Baker, Yogi, Car Girl, Spy
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Okay. I’m not a spy. (I know, that’s exactly what a spy would say…) Sometimes I wish I were a spy, but I have to say that being a writer is probably the next best thing. One element of being a writer that most non-writers don’t understand is that you really have to get out of your own head. Often. I’m currently working on four manuscripts, and each one requires my attention, my love, and my patience – as well as a significant amount of research. I may not be a spy (or so you think), but the things that do interest me outside the world of writing shouldn’t come as much a surprise. Here’s a little look!
Baking and Cooking
I came to baking first by about eight years. Baking is a combination of the exactness of science and the creativity of art, all mixed in with a little intuition. One thing I’m sure many writers will agree with is that it’s often frustrating that our ‘product’ doesn’t exist in the physical world. It’s on a computer, all ten thousand words I spent the afternoon slaving over, and I can’t see it at this stage, can’t hold it in my hand.
That’s when I hit the kitchen. It’s a rare treat – given that no one in my family needs any reason to eat cake, but I can usually find some occasion as an excuse. I like to blend recipes and designs, creating my own cakes or cupcakes out of Internet-found inspiration and the visual ideas that form in my head all their own. For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday that falls in early Autumn, I went with an Autumn theme, crafting apple pastry roses and cookie/candy acorns, and piling them atop a three layer lemon naked cake. I love the naked cake aesthetic, and for Christmas, I made a cranberry and orange naked cake with orange zest cream cheese frosting and sugared cranberries. (This is hands down the best recipe I have ever found. If you want it, I’ll pass along the blog post.)
Baking, and to a smaller degree, cooking, is surprisingly similar to writing. I can see the final product in my mind’s eye, and it takes a healthy dose of patience and rule following to bring it to life, but if I do it properly, there’s a lot of room for creativity.
I’ve often considered how much fun it would be to meld my love of books and baked goods – funny part is, I don’t even love to eat them – and sometimes my daydreams include owning a bookstore/bakery. But once the baking became a job, the creative spark would be lost – and I love the creative spark! For now, I’ll just stick to making my family fat.
On the flip side of that coin, I work out a lot. When I say I’m a walker, I mean the kind of walker who routinely puts holes in her soles. I set my FitBit to six miles a day and hit it five out of seven days a week. I walk to work, town, the gym and just because I like walking. My love affair with audiobooks and my need to get out of the house inspires a beautiful route around my neighborhood, which I believe is one of the very best types of exercise.
I think all authors should workout. I don’t just mean that because we live sedentary lives and spend most of the time in front of our computers, and it’s definitely not a judge on anyone’s health or lifestyle. I work out because I’m a writer.
Let me explain.
Sometimes, my stories get tangled up in a way I can’t fix. The characters’ meet cute ain’t all that cute. Their black moment is more dishwater grey, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what to do with the ex-husband. Sometimes it’s best to work through these moments or to skip to a different scene, or work on a different book, but I also think it’s important to take a break.
When I’m in my Zumba class, kicking my own butt and dancing as hard as I can, my mind gets a little clearer and it becomes a whole lot easier to tackle those complicated plot issues or character arcs. On so many occasions, I’ve grabbed my phone between songs and scribbled a few notes about this scene or that background story. It makes all the difference to take that simple step back and calm the mind by running the body.
Plus, writers do live really sedentary lives.
This writer, and I don’t speak for any others, also tends to be a little over-excited, in motion and constantly thinking. I do yoga as a way to strengthen and better understand my own body, but also as a healthy outlet for the life-ness of life. Even the most dedicated artist needs to take a step back, slip out the door, and get some fresh air. It’s the only way to survive.
Out of the left lane, I know. I’ve been car girl for my entire life. My real job combines my journalism experience and love affair with classic cars, and I fully plan to follow the industry for the rest of my career.
I love classic cars. I love modern cars, racecars, custom cars and weird cars. Cars, to me, are an unapologetic telling of history – design, innovation, engineering, and economy. They tell of international politics (OPEC), safety evolution (seatbelts, airbags, and car seats), and the changing dynamic of the consuming public, (Ford Mustang). Cars haven’t been around all that long, and yet, their history is horizontal, covering the globe ten times over and circling through regions of America, eras of war, and times of economic hardships and successes.
Classic cars really tell stories – the Volvo Station Wagon I drove during the summers I worked at sleep-away camp, the hand me down Cadillac my boyfriend moved down from Boston in. Cars are both personal and global, unique to every family, and universal in their importance. I could wax on ad nausea about my love for the evolution of style and design, amazing women racers, and the woven history of the world and the internal combustion engine.
But why does it matter? Well, for one – I get to put really cool cars in my stories. My twenty-six-year education (my dad brought me to classic car shows in a stroller…) has given me insight into the personalities associated with cars, which betters helps me understand the character I’m writing. A hero who drives a BMW is going to be a whole lot different from one who drives a Jeep. A guy with a 1960s Corvette isn’t the same guy with a brand new C7 Corvette, onward and upward.
Exploring and learning all I can about this hobby has also helped me to better understand researching and learning a topic, which I’ve been doing more and more to give authenticity and credibility to my books. Classic cars are a universal love and a history of the world – they are also a personal love and a history of me.
It didn’t fit in the title! Okay, would you believe me if I said that loving art isn’t all that different from loving cars? In my mind, it’s not. In tandem with learning all I could about the classic car hobby at my dad’s knee, I fell deeply in love with the art world from my grandmother, a fine artist who lives and works very near to me, and who brought us up understanding the difference between Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes and Caravaggio’s.
Because of that early education, I pursued art history as a passion, not a career, and studied while I was abroad in The Netherlands (want to talk about a rich art history!), with two amazing professors who gave us tours of The Prado and arranged for the curator of The Dutch Masters wing to take us around the Rijksmuseum. Those experiences led to my most recent manuscript, involving an art thief in Amsterdam, who I kind of wish I could be.
Art – though much, much older than cars – bears a similarly honest witness to history. The Dark Ages as a time of illiteracy and misinformation, The Renaissance as a coming together of Church and science in new age ideas. These paintings, illustrations, and sculptures speak to me just as strongly as the grille of a vintage Ferrari Roadster or the split window in the ever rare 1963 Corvette. It adds to my love of research and curiosity about the things I don’t know.
Because what it all comes down to – Baker, Yogi, Car Girl, Spy – as a writer, the most important thing I can be is curious. I have to explore, whether physically or remotely, cities I’ve never seen, time periods before my own. I have to question why facts appear differently depending on the era a book was published, or when the common refrain changed from one theory to the next. My current obsessions are astrophysics and cosmology, and they will likely flit to the next and the next, as it has been my whole life. I find that it makes perfect sense that my hobbies are part grounding and part freeing.
My grandmother once designed a pillow for me – two black heels firmly on the ground and head high up in the clouds. I understand now that, as an artist, you need a little of both.