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is a way you can support my newsletter.

Big thanks to everyone who has bought me a coffee. I’m so grateful you enjoy my free newsletter, and that you took time to drop me a note and offer support. Yay! Cute button below for anyone who’d like to join in.

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️



write

I’ve been reading Alice McDermott’s craft book, WHAT ABOUT THE BABY?, which has given me a lot of great things to think about in my creative work, in the work I do for my editorial clients, and in my life as a reader. I love McDermott’s fiction, and if you haven’t read anything, please do dive in. CHARMING BILLY (which won the 1998 National Book Award for Fiction) is a great place to start. I have extreme tenderness for the characters in SOMEONE.

From my reading notes I’ve made a white board of ideas, both hers and my own. She speaks solely of fiction in her craft book. Here I use the word “stories” for fiction and memoir, each of which tells a version of the truth.

All of it interests me, and I’m particularly opinionated about clarity (the purple post-its). I crave sentences which evoke emotion rather than point at a writer’s brilliance. I want to swim in invisible language which brings a world to life without reminding me of the artifice. How about you? What do you expect from the stories you read and write?

I’m excited to be teaching a one-day workshop on 15 April:
Leaping Forward/ Slowing Down: Time in Prose.

When should we slow down and dwell in a scene? When should we summarize and move rapidly through weeks, years, or decades? When should we go back in time to reveal and understand a character’s motivation? How does the experience of time differ in a short story vs. a novel, or in memoir?

This workshop will explore how writers bend time to create different narrative effects. We will read work by Tessa Hadley, Rachel Cusk, Sally Rooney, Toni Morrison, John Cheever and others. After the discussion, we’ll work together on a long prompt, expanding and contracting time to see how we can effectively utilize it when telling our own stories.



eat

A pal came to visit and spread a little jouissance during my husband’s convalescence from shoulder surgery. Over lunch one day she said, “You know what’s a good thing? Small bites!” I co-sign!

Hence my Spring Chop and, if you’d like to try another check this: Nancy’s Chopped Salad. Seriously, it can’t be beat. 

Spring Chopped Salad

Dressing

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ c sherry vinegar
  • ¼ c olive oil, ideally extra-virgin
  • 2 T crème fraîche 
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Put everything in a jar and give it a good shake. It it seems a bit too sour, a smidge of honey will do the trick. 

Salad

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed, leaves chopped
  • 1 bunch dill, use as much as you like, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings, soaked in 50/50 hot water and red wine vinegar while you prepare the salad, then drained and added
  •  ½ c marcona almonds, chopped
  • cherry tomatoes, as many as you like. I use about ½ a pint, halved
  • 3 smallish carrots, peeled and diced
  • ½ – ¾ c Feta (I prefer sheep’s milk) crumbled
  • 1 bunch radishes, washed and diced. If you can get your hands on French breakfast radishes, use the entire bunch. Or, a watermelon radish would be glorious! 
  • 3 or 4 celery sticks, diced
  • A small bunch asparagus, washed, trimmed, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled w/salt, roasted at 400° for 6-8 minutes, then cooled, and cut into chunks 
  • 1 small head butter lettuce, washed, leaves stacked, and cut in 1/2-inch ribbons
  • 1 small head radicchio, halved, cored and cut in 1/4-inch ribbons

Please, adjust the measurements to suit your taste. Mix all ingredients in a big salad bowl. Toss with dressing. Jouissance!

Thanks for reading. Thanks for being part of my community. I’m grateful for you. Here’s a little Springtime Stanley, who sleeps under the duvet, detests dental hygiene, waits patiently for his scrambled eggs, which he prefers soft, his apples must be cut into small bites, he has the terrible habit of licking feet under the dining room table, and he settles comfortably on the sofa when he hears the Ted Lasso theme song.

If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If you’d like to support the newsletter, please share with your funny and fun friends here. Or you can do so with the buttons below. If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.

xN

you can change the story any time you like! isn’t that nice? revisions, appliances, and David Byrne 🌟💥💫

‘Tis the season of dead appliances at my house and I’m learning so much about life! The new dishwasher has a cleaning cycle called tough. The dryer has a speed called instant refresh. The new garbage disposal has boundaries. It’s either on or off. Meanwhile the coffeemaker is so sensitive it has a strength dial. The oven isn’t new, but I think it has the most to teach, it locks itself shut when it’s on self-clean, which is really just self-care, right?

There are days I’d definitely like to lock myself shut to self-clean, to burn away the sticky residue in my head and heart. Then, like the dryer cycle, I’d opt for an instant refresh, dial up my strength with the coffee maker and face the day!

Speaking of coffee, big thanks if you’ve bought me a coffee. I’m so grateful you enjoy the newsletter, and that you took the time to offer support. Yay you!


read

Here’s a newsletter that might be of interest to you + an interview and a book from David Byrne.  

Badass Women’s Bookclub offers a mix of literary and book-club fiction and memoir. They’ve also had a week-by-week series on how to be badass. It’s a quick motivational shot in the arm. I’ve had the pleasure of a few email exchanges with Gina Warner, the Queen Badass, and she’s an energized, all-around good egg!

