Several years ago a friend was writing a book about the parallel lives of three women, close friends, based on her own experience. She intended to include recipes but her hotshot New York agent said, “No recipes.” I protested that recipes in books are really popular these days—look at all the culinary cozies. She quickly said, “Oh, well, you and I will write a cookbook together.” Intrigued, I went home and wrote my first part, about growing up in a beef-and-potatoes, slightly English household in Chicago. Next time we met, I asked what she’d written. Nothing. This went on for a while and then she suggested a working dinner. Her idea of “working,” was to say, “I don’t have as much to write as you do.”
“You haven’t put in your mother’s recipes,” I countered.
“Mom didn’t cook.”
“I took them out.”
I began to see that we had a problem. She decided I should write the cookbook, and she’d write commentary. When another friend asked me what my so-called writing partner was going to do, I said, “Write rebuttal.” But even that didn’t work, and I found myself writing a cookbook that turned into memoir.
It was great fun to recall the stories that went along with serving various foods. My kids jumped in enthusiastically and kept saying,, “Remember when you used to fix….” Of course there were a few comments such as, “I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.” So in the cookbook you find a chronicle of my youth, early marriage, single-parent days, and my current live-alone and entertain-a-lot status.
I love to cook and feel as creative in the kitchen as at my computer. To me, both activities free your imagination and let you produce something you can share with others, be it a meal or a book. You’re making something out of nothing. I firmly believe, however, that you have to have an active imagination and a sense of joy for either one—writing fiction certainly requires imagination and so does cooking. I’m not an innovative cook, making up my own recipes—except for things like tuna dishes or chili or spaghetti. I follow recipes and my oldest son claims I get into trouble when I don’t read them carefully—he’s right. On the other hand though, when I write I don’t plot. I’m a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants, getting that first thought down and then seeing where it goes. And strangely enough, in my first series, Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, I created an amateur sleuth who doesn’t cook and constantly feels guilty for feeding her children fast food and pizza or taking them for hamburgers.
Here’s a family favorite from Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books (I wanted to call the cookbook The Faux Gourmet but the publisher objected.)
Colin’s Queso (for my oldest son who loves this)
1 lb. hamburger
1 lb. sausage
1 lb. Velveeta
1 can mushroom soup
1 jar Pace picante sauce
Brown hamburger and sausage, breaking up the chunks of meat until it is all crumbly. Drain and put in the crockpot. Add Velveeta, cut in chunks, and melt. Add mushroom soup and picante sauce (really works best if you use Pace—you can choose mild, medium or hot in both picante and sausage).
In No Neighborhood for Old Women, the second Kelly O’Connell Mystery, a serial killer targets older women in Fort Worth’s Fairmount neighborhood. Realtor Kelly O’Connell investigates, in spite of the pleas that she stay out of it from her companion, policeman Mike Shandy, and her assistant, the colorful Keisha. Kelly knows a serial killer will hurt business, and she worries about the frightened old women in the neighborhood. And when Claire Guthrie, a friend and former client, shows up at Kelly’s front door announcing that she’s just shot her husband in the butt, Kelly becomes her champion. Kelly knows about bad marriages and bad husbands from her own experience. Then Kelly’s mom, the needy Cynthia O’Connell, decides to move to Fort Worth to be near her grandchildren. Kelly, a harried, hassled, and loving single mom of two young girls, unwittingly puts her children, her mom, and herself in danger and almost derails her love life. The first Kelly O’Connell Mystery is Skeleton in a Dead Space (Turquoise Morning Press) and Judy’s cookbook is Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books. Visit Judy Alter’s website http://firstname.lastname@example.org