A little housekeeping…

An update, in case any of you still have a feed to this blog (do folks use feed readers anymore?) or follow it on Goodreads:

Though I haven’t updated the blog here, I’ve been posting fairly regularly elsewhere. You can find me on:

1.) My Tumblr, where I post photos, links, and occasional blog entries.

2.) My family history blog, the outlet for my current obsession.

3.) The Facebook Page for The Wilder Life, where I keep up with that other obsession.

Other news:

The third and final book in the Wanderville series came out this past summer in hardcover.

I am still editing books at Whitman, and I will sometimes brag about them on my Twitter.

I quietly called it quits on my BUST pop culture column about a year ago. Twelve years was a good run. The Pop Tart page is now a guest columnist space, and it feels good to see all the new and awesome and diverse voices appearing there in the past few issues.

I turn 45 tomorrow! Jesus.

I’m going to take down the link to this blog from wendymcclure.net, but I’ll see you around.

November!

Two things I need for you to do:

1.) If you dug The Wilder Life and are on Goodreads (or would like to be on Goodreads), you have until Sunday the 20th to vote for it in the first rounds of the Goodreads Choice Awards, where it is a nominee in the Memoir/Autobiography category. I don’t think I actually win anything and I know having to choose between me and Nikki Sixx puts you in a tough spot, but I hope you’ll vote this week.

2.) My last book-related event of 2011 (out of nearly twenty!) will be a benefit for Literacy Works Chicago on Monday, December 5th, at the Hopleaf. We’re going for a Little House Christmas (for grown-ups) theme, and it’ll be much more festive than a book-signing. If you’re in Chicago, this is a great opportunity to hang out in that upstairs room at the Hopleaf for a good cause. So, come if you can! (Downloadable PDF with all the info here.)

Five things I’ve been doing since my last blog entry:

1.) Reading your young adult novel manuscript: Well, maybe not YOUR young adult novel manuscript, but there are a lot of people out there whose agents have sent me YA manuscripts, and I’m reading the hell out of them. (The rest of you ought to be working on YAnovel manuscripts this month, right?)

2.) Getting hitched. See below:

Yeah, that was fun. The September weather was perfect, and my brooch bouquet did not fall apart, though it weighed a ton (and no, I did not toss it). Every day, for nearly two months now, I consider two incontrovertible facts: First, that the wedding was wonderful and it went far beyond our expectations and second, we do not have to plan it anymore. Chris and I are SO FREAKING GLAD.

3.) Traveling for the next three weekends after the wedding and subsequently recovering from all the travel. What were we thinking? Although one of the weekends was a stay at a Lake Geneva resort, where about sixteen other weddings were taking place on the grounds around us and it happily reminded us that WE WERE DONE WITH OUR WEDDING and could sit around in comfy clothes reading novels (published ones, not manuscripts).

4.) Writing an adventure story for This American Life. Hot zig! I have always wanted to be a contributor and I got the chance to do it last month. The episode is here, and my piece is in Act Two. (My piece was inspired by children’s time-travel stories, like this insane serial in a 1960s Boys’ Life magazine.)

5.) Preparing for winter: I keep hearing that the coming season is going to be a massive snowmageddon winterpocalypse of coldastrophic proportions. There aren’t any muskrat houses in my neighborhood that I can check, but I suspect that the regular, non-musk rats around here are scurrying more and building bigger garbage nests in anticipation. At any rate, I’m getting kind of excited/paranoid and wanting to TAKE ACTION about this. I’ve replaced the tires and battery on the car (okay, which I needed to do anyway, but I feel better and even a little righteous about spending the money, knowing that the car will be in much better shape to face the coming of the SnowAntiChrist), bought a new parka, and am looking for new snow boots (recommendations, please!), and racking my brain for more things Chris and I can do or buy to give us the smug satisfaction of being ready when the time comes and the Evil Snow Empire descends. Shouldn’t we get batteries? Candles? DVDs of stylish 50s melodramas? Yes, yes, and yes.

Counting down

With the book release coming up, it seemed like a good time to have a site makeover, so welcome to WendyMcClure.net, Pretty Prairie Edition! If you’re reading this through a feed reader you’ll have to click over to the site to see, and if you’re already here, made yourself at home.

The site’s new finery is the handiwork of Jennette, who has been promoting her own new book Chocolate & Vicodin this winter (PLEASE view the exceedingly-cute-despite-the-depressing-subject book trailer on that page, by the way), and who knows how jittery the book pre-launch experience can be. I’m not twitching that much right now, but of course there’s 18 more days left to freak out.

A few of you have asked if it makes a difference where or how you buy the book. I’ll just say that any new purchase or pre-order of the hardcover or ebook will directly support The Wilder Life, and whether you choose an indie bookseller, a chain store, or an online merchant is up to you. As long as you don’t buy an advanced reader copy on eBay (which is sort of illegal) or shoplift (definitely illegal), you will be doing fine by me (and avoiding jail & stuff).  That said, I have heard that early sales and pre-orders are important, so if you can buy early and buy often (Sorry, I know, I’m from Chicago), it will definitely help.