A student of mine alerted me to this interview with David Byrne on 60 Minutes. He has a lot to say about art, humility, creation and collaboration. Regarding how his work takes surprising turns, how he thinks it’s about one thing and turns out to be about something else:

I trust what I do and what other people do…it is going to deliver what it wants to say. 

Byrne is incredibly cheerful and open to joy. In fact he has a website, Reasons To Be Cheerful which reports on advances and good things in the world of science and art. He says this about how we get attached to the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves:

You can change the story anytime. Isn’t that nice? 

ICYMI #1: Here is David Byrne singing with Choir! Choir! Choir! which made me cry all through the pandemic.

ICYMI #2: Here’s his book AMERICAN UTOPIA, a collaboration with Maira Kalman.

ICYMI #3: I’m proud to have a piece up at the fabulous online magazine DOROTHY PARKER’S ASHES. I feel lucky to be in the company of terrific and smart writers. You can read my piece, “Banana Cake on the Breezeway,” and all the others in the current issue.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.



write

I began an essay in November and after many drafts, it found a home! The essay started at around 2000 words, it swelled to nearly 4000. The final version is around 2300. My essay had to grow and retract in order to deepen, to find vivid and engrossing ways to say what I’d come to say. Merely deleting words and rearranging sentences (though yes, I did lots of that) would not lead to new discoveries.

Revision is a creative act that happens in multiple steps. First there’s the get-it-down draft. Then the expansive, up-draft, bringing the work closer to what you want to say about everything…love, shame, who we are, what happened, and how we got here. Finally, there is the teeth-cleaning draft! Clean it up, polish it, get rid of sticky and awkward bits.
 
Here is a simple and pragmatic way to begin your revision. Look at a passage of your work. Ask yourself:

  • What can I see? What can I taste?
  • What can I hear? Touch? Smell?
  • What is in motion? (this could be landscape, weather, people, objects, animals…)

Notice how the writing feels with an absence of sensory details and motion. When detail and action are present, how does the work feel? How can you bring energy to flat sections of your work?

***
This newsletter is free and a delight for me to write. It also takes time and consideration to put together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to say a quick thanks by clicking on the adorable button below and buying me a cup of coffee! Thanks so much to everyone who has sent love and caffeine my way!
***

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️



eat

When last we spoke I was raving about the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) Brussels Sprouts we enjoyed at The Lark, in Santa Barbara. Well, I got my hands on the recipe. Hooray for us!

Crispy Brussels Sprouts – Medjool dates, garum, sesame, lime

Fish Sauce Vinaigrette:

1 lg clove garlic, minced
2 serrano chilies, minced
1/2c garum fish sauce *
5½ T water
8t cider vinegar
8t lime juice
5T sugar (I used 3T)
1T sesame oil (I used 2T)
 
Whisk all ingredients together.
 
Brussels Sprouts :
 
Rice bran oil (I used grapeseed)
½ lb Brussels 
4 Medjool dates, halved, pits removed, and sliced into small pieces
 
Okay, here’s the thing. The recipe calls for deep frying, which I’m sure makes a superior dish. But I’m just not down with all the oil, the thermometer, the splatter guard, etc… so I roasted mine in the oven. I guess I must settle for superior-adjacent. Here’s what I did:
 
Wash and then slice the brussels in half. Lay them on a dish towel and let them dry. I find this step essential for crispiness. Lingering moisture (ugh, I used one of my least favorite words: moist!) turns to steam in the oven and mushes them up. Once fully dry, toss the brussels in a bowl with the oil. Be generous, make them shiny, be certain to distribute the oil evenly. Put two sheet pans in the oven and preheat to 425°. If the sprouts don’t touch one another while they cook (pretend they’re in a snit) they will crisp up better. Also, skip the parchment lining on the sheet pans (yes it makes clean up worse, what can I say?). When the oven is ready, spill the brussels onto the hot pans and roast for 20-minutes. Be certain to peek in at about the 10-minute mark, flip them over. 
 
Once crispy and tender, toss the brussels with the vinaigrette and the dates. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and add a spritz of lime. Delicious. I had mine with an Old Fashioned, which was terrific!

*What to do about the fish sauce? Should you spring for this, at nearly $30? I didn’t. I used this, which may not fulfill the “funk” factor, but it was delicious, superior-adjacent. If you decide to get the real deal, and deep fry the brussels, will you invite me over? Or, let me know, was it worth it?

 

Forward Forward

 

Share my newsletter with your sassy friends! It’s easy to support me. Use the button above. Let your friends know that new subscribers will get 3 book suggestions, 3 prompts, and 3 recipes in their inbox as a welcome gift.

***

Both my husband and Stanley have surgical dates this week. Joel, the #totalhipster, is continuing his journey toward bionic with a #mrcoldshoulder replacement. And Stanley will endure removal of a hideous and benign growth. It looks like a black truffle on his shoulder. He’s not happy in his upside-down collar, which kind of makes him look like a church elder!

