Monday, July 7, 2014

The Adventures of The Pie Lady -- A Cartoon Strip by Dave Pittman

Artists give the BEST birthday presents ever. This cartoon strip is by the brilliantly talented Dave Pittman. He captured every single detail so perfectly -- down to Daisy's hair, the Mini Cooper loaded to the max, Jack hogging the front seat, The Binoculars, the snake (he's there twice, can you find him?), my "creative use of language," and more. I'm hoping I don't have to wait for another birthday for the next installment. Seriously, drawing a picture and giving it as a gift brings even more happiness than a homemade pie! And it lasts a lot longer. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Dave.

Monday, April 21, 2014

RV Book Tour So Far -- Phoenix to Austin

Nancy plans to get an RV of her own
so this is good practice!
I am sitting in the back of the RV while my friend from Dallas, Nancy Moffat, is driving. What a luxury! Not to mention, she is a superb driver which is why I feel relaxed enough to hang out in the back and write (and not be a backseat driver!)

I am on Day 8 of the RV Book Tour for my new cookbook, “Ms. American Pie.” While I technically started the book tour in San Francisco at Omnivore Books on Friday, April 11, I didn’t set out in the RV until last Monday, as the RV was parked in Pasadena. My first stop on the cross-country route — heading from California back to the American Gothic House in Iowa — was Phoenix, where we first parked at the downtown “hacienda” of Christina Fitzgerald.

Christina was featured in my memoir, “Making Piece,” as I wrote about how I spent the first New Year’s Eve after Marcus died. Getting through those first holidays was a challenge, but as Christina is a widow herself, her sweet company and her gorgeous, art-filled house made it not only bearable but fun. I was so glad to see her again, four years later. Her hospitality and house were as wonderful as ever.

Our beautiful pie class host, Lorrie Rockwell (right)
I had two TV appearances and a pie class to teach my first day in Phoenix. The class was a special one in that a longtime Facebook fan, Lorrie Rockwell, offered the kitchen space in the Hospice Center where she works. Two ovens and six tables provided the perfect venue. But the evening wasn’t really about the pie. It never is. It was about the fellowship and new friends that came out of the experience. Besides Lorrie, who was so gracious and welcoming (and pretty!), there were two women I met on RAGBRAI last summer. I had escaped from my pie stand responsibilities for two days last July to join in the “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.” While pedaling along with the tens of thousands of other cyclists I rode behind a woman, a strong rider, who every time she came upon those grooves in the pavement that warn drivers of a stop sign, she called out to those behind her, “RUMBLE STRIPS!!!!” I ran into her at a roadside watermelon stand later and I recognized her. “Oh, hi. I know you. You’re Rumble Strips,” I teased. We struck up a conversation — her name is Candace — and then met her friend Martha who she was with. I learned they were from Phoenix. We traded contact info and when I knew I was going to be in Phoenix on my book tour I invited Candace and Martha to come to the class. And they did. What a surprising and special connection!

Candace "Rumble Strips" to my left and Martha Baker to my right.

Also at the class were the two sisters of my best friend in the universe, Nan. Nan and I grew up in Iowa and have been friends since age 12. Nan lives in NYC, but her sisters, Chris and Kathy live in Making Piece,” I wrote about staying at Kathy’s five-star hotel — I mean, house — and how I parked the RV in its circular driveway overlooking the desert landscape (more green than brown in this area) and the distant city lights. It was so luxurious the first time, I was happy to return. This time Kathy and her husband Chuck were home. And this time the RV sat in her driveway emblazoned with decals reading “Pie Across the Nation.” “The neighbors are all going to come over asking for pie,” Kathy said.
Chris and Kathy, from Iowa but living in Phoenix
Phoenix. Kathy lives in Paradise Valley with a view of the famous Camelback rock formation. In “

Nancy, who is still driving as I write this, had flown to Phoenix to join me on the book tour until Dallas. She stayed with me at Kathy and Chuck’s and among every other detail that needs attending to while driving cross country on a book tour (walking & feeding Team Terrier, washing dishes, pumping gas), she helped me make pies for the bookstore event I was doing at Changing Hands. We tried not to make too much of a mess in Kathy’s kitchen and while the pies were baking in the oven, we dipped in and out of the infinity pool. Oh yes, life on the road can be very, very good!

