The Care & Feeding of Authors

Okay, I’ll admit this reads like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but hang with me on this post about writer’s life.
Bears in Alaska are heading into hibernation. The reason I know this is because one of my crazy sisters is hunting brown bear in the Aleutian Islands. She’s been sending photos and funny text messages over her 10-day adventure. She’s not hunting. Her husband pulls the trigger. But being the trooper she is, she dons the appropriate layers against the cold and rain to trudge alongside him, lugging water and food. For added color, she met an interesting man on this hunting expedition—a Romanian billionaire traveling with his body guard. (I’m not the only one in my family who should be writing fiction.) And because she’s my dear sweet sister, she brings books of mine to give away. The photo below is of a woman at the lodge they stayed while they hunted. She is holding my young adult book – In the Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, Apr 2011), a cold case murder mystery for teens.
The reason I’m sharing this family story with you is that bears going into hibernation reminded me how I get when I’m in the middle of a project. I’m totally oblivious to EVERYTHING. I’m so vexed on the characters and the world I’m creating that I go without eating or eat weird stuff, forget about sleep, and my capacity for coherent conversation is limited—unless its dialogue.
Simon Wood was a guest on TKZ not long ago. Once he shared a funny story with me about how his wife caught him on the sofa watching TV when he should have been writing. He had eaten a bag of chips and had cats sleeping on his chest. Seeing the look in his wife’s eyes, he headed her off by saying he was deep in thought—that he was actually working. (Yeah, right.) But seriously, this is how it can be for a writer. We never stop working. So I’m fairly certain Simon had his brain “sweating to the oldies” as he gorged on Cheetos and snagged quality cat time.
In truth, Simon might have been indulging in another bad habit of author behavior. Snackage. Authors eat stuff and may not even pay attention to what it is. Like drones or Zombies, we are fixated on what’s in our head. It’s nothing personal, but dirty dishes in the sink, dog hair on wood floors, and a growing mass of dirty laundry become invisible. Personally, I call that a gift, but my husband has a different perspective.
So I’ve turned over a new leaf and after John Gilstrap’s fine example of slimming down and focusing on his health, I am in week 2 of a change in diet. Mostly it’s vegan. I eat raw and cooked veggies and legumes with plenty of fruit. No dairy. For those who know me, this is a HUGE change. Before, I considered meat as dessert. I would rather eat meat than even indulge in something sweet. But I’m outing myself on TKZ to say that I am committed to eating better and taking care of my health.
Anyone have a good vegan recipe?
Seriously, I have been more focused on cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients. My husband and I actually sit at the dinner table to eat instead of plopping down on the sofa with the TV on. We have semi-real conversations over dinner and not just talk about how to kill people and get away with it (a real crowd pleaser). We may even indulge in a glass of wine now and then. I’ll soon add a regular exercise program into this and not just limit my cardio to fast moving fingers over a keyboard.
For those of you smarter than I am, how do you stay healthy with your hectic schedules? What’s your routine? And I would seriously like to hear if you have any good vegan recipes that aren’t loaded with cheese.
Reckoning for the Dead (Adult thriller, Sweet Justice Book #4) – HarperCollins, Sept 2011 Now Available.

30 thoughts on “The Care & Feeding of Authors

  1. I try to cook a vegan dinner a couple of times a week, and one of my very favorites is (as we refer to it in our house) “Goop Chili,” i.e. the vegetarian chili in Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook. It’s a super easy recipe, chock full of beans and lentils. You won’t even miss the meat. Much.

  2. Hey Julie. Thanks for the Goop Chili tip. I have added various legumes in my diet for protein, adding them to salads too, and LOVE them. They are filling & versatile, cold or hot. I did my own version of vegan chili & liked it. I’ll have to try Gwyneth’s.

    Tonight I’m attempting stuffed cabbage rolls. Wish me luck. I’ve also come close on brussel sprouts, but haven’t found that one solid, go to recipe that makes me crave them. That would require butter or some other rich sauce that I’m trying to avoid. Thanks, Julie.

  3. Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles.Keep up the good work!

  4. No meat? No cheese? Grounds for horror fiction….

    The writing life CAN be lethal to physical health. I am and always will be a meat ‘n taters kind of person, but I do try to moderate, and to avoid having a bag of chips (or peanut butter M&M’s) on the desk while I’m writing.

    More crucial for me is getting up every hour or so from the desk and taking a short walk. With a bad back, if I don’t exercise, I only make matters worse.

    Now I’m wondering how many calories I burn with dancing fingers on the keyboard…. 😎

    BK Jackson

  5. HA! BK-You crack me up. I actually feel good and sleep better. I’m trying this for 6 wks, sticking to a plan to see where that gets me. Us, since hubs is along for the ride, voluntarily. What I’m thinking is that I learn new habits & new ways to look at food that will stick and not seem like a diet. It has to be a lifestyle change that I want to make. Thanks for tempting me with cheese.

  6. My wife being Korean we have tons of veggies and even vegan meals…as long as you like spicy. If you can deal with fire in the mouth find a good Korean cookbook. One of our favourites is Yu Ke Jang, a hot spicy soup which is suppposed to be made with beef but she substitutes dried fiddle head ferns (freshly harvested from the forests near Alyeska and Hatcher Pass. The ferns have to be harvested in the spring before they uncoil, so may not fit your schedule. They make a terrific beef replacement as they end up with the taste and texture of roast beef.

    Like I said though, any good Korean cook book will have a lot of vegan recipes. And if you can get fresh fresh fresh Alaskan ingredients all the better.

    oh, and by the way, your sister can keep the bear…yuck. I don’t do pork, and to me bear tastes like pork with a bad attitude…bleh. Moose on the other hand…oh boy.

  7. No pork? I can’t imagine life without bacon… You guys are giving me a craving for Cracker Barrel. 😎

    BK Jackson (Cracker Barrel is good brain food for writers)

  8. Hey there, Basil–My sister might do the bear meat thing, but her hubby is mainly after the trophy. You may not believe this, but he has a temp controlled storage facility where he keeps his taxidermy menagerie and rotates them through their house, on display. I often write about this in my books. Her husband gets a kick out of reading about his hunting in my books. There’s lots to write about.

    He got skunked on this trip to Cold Bay. The second time he came back without a brown bear. Personally, I kind of root for the bear, but I understand the need for “harvesting” on an island like Cold Bay.

    I’ll have to check out Korean cooking. It sounds great.

  9. Oh, man–BK. You’re killin’ me with the bacon. That’s a food group. Bacon is like the universal donor in blood. Who doesn’t love it? I even made it a super power in my upcoming YA.

    BTW Basil–My next YA is ON A DARK WING and it’s set in Alaska with a climb up Denali. A dear friend who has done the trek twice helped me with the details. Lots of fun to work with him on this book.

    Thanks, guys.

  10. I know what you mean about lost in your story. My husband may be talking and I’m miles away in fictional territory in my mind.
    As for diet, I have to get my sugar levels down. Easier said than done, so I admire your resolve. I have been attempting to include an afternoon exercise session into my regimen. Mornings, I take a walk and do 20 minutes on the exercise bike. Afternoons, since it’s too hot out for another walk, I do a video. My favorites are Walk Away the Miles with Leslie Sansone and Gold’s Gym Dance Wii program. I can use good veggie recipes too.

  11. Oh, the dirty dishes in the sink rings so true for me. My office also becomes an utter disaster when I’m in the throes of trying to meet a deadline.
    As far as exercise goes, I’m pretty good. For me, the trick is to do it first thing. I drop my daughter at school and either go straight to the gym or dance class. For me, that time is like a meditation-and while I’m working out, I have plot points chugging along in the back of my mind. I’ve actually discovered that taking that time makes me more effective, not less. Good luck with it, Jordan!