If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.

xN

having fun out here 💙🌊🌀 killing it 💥💛🌞

Dear Ones,

My husband and I have been weather nomads for most of February, escaping sodden Portland for warmer California climates. I’m writing you now from a pal’s front porch where the sun is glinting off the denim blue Pacific, barking sea lions add a bass line to the trill of birds, and it’s already spring. Yesterday was a minus tide and we walked stretches of beach that are rarely exposed. There’s something about being in my hometown, Santa Cruz, that makes me feel as if happy parts of my personality are more fully exposed as well.

Which is why I’ve spent the last thirty minutes combing through Zillow listings. I am so homesick and I haven’t even left yet!

Have you left behind someplace you’d love to get back to? Tell me about it, please. I want to know where your heart is called. I want to have company in my yearning.


read

I’m thoroughly enjoying Anthony Marra’s, MECURY PICTURES PRESENTS, which takes place in Hollywood and Italy about fifteen years before the United States entered WWII. The book is by turn hilarious (evidenced by lines like this: a father says of his son, “I’m so proud of him, sometimes I’m convinced the milkman was his father.”), and uplifting, full of life and love affirming events. This novel is not pablum, it’s hard and funny and bright. I’m not finished yet, and even though I promised myself I would no longer promote books that I hadn’t yet finished, I’m doing it. Honestly, I like this book so much I wanted to prolong my reading experience so halfway through, I went back to the beginning.

I am proud to say I have a piece up at the fabulous online magazine DOROTHY PARKER’S ASHES. I feel lucky to be in the company of terrific and smart writers, including one of my favorites, Abigail Thomas, whose memoir, SAFEKEEPING, I adore. You can read my piece, “Banana Cake on the Breezeway,” and all the others in the current issue.

I’m also delighted to have participated in Alyson Shelton’s, WHERE I’M FROM project. Alyson is a wonderful literary citizen and all-around good egg! She invited me to participate which entailed using a “Where I’m from…” template to write a poem, and then have a brief Instagram Live session to talk about the poem, writing, life, whatever. She’s an excellent interviewer and the two of us went down a rabbit hole discussing how we were mothered by TV moms. Should you wish to listen, the full interview is available here. If this appeals to you, please reach out to Alyson through Instagram and find out more. She’s open to new participants in the series.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.

***
This newsletter is free and a delight for me to write. It also takes time and consideration to put together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to say a quick thanks by clicking on the adorable button below and buying me a cup of coffee! Thanks so much to everyone who has spread love and caffeine my way!
***


write

I took an online class, “Build Me a Hummingbird: Micro-Memoirs” from Beth Ann Fennelly, whose book, HEATING AND COOLING, is an absolute pleasure. I learned so much about tiny structures and the freedom they bring.

Attributes of micro-forms:

  • Demand specificity
  • No room for dishonesty
  • Clean & Clear – write like you speak
  • Playful – invite risk-taking
  • Provide a safe home for dangerous emotions (too short to wallow!)
  • Possibility of wonder
  • Compression – the story is pared to its essence
Where to read (and submit) micro-writing online: 100 Word StoryBrevityTiny Love Stories. Also, do check out the fabulous instagram account, MaryOliversDrunkCousin.
A prompt:Need inspiration first? Look how much Brenda Miller gets done with SWERVE, at about 250 words! And Naomi Shihab Nye’s beautiful piece, GATE 4-A is a wonder.

  • If you told the story of your life through objects, which objects would be the most loaded? Quickly list eight.
  • Choose the top three items, the most invested with emotion.
  • Give yourself a container…250 words is a good place to start. Write a micro story or memoir about each of the objects. Be curious. Keep in mind all the attributes listed above.


eat

A few years ago my cousin recommended The Lark, a terrific restaurant in Santa Barbara, and on our recent drive through town, it did not disappoint. I know, I know, every damn place worth its salt has crunchy-sweet-hot-salty-umami Brussels sprouts on the menu, but the ones at The Lark? G.O.A.T.…they demand respect. Here’s what the menu says: Crispy Brussels Sproutssesame, medjool dates, garum, lime. That’s all the information I could get out. Garum is fish sauce, which makes sense, part of the flavor profile, plus sweet dates, and tangy lime. The interwebs was no help. You chef-y folks, do you have a fav BS recipe? I’d love to know. And stay tuned! I ordered The Lark cookbook. Recipe to come.

In honor of the nearness of spring, I plan on keeping a green sauce in my fridge all the time. Something to spread on a sandwich, dollop on eggs, smear on roasted chicken breast, mix with ricotta and penne, stir with butter and slather on corn, spread on a sliced tomato salad. Keep this sauce around for anything that needs enhancing.

Verde Amore

½ c coarsely chopped parsley
Grated lemon zest
2 sm cloves garlic, chopped very fine
1 T capers, rinsed and drained and chopped
½ t salt
¾ c olive oil
2-3 T good quality mayonnaise

Additions:
Herbs (basil, cilantro, chives, thyme, mint) – chopped
Anchovies – smashed
Shallot – minced
Lemon juice

Mix well. Keep in a glass jar in the fridge and use on demand.

*****

Share my newsletter with your sassy friends! It’s easy to support me. Use the button below. Let your friends know that new subscribers will get 3 book suggestions, 3 prompts, and 3 recipes in their inbox as a welcome gift.