Such a FUN evening! Bonus: everyone learned how to make pie while eating pie.
Changing Hands is a big, bountiful and successful independent bookstore in Tempe. It’s one of those bookstores that does such a good job with their book displays (and gift displays) that you want to buy everything! I was warmly greeted by Cindy Dach (who has been very busy lately preparing to open their second location) and Eddie, who was my host for the event. We served free pie — as I do at all my events — and included in the pie offerings were Candace’s and Kathy’s apple pies from the previous night’s class. (Thank you both! Your pies were not only appreciated, they were devoured!) I had a packed audience (I love having all that energy in the room) and sold out of books (such a good problem for an author to have!) I also had some surprise visitors — some long-lost relatives. My dad’s cousin, Delores, and her two daughters were there. Bright and beaming people, I wished I had time to spend with them and get to know them. But such is the nature of a book tour. I had a long line of people waiting for their books to be signed, and then one is always rushing to the next stop.

That next stop was Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve never been to Albuquerque and all I knew about it was that we should at least see Old Town. So we took the designated exit off of I-40, drove a few blocks, and parked on a quiet section of Rio Grande Street where it dead-ends at a golf course. The beauty of traveling in an RV is that you are self-contained. You can run your interior lights off a battery, your refrigerator off propane, and you have your bed in the back, so you can park anywhere (where it’s allowed) and sleep for the night. We had pulled up across from a bed & breakfast and in front of a tidy brick house where a man was standing out in his driveway. Rather safe than sorry, I approached the man and asked if it was okay to park there overnight. After he said yes, I said, “Oh, and do you know where we can get a good margarita?”

My dogs were standing there with me and his dog was inside barking so he said, “Let me have my wife bring our dog out.” That’s how we met Bob, Dorothy, and their dog Weston. Dorothy came out to the RV the next morning and asked if we needed anything, if we needed to use the bathroom, or needed her to direct us to the TV station where I was going to talk about my book. She was so nice, so friendly, so much fun to talk to, we brought her with us to the TV station, had lunch with her afterward (she knew of a good place called Flying Star CafĂ© — and it was good!), walked the dogs with her in the afternoon, brought her with us to the evening bookstore event I did at Bookworks, and had a post-event drink with her before calling it a day. It felt like we had known her forever and that she was an integral part of Team Pie. We wanted to kidnap her and bring her with us.
Dorothy and me -- and the RV. I still think I might go back and kidnap her.

While it’s hard to leave each place, and even harder to say goodbye to old — and new — friends, there is always something exciting just down the road. We are about to arrive in Austin (I’m doing a pie demo and book signing tonight at Barnes & Noble) and we will then be off to Dallas tomorrow (where I will have to say goodbye to Nancy as it’s home for her). After Dallas, I go to McKinney, Texas (come see me at Kitchenwares on the Square, 6pm, Saturday, April 26) and Kansas City (come see me on Monday, April 28 at the Louisburg Library), and finally, I will be home the first of May after being away for 7 long but warm, sunny and action-packed months.

Let the adventures — and the encounters with such lovely, giving, interesting people — continue!

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Cookbook is Alive and Doing Well!

I'm so happy (and relieved) that my second book is finally out (no more "Gulp" stage, phew!) Not only that, I am getting such a positive response to it. It's debuting at #2 on the bestseller list of pie books -- and it's only been out 2 days!

"It's so pretty," is what I'm hearing. 

"I can't wait to try the recipes." 

"You have given me the confidence to try making a pie." 

"I love the stories."

"I stayed up and read it cover to cover."

