Birthday Breakfast for the Imaginary

In my free time, I write fiction. My husband says it makes me an easier person with whom to live.

My writing focuses on a Parisian high fashion house inclined to supernatural events. The creative director is Étienne d’Amille and he’s been in my life for decades.

So, he’s my best ever imaginary friend.

He was born during the interwar era in France– March 14, 1959. Every year I try to mark his birthday in some way. When he turned 50, I took a group of my friends (the ones who “knew” him, i.e. read about him) out for dinner and margaritas.

Many of my celebrations are quiet meals at home, where we often discuss what we’d get him for a present or what he might be doing now. 

This year, I made steak au poivre.

For breakfast.

A day late.



I had intended a lovely dinner, perhaps even by candlelight, for this charming imaginary Frenchman whose memories I confuse as legitimately my own. Then I agreed to work for a colleague in the evening and my mom visited taking my daughter away. (She would have been extremely disappointed if we ate the steaks without her.) To further complicate matters, my husband and I used the early afternoon for other activities (or more accurately, one adult activity) that I’m sure Étienne would have also enjoyed.

This particular version of steak au poivre has its own “comedy of errors” moments but let me say, it might have been my best ever. After college, I became a vegetarian. This lasted eight years primarily for two reasons: 1. I don’t approve of modern factory farming and 2. I hate touching meat. Étienne, though, as a Frenchman and a divorcé, likes to cook so I got over my discomfort of dealing with meat “for him.”

Étienne’s Belated Steak Au Poivre

  • 4 small chuck tender steaks, angus beef (I got mine on markdown at Target)
  • black peppercorns
  • Himalayan pink salt
  • half a stick of butter, cut into four equal pieces of on tablespoon each
  • garlic powder (should be shallots but I didn’t have them. I often substitute fresh chives but didn’t have them either)
  • 1/2 cup brandy (I’m a liar. I didn’t have brandy. I had ginger brandy and spices rum, so I mixed them. It worked.)
  •  3/4 cup heavy cream (I’m lying again. I didn’t have cream, so I used half and half)

The process 

(I put photos on Instagram: angelackerman.)

With a heavy-bottomed skillet (mine, of course, is Le Creuset), smash peppercorns. I couldn’t find my grinder, which had my peppercorns in it. I did find a small container of peppercorns and salt that had exploded from the grinder at some point.

Next, pat steaks dry and smash them with a skillet too. Cooking can be great as a form of anger management. I bet Thug Kitchen would agree.

Sprinkle both sides of the steaks with salt and press the peppercorns into the meat. Cook them to desired doneness and place in a warm oven.

Now, the cream sauce.

Take half the butter and cook your shallots or chives or whatever. I added about two teaspoons garlic powder. When it’s appropriately incorporated pour in the alcohol. When that starts to bubble, add the cream and slowly bring it to a boil. Let it slowly thicken, then add remaining butter. When it melts and blends into the sauce and you just can’t take it anymore, smother those steaks and eat!



Good doesn’t matter

Like any human, I have good days and bad. This weekend was hard for me. Blame hormones. A sick cat. Family members who don’t see eye to eye with me. Whatever you like. Reality is… Such is life.

I have been focusing a lot of time and energy on diet and exercise recently, but today (and yesterday) I couldn’t bring myself to lift my weights or go for a walk. Instead, I went to Dunkin Donuts. Had a 250+ calorie iced coffee and not one but two donuts. Some people get drunk, I prefer a sugar high. It didn’t work.

So I talked to some friends. Thanks to them, I felt more myself. My family challenged me to the first day’s training session from the app “Couch to 5K” (C25K). We did it. As a family. Now I can eat something small for dinner and not feel badly.

Looking over some of my notes from today I am reminded once again that the things that make you feel accomplished are those achievements outside your comfort zone: going for a run when you don’t think you have the physical strength, tap dancing when you’re really awful at it…

Or for me, even fashion illustration. And sharing it with the world. My fiction manuscripts are set in the high fashion world (and oddly enough, Francophone Africa). I have always designed dresses and clothes for the characters.

I am not an artist. But, while feeling poorly today, I designed the dress in the photograph. It’s worn by a French woman who marries a half-French, half Issa-Somali Muslim man from Djibouti. She’s a trouble maker who lost her left leg (and some other body parts) to an IED in Afghanistan.

Doughnuts might not be good for me. I might not draw well. I must look like an idiot running around my local park. But today, these things soothed me.IMG_1262.JPG

Spiral shaft fracture of the fifth metacarpal

My upcoming trip to Djibouti may create an image of me as a brave, intrepid adventurer. In reality, I’m a former journalist who has used the changing media landscape to explore what I’d really like to do with my life. I have a really practical part-time job working for a great corporation with some of the most interesting and genuine people I have ever met. This has allowed me to return to school and earn a second bachelor’s degree, do a virtual internship with USAID, spend more time with my daughter and serve on boards in the community. And travel.

So, Monday should have been the day that I prepared my visa application materials for transit to D.C. but a funny thing happened at work. I broke my right hand and yes, I’m right hand dominant. Less than four weeks out from my exotic dream voyage and I broke my hand. Specifically, I sustained a [rather fortunate under the circumstances] spiral shaft fracture of my fifth metacarpal.

Sparing the exciting details of my first 24 hours with a broken bone, most of which were spent waiting for an ortho appointment, let’s say that my package got out today and I have a nice red cast. I have mentioned my upcoming out-of-country travel to my medical team. On April 15, they will remove my cast and place me in a removable splint of some kind based on the rate of healing. My traveling companion has expressed his relief.

