Thursday, April 01, 2010

Thursday Talk Time : : Let's talk about research

A couple of weeks ago Anne McAllister asked for suggestions so that she could make the best use of her time in New York where she was attending a wedding. Life is not all attending weddings. Serious research also went on. She's here to tell you about it.

I had a fabulous time in New York. The wedding I went for was certainly research-worthy. It took place in a renovated loft in a warehouse in Queens.

Giving us directions, the groom said, "If you get to a place where you think you're definitely in the wrong neighborhood and seriously worry that you're going to be jumped, you've come to the right place."

Er, yes.

And nine of us arriving in a white stretch limo simply added to the incongruity. And the fun. Once we were inside the venue was lovely.

Up a flight of crumbling stairs we found a gorgeous set of high-ceilings rooms with a sort of French country house feel where the wedding and the reception and dinner and dance all took place. There is enough ambiguity to the space that it could be used hundreds of ways. That is, doubtless, much of its appeal.

And this time was no different. The wedding itself was as memorable as the setting -- very much like the couple getting married: warm, fun, happy, reverent and irreverent both.

It was unlike any wedding I've ever been to before. It perfectly suited the couple marrying. And in research terms, I have no doubt that I will be stealing bits and pieces of it for book weddings for years to come.

It was the highlight of my trip. But besides the wedding, I did lots of other things as well.

I went to the Brooklyn Museum to check out the Dutch houses. They were amazing -- they are whole houses, not just rooms. And as such, they really made family history come alive.

If I wrote historicals, I'd be right there trying to think of a way to work those houses into my book. I may try to figure it out anyway as I'm doing a book on an historic preservationist now.

After the museum we checked out the botanical gardens. I could get lost in there. I wish we'd had more time. It's really a destination by itself without involving the museum. I'm planning to go back.

We weren't quite done with museums because the next day we went to the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum where I was told that NO PHOTOS were allowed. Not even of my friend Nancy the Cat Slayer (so called because I have a potentially incriminating, but totally harmless, picture of her in Ireland with Archie the local cat and an African knife artifact that, in retrospect, looked a lot more lethal than it seemed at the time) in the cafe eating her soup!

I found this prohibition odd because the Brooklyn Museum would let me take pictures of anything as long as I didn't use flash. But it's an interesting detail to know. I can see right now a scene in which my heroine runs afoul of the Powers That Be at the Morgan! I'd show you a photo (theirs, not mine), but since their no photo policy exists, who am I to fly in the face of their authority? (grrrrr.)

We tried to see the Guggenheim the day before we left, even slogged through lots of rain and puddles to get there. But the line was around the block.

Crowded museums are not my favorite thing. I like space and quiet when I'm contemplating art. So does Nancy. So we left and went across town and down to Columbus Circle to the Time Warner AOL building where there is an inside multi-story mall and instead of watching art, we watched people. It was a different sort of museum -- one of commerce, I guess -- and still active, not simply there to be observed.

We pounded a lot of pavement over the past week. I relearned the Upper West Side neighborhood I knew very well a few years ago. Made it my own again. Got lots of details I can use next time I have a book set here.

I watched two plays that between them reinforced my notion that there is a huge range of material on Broadway. The Arthur Miller tragedy, A View from the Bridge, was intimate and intense and compelling.

It grabbed me, immersing me in relationships, making me think about love and desire and the pain that can come from those that go wrong. The issues tackled in this play aren't ones that I write about -- but every part of the human condition can inform the background of stories. All are worth thinking about, especially ones as well written and as well acted as that one.

The second play was the bright, sassy musical, Mamma Mia -- about as far from A View from the Bridge thematically and tonally as it is possible to get. The sheer energy of the production was uplifting. I emerged practically dancing my way up the street to catch a bus to get home.

How those two plays will figure into my books isn't clear to me yet. But I have no doubt that they will both find their way into the emotional landscape I write from. Writing is partly about physical details. But it's also about emotion. It's about the hopes and dreams and goals we have, about the families that shape us, about what we do with the opportunities we're given.

One of my other opp0rtunities was to take a walking tour. I mentioned last time that there were lots to pick from. Several readers of this blog -- not to mention my most recent heroine, Natalie, lobbied for the chocolate tour. Imagine that.

So on a bright sunny very crisp (actually pretty cold) day last week, Nancy the Cat Slayer and I set out to join a chocolate walking tour in Soho. What fun! First, possibly because of the rather crisp (no, it really wasn't frigid, honest) weather, we were the only two people who signed up for the tour. And the young man who gave it -- a part time chef and middle school teacher -- was doing his first stint with this particular tour.

