Monday, September 29, 2014

Librarian of Mystery

No one ever thinks of a librarian as having an exciting life or harboring a scandalous secret.  However, not long ago I stumbled upon a very fascinating librarian that I'd never heard of.

Belle da Costa Green's life (1883-1950) is chronicled in Heidi Ardizzone's book An Illuminated Life: Journey from Prejudice to Privilege.  What did da Costa Greene have to give up in order to achieve the dream of a lifetime?  

This sensational woman lit up New York society while working as J.P. Morgan's personal librarian, all the while, hiding a past that would have prevented her success. In 1905, J. P. Morgan hired Belle da Costa Greene to organize his rare book and manuscript collection.  At this time, she only had a few years of experience to recommend her, along with a dynamic personality.

Ten years later, she had shaped the famous Pierpont Morgan Library collection.  She'd also become a proto-celebrity in New York and the art world, renowned for her self-made expertise, acerbic wit, and flirtatious relationships.

She has been described as a sensual and beautiful woman, known for her exotic look  and designer wardrobe.  She once said, "Just because I am a librarian, doesn't mean I have to dress like one."

Here's her secret:  Greene was born into a family African Americans.  To cover this up, she changed her name and created a Portuguese grandmother to gain entry into white society. By entering a new world, she dined at the tables of high society, as well as those of bohemian artists and activists.

J.P. Morgan left her $50,000 in his will.  Nowadays that would be around $800,000!  When asked if she was Morgan's mistress, she is said to have replied, "We tried!"

Da Costa Green never married, but had a long lasting romantic relationship with the Renaissance Italian art expert Bernard Berenson.

Fascinating story, fascinating librarian! For more insight on her, click here.

Had you ever heard of Belle da Costa Green? And by the way, do you know of any fascinating, mysterious librarians?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from 7/16/12.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Suzie's Sloppy Joes

I love Sloppy Joes, and this particular recipe is for the crock pot.  Slow cooked and luscious, this dish, also known as a loose-meat sandwich, is sure to please the pickiest eaters!

After visiting the famous Sloppy Joes bar in Key West Florida, I assumed that that's where the name for the sandwich was born. Turns out, it's hard to pinpoint the exact origin.  According to Kerry's Island Kitchen, its history is full of contradictions.

The owners of a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa, where the lose meat sandwich is popular, claim that they had a cook once named Joe, and  the sloppy sandwich was named after him.  And of course, Sloppy Joe’s in Florida says they coined the name.

What's in a name? Taste is what's important, and I can't wait until you taste these! Throw some together this weekend and enjoy!

By the way, I don't know who Suzie is, but this recipe comes from a great book purchase I made at the dollar store called Easy Home Cooking All New Slow Cooker.

Suzie's Sloppy Joes 

3 lbs lean ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups ketchup
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
5 T Worcestershire sauce
4 T brown sugar
3 T perpared mustard
3 T vinegar
2 t chili powder
Hamburger buns

Brown ground beef, onion, and garlic in small saucepan. Drain fat.

Combine ketchup, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar and chili powder in slow cooker. Stir in beef mixture. Cover and cook on LOW 6 to 8 hours. Spoon onto burger buns. Makes 8-10 servings.

I didn't know there were so many names for "the loose-meat sandwich" until I did a little research today.  For instance, in southern Illinois, it's called a Yip Yip, in Nebraska, a Yum Yum and in Northern Pennsylvania, a Wimpie.What are Sloppy Joes called where you live?

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great weekend!

Reprinted from February 4, 2011.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fascinating Movie Find: I Passed For White

I'm an old movie buff, so when my writer friend, historical fiction author Michele Stegman, asked if I'd ever heard of the movie I Passed for White, I was flabbergasted, because I hadn't! I said, "I've seen Imitation of Life, but not that one." Though I was thinking to myself, she must be mistaken, because I know my movies, Michele assured me that she'd seen it as a kid.

Not long after our conversation, I looked it up, and sure enough, I found I Passed For White, with a trailer available on Youtube! I was even more surprised to find that this film stars one of my favorite actors, heartthrob James Franciscus, in one of his very early roles.