Other things you can do to support The Wilder Life right now[Read more…]

IT CAN’T BEAT US*

The Long Winter of 1979

Me during the Blizzard of '79. I still miss that blue plush coat.

*I have this idea that for the rest of the winter I could name blog entries after chapter titles in The Long Winter. Need to find some reason to have a blog post called “ANTELOPE!”

Coming home early on Tuesday afternoon and watching the blizzard begin was an exquisitely giddy experience. I just sat by the big window by my desk and watched the snow come in careening gusts of wind.

No, I didn’t try to make this snowstorm one of my Little House reenactment projects, though I did have lots of Long Winter thoughts, and they swirled around in my head with all my modern neuroses. Like I was thinking that if the power went out I could use my quaint, adorable oil lamp, and then I remembered that my laptop’s battery function was broken, which of course freaked me out because THEN I’d have to make a tiny little generator with the old-fashioned coffee grinder and spend every morning hand-cranking a meager little serving of wireless while Chris twisted Chicago mayoral campaign junk mail into bundles of fuel.

But that didn’t happen. Our power stayed on, though the wind blew so hard I could feel our building shake, and there was lightning and thunder (which in a snowstorm looks and sounds really insane, like the earth is going to break open and fling up Superman’s Fortress of Solitude or something), and we were fine. Our car was stuck in the garage for three days until Chris was finally able to shovel out a narrow passage allowing the car to just barely squeeze through the waist-high snowbanks; the first time we pulled out the snow squeaked, like giant styrofoam wedges.  And if I were to describe the blizzard experience overall, I would say it was almost fun, thanks to this improbably comfy world we live in, with all this home insulation and central heat and horseless-carriage-plows.

And “almost fun” except for the free-floating sensation that’s been lingering these few days after the storm, when everything seems to stand still and sometimes it’s all I can do to complete the simplest tasks, even when the weather has kept me at home and opened up new vistas of spare time. But I guess it’s no coincidence that Laura feels “stupid” so many times during The Long Winter. (And I love that Google Books lets me look that up.) I have so much to do in the next few months between work and the book coming out, but maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I find myself wanting to just sit around and stare at the stove fire (or, really, Season 3 of Jersey Shore).

Hope you all are doing okay with your own Long Winters.

*   *   *

Wedding Planning Question Corner (which will perhaps be an occasionally recurring feature this year): What do you have to do to get to talk to a caterer? We’re still looking for one and I seem to be sending a lot of emails and voicemails into the void lately.

*   *   *

Book release stuff: my event schedule is being finalized right now, so if you’re in or near Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Iowa City, or Kansas City, I’ll have news for you soon…

Your questions answered, plus ME IN A BONNET

To answer the three most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten from people since we got engaged last weekend:

1.) Chris and I haven’t set a date yet, but are planning for sometime in the fall.

2.) No, we are NOT having a Little-House themed wedding. I will not wear a poke bonnet, walk down the aisle to fiddle music, and ride off on a covered wagon. It’s sort of cool that Laura Ingalls Wilder wore black for her wedding, but I seriously doubt I could pull off that look without looking like Louise Fletcher in Flowers in the Attic.  (And no, we are not having a V.C. Andrews-themed wedding either, though if another couple ever decides to go that route, PLEASE SEND PICTURES.)

3.) Also, Chris did not propose on a buggy ride while driving his team of Morgan horses. How did Almanzo manage to slip the ring onto Laura’s finger with one hand while he held the reins with the other? He had some slick moves, that Manly. Chris made me get out of the car. (And then walk with him to the pop-the-question spot.) I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We just barely got the tree up this season, I haven’t baked any cookies or made any gingerbread creations (sorry), and I totally missed seeing the Santa Train, but this is turning out to be one of the best holidays ever.

Speaking of Christmas and wearing bonnets: as much as I loved the Little House books as a kid, I never had my own sunbonnet or any other kind of prairie girl getup. You’d think this would’ve bothered me, but somehow it didn’t, and now I remember why. It’s because for two Christmas seasons, right around the peak of my Little House adoration, I got to dress up all 19th-century for a community theater adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”

It was a musical production at the Village Players theater in Oak Park and it was called, I kid you not, Ebenezer! I was in the children’s chorus. The first year I performed (1980 I think?) I got to wear a long red velvet dress, a bonnet, and a shawl. The second year my costume had a fur muff.  I knew from reading On the Banks of Plum Creek that muffs were the It Accessory of the 1870s, and I about lost my mind when the wardrobe lady gave me one to wear.

Here I am in my red dress, delivering my one line, which I can still remember: “I got new skates! They’re made out of real steel!”

Maybe I wasn’t convincing enough, because in the following year’s production my line was simply, “Oh, there’s Tim.” But whatever, I had the MUFF that year.  If you look in the picture below, I think the girl in the white cape in the front row had it.

Why the heck weren’t we wearing gloves if it was supposed to be December in London? We look way too happy and warm to be Dickensian urchins. Also the kid in black on the left is supposed to be Tiny Tim. That’s right: the tallest kid in the group. But never mind, it was Christmas. God bless us, everyone!  And God help us this next year.  Merry Christmas!

Uncertain pies (AKA the search for the green pumpkin)

There are a few things on my Little House Bucket List that I didn’t get to write about in the book. One of those was making a green pumpkin pie like the one Ma Ingalls makes in The Long Winter. In Chapter 3, an early October frost kills the garden, and Ma, perhaps thinking of ways to make the most of their tiny harvest, improvises a mock apple pie from an unripe pumpkin and surprises Pa with it that night.

I wrote about that chapter this past January on the Beyond Little House blog because the green pumpkin pie has always fascinated me. Back when I first read the books I thought green pumpkins had a sort of vague magic to them, or that Ma knew some wacky science-fair kind of trick that could turn pumpkin bits into apples just by pouring vinegar on them. Who wouldn’t want to try to make a pie that changes the laws of nature? Since The Little House Cookbook by Barbara Walker has a recipe for the pie, I was sure that I’d be able to make one for the book.

Except I couldn’t score an unripe pumpkin last fall. Barbara Walker warned me that it would be tricky to find one if I didn’t grow my own pumpkins, and by the time I started asking vendors at the farmers’ market, I was too late—it was October and all the pumpkins had turned orange. Stupid nature!

So this year I started earlier. I took weekly morning walks in September over to the Lincoln Square farmer’s market and found a produce stand guy who said he’d bring me a green pumpkin. Wait about two weeks, he said, but I went back the next week just to remind him.  Finally, the week after that, in mid-September, he hauled out a green pumpkin and sold it to me for a price that would surely dismay Ma.

Green pumpkin

It was so big I had to take it home on the el, at about 7:30 am, on a train filled with morning commuters. (Nobody cared.) It was a glorious sight.

Green pumpkin It was only Tuesday, and I wasn’t planning on making the pie until the weekend. I began to worry that it would continue to ripen, so that night I cut it open and sliced it into small, thin, apple-like bits.

Slicing it thin It didn’t have that slightly rank, squashy smell that pumpkins tend to have at Halloween carving time, which was a good sign. There was way more pumpkin than I needed, so I stored a big container full of the cut bits, enough to make two pies, and reluctantly threw the rest of it out.

As my luck would have it, that weekend, I had to attend an all-day conference on Saturday, a party the same night, and then a column to write on Sunday. It was a heck of a time to have to make the pie, but of course you have to gather ye green pumpkins while ye may, as the saying goes.

Crust

For the pie crusts, I made the Little House Cookbook recipe from scratch bought some pre-made crusts, the kind you only have to unroll and tuck into the pan. I know, Ma would disapprove of all this store-boughten fanciness. But it’s been years since I made pie crust. I had only a couple hours on Saturday evening to make the pies, and I worried that the whole thing would be a disaster if I tried to make everything from scratch. And based on the accounts of other people who’d made green pumpkin pie, I was expecting mixed results.  Life is too short to make crust for uncertain pies, I thought, as I unrolled the dough. Maybe I’ll stitch that on a sampler someday when I’m not so lazy.

I filled the crusts with the pumpkin bits, brown sugar and spices, and poured a little Newton’s Folly hard cider over it all. Barbara Walker claims hard cider is more like 19th-century vinegar than other kinds of vinegar. (It was one of the few ingredients that I already had on hand.)

Assembling the pie

The pies smelled amazing while they baked and turned out much better than I expected. The filling didn’t have the squashy taste that others had reported from their experiences. The pumpkin pieces cooked down nicely and were tender and sort of translucent.

Out of the oven

And yet, it didn’t taste like apple pie, not really—just some kind of cinnamony-spicy concoction.  It was also a very wet pie, really a puddle with a crust. It was definitely edible, though, if on the bland side. But if you were Pa Ingalls and likely hadn’t had an apple since about 1874, you’d probably really dig it.

I brought one of the pies to the party that night—a gathering at a bar for a friend’s birthday. There were a lot of people there and I tried to warn everyone about the pie’s experimental nature.  One friend said, “As an apple pie, it’s disappointing, but for what it is, it’s pretty good.”

I decided that if it had tasted exactly like apple pie it would have been pretty creepy. I was also relieved that there wasn’t a massive blizzard the very next day, the way there was in the book.

In the end, I concluded, everything was as it ought to be. Apples were still apples, pumpkins stayed pumpkins, there were no October blizzards, and I’m still too lazy to make my own pie crust.

Kind of a messy pie

For more photos of the pie-making (and other Little House stuff to come), I’ve set up a Flickr site for the book.

Also, The Wilder Life is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Indiebound and elsewhere. (Also, it’ll be an audio book! Don’t think I mentioned that before, but more on that soon!)