Forward Forward
***
Stanley and I spent a little time watching a surf contest today, and the announcer yelled over the loud speaker, “They’re having fun out there, killing it!” I have to admit, we were out there, having fun, killing the winter blues.
If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.xN

even the dog doesn’t want to leave the house! 🐶☔️🏠

Dear Ones,

There’s a line in a Tony Hoagland poem that says something like: February is medical waste being torn apart by dogs! I agree. The cold, the dismal and dark sky, one moment cloying as sodden dryer lint, the next a lid of hammered tin. The dog doesn’t want to go outside! I don’t even have a television show to brighten my mood. Where’s Ted Lasso to lift my spirits?I did come across this poem. I don’t feel “all lit from the inside” like Major Jackson. Within me I feel a pile of discarded household items—broken waterpik, stained and naked pillow, the never-used fondue set—left on the curb with a free sign. Yet his poem, his mood, gives me faith, that with the return of the sun, my shelves will restock.

It Must Be the Supermarket in Me
~Major Jackson

It must be the supermarket in me,
all lit from inside, full of wide aisles
and thoughtful shelf-stocking
where you’ll find my feelings and
memories. That’s why on the outside
I look so ordered and put together.
My inner supermarket contains
an old-world butcher shop and fish market.
Shoppers arrive with an unfathomable
hunger which I relieve by
offering freshness, quality,
and value. Some are penniless
and can only fantasize, licking their lips
at rows of artisanal cheeses and meats
behind glass display cases, the clothbound
bries and goat, at ropes of cured
salami and prosciutto. Still
they taste. I offer free samples
at stations throughout
my supermarket so people will
come to know and like me.
In the produce department,
many test my pears and avocados
for ripeness. In the floral area, they sniff.
Some walk off with my bouquets.
I contain cheerful baggers
who will escort you to your car.
At times, truthfully, I dislike this
about myself, forever accommodating.
I’ve not always had a supermarket in me.
It began when the church in me
lost its congregation and when
I lost my mother’s love to cocktails
and other stimulants. There is no place
for anger in my supermarket. I keep
it in the backroom with a sign that reads
“No Trespassing: Employees Only.”
It’s a way of being in the world,
a self, full of checkout lines and refrigerators,
until someone runs through me,
knocking down my pyramids of canned
goods or panic shopping, leaving empty aisles.

***

This newsletter is free and a delight for me to write. It also takes time and consideration to put together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to say a quick thanks by clicking on the adorable button below and buying me a cup of coffee! Thanks so much to everyone who has spread love and caffeine my way!

***

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️


read

I am a fan of Allegra Goodman. I’ve been reading her books since I first discovered her NYer story, “Apple Cake” which is wonderful and has terrific dialogue. I whole heartedly recommend SAM, her latest novel. The characters are vivid. Sam’s story is one of self-discovery. I read this book while also reading DEMON COPPERHEAD, and I found it heartbreaking that Sam had more timidity than Demon, even though her home life offered stability, her mother loving, her father in her early life as much as he could be, and yet… I was so worried about her at school, in the world where her unique raison d’être didn’t fit the rules we apply to girls. How we make our girls wobbly is really an awful thing. Ultimately, Sam grows into confidence and fullness. Which was a relief, and I was delighted to have travelled with her in this coming-of-age novel. Sidebar delight? I learned so much about rock climbing! I love to learn things in a novel.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.



write

So much of what we writers do is lonely work, hence I love being a student, learning and generating new work, and sharing my writing. Whether it is an off-the-cuff reading of words inspired by an excellent prompt, or an opportunity to be “up” in workshop. It’s a joy to hear responses to my writing.

I encourage you to put yourself in the student chair. One of my fav places to do that is a summer writing workshop. Last year I taught at Aspen Summer Words, and I had the best time. What a fabulous crew of teachers, students, editors, and agents. They’ve asked me to spread the word and I’m happy to do it. Only two more weeks to apply! Here’s the joy + benefits:

  • By applying you’re saying to yourself, my writing matters. I prioritize my creative work. I believe in me. In some ways applying is the most important step. ✅ done!
  • Meet writers from around the country and build yourself a community. 💥BOOM!
  • Get smart eyes on your work.
  • A new setting invigorates! Let me tell you, Aspen is unbeatable.
  • Be with your people—humans who love words and writing as much as you do.
  • Return home with a new vigor!

Look who’ll be teaching: Major Jackson (see his poem at the top of this newsletter), Claire DedererAshley Ford, Tom Perrota, Katie Kitamura, and Emily Roboteau. Oh please! Louis Alberto Urrea will be there. What inspiration and light he brings! I’ve heard him deliver a talk called “Hymns to the Broken.” You can hear it here! The quote I often repeat to my students:

[Writers] “…have the chocolate. We have Curtis Mayfield on the stereo, my friends. We can wear fabulous slippers if we like. We’re caffeinated. We can work naked anytime we want.…Fill your pen with love or don’t pick it up.”

I encourage you to take yourself seriously, check out the Aspen Summer Words website, make yourself a little vulnerable, apply, grow!

