Welcome to Sunday Poetry.  If this is your first visit you can read about the purpose and inspiration of my Sunday blogs here.

Last week Northern Virginia had snow on the ground.  Before Halloween.  Unheard of.  Of course it was nothing like the 20 inches some places farther north received.  I remember my first winter in NW Pennsylvania, a 200-inches-of-snow kind of winter.  Florida girl that I was, I couldn’t believe that I had to take my children trick-or-treating in boots and long johns.  Long johns, in case you haven’t tried this, play havoc with Halloween costumes.

When Snow by David Berman appeared in my mailbox this week, courtesy of Poetry 180, it seemed particularly apt.  After all, winter has begun here, even though we still have leaves on the trees.  The poem made me smile, too.  I never had a younger sibling, but as the mother of four, I remember these endless questions.  Bet many of you do, too.

I love the line: “When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.”  What a great image, and it rang true for me immediately.  Snow makes the world a more intimate place, covering so many things we don’t need to know or think about.

Remember there are no quizzes here, no right ways to read or contemplate the poem we share.  Absolutely no dissecting allowed.  Just come along for the “read.”  What line, word or thought will you carry with you this week?  If you’d like to tell us where the poem took you?  We’ll listen.

Galen McGee, peakdefinition.com

This week was a milestone in my career.  I turned in One Mountain Away, which is the first in the Goddesses Anonymous series set in Asheville, North Carolina.   Wherever you live, I’m sure you heard the cheers.

One Mountain Away is scheduled to come out in August of 2012, and while I’ve yet to see a cover, I hope my publisher will use some of the area’s gorgeous scenery, a sample of which you see here, photographed by my favorite photographer (and son) Galen McGee of Peak Definition, in Asheville.

Some books are easier to write than others.  How easy, how hard, never seem to make a difference in the way the book is viewed by readers or reviewers.  Some of the hardest books look effortless.  Nobody engrossed in the novel knows how much the author agonized over the best way to portray a character or present the central conflict.  Other books, which look difficult on the surface, may not have been.  Quite possibly the author went into the book certain she knew exactly what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it.  And while it’s unlikely the author never deviated, it does happen.  Some books just seem to be channeled from above, counterweights to the ones that are eked from the earth below, one miserable word at a time.

One Mountain Away was one of the latter.  I knew so much about the story up front.  I understood characters, motivation, story arc, setting and how it played into my chapters.  I knew what I wanted to tackle and what I wanted to stay away from.   I was missing some crucial bits, though.  The hardest decision was the best way to incorporate back story.

Back story refers to all those things that happened before the reader opened the book.  It’s the novelist’s job to decide what’s important for the reader to know and what isn’t.  Next Friday I’ll tackle ways to include back story.  But the first order of business is deciding if the information is necessary in the first place.

Sometimes back story’s clearly superfluous.  Let’s say a woman mistakenly receives a letter meant for a stranger.  She opens it and learns something interesting that she begins to investigate.  What do we need to know about her?  Very little.  Who she was before the story began is relatively unimportant.  The letter has nothing to do with her previous life.  Maybe there’s a subplot that needs a touch of back story, an ex-boyfriend trying to win her back, a job she hates, but that’s easily explained in a sentence or two before the book moves forward.

But what if back story connects in some important way to the story at hand?  If her investigations take her back to her own past, say she’s investigating a hit and run accident; the driver was under the influence, and she comes from a family with substance abuse problems, then yes, her past could be important.  The past might provide motivation to investigate.  Or the case at hand might finally help her deal with her own past.

Or what if she believes the letter was meant for a stranger, only that isn’t really true? What if the letter’s part of a scheme to involve her in the present situation because of something she’s done?

Including back story without annoying the reader who yearns to move forward, is difficult, so it has to be important.  My rule of thumb?   If back story is needed to explain vital aspects of a character’s personality (fears, actions, loves, hates, etc.) then include what you must.  If back story enlightens the reader about motivation, include.  If back story sets up important plot points?  Include.

Don’t include back story simply because it’s interesting or dramatic.  A pinch here and there, perhaps, as it pertains to the story at hand, but that’s all.  No matter how interesting you’ve made it for your own purposes, if back story isn’t completely relevant to the present story, it’s distracting. 

If you must tell that story, the one I’m advising you not to include, why not simply make the back story your novel?  After all, maybe that’s the story you’ve yearned to tell all along.

I hate wasting food.  Which is why my husband and I smiled over burned salmon last week and pretended to smack our lips. 

Truth is, neither of us was willing to throw away a pound of wild caught salmon, even if the glaze, for which I’d held out so much hope, was now a layer of charcoal on top.  “Yum,”  I said, “it reminds me of meals straight off the barbecue.”  He, of course, (the man who DOES the barbecuing) couldn’t dispute this since right before I burned the salmon, he burned a pot of rice–the residue, of which I’m still trying to get out of my Green Gourmet saucepan.  He knew that one word of criticism, and rice would become the next conversational topic.  Wisely he swallowed salmon and criticism together.

Oh, did I mention the artichokes weren’t quite done either, at least his wasn’t?  Mine was perfect.  I wonder how that happened?

This all started with an online recipe from Once Upon A Chef, a website I mentioned two weeks ago.  For the month of October I’d suggested here that anyone who wanted to enter the CHU giveaway, could also enter with a new online recipe.  I wanted to be right in sync.

The recipe, Broiled Salmon With Thai Sweet Chili Glaze, not only sounded simple and good, it made use of the Thai sweet chili sauce I’d mistakenly bought for another online recipe, Thai Sesame Noodles, which actually called for spicy chili sauce.  I used the sweet sauce for the noodles anyway, and the result?  Well, it’s not a recipe I’ll hurry off to make again.  It was surprisingly bland, even though I used sesame oil with hot peppers.  But it’s hard to critique a recipe if it’s not followed exactly.

In all fairness to Chef, I think this salmon recipe’s probably a keeper.  But I learned my lesson.  When broiling fish, never leave the room to watch the news, not even if you’ve set a timer–which I had. 

Never walk away from the broiler, period.

So why all the cooking errors when we’re usually pretty adept in the kitchen?  It’s actually pretty simple.  Chalk up my mistakes to 60 hour work weeks in October as I finished One Mountain Away and did my final revisions before sending it off to my editor.

Maybe authors just weeks from deadline shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.   At the end of the next book, I’ll just look up restaurants and not recipes.  The world will be a safer place.

November’s here.  Dig out that old cookbook and make a new recipe.  We only have two months left of the giveaway, so get cooking!