I love that one reviewer said "Howard's on a mission to 'take the fear out of making pie' with no-fuss tips and cheeky writing. It's like having your sassy best friend who is also an accomplished baker teach you everything you need to know about pie." Yes! She really got it!

Here is a sampling of reviews: 

The Good Cook

The Good Cook (Q&A)

Chow Bella Phoenix (Review)

Chow Bella Phoenix (Beth's Pie Tips)

(Feel free to post your own on AmazonGoodReads and anywhere else)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Gulp: Waiting for my Cookbook to Launch

My cookbook, "Ms. American Pie: Buttery Good Pie Recipes and Bold Tales from the American Gothic House," comes out in just a few weeks. I got the book deal exactly one year ago and started writing it last April. I worked on the recipes all summer. I did the photo shoot in June and July. For the shoot, I made 35 different kinds of pies in 2 days! And they had to look good enough for the camera. No pressure there. Sheesh. (Note, I say "good enough" because remember: Pie is not about perfection.) I did the editing and proofreading off and on throughout the fall into early January. The manuscript made the rounds through the publisher's editorial and art teams and came back to me several times with questions and tweaks. By the end of January the color proofs were approved and sent off to the printer. The book was printed in February, in China, and now thousands of copies of it are making their way across the seas in a shipping container. (A few advance copies were flown over, as you read in my post about receiving the FedEx delivery.) And finally, after all that, it will be ready for distribution and placed in stores in April.

What a long and crazy year it's been.

Ironically, this period right now, just a few weeks shy of my book's arrival, feels like the hardest part of the whole process. Yes, I am busy working on getting the book tour scheduled and doing publicity, but the fact is, the book is still "out there" somewhere in some nebulous space. There is this emptiness, this no man's land, this "in between." There is the unknowing of how it will be received, and thus the anticipation, the nerves, the impatience. And yes, the fear.

But I found something to help get me through this final stretch.

I just bought my artist boyfriend two books. One I had read before -- I discovered it two years ago when I was doing my book tour for "Making Piece." I was in Austin, Texas at Bookpeople and as a courtesy for my event they offered me a discount in the store. The clerk recommended a new release by a local author named Austin Kleon and his book was called "Steal Like an Artist." It was one of those hand-written, sketch/doodle books full of quotes and inspiration. It reminded me of a younger, hipper, male version of one of my favorite authors on creativity, SARK. Her book, "Inspiration Sandwich," is one of my all-time favorites.

A page from "Steal Like an Artist."
In "Steal Like an Artist" I loved Kleon's suggestions and encouragement to emulate those whose work you admire. And if possible, hang out with them. Like the page from his book (pictured above) says, "Stand next to the talent." It reminded me of my dad's best and wisest advice from my childhood: "Surround yourself with positive people." My dad also said, "The surest way to unhappiness is to compare yourself to others." So yeah, stand next to the talent but don't compare yourself to them. Don't be them, be yourself.

Kleon's second book just came out this month. It's called "Show Your Work," and it's as good as the first. (Okay, so I bought this as a gift for my boyfriend, but he didn't mind letting me read it before him.) A lot of the content wasn't new to me as I already practice a lot of what he preaches: make friends online but meet them in person, give credit to the people you quote (yes, thank you, Mr. Kleon), start a blog, build a website, and don't let public opinion (like mean-spirited comments on your blog or Facebook page) get you down -- in fact, just delete them! Which reminds me of another nugget of wisdom from my dad. When I was in 5th grade and came home in tears after an unwarranted reprimand from my teacher, he said, "You don't have to listen to everyone. Pretend to listen if you have to, but tune out the negative stuff."

I loved "Show Your Work," but it wasn't until I got to the "Behind the Scenes" section at the very end that I experienced my "Aha!" moment. Here, Kleon outlined his creative process and showed some "outtakes." He describes something Jonathan Lethem said (remember: give credit to the people you quote) and it resonated with me. Deeply. Not only that, it helped. It gave me comfort. Relief. Inner peace. Someone had perfectly and precisely described what I've been feeling these past two months. He even had a name for it: The Gulp.