 

***

Share my newsletter with your sassy friends! It’s easy to support me. Use the button below. Let your friends know that new subscribers will get 3+3+3… 3 books, 3 prompts, and 3 recipes in their inbox as a welcome gift.

Forward Forward


eat

I’ve shared this roasted carrot and avocado salad with you in the past. I’m including it again because, well, it’s been in constant rotation at my home this winter, and not only have I simplified it, but I’ve also got an amazing salad dressing hack for you.

Roasted Carrot/Cumin Salad

  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 1t fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ t crushed red chile flakes
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1T red wine vinegar + more to taste
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil + more to taste
  • 1 lb medium-size carrots peeled
  • 1 orange, halved
  • 1 lemon, halved

Step 1
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a small food processor or a mortar, pulse or pound the garlic with the cumin, thyme, chile flakes, 1½ t salt and ¾ t pepper to make a paste. Add vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the oil and mix well.

Step 2
Arrange carrots in a roasting pan and spread spice paste on top. Place orange and lemon halves, cut side down, on carrots. Roast until carrots are tender and starting to brown, about 45 minutes.

Step 3
With a dishtowel to protect your hands, squeeze juice from the roasted orange and lemon halves over the carrots in the roasting pan. Toss with tongs. Now you are faced with a choice. You can serve the carrots hot, alongside a roast chicken, or salmon off the grill, skirt steak with chimichurri. OR, let the carrots come to room temperature, cut them into smaller pieces and toss in a green salad. Perhaps a mix of arugula and radicchio with some radishes, and avocado. Toss in pumpkin or sunflower seeds and you will be so happy, both for the delicious salad and for the faces at the table who are beaming love your way.

Step 4
Using a rubber spatula, scrape up all the goodness left behind in the roasting pan and add to a jar with a lid. Add more olive oil, maybe ½ cup, and ¼ cup vinegar to make the vinaigrette to end all vinaigrettes. My rule of thumb is 2-1 ratio oil to vinegar (yes I like the tang), + the goodness in the roasting pan. Let me tell you, the flavor is over the top. Season with salt and pepper. Use this to dress your salad.

Hey, I feel better after writing this! Thank you for reading. Thank you for being part of my community. I’m grateful for you. And so, I’m leaving you with this beautiful and joyful power! Braids and Bowlers!

Stanley! The best co-pilot on a sun chasing roadtrip, seeking respite from February.
If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.

xN

Dear Ones,

In the days leading up to my nothing-burger of a birthday (61), I had a scare. My annual exam was fine except for cholesterol, and then about ten days later I got a MyHealth alert. I hate alerts! I feel like MyHealth knows terrifying things about me. This alert supported my fear, a horrifying blood test result (when you’re a cancer survivor, any bad result hits so hard), for a test my doctor didn’t order. Being a slightly woo-woo person, I thought the universe was taking care of me, you know, performing this test to reveal something god-awful so I could deal with it in time. Thanks, Universe?

My doctor said it made no sense. “Go on your birthday vacation,” she said. “Enjoy yourself and we’ll deal when you return.”

😳
Guess what? I didn’t enjoy. I tossed and turned, pictured my painful demise in vivid detail.Once home the test was redone, and it was 💯 fine. The all-clear call came in the produce section at my market, where I gave a yelp. Basically, this is what I did, except I was surrounded by kale and bananas.

Wrong results were attached to my chart. Was it just a miscalculation, or did the results belong to someone else? I was happy for me, sad for whoever may have bad news coming. (Which reminds me of a T. Coraghessan Boyle story, which you can read here or listen to Lionel Shriver read here. The story grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go.)

Why am I telling you this? Because I seriously want to know if you are good at compartmentalizing. Can you push back potentially devastating news and keep on keeping on? Will you teach me how? Also, don’t forget to notice the beautiful bananas. Don’t forget to practice kärt besvär.

*****
Big thanks to everyone who has bought me a coffee. I’m so grateful you enjoy the newsletter, and that you took time to drop me a note and offer support. Yay! Cute button below for anyone who’d like to join in.

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️


read

Do you know about Read Like the Wind newsletter from the New York Times? If you don’t, please seek it out. I love Molly Young’s voice and her quirky selections.

With a nod to her style, I’m going to suggest two books from my past that changed me, inspired me, and made me feel less alone.

COME TO ME, by Amy Bloom, has one of my all-time favorite stories, “Love is Not a Pie,” which is about the capacious nature of the human heart. Gosh, I’m tearing up just thinking about all that love. This collection, as well as Bloom’s, A BLIND MAN CAN SEE HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, filled me with yearning to write funny stories about passion with recurring characters because once I fall in love with someone, fictional or IRL, I want to meet them again and again. If you like the idea of a story that begins at a funeral and ends at a card game, this is for you.