When my hand heals more, I shall devote a blog entry to “life imitates art” and how my fiction tends to draw weird coincidences into my life. I think my imaginary friends and I share karma. When Basilie got pregnant, I got pregnant a few months later. She had a stroke a few months ago, and she lost the use of her right hand. From here on out, only goodness for Basilie. I’d share some of the stuff I’ve already written about Basilie, but I am very clumsy with my left hand only on the keyboard. It has taken forever to type this.

Remember all that time I dedicated to finding a journal for my trip? I used Facebook to poll my friends about the final three candidates and now… here’s hoping I can write in it when I travel.

Let me leave you will this… My daughter has been obsessed with broken bones since she saw the episode of the Waltons where Elizabeth fell off the wood pile and broke her legs. Needless to say, this process has fascinated her and the medical staff has allowed her to come with me for most of my treatment. I’ll share a photo she took while I got my cast.

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Review: The Art of Falling

I have waited for Kathryn Craft’s The Art of Falling for almost a decade. I have watched her score rejection after rejection, keep trying, keep editing and keep pitching. Kathryn is the reason I took on a leadership role in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group and she’s also a model of diplomacy and character that I emulate.

Plus, I think we have similar standards for our writing.

So I have patiently waited for Sourcebooks to release her first novel, represented by Katie Shea of the Donald Maass agency.

My husband and daughter attended her Lehigh Valley Launch Party at Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Pa. I was home with a cold. But they brought me the book! Signed, pristine and new… And I read it in two sittings.

It was a lighter and easier read than I expected. I’m not sure I ever liked the protagonist/heroine Penelope Sparrow but I felt she was real, her actions, situations and reactions true to what a woman in her place would do. It wasn’t as dynamic as I expected. Changes weren’t huge and scenes weren’t big, but this is also part of the reality.

The connection Kathryn explores between body image and self-esteem is an important one to me. I write about the high fashion industry and I have a supermodel character (Adelaide) slightly younger than Penelope Sparrow who also struggles with these body issues. Although I must say, I applaud Penelope Sparrow for overcoming hers. My character doesn’t fare so well.

I adore Kathryn’s use of secondary characters and how she weaves them into her story to the point where they become inextricable. That, to me, is the gauge of a well-crafted story. Nothing extra or just there.

Oh, and did I mention, the cover is breathtaking?

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YouTube writing advice

One of my writing friends has a daughter at one of the local arts-themed charter schools. My friend spearheaded a NaNoWrimo event for the kids and asked local published authors to come to the school or Skype with the students. My friend and her daughter asked me to get involved. The plan is to submit short videos to the teachers. So, I started a YouTube channel.

We only have a weak internet single in one room of our house and of course, it’s our messy craft room. My hope is, once I get more comfortable to start doing these on my new laptop in better locations. They are completed unscripted. And my high school English teacher previewed the “write what you know” one and implied that I make the facial expressions of a Muppet.

I did the editing myself and am using my old MacBook circa 2005 for filming, video editing and uploading.

 

 

This manuscript made possible by a loving husband

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On Friday, one of my college acquaintances, now an editor of a mystery imprint at a small press (and one I love!), posted a call for manuscripts for the Quirk Books “Looking for Love” contest. The postmark deadline of the contest is today. And despite an overly busy schedule I thought, what the heck I’ll submit.

Quirk Books is a small press that for the last ten years has published, well, quirky books. I’ll refer to their web site to summarize their company: “Quirk Books is an independent book publisher based in Philadelphia. Founded in 2002, Quirk Books publishes 25 strikingly unconventional books every year. Our bestsellers include the pop culture phenomenons Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. We also publish award-winning cookbooks, craft books, children’s books, and nonfiction on a wide range of subjects. Learn more about us and explore our books here on QuirkBooks.com.”

I’ve known that my paranormal fiction set in the high fashion industry doesn’t quite fit the genre norms for paranormal romance, chick lit or women’s fiction. I also know that if Quirk is looking for love, I got love.

I use the supernatural in my fiction to explore what makes a healthy relationship. The supernatural love interest in my manuscript turns out to be a bully, and the ingenue’s experience mirrors that of a domestic violence victim. Meanwhile, the divorced guy… Perhaps this would be a good place to insert the 250-word synopsis I prepared for Quirk.

Weird stuff happens to Adelaide Pitney, house model at couturier Chez d’Amille. It always has. When she meets Galen Sorbach, an aspiring photographer, she thinks he’s cute.

For once, she hopes to have a normal boyfriend. 

Galen recognizes Adelaide for her latent healing powers, magick she’s accidentally used in large quantities. As a fire mage, Galen never mastered water magick so he wants Adelaide’s power to gain immortality.

Galen’s sister Kait has spent 400 years as elemental water guardian. She has been assigned to subdue Adelaide’s magick, but Kait delays. Adelaide is the last mortal from Kait’s family line with healing powers. Kait’s reluctance allows Galen to manipulate Adelaide into believing her magick presents a danger.

 The incident that attracted the attention of the guardians involved Étienne d’Amilles’s ex-wife, Basilie. Adelaide healed Basilie and made it possible for her to conceive Étienne’s child. 

Magick explains so much in Adelaide’s life, like how she seduced Étienne a decade earlier and he never realized it was her. Galen shares this secret, threatening the peace between Étienne and his pregnant ex-wife. The fall-out leads to a car accident that Étienne survives because of Adelaide’s help. 

 These five people– a 400-year-old Irish witch, her adopted brother, the American supermodel, a French fashion designer, and his rich ex-wife– find their lives intertwined as they explore just how far they will go for love and just how much they can forgive. 

So I struggled with this synopsis as only a writer can struggle, and the only day I had to print the manuscript was Sunday. Then I got called into work early.  And my husband, he volunteered to print it for me. I had one manuscript box left.

And yesterday, it went into the mail. It almost didn’t since the money I gave my husband to mail it has somehow disappeared.