From Austin Kleon's "Show Your Work." Buy it! It's so worth it!

In case you can't read the words in the photo, here's what it says:
"There's a period of time, according to Jonathan Lethem, a place after you've finished something and before you've published it, in which it no longer belongs to you, but it doesn't belong to the audience yet either. He calls this 'The Gulp.' It's an unsettling place."
Getting a book published is so different from writing a blog. With a blog, you get instant gratification and the satisfaction that comes from getting published with one self-controlled push of a button. A book is a long process and a collaborative effort. It's tangible and tactile. You can hold it your hands, turn the pages, feel their smoothness, admire their color. It's more permanent. And more susceptible to criticism. A book requires determination first to sell it, then discipline to write it, patience and faith to give birth to it, and finally, trust that once it goes out into the world the audience will love your baby as much as you do. This last phase is unsettling indeed!

In the end, are all the long hours -- and, in my case, oven burns -- worth it? Yes. I just hope you think so too. But like me, you'll have to wait a few more weeks. Welcome to The Gulp.

NOTE: Austin Kleon is on his book tour the same time as I'm on mine. (Here is the link to my tour schedule.) He is appearing at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona on April 17, the night after I'm there. I was hoping to stay an extra night and catch him -- meet him in person as he encourages in "Show Your Work" -- but I have to be in Albuquerque and the RV doesn't go very fast.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pi Day Giveaway! Win a Copy of my Cookbook

It's National Pi Day (3.14)! Let's celebrate the infinite ways that pie can make the world a better place.

For starters, WIN A COPY OF "MS. AMERICAN PIE." My new cookbook will be in stores April 15, but you can get it sooner and for free by entering to win! Also included is a copy of the new movie "Veronica Mars" on Blu-Ray DVD and a bag of marshmallows. The marshmallows may be a Veronica Mars thing, but you can use them for the S'more Pie recipe in my book. a Rafflecopter giveaway
If you don't win...well, you can always buy the book.
Click here to order.

Happy Author, Happy FedEx Guy

When I made that strawberry crumble pie on Friday, I had the idea to share a slice of it with the FedEx guy when he delivered my cookbook. On Monday morning at 10 a.m. I just happened to open the door  and saw the FedEx truck parked. I summed up the situation: FedEx Driver. Check. Package in hand. Check. Package that looks like it could be a hardcover book (er, my cookbook). Check. "Is that for me?" I asked. When he confirmed the apartment number I practically snatched the large envelope out of his hand and started ripping it open as I turned back toward the door. Realizing I was caught up in my excitement and being rude to the delivery man, I spun around on my heel and said, "Wait. Would you like a piece of pie?" He raised his eyebrows and smiled. "Sure," he said.
Look at that cute blue & white gingham book spine!
I handed the book to my boyfriend, Dave, and went back inside to get the pie (I served it on a gingham paper plate I had handy but had to rummage around for a plastic fork.) Dave, stayed outside with Mr. FedEx and the book. Dave was as excited as me about seeing the cookbook in print for the first time. After all, he had seen me through and supported me during the last stages of editing, not only providing a beautiful place to work but he brought me breakfast and lunch so I could stay on task. 
I love the artistic touches like the gingham on the inside cover of the book.
Plus, the photos are so beautiful. It makes me miss my house! (But I'll be home soon.)
Chapters are organized by my essays about the ways pies can affect you.
I like this one: "Pies to Keep an Open Mind."
But I also like the chapter "Pies to Seduce."
When I came back outside Dave had flipped through the pages and was showing the FedEx guy the picture of Daisy (posted in Friday's blog). "Here's proof this really is her cookbook, he said pointing at the picture, then pointing to my curly-haired white dog in real life who was sitting on the sidewalk next to him.