EXQUISITE PAIN, by the French artist, Sophie Calle, is an instillation in book form. Calle writes of a terrible moment in her youth, when her heart was broken by a man who failed to show up. How does one get over extravagant loss? The book begins with a countdown to her broken heart (as in “69 days to my unhappiness”) and then pivots to a counting up to her return to less naïve happiness. On each page, Calle repeats her story, the same way I (and maybe you) obsess over our pain. She begins to include stories of strangers’ extravagant losses. Her aloneness and her pain lessen. The book is gorgeous, and terribly expensive. If you can find it at a library, please check it out. Read more about it here. If you believe there is kinship in despair if you seek to feel less like a freak in your foibles, sorrows, and quirks, Sophie Calle is for you.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is another way you can support my newsletter.



write

🙂🙃

Since I last wrote you I had a rejection of an essay for which I feel a particular fondness. It’s about women-on-women cruelty, my bad actions, mothers/daughters, and repair. And, like Calle, it’s about the kinship of despair. I tell you this because rejections are hard. I know you know.

I also had a story accepted. I feel a particular fondness for the story and the main character, Trina, who is in her early fifties, newly divorced, and embarking upon a new dating life. The story is about vulnerability, how we expose ourselves literally and figuratively to new people. Trina is a recurring character in my collection (seeking a home soon!). The first story I wrote about her was published in Zyzzyva Magazine.

Why am I telling you this? Because I felt joy and frustration about my work in a matter of days.

Russell Banks has advice:

 

Please, take this to heart. There are gatekeepers who have control over our careers. The only thing we have control over is our writing. Write what brings you joy. Write your important truth. Write what makes you feel kinship with the world and with yourself. Keep writing. Keep learning.

If you are looking for a writing workshop in which to share your work, grow and learn, hang with amazing smart writers, please message me as I’ve got seats available.

Also, I have space for spring editorial projects. Check my editorial page here. We may be a good fit.

 

*****
Another way to offer your support is to share the newsletter with sassy friends. You can do so with the button below. If you get three people to sign up, I will send you:

  1. My undying affection
  2. A token of thanks. A sweet read.write.retreat. sticker to affix to a journal, your dog, or anything.
Forward Forward


eat

Sheesh! After that write section, I feel like I should tell you to go imbibe your fav beverage and scarf some French fries. Instead I will offer this beloved (can’t you tell by the stains!) family cookie recipe:

 

********
Thanks for reading. Thanks for being part of my community. I’m grateful for you. And, so is Stanley.
If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over here to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.

xN

Dear Ones,

Have you seen all the advice…besties, work-pals, loose connections, family, partners… connecting with people who populate your world is the most important action for health and happiness. I take this to heart. Thank you all for taking time to write me notes, click the links, buy me a coffee, and connect with me by reading. I feel so privileged to have a spot in your inbox, your reading, creating, viewing and eating lives.

More ways to flourish through companionship? Say hello to the neighbor who walks their dog past your house. Ask a friendly acquaintance who you run into at the grocery store if you can join their book group. (I might have just done this, and I’m not embarrassed! 🥴) Offer/accept a last-minute invitation to come to dinner. Join a club. (I just joined a hiking club and I’m going snowshoeing with strangers!) In other words, show up, for yourself and the people in your world.

Also, make it easy, hang around people you love!
Look at these beauties. 😘🥳❤️


read

I recently read, GROUP, by Christie Tate, and let me tell you, that was a wild ride. Buckle up! In her memoir Christie seeks help with life struggles of connecting and maintaining relationships, pernicious perfectionism, disordered eating, denying herself pleasure in any aspect of her life. She finds Dr. Rosen who invites her to join a group. As the song says, “I just might have a problem that you’d understand. We all need somebody to lean on.” Crowd sourcing solutions to problems may be the way to go. Let’s say that Rosen is an unorthodox genius who we all may want in our corner. Christie is vulnerable, enraged, funny, infuriating yet easy to like.

Next up, DEMON COPPERHEAD, by Barbara Kingsolver, a modern recasting of David Copperfield, this one about the opioid crisis in Appalachia. I am sort of prepared for bleak and sad, but I’m telling you straight up, the beautiful writing I expect and love from Kingsolver may not carry me through. I am guarding my joy these days. Have you read? What did you think?

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is another way you can support my newsletter.



write

This quote came across my desk from Verlyn Klinkenborg’s, Several Short Sentences About Writing and (almost) freed me!

Your job as a writer is making sentences.
Your other jobs include fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences.
If this is the case—making, fixing, killing, arranging—how can your writing possibly flow?
It can’t.

Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer.

A writer may write painstakingly.
Assembling the work slowly, like a mosaic,
Fitting and refitting sentences and paragraphs over the years.
And yet to the reader the writing may seem to flow.

The reader’s experience with your prose has nothing to do with how hard or easy it was for you to make.
You’re not writing for the reader in the mirror whose psychological state reflects your own.
You have only your own working world to consider.
The reader reads in another world entirely.

So why not give up on the idea of “flow” and accept the basic truth about writing?

It’s hard work, and it’s been hard work for everyone all along.
There’s good reason to believe this, apart from the fact that it’s true.
If you think that writing—the act of composition—should flow, and it doesn’t, what are you likely to feel?
Obstructed, defeated, inadequate, blocked, perhaps even stupid.
The idea of writer’s block, in its ordinary sense,
Exists largely because of the notion that writing should flow.

But if you accept that writing is hard work,
And that’s what it feels like when you’re writing,
Then everything is as it should be.
Your labor isn’t a sign of defeat.
It’s a sign of engagement.
The difference is all in your mind, but what a difference.

