Tag: books

Author Interview: Country singer Trisha Yearwood shares family recipes from new cookbook

Trisha Yearwood loves food — the warmth, the creativity, the memories certain dishes evoke. The country music star wrote her first cookbook, “Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen,” with her mother and her sister as a way to memorialize her father and keep him alive through their shared love of favorite recipes.

“It was so personal,” Yearwood said. “Once we finished, I thought there would never be another book like that.”

The cookbook became a #1 New York Times bestseller, and the singer, actress and entrepreneur established herself as a respected culinary voice. She delivered a second bestselling cookbook, “Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood,” in 2010. In 2012, she hosted the Food Network series Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, which garnered an Emmy Award in the “Outstanding Culinary Show” category.

During the early months of the pandemic, she discovered another family cookbook from her Grandma Yearwood. Going over it with her sister, with whom she is very close, they realized there were many recipes that meant something to them and that they wanted to share.

“The recipe for Grandma’s fried pies was in there!” she said. “My dad loved those pies and anytime he had one, he would always say they weren’t as good as his mother’s.”

The long stretch of time spent at home last year gave Yearwood the opportunity to be creative and find comfort in the chaos. The result is her latest cookbook, “Trisha’s Kitchen: Easy Comfort Food for Friends and Family,” filled with 125 family recipes. Each recipe tells a story, from her grandmother’s Million Dollar Cupcakes to Uncle Wilson’s Ice Cream Thing to Garth’s Teriyaki Bowl.

“When you make something your mom made and it tastes the same, there’s a connection,” she said.

Capturing the recipes was also important to her because so many favorite family dishes had no specific instructions, just an idea of ingredients and steps.

“If you have family recipes, write them down and share them with family,” she said. “Don’t take for granted the person who knows how to make a certain dish will always be around.”

This article was first published in The Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: For novelist Susan Zurenda, reading paved way to writing

Susan Zurenda didn’t plan to be an author. She started college pursuing a music degree, something she said was her mother’s dream. Yet she’d always been a writer, penning skits for Girls Scouts and scripts for the school talent show. And she’s always, always been a reader.

“My mother took me to story hour at the library when I was 3 years old; my father would read poetry to me and my brother at bedtime,” she told me. “All of my years of reading made me a better writer. I would rather read than anything.”

Zurenda, author of “Bells for Eli,” her first novel, will be speaking and signing books at Midtown Reader at noon Friday, Sept. 24.

After earning an English degree in literature, working briefly as a journalist and starting a family, Zurenda became a literature professor, something she said was also instrumental in learning to write fiction. She wrote short stories but never had the time to create a longer work of fiction.

“When I sit down to write,” she said, “I want to be able to do it until my mind says, ‘That’s all we need to do for today.’ I didn’t feel like that was possible when I was working full time and raising a family.”

Once she retired, she had the time, and the novel she’d had in her mind began to develop. Sometimes it felt like the content was writing itself, and the characters were doing their own thing.

“I started with an outline but around the third chapter, I threw it out,” she said. “On a conscious level I’m very aware of writing structure and moving points forward, but underneath there’s something in the subconscious that brings out the characters’ stories on its own.”

The natural arc of character development also helped her bond with her characters, especially those she had a hard time connecting with at first.

“There was a character I didn’t particularly like, which made it difficult for me to write him as a truly multidimensional character,” she admitted. “But later in the story, his actions helped me develop a real sympathy for him. I felt like I understood him better.”

Bells for Eli — which follows two cousins growing up in small-town South Carolina in the 1960s and ’70s — is Zurenda’s first full-length novel, although she’s written numerous prize-winning short stories throughout the course of her career. When I asked her what she would tell other aspiring writers, she didn’t hesitate.

“By golly, you’ve got to be a serious reader.”

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: Tallahassee author Suzanne Allain talks about new Regency romance novel

It’s not often an author credits a car accident with jump-starting their writing career, but in Suzanne Allain’s case, that’s exactly what happened.

“I was a computer programmer right out of high school and then became a technical writer,” the Tallahassee-based writer said. “It wasn’t until I was recuperating from a bad auto accident that I wrote the first few chapters of my first novel.”

Allain always knew she wanted to be a writer, recalling that she even ran track with a book in her hands. When she was 12, she found a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” in her sister’s room; the discovery launched her ongoing love affair with Jane Austen.

“I knew I wanted to write in a similar style, although my novels are slightly more comedic,” she said. “They’re more like Jane Austen meets Oscar Wilde.”

Her newest novel, “Miss Lattimore’s Letter,” which is being released on Aug. 10, follows “Mr. Malcolm’s List,” now a screenplay in post-production. Writing screenplays wasn’t Suzanne’s original career path, but it’s one she has taken enthusiastically.

“As it turns out, I don’t really like writing descriptions,” she said. “I prefer writing dialogue, which naturally lends itself to writing screenplays.”

One of the greatest obstacles Allain encountered while writing over the past year was the lack of outside creative inspiration. The challenges of the pandemic made it difficult to get into the headspace of a romantic comedy.

“Creative people are inspired by many things, and when you’re stuck at home 24/7 and you don’t have access to outside stimuli, the creative flow can be very difficult to find,” she said.

But find it she did. “Miss Lattimore’s Letter” is being released Tuesday, Aug. 10.

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: Bestselling writer Daniel Silva’s newest thriller influenced by unprecedented year

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen things we never would have thought possible. We’ve watched a pandemic sweep across the globe. We’ve watched lives put on hold, families separated, policies change and change back again. We’ve watched an extremely contentious election. We’ve watched a crowd of protestors, many heavily armed, rush into the U.S. Capitol.

For Daniel Silva, an award-winning #1 New York Times bestselling author, this last event had a profound impact on his latest novel, “The Cellist.” Silva will have a virtual event hosted by Midtown Reader on Monday, July 12.

“As I was writing the climax of the story, the Capitol insurrection took place and I knew I had to write about it,” he said. “I just started writing a new ending to the novel, which completely shifted everything. We all lived through this change and my book had to reflect that.”

Silva brought up an interesting point many have probably never considered: how does an intelligence operation play out when entire countries are on lockdown? For that matter, how much of what we considered to be normal just 18 months ago is now almost completely reimagined?

What never changed for Silva was his dedication to writing. He credits his experience as a journalist early in his career for instilling in him diligence, the routine of sitting down to write, and the importance of writing quickly.

“Do I like everything the first time I write it? No! But I write every day, most of the day, and have for almost 40 years,” he said. “Other writers who were journalists — Carl Hiassen, Michael Connelly — none of those guys sit and stare at a blank screen either.”

In addition to including a plot that unfolds throughout COVID-19, “The Cellist” also touches on two deep areas of interest for Silva: the rise of New Russia and classical music.

“I’m a classical music freak!” he chuckled. “Right now, my favorite piece of cello music is Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G Minor for Cello & Piano, Op.19. And I love Schubert’s cello sonata in A Minor…that arpeggio!”

For young authors considering a career in writing, Silva offered the following advice: find your voice and stick with it.

“I’ve never written in first person; my voice is very old-fashioned,” he said. “I had a very early set of influences and the result is this old-fashioned voice. And I’ve stayed with it.”

It must be working. Silva’s thrillers regularly make the New York Times bestseller lists, and “The Cellist” is his 24th one.

(Enjoy Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G Minor for Cello & Piano, Op.19: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln0-rf7qWnk)

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: In new memoir, Connie Mack looks back on life in politics

These days, you’d be hard pressed to find many people who would describe politics as “an honorable calling.” But in his new memoir, “Citizen Mack, Florida Senator Connie Mack” (who served as a member of Congress from 1983-1989, and as a Senator from 1989-2001) reminds readers that it hasn’t always been this way.

It was personal tragedy that initially inspired Sen. Mack to run for office. As his younger brother Michael was fighting for his life against melanoma, the Senator said he spent time in deep conversations with Michael and his brother Dennis about the meaning and purpose of life. His purpose, he felt, was to help others succeed.

“There was no question I would run for political office, and that I would run for Congress,” he said. “I grew up with a great heritage of politicians on my mother’s side, and from that a dream became a plan.”

“Citizen Mack” chronicles Sen. Mack’s time in office, delving into the corresponding political events and policy issues. The project was driven in part by his wish that his grandfather and great-grandfather, both members of Congress, had written something similar.

“I’d give almost anything to read about their experiences and the history of what was happening during their terms of service,” he said. “Now my grandchildren and great-grandchildren can read about my life.”

Initially, Sen. Mack wondered if he had enough content for an entire book, but that quickly changed as he began writing and realized there was, in fact, far more than he had the space for. Long chapters had to be edited down. When it came time to write about economics, he had President Nixon’s voice ringing in his ears.

“Richard Nixon once told me economics is boring, boring, boring,” he recalled. “He said I needed to travel, meet foreign leaders, and not rely so heavily on my stump speeches about economics and budgets. I kept thinking about that while I was writing my chapter on economics!”

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: Author shares a taste of old-time recipes in ‘Florida Cracker Cookbook’

Many people have probably heard of the five love languages: quality time, gift giving, acts of service, words of affirmation and physical touch. I would like to propose a sixth: food.

Joy Sheffield Harris, author of “The Florida Cracker Cookbook,” agrees.

“This project started because I wanted to find out why we eat what we eat in different parts of the state,” she explained. “But I also wanted to capture the recipes from the foods I remember eating as a child growing up in North Florida.”

Harris will talk about the cookbook at Midtown Reader on Friday and Jeri’s Midtown Cafe is providing the snacks.

As we talked, I shared with Harris my fear that in this digital age, we’re losing the art of the hand-written recipe. I’m fortunate to have inherited my grandmother’s recipe cards and more from her mother and other women in our family, but what will the next generation inherit? My Pinterest boards? Harris chuckled.

“I don’t use a lot of recipes online,” she said. “I have my hand-written recipe cards and recipe notebooks. But that could also be because I’m not as computer-savvy!”

These recipes didn’t come easy, though. As Harris was putting the cookbook together, she struggled with them, trying to get them to taste the way they tasted according to her memory.

“My grandmother could look at something and just tell if it was right or if it needed more,” she said. “So many of these family dishes were made by taste, by feel… and it’s also difficult to replicate them exactly because the ingredients are so different now.”

In many ways, this cookbook is Harris’s own love letter, both to her past and to her future.

“My son will never have the experience of visiting my grandmother in her cracker cabin, but he’ll have these recipes,” she said. “If you have older family members, spend time with them in the kitchen. Ask them what they’re doing, why and how. I wish I had done more of that.”

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: Tallahassee couple’s memoir tells entrepreneurial story in ‘Married to It’

If you or a loved one has graduated from high school or college within the past four decades, there’s a good chance you own a portrait taken by Bob and Gail Knight’s photography company.

The Tallahassee couple built a business empire, now called Iconic Group, by photographing graduates as they matriculated, capitalizing on their unique ability to process and distribute staggering quantities of photos in a breathtakingly short amount of time.

Bob and Gail Knight will tell their story and sign their new book, “Married To It,” at 6 p.m. Feb. 12 at Holy Comforter Episcopal School.

It wasn’t always a multimillion-dollar venture. Bob started his company on the campus of Florida State University, taking formal photographs for sororities. That’s how he met Gail, who was pursuing her degree in accounting.

“We met because she gave me a bad check,” he laughed.

“I was the treasurer for my sorority,” Gail added.

That twist of fate led to the development of a strong business partnership and a beautiful life together. Bob had the vision for the company from the beginning, and Gail worked out all of the administrative and process issues. And as their business grew, they set some ground rules.

“There was no business talk at home without prior consent,” Bob said. “We didn’t want our business world to take over our home life too. If you’re not careful, you can ruin a personal relationship if all you do is work.”

“The reason we were able to stay married, raise three sons and grow a successful business was that we had different skill sets,” Gail explained. “I didn’t want to get in his chili, and he didn’t want to get in mine.”

That careful prioritization and deliberate management also applied to the people they hired.

“We hired the person, not for the position,” said Bob. “Most of our employees were young people we met at restaurants and bars, and if we felt like their personality was a fit, we reached out.”

“Every now and then we’d meet someone and think, ‘We have to keep him or her,’” said Gail. “And many of them stayed with us.”

Their book, “Married To It,” tells not only their entrepreneurial story, but also their story as a couple who loved and supported each other through successes, failures, ups and downs.

“This isn’t a memoir so much as it is a legacy,” said Bob. “It’s a Tallahassee story and an FSU story; it started here and it’s still here. FSU helped us flourish.”

Bob and Gail hope their story offers a few lessons, both business and personal. And no one could argue they’re not experts.

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interviews: Journalist talks Florida panther at Midtown Reader

Craig Pittman has what he calls the greatest job in American journalism: writing about the environment for The Tampa Bay Times.

“I get paid to go out on a boat,” he enthused. “And Florida has no end to the wacky, weird environmental stuff…”

Known for his “Oh, Florida!” column and a book by the same name, Pittman is a collector of strange stories — the stranger the better.

And typical of his truths-wilder-than-fiction storytelling is the narrative captured in his latest book, “Cat Tale,” about how the Florida panther was brought back from the very brink of extinction.

Pittman will talk and sign his new book at 6 p.m. Friday at Midtown Reader.

“I’ve been writing this book since 1998, but it needed a good ending,” Pittman told me. “That didn’t happen until 2017.”

For the uninitiated, the panther is the official state animal of Florida. Also known as a mountain lion, cougar and puma, the animal has been on the endangered species list since the late 1960s, and for decades scientists (and concerned citizens) watched the population dwindle to about 20 in 1995.

Their return, said Pittman, is probably the greatest endangered species success story, thanks to a Hail Mary attempt by an extraordinarily determined group of people.

“This isn’t just a nature book about big cats,” he explained to me. “This is also about the people — the grizzled old Texas tracker, the veterinarian from the Northwest, the school children who voted to make the panther the state animal.”

In a story that celebrates the twists and turns of the panther’s remarkable recovery and the people who made it possible, Pittman’s love for his state and its wonderful weirdness rings clear. “Cat Tale” is worth the read for the nature, for the history, for the people.

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: ‘Running Against the Devil’ author Rick Wilson talks politics at Midtown Reader

The bad boy of Florida’s Republican Party is back, with another fascinating read on politics… although this one could also be characterized as a self-help book for Democrats running in the 2020 Presidential Primary. Rick Wilson, author of “Running Against the Devil,” is hoping his newest book will be seen as a strategic plan for pushing back against the current Republican presidential campaign machine.

“The thing that has surprised me the most is how many Democrats have been receptive to the book,” Wilson told me. “It’s been a shock to me, and kind of a delight.”

Florida politicos know Wilson by name and reputation; he’s been involved in politics for decades, often serving as a hard-hitting consultant for Republican candidates. His somewhat recent foray into writing has allowed him to come out from behind the curtain, in his own words.

“I appreciate being able to be myself,” he said. “I made the decision three years ago to stand by my principles, and ever since then I’ve had an incredibly positive experience.”

He did not, he joked, turn to writing for the money, something his former colleagues sometimes rib him about. But he likes playing the role of teacher and explainer, being able to educate people about the political systems behind the scenes. His first book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” was more exposé than instruction manual, which he said was successful because he wasn’t afraid to be a smartass (the book hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list). “Running” is more about tough love.

“You want to help them,” he mused. “I’m not here to give anyone participation trophies.”

One of the greatest challenges Wilson has faced while writing his books is the struggle to keep them current as publishing deadlines loom and events of significance keep unfolding. For example, the vote to begin the impeachment process against the president happened just after “Running” had already been finalized, and Wilson worked hard (and successfully) to include mention of the monumental development in the final version.

“I always wish I could make one more change, one last edit,” he said. “But then you have to let it be.”

It’s advice which, frankly, probably applies to political campaigns as well.

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: Author Cassandra King Conroy visits Midtown Reader to talk on ‘My Life with Pat Conroy’

When I told my mom I was interviewing Cassandra King Conroy, wife of the late Pat Conroy, she was jealous, and a little starstruck.

“Oh, honey,” she said on the phone. “How cool!”

(This is how I knew she was starstruck. My mom is not normally so… succinct.)

I was a little dazzled myself, so much so that I called her Ms. King in my email to coordinate the interview. Cue instant mortification.

I apologized profusely when we talked and she laughed it off. Turns out she usually goes by Cassandra King, but her publisher wanted her to add Conroy to her byline for her recent memoir to appeal to her husband’s fans as well as her own.

But Cassandra King Conroy needs no force multiplier; her grace and charm are irresistible, and her talent for storytelling is natural. As a child, she wrote her own stories because she could make them turn out the way she wanted. Her writing career, however, was a little bit less direct.

“Being a writer was something I dreamed of as I was growing up, but I majored in English,” said King Conroy. “We didn’t feel like we had choices; it was not the time when we could be anything we wanted.”

She paused, and then chuckled.

“My mother said, ‘Oh no, young lady, you get a teaching certificate,’” she said. “She told me I needed something to fall back on in case something happened to my husband… I had no husband! But I got the certificate.”

King Conroy used that teaching certificate and raised a family, waiting until her children were older to seriously approach writing. The first piece she was ever paid to publish was a religious poem, although she said she’s a terrible poet. Six successful novels later, she embarked on a project far more personal — “Tell Me A Story,” a memoir of her life with her husband Pat.

The hardest part about writing “Tell Me A Story,” she said, was putting herself in it. Her editor sent the first draft back praising the writing but saying she didn’t feel like she knew King Conroy any better  after reading it.

“I figured that was what she would say, and it’s a valid criticism of a memoir,” King Conroy said. “I’m a very private person, not normally the kind to tell my stories. But if you look at a memoir as a story about what you learned and how your memories affected you, it has to be a little more personal.”

Writing is King Conroy’s form of expression, her way of trying to understand herself and the world. It’s similar, she said, to the way musicians are compelled to make music.

“I can’t not write,” she said emphatically. “It’s so much a part of me, who I am.”

And if that’s your calling she said, you’ll find a way to do it. Even if it takes a little time or a more circuitous route.

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.