What’s a writer? Plus Kathryn Bashaar’s Thoughts on “Grace”


We novelists are an eclectic bunch, but you already know that. The best ones are avid readers, and they know that rewriting is when writing magic is truly unloosed.

Many authors I’ve encountered have great respect for their kind. Also, writers can be pretty darned modest when it comes to discussing their own work. Goodness knows that I’m not the greatest about discussing my books in progress, Flamenco & the Sitting Cat, and Tango & the Sitting Cat. Some scribes I know will go so far as to refuse to call themselves writers, yet everyone around them knows that they definitely are.

Kathryn Bashaar, a historical fiction author who operates her blog from Pittsburgh, knows she’s a writer. In addition, she’s a retired bank vice-president, a dancer, a traveler, and a grandmother. Her first novel is The Saint’s Mistress and her upcoming novel is tentatively titled Righteous.

Here are her thoughts on a book she really likes. What did I tell you about writers liking writers?…

Historical fiction author Kathryn Bashaar.
Historical fiction author Kathryn Bashaar. Photo by Techniques Photography, Bethel Park, PA.

Kathryn Bashaar’s thoughts on Grace by Paul Lynch

I’m in love with historical fiction. I am a writer of historical fiction and an avid reader of the genre. The lessons of the past speak most clearly to me in the form of fiction. I’d like to recommend to da-AL’s readers the wonderful book Grace by Paul Lynch. It’s about the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, but, more deeply, it’s the story of everybody’s life.Cover of Grace, by Paul Lynch.

14-year-old Grace is wakened by her mother in the wee hours one morning. Mam cuts off Grace’s hair, dresses her in boy’s clothes, and sends her out on the road to fend for herself. Mam can no longer manage to feed all of her children, and she doesn’t like the way Grace’s step-father has started looking at her.

The horrors that Grace endures, and her stubborn spirit, make for a story that is hard to put down. Just as the fields have been corrupted by the potato rot, Grace is corrupted by her experiences. The Irish people as a community are also corrupted, as the veneer of civilized behavior is worn away by privation and an every-man-for-himself ethos prevails.

Grace’s salvation comes at the hands of a very flawed group of human beings. Giving a clever double meaning to the book’s title, Grace is the beneficiary of grace, in an unexpected way.

It occurred to me, as I neared the end of the book, that Grace’s basic story is everybody’s life story.

Everyone is ruined in some way. This life is a beautiful miracle, but it can also be brutal–in big, tragic ways or in slow, small ways that accumulate like a weight on your back. Some of us had addicted parents or other traumatic childhood experiences. Your heart is broken by someone you loved. A career setback proves to be unrecoverable. Someone you love dies far too young. You are disabled or stricken with a chronic illness, raped or mugged, or your house burns down. And then there are the everyday injuries of having to make a living: tedious work for 40 years, unreasonable bosses, back-stabbing co-workers, long, miserable commutes, the sheer weariness of getting up at 6 a.m. day after day after day. “Life has a way of breaking everyone,” Hemingway said. We are all broken. Most of us are more tired than we like to admit.

And, like Grace, we are saved by other imperfect human beings. I’m a Christian, so I believe that our salvation is in Jesus–ultimately. But, day by living, breathing day, our salvation is in each other. You are ill or disabled, but your spouse sticks around and takes care of you. Your work is tedious, but your co-workers make you laugh. You are hungry and think you are alone, and a local church group delivers food to your door. A friend betrays you, and the next day a neighbor you barely know shovels your walk, and you invite him in for coffee. That is what happens to my main character, Leona, in my novel The Saint’s Mistress. Leona suffers an unbearable loss and is only healed when an old friend re-enters her life and gives her a glimpse of grace and a reason to go on. In a hard world, we are granted the grace of each other.

Every single person you meet is broken in some way. This week, be the grace in someone’s life.

Do you feel comfortable calling yourself a writer? Do you write?

Homemade artisan bread even easier! My review of Jim Lahey’s “My Bread” (by da-AL)


A re-posting of a review I wrote for wonderful fellow blogger Jeyran.

"My Bread" by Jim Lahey book coverSurely there’s a place in heaven for bakers who have worked out the kinks of no-knead bread baking, the ones who share their secrets. No-knead recipes are yeasty home-baked goodness — within a fraction of the time.

Jim Lahey’s “My Bread” raised my no-knead loaves to Everest heights. Bread genius and angel to home bakers that he is, he does the rest of the no-knead cookbooks one better. He does away with the need for pizza stones and steam via his simple radical solution: baking in covered pots.

Recipes are for me starting points to be fiddled with after my first try, not destinations to be rigorously followed. Lahey’s recipes, all easy, forgive my deviations unconditionally. A straightforward writer, he encourages such experimentation!

2 loaves of no-knead breadThese two loaves are loose renditions of his “Pane Integrale/Whole Wheat Bread,” the ones he mouthwateringly illustrates and describes on pages 60-62. For brunch last Sunday, I baked them together. The smaller is a whole recipe. The larger one, a double recipe, needed a bit longer to bake thoroughly.

At the beginning of the book, Lahey discusses how long dough should be left to rise. Two hours is the minimum, yet more patience is rewarded with more fermentation. I’ve left my dough out for as long as 24 hours before baking. Every longer-rise loaf steams with tangy sourdough excellence.

Crock PotsAlong with messing with the ingredients (I added oatmeal to the smaller loaf, more whole wheat flour and less white flour to both of them) my personal innovation is to usually use crock pots in the oven, not the electric part of course, instead of other types of pots. That way, I don’t risk ruining yet another non-metal handle.

Whatever I use, I line with parchment paper for easier extraction. The paper embosses intriguing creases.

Parchment paper makes things easier
Parchment paper makes loaves slide out easier, plus it lends fun creases.
How to cut no-knead loaves
Scissors help with the last bit of slicing.

Forget about Wonder Bread or anything akin to grocery store texture. My loaves come out dense and crusty, a handmade delight to be experienced only by the truly fortunate. In the interest of not squashing the lofty goodness when I saw into each loaf, I use an electric carving knife that my mom gifted to my husband. To not risk mangling my already uneven slices, I use scissors for the final bit of cutting.

Dough, just like baked bread, can be refrigerated for a week or so. Freezing makes it last much longer, but allow it to thaw to room temperature before baking.

Non-book note: Initially, when baked at Lahey’s recommended 475º, my oven emitted an offensive metallic odor. An appliance repairman set my qualms to rest. He advised me to run the oven at 500º for a couple of hours. The oven has since been odor-free.2 loaves cooling in window

cut loafJeyran’s book review blog