Do you have any idea how often I’ve felt inadequate and stupid because I rarely “flow” when I’m at my desk? What a relief to know that there is nothing wrong with me. That toil is just, well, writing. Maybe this passage takes the pressure off you as well. I hope so.

 *****

Maybe you, like me, promised to submit more work in 2023. I’ve been busy and brave. I sent two pitches for two essays in the first week. One had a typo in the first sentence, a speed bump I hope 🤞🏼the editor can overlook. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I can’t let a mistake derail me because…life, right?

In case you’re curious, sans typo, here’s the start of the pitch… if you’re an editor and this essay appeals for April/Sexual Assault Awareness Month, drop me a note and I’ll send you the entire pitch or essay.

In “The Worst Thing A Girl Can Be” I’ve written about how in my 40’s, my tweener son showed me a disturbing “no means yes” frat-boy video that enacted and decried date rape as fake. The video and my son’s confusion triggered me to finally admit, out loud and with fervor, that when I was 16 and found myself beneath a stranger in the back of a car, I was raped. The narrative I’d told myself for years was that I’d put myself beneath that man. 

Don’t be silent. Put your truth, your work into the world. We will be richer for your voice.

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️

This newsletter is free and a delight for me to write. AND, it takes time and consideration to put together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to say a quick thanks by clicking on the adorable button above and treating me to coffee!



eat

Speaking of joining clubs, how about this one? Wine clubs, out? Olive oil clubs, in!

I made this and boy am I glad!

California Pozole (which isn’t really pozole at all, more a wet taco, but that sounds disgusting)

·       3T olive oil
·       1 lg yellow onion, finely chopped
·       3-4 shallots, sliced thin
·       1-2 poblano chiles, finely chopped
·       3-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
·       1t ground cumin
·       1t ground coriander
·       1t dried oregano
·       Kosher salt and black pepper
·       6 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
·       3lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts (I used both)
·       1 ½ cups cooked or canned pinto beans
·       2 cups cooked brown rice
·       ½ cup unroasted pumpkin seeds
·       2 cups shredded cabbage
·       1 bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
·       1 lime, quartered, for serving
·       Crumbled tortilla chips, thinly sliced radishes, I sliced jalapeno, diced avocado, roughly chopped cilantro, thinly sliced scallions, salsa, and sour cream, for garnishing

Step 1
Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet oven over medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have softened without taking on any color, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, and oregano, cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic and spices are fragrant, about 1 minute more. Season well with salt and pepper. Place in your slow cooker.

Step 2
Add the stock and chicken and cook on low until the chicken has cooked through and is no longer pink, maybe an hour. Don’t worry too much about the time, this is meant to get going and then walk away. Honestly, I left mine on low for 3 hours before I got to this step. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat.

Step 3
Add the shredded chicken back to the pot along with the cooked beans and 1 cup of the cabbage. If you feel there is not enough broth, add water. I promise it will be flavorful. Allow everything to simmer on low together for another thirty minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Step 4
Meanwhile, sauté shallots in more olive oil in a skillet, add poblanos. Sauté till soft and slightly golden. Add pumpkin seeds, cooked rice and chopped parsley. Sauté and crisp up.

Step 5 
Ladle soup into bowls. Add rice, and the garnishes. Serve with limes, for squeezing on top.

If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.

Please, remember to tell your people you love them.xN

she ruined my 20s and now she’s back? + 10 excellent writing ideas

Are you kidding me? She ruined my twenties and now she’s back?

 

 

So, I perused the New York Times list of 93 Stylish People of 2022. And lo, there was Martha Stewart. That woman! (I did soften to her after, you know…jail, and Snoop Dog) But here she is again with her deep pockets, beautiful taste, and impossible standards, all set to ruin aging by peddling elite Japanese skincare products ($550 for moisturizer). I’m all for age representation, but come on, enough with the photo shop expertise that belittles real life. Dewy and youthful Martha? I even peeked at her insta, and I’m out. (Or am I? something about that incredulous frisson, that moment when I get to have a bzzz of “come on!?!” It’s kind of addicting!)

 

Which brings me to Instagram and why I’m on it. Sure we all curate our lives to look full and happy and colorful. And yes, sometimes as I scroll I feel a little bit less. Less lucky, less happy, less connected. But today I had a change of heart. I decided to remember that behind every post, there are a bazillion ‘less’ moments for everyone. I use my insta as a gratitude journal. And I’m viewing your Instagram as the same. Look at the moments we get to be happy about!

 

 


read

Nothing says holidays like death! Nah, just kidding, but I did just read these two books, both lovely in their own way, and both about death.

LOST & FOUND,  by Kathryn Schulz is an elegant meditation on losing those we love and on finding love. In the first half of the memoir Schulz tells us about her father, his death, and the present absence she feels. She talks about all kinds of loss, but of course the ultimate loss we will all face. The second half of the book is about finding our person, finding love and it too is a beautiful meditation, full of life and love and hope.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS, by Miriam Toews, is about the horrible pain and shame of not wanting to be alive, and how sometimes all a person wants is to escape. The novel is, yes, very funny. And yes, Toews says it hews very closely to the story of her sister’s suicide. I am an only child, and I wish wish wish I had a sister—devoted, angry, confused, funny, kind—as Miriam Toews. This book was a joy to read.