The FedEx guy eagerly accepted the pie and then agreed to pose for a photo. "I need to commemorate the occasion," I said. "Especially since I already blogged about giving you a piece of pie."

"This is a first for me," he said. "No one has ever given me pie before."

Ha! I love it when I hear that. I love that now whenever he comes to deliver packages to this building -- and since it's a big complex he's probably here every day -- he will have a happy memory of a sunny day, a slice of homemade fresh strawberry pie, and an excited author who was the very appreciative recipient of his special delivery.

"MS. AMERICAN PIE" will be in bookstores on April 15.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Isn’t It Ironic?

Daisy. Posing on the front porch of the American Gothic House.
This photo appears in my new cookbook, "Ms. American Pie."

I bought myself a bottle of my favorite white wine, La Crema Chardonnay, in anticipation of celebrating the end of a long, productive week.  But as they day wore on and cocktail hour approached, I felt less and less in a celebratory mood.

I took one of my two terrier-mixes to the vet this morning. My sweet little Mexican rescue, Daisy, grew up on the streets of Mexico and due to poor nutrition in her early years her bones and teeth are in bad shape. She was desperately in need of dental work so I made the appointment, dropped her off, and felt good about getting something done that is so helpful and important to her health.

Not so fast. No sooner did I get home, the vet called and said her blood tests showed that there might be something wrong with her kidneys or liver and that giving her anesthesia for the dental work could be risky. The blood will be sent to another lab for further analysis, but the results won’t be in until tomorrow. Oh, and Daisy may require further diagnosis before her decayed teeth can even be addressed. Instead of having relief over resolving her dental issues, I picked her up and spent the rest of the day fighting back my concerns (and tears) over the what-ifs and doomsday scenarios.

Yesterday my publisher said my cookbook was being sent to me via FedEx. She was sending an advance copy and it would be the first time I would see my new cookbook, Ms. American Pie, in print.  I spent the day in anticipation. Yes, this would definitely be a reason to crack open that bottle of wine. I’ve worked for a solid year on this one project. To see it in print for the first time would be a thrill. I assumed FedEx meant “overnight delivery.” I kept looking out the window all day. I saw not one, not two, but three FedEx trucks parked on the street at various times. I waited for the doorbell to ring. Nothing. I finally emailed the East coast office and learned that the book was sent via 2-day service—that’s 2 business days—so I won’t see the book until Monday. Fine. I’ve waited this long. What’s another 3 days.

I had surgery in December. Relatively minor. I won’t go into it. But it was something that has helped me tremendously by alleviating some ongoing pain. I was told my insurance policy wouldn’t cover it. But I found out just this week that, in fact, they paid a good portion of my medical bill. Pour me a glass of that wine now! This afternoon I opened a letter from them. “We are raising your premium.” Gee, thanks.

What a difference a roadside strawberry stand can make.
It’s 2 hours past the official start of cocktail hour and I still haven’t opened the bottle of wine. I’ve been too busy making pie. On the way home from the vet I saw a strawberry stand on the side of the road. It’s strawberry season in California. I practically slammed on the brakes to have a look—and a taste. I bought an entire flat of them and spent the afternoon baking—2 large strawberry crumble and 6 mini pies.
This photo is not to scale. It does not show the
 ENORMITY of both the strawberries and the pies.
I always preach—and I know from experience—that doing something nice for others can make you feel better. I made the pie to share with some friends, neighbors, and the local handyman. And maybe the FedEx guy on Monday. Yes, thanks to that pie—the soothing task of making and rolling dough, slicing all those strawberries, crimping the crust edges—and making it with the goal of sharing it, I've forgotten all about the disappointments of the day. Yeah, well, sort of.

I’m going to get out the corkscrew now, pour myself a glass of that chardonnay, and go snuggle with Daisy on the couch. And because I know the lyrics of Alanis Morrisette’s song all too well and know how this day has already gone, I will bring the fly swatter with me.