We had a blast. We saw Easter chocolates being made and packaged. We studied chocolate-covered matzos. We saw hand-dipped chocolate of so many varieties and infusions that it made my head spin in shops that were barely big enough for the three of us to fit in.

We tasted tea-infused chocolate. We savored saffron-flavored chocolate. We had a chocolate-covered creme brulee that, we learned, was the toast of the cooking channel. We tried bits of bacon in chocolate and we sipped hot chocolate (60-70%) made with milk and made with water.

We finally finished a couple of hours later at a cheesecake shop where we each were given an individual cheesecake (I took the key lime and white chocolate). Most of the chocolate came home with us and we've been tasting it periodically, refusing to indulge ourselves. I can see that making it into a book -- a scene all about the heroine's self-control!

There were amazing varieties of chocolate. But my favorites (perhaps because I'm a philistine) were the tuxedo-clad, bow-tie wearing Peeps from Jacques Torres, appropriately called Chirp N Dales!

That was a detail I never expected to find. It was the highlight of the tour for me. It's things like the Chirp N Dales that make research so much fun.

Suffice to say, I had a great time in New York. I learned a lot. Refilled my well. Have masses of notes. Not to mention a bag of delicious chocolate (including Chirps).

I'll be happy to share my Chirps with you.

Tell me your favorite chocolate -- or tell me what I should see next time I come to New York -- and I'll let my golden retrievers, Mitch and Micah, pick a winner from among the comments. The winner will get a packet of Chirp N Dales.

While Anne was in New York, she got a slew of emails saying, "Congratulations." She thought that was a little weird since she wasn't the one who got married.

Then she learned that while she was dancing at the wedding and pounding the pavements of the Big Apple, this year's RITA finalists were announced -- and that her most recent book,
One Night Mistress . . . Convenient Wife, was among them!
She's thrilled, honored and very grateful to the judges for their choice. So are Christo and Natalie whose book it is. In fact, Natalie has been eating chocolate to celebrate ever since. Christo, of course, is more self-disciplined (ha).


  1. Anne, your trip to NY sounds fantastic. It's great to hear that you made the most of it and I'll look forward to reading snippets from this trip in future stories. I'm currently immersed in your houseboat book and loving it!

    And, perhapss most importantly, CONGRATULATIONS on finalling in the prestigious RITA contest. I'm so thrilled for you! It's very well deserved.


  2. Hershey's Original Milk Chocolate Bar
    Plain M&Ms
    Whitman's Sampler
    Russell Stover Home-Fashioned Favorites
    Hershey's Miniatures
    Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
    Peppermint Bark
    Outrageously Decadent Artisan Gourmet Chocolate

    Best of all: My Gran's "made to perfection" Hershey's Cocoa Fudge : )

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  3. Annie,
    Thanks so much for the good wishes, and I am delighted you're enjoying the houseboat book. It was definitely one of my faves (don't tell Christo and Natalie).

    Virginia, that's a comprehensive list! Obviously you've done your apprenticeship in Chocolate Appreciation! We tried some chocolate with curry the other night that we had a sample of. It was (surprisingly) good. Who could imagine that!?

  4. my favorite chocolate is with caramel, nuts and chocolate.

    I am beginning to like dark choclate more and more and it is good for you.

    As for brands I like them all; recently discovered Dove and Ghiradelli.


  5. I love dark chocolate, so I'm a bit weird. I come from the UK and I've only just worked out what 'Peeps' are!

  6. Alison, I like dark chocolate, too. And that's primarily what we 'tasted and tested' on our tour as both Nancy and I prefer it. But the Peeps were just fun to see and they made me smile. Plus, if you like marshmallow, they're very tasty! I'm glad we've managed to broaden your education!

  7. Virginia,
    Micah and Mitch have drawn your name as the winner of the Chirp N Dales! Congratulations!

    Go to my website and send me an email with your postal address and the Chirps will be on their way to you shortly. Use the "Contact Anne" link at the bottom of my webpage or the contest page link which will also reach me.

    Thanks to everyone who commented!

  8. Wow--what a treat! Thank you!

    Congratulations on your RITA nomination!!!

  9. Virginia,
    The Chirp N Dales are on their way to you. Let me know when they arrive, please! Thank you for the congrats on the RITA nomination. It was a delightful surprise.

  10. Anne..."the boys" arrived today! So sweet...gone, but not forgotten! Such wonderful memories...delicious : ) Thank you so much for the wonderful extra surprise. It will also be devoured quickly, and with great relish!