 

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.

 



write

In my last newsletter I gave you my top ten reads from this year, and their loosely linked cousins. If you missed it you can find it here. This time around I’m giving you a top eleven writing prompts, books, series, and inspiring people from whom you could take a class.

Prompts:

I just made the biggest mistake of my life, and if I tell it to you, that means it really happened.” Put those words in the mouth of your character, or yourself in a section of your memoir. Is it hyperbole? Or is it a true cringeworthy, head clutching moment? Go, go, go….!

When did you know IT was over? (This question forces you, or your character, to face the adjacent and very important question, what is IT?)

Good God! In the messy stew of your characters’ lives, or in your life (and for the sake of your book I hope there is plenty of mess), what is a plausible reason for hope? What did you, or your character, cling to that saw them through? Dreams of forgiveness? Success? Love? What?

This quick list, from Elissa Bassist whom you will meet in a sec, is terrific. Without pause, without over thinking, write down the TEN MOVIE SCENES that will be included in the bio-pic about you or your character. You only get ten! Winnow. What is important? What stands out? Go, go, go…!

Teachers/Coaches:

This year I’ve taken two classes from Elissa Bassist. Okay, she’s terrific. In her class, Funny Personal Essays, I wrote a piece about the tragicomic experience of taking my mother for a cognitive test and it’s been picked up! (Hooray! Stay tuned for the link in the next newsletter.) Elissa is smart, honest, kind, and kinda ruthless. She gives great advice. She also wrote a terrific book, HYSTERICAL, that you should read.  And she has a Yorkie named Benny!

If you need a coach, a cheerleader in the best possible sense, someone who knows a ton about our brains and how we sabotage ourselves, Jen Louden is a good person to have on your side. She is full of energy, full of ideas, will motivate your ass to get to your desk, to commit to your voice, your work, and to hush up the inner-critic (as my Peloton teacher Cody Rigsby says, “Hot people don’t have time for negative self-talk, and you are hot!”)

Books on Writing:

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE, Charles Baxter. I have nothing to say except if you haven’t read this book, you should probably stop reading my newsletter, grab a sharpie and a notebook in which to take many notes, and read Baxter’s book instead. His newest collection of essays on writing, WONDERLAND, is on the top of my TBR pile.

CURIOUS ATTRACTIONS, by Debra Spark. These essays come from lectures Spark gave at Warren Wilson’s MFA program. They are smart, engaging, often funny, and taught me a ton. I have assigned many of them to my students. She also has a new collection of writing essays, AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED. Check them both.

A value-add for the books? They have quotes and references to plain-old wonderful literature. These two books will spin you out into the world for wonderful reading. So, be certain to check the notes to give yourself a great TBR pile.

Weird Ideas (things to skim, read, and consider that may help your writing and your curiosity):

For inspiration and new ideas, check these from New York Times: the series, The World Through a Lens, offers quirky, in-depth looks at small corners… like Mainers who subsist on seasonal work, a general store in Montana, and circus workers on cruise ships. Also from the NYTs check these weird and tiny interludes for story ideas (okay, it is hit and miss, but sometimes there is a gem!), Metropolitan Diaries. Another series from the NYTs is How I Hold it Together, a series of guides about stress and what people do to alleviate their woes. I find it great inspiration for when I’m thinking about how characters move through the world. I guess the message here is, THERE ARE WRITING PROMPTS AND IDEAS ALL AROUND YOU, STAY OPEN!

Newsletters:

George Saunders’s, Story Club, is terrific. He is not only making us all better writers, but better humans as well.

Advice:

From Ray Bradbury: Read a story, an essay, and a poem every night to spur and inspire your creativity. You will never run out of ideas.

 



eat

This delicious bowl-dinner is the perfect remedy to cookies and eggnog!

Miso Blackened Salmon (from the Wandering Chickpea)

Ingredients:

  • 1lb salmon, cut into filets
  • ¼ c soy sauce
  • 2T honey
  • 1T white miso paste
  • 1T  olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Black rice is excellent, but brown is good too!

For the Cucumber Salad:

  • 1 English cucumber, sliced
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 2T chopped cilantro
  • 1/3c plain Greek yogurt
  • 1T olive oil
  • 1t sugar
  • Juice and zest from 1 lime
  • Salt to taste
  1. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce, honey, miso, olive oil, garlic and lime juice. Pour 3/4 of the marinade into a shallow dish and place the salmon. Marinate for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, make the cucumber salad. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Taste for salt and add more as needed.
  3. To cook the salmon, preheat the broiler and place an oven rack 6 inches below the heating element.
  4. Place the salmon filets on a broil pan or foil lined baking sheet and cook for 6-8 minutes until no longer opaque and slightly blackened on top.
  5. Brush the remaining marinade over the cooked salmon. Serve fresh with the cucumber salad and a side of black rice if desired.

 

A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Stanley’s loving the short and crispy afternoons! Here’s his photo for the dating Apps.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN