Friday, August 24, 2012

Confessions of a Teenage Republican

Deep, dark secret that only one or two folks know about me: I was a Teenage Republican.

Not that I had much choice. Our high school didn't have a Teenage Democrat Club. Back then in our town, Democrats were encouraged to leave. Or stay behind closed doors, preferably on election days. You couldn't get a job at the courthouse if you weren't registered with the GOP.

So my choice was to join or not to join the Teenage Republicans. The mom of one of my best friends was a councilwoman, making said friend interested in politics. She didn't want to go to the meetings alone, and my social life being what it was (ie, no different than now), I joined the acned version of the Grand Ol' Party.

To tell the truth, I don't remember a thing about the club. I don't recall actually doing anything. Yet I think it did me some good in that I started following the issues, and have voted in every election from the moment I reached voting age. And if you pay attention to politics, you can't help noticing that politicians have traits that lend themselves nicely to certain characters in mystery novels.

I was always a lousy liar, I think because I grew up around science geeks. Yes, truth has gray areas, but certain facts can't be denied. The sun rises over different points on the horizon, but always in the eastern sky. So I'm fascinated by people who can bend the truth like they're pulling taffy. A skillful politician, if it suits his agenda, might tell you this month that the sun rises in the north. It's before the fall equinox, so he'd be right. Northeast sky. Doesn't matter if, in a month's time, the sun will rise in the southeast. He's scored his point, having convinced you today. When he draws you further from the facts next time, you're more likely to trust him.

Take a villain in a mystery, or any characters with secrets to hide (and really, every suspect worth his alibi will have a secret). Give those characters some ability to spin the truth and you'll fool the reader every time.

I like to think I learned from the best, since Richard Nixon was president when I was a Teenage Republican.

I must say, though, that the current batch of GOP politicians is disappointing. They just lie. No finessing the truth at all. They don't start from fact and pull you into their scam from there. Too lazy. They merely pick their own alternate reality and stick to it, repeating untruths ad nauseum in interviews, until they sound like scratched CDs and look ridiculous. I mean, seriously, you can admire a great con man. He's a pro. But do we really want to elect people so inept that they can't even lie convincingly?

If you're thinking of running for public office, do the fiction writers of this world a favor and master the basics of verbal manipulation. We're depending on you for inspiration.

For everyone else, make sure you're registered to vote. If you're in one of states (like I am) that insist on trying to suppress your vote, make sure you have the proper ID. And don't be, as Mr. Lincoln said, one of those people who can be fooled all or even some of the time.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Pat Montella Is Laughing At Me

Pat's the protagonist in my Possessed Mystery Series. When I was developing her character, she needed a hobby. Cooking, I decided--the kind of necessary but creative past time someone doing drudge work for corporate America could delve into at the end of a frustrating workday.

This wasn't a matter of write-what-you-know. When I penned the first book, By Blood Possessed, my repertoire in the kitchen consisted of brewing tea, nuking frozen dinners, and frying up the occasional French toast.

My mom had been the quintessential Italian cook. So was her mother before her. My brother Tom not only took after them, but figured out the art of great homemade bread. They weren't gourmets, mind you, but I grew up well fed. I never needed to learn to cook. For Pat's gastronomic creations, I had my family recipes to draw on.

In 2008, I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. All of a sudden, my diet had to be cleared of wheat, barley and rye products, and of anything else processed with those grains. I lost my major food groups: pizza, pasta and Italian rolls. My brother's bread was taboo. No more cake, donuts or other baked goods. No more of my usual breakfast cereals. Nothing breaded. No beef or turkey gravy. No Philly cheesesteaks or hoagies.

After a frantic couple of months wondering what I could safely put down my gullet, I made my mind up to learn how to cook and, especially, bake without gluten. At first it seemed like alchemy--like I was trying to make gold from inferior metals. Slowly, though, I learned about flours made from other grains: rice, tapioca, etc. I learned to mix them to make a better baking flour than wheat. I learned to change the mix or add specialty flours like buckwheat (not a wheat grain) for really great new tastes. I even learned to use xanthan gum, which Pat had actually made fun of in the first book.

I found out that I love cooking and baking. Oh, I still have a lot to learn. I haven't mastered yeast bread yet, for instance. But I can happily spend an hour throwing together quick breads or cookies or biscuits, and my gluten tolerant friends tell me they're better than most wheat baked goods. Last month, I made my first cake from scratch, something my mom was a whiz at and I thought I'd never do. I've even posted a bunch of my gluten-free recipes at Sparkrecipes.

The main reason Pat's laughing at me is that this month I'll be teaching cooking classes. Me, who five years ago couldn't do much more than boil water. If you're interested and are in my area, classes will be August 20th and 27th. For more info, go to the Really Cooking With Robin website

And look for Pat to be learning gluten-free cooking herself soon. I can't let her have the last laugh.

Buon appetito!


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