  12. Nancy–You are so disciplined on the exercise. Kudos, lady! I have certain hours that I like to write and I tend to get lost in my word count or the story. I look up and it’s 5.

    This has been great for me because I have also learned to enjoy cooking real recipe and not just heating up stuff or making sandwiches. My downfall is cheese and red meat…oh and as BK reminded—BACON.

  13. Thx, Nancy. I’ll ck out your site again. Wow. Regis is a morning ritual for me now. My husband & I were talking about his leaving the show. He’s just not replaceable for us.

  14. Like Michelle I try to get exercise in after I drop the kids at school otherwise it’s never going to happen! I am a terrible snacker when I am writing so when I am not totally stressed out I keep to my Weight Watchers plan of tracking what I eat (I joined many years ago and rejoined recently after moving meant I had slipped into old habits!) i really just try and up all the fruits and vegetables and limit carbs, but I also have to live so red wine and chocolate has to stay in there somewhere!

  15. Hmmmm..been a vegetarian since I was 14. While I technically eat dairy (good pizza is the Food of the Gods) I don’t have a taste for it so most of what I cook is vegan by default. Ooh, not giving up honey either… Anyway a good place to look for recipes is This is a vegetarian website, but she has a lot of vegan recipes as well: 144 are listed under the vegan tab. If I go even a few days without walking or swimming I go nuts. It’s a great way to think through things away from distractions (really hard to have a conversation while swimming laps).

    Regarding Brussels sprouts there was a recipe on the NYT Well blog last year that roasted them with maple syrup. I made it for Thanksgiving. It was pretty good. You might be able to search for ir, or I’m sure I have it lying around somewhere.

  16. Hey Clare. Thx for commenting. I’ve gotten back into wine after an Aussie thriller writer friend of mine, James Houston Turner. He brought bottles of delicious Aussie wine (Jacobs Creek) as a gift for staying with us while he was on his US tour in TX recently. Great guy & talented author who was a courier behind the iron curtain. I hope to have him guest on TKZ in the near future.

  17. quinoa is the protein darling…wonderful source. google recipes for the salads….can add any fresh veggie you’d like [the heartier ones stand up to the dressing for days…ie matchstick carrots, green onion, edamame, to name a few] and can throw in some shrimp for the non vegeterians. i buy it bulk at a health food store, like whole foods…

  18. I forgot about quinoa, Kathy. Great idea. And I had edamame this week in salad (shelled) & as snack. Love it. The bright green looks great on salad too. Thanks for your help.

  19. Oh…and don’t forget heavenly tree ears too! You know those fungi that grow sideways from trees and make you dream extra special dreams while you’re awake and you can actually talk to your characters and….wait you might not want that one in your salad after all…never mind

  20. Kudos to you, girl! I’ve been vegetarian for over 7 years now.

    I have some great vegan recipes which I will email to you. They’re not mine, so you know they have to be good!

    My only caution . . . while you’re going cold turkey (for lack of a better cliche) into the vegan world, slowly build a regime that’s sustainable. If how you’re eating now isn’t how you want to be eating this time next year, modify the plan. The best diet is one you can live with your entire life. That’s my motto.

    My weakness: Beer. It is my favorite food. Thank goodness, there’s no dairy in it.

  21. Great advice, Kath. And yay on the recipes. Thanks so much. You’re awesome.

    You’re right about easing in & making it long term. I’m on a specific program for 6-wks cuz I can stick to it, no problem. But I plan to add more fish & maybe some dairy after the 6-wks. I feel better & sleep better too.

  22. To give you my perspective, I’ve taken some dance classes in my life, though not Latin-style dances. And I’m a good 100 pounds overweight, so to say that I’m out of shape is an understatement. I use the Wii Fit every so often, and while I love it for the yoga stretches, I really wanted to incorporate more cardio than the Wii Fit offers. I saw this game advertised back in June and have been looking forward to it ever since. I bought it yesterday and have played it twice. And I REALLY like it a lot.

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