The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by Reba Lee (a pen name), as she told it to Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific author of mysteries, travel books and short fiction.

Wikipedia provides the information about the book from its dust jacket:

Reba Lee is a young Negro woman whose skin is almost white. Brought up in Chicago's vast colored neighborhoods, she knew quite early that something made her different from her darker family and schoolmates. Finally, grown-up and with a job, she ran away from home to another city and passed herself successfully as a white girl. Now began a difficult and tense, although fascinating, life for Reba. Intelligent and quick-witted as well as beautiful, she soon made a circle of friends for herself; listening, watching, imitating, she began to learn the knack of living in a white world, and outwardly at least, she was as assured and poised as any of the people she met. And then she met a man and fell in love with him and he with her. They were engaged, married.
 Fighting to keep her hard-won happiness, the secure happiness of being a white woman married to an attractive white man, Reba kept at bay the strain of a life of constant lying and an ever-present sense of danger. Until, with the knowledge that she was pregnant, came the enveloping terror that the baby might be dark-skinned. "Reba Lee", naturally, is a pen name. Mary Hastings Bradley, well known in America for her mystery stories and travel books, has set down Reba's story as it happened, simply and with its considerable natural suspense, making only the changes necessary to protect all of the people concerned.

After reading the dust jacket description and watching the trailer, I'm dying to read the book and see the movie!

Are you familiar with either one?  Also, have you ever known or heard of anyone who "passed for white"?  Not necessarily black to white, but anyone of a non-Anglo group who passed for Anglo.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from September 10, 2012.

Monday, September 8, 2014

On Writing Right

Stephen King is extraordinary, a master storyteller. Back around 1986, I read my first Stephen King book, Pet Sematary, a gripping novel that kept me up late at night turning pages. When I'd force myself to go to sleep, I kept the lights on. Even after I finished reading it, I slept with the lights on for two weeks afterward.

Well, I'm glad to report that over 20 years later, I'm finally reading my second Stephen King book! One that won't scare the living daylights out of me, but will allow me to sleep with the lights out. Today I started King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Although his horror novels scare me too much to read, he is a true master of the craft and I'm looking forward to what I'll learn.

In his Second Foreword, King states that his book is short because "most books about writing are filled with bull****." He notes that one "notable exception to the bull**** rule is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White." He goes on to say that there is little or no detectable bull**** in that book.

After reading Mr. King's statement about books on writing, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites--and they're short with no detectable waste products:

The Elements of Style is a must read for anyone who's serious about writing. Before even starting a novel, read and re-read Chapter 5: An Approach to Style. It'll save you from many common mistakes of first time authors.

On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel that Sells by Leigh Michaels is an excellent writer's resource. Even if you're not a romance writer, Ms. Michaels offers helpful advice that can apply to all genres. In the appendices, she includes helpful information on crafting query letters, synopses, and cover letters.

Robert's Rules of Writing101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello provides useful instruction pertaining to novels, screenplays, stage plays, memoirs, periodical articles, and non-fiction. Each rule (ranging from 1-3 pages) is jam packed with excellent advice that will improve your work--and leave you feeling like you can write anything!

What are some of your favorite books on the writing craft?

Reprinted from April 15, 2010. I have since completed the book and I highly recommend!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Anne Lamott: Avoiding Perfectionism

Anne Lamott
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life...I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

"It doesn't have to be perfect..."
All non-perfectionists can now breathe a sigh of relief! Don't you love Ms. Lamott's wise words on avoiding it?

In her wonderful book on writing she shows us that perfectionism is detrimental, because when striving for it in our manuscripts, we try not to leave too much of a mess to clean up.  But she points out that the clutter we leave behind can hide precious treasures that we'll discover later. And those treasures can be put to good use by providing more material to work with once we go back to revise and edit.

Being too tidy, according to Ms. Lamott, suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. In a previous post here, not looking back when writing a manuscript was discussed.

The important thing is to finish.  Plow ahead, make a mess! Don't worry about every little detail or whether or not it's polished enough.  That comes later, at revision time.

Have fun with that first draft; avoiding perfectionism allows a really great story to unfold!  Do you struggle with perfectionism? Thanks for visiting and have a great day!

Reprinted from March 28, 2011