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Friday, October 14, 2011


Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate hospitality introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly racing mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars. Read more about Tammy and her books at her website

Tammy is giving away a copy of Dead Man’s Switch to one lucky reader. To enter the drawing, just post a comment to the blog.
-- AP

Family Members, Fictional Characters, and Zucchini Cookies

When does the eccentric or weird become charming? I should frame this in the proper context: I’m talking about well-meaning family members.

I realized, the morning of my birthday a few weeks ago, as I waited for my annual phone call conveying a dreadful rendition of the happy birthday song from my father and step-mother (I love you guys, but my father, for sure, can’t carry a tune in a bucket), that at some point in the last decade I’d started looking forward to that call. More, that my birthday wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t come.

Similarly, I am more amused than frustrated these days by my grandmother and the weird desserts she used to bake—which might be partially due to the fact that I no longer have to eat them. You see, my grandmother, who passed away in 2005, had some strange ideas about food. The interesting fact to note is that wasn’t always the case; at some point in my life that I can’t pinpoint, Grandma’s food got weird. I remember arriving to Grandma’s as a kid and finding fresh chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. Then suddenly there were zucchini cookies or persimmon bars that had just been taken out of the freezer. Really? What child wants cookies with no chocolate chips but flecks of green vegetables in them?

And yet, when my mother, her siblings, and all the grandchildren got together to clean out my grandmother’s house after her death, what did I tuck in my box among the other keepsakes? That’s right, her recipe box and an antique recipe stand that now sits on my desk. At least once a week I catch sight of it, read the title of the recipe displayed, and smile in fondness tinged with disbelief. Lemon Zucchini Cookies.

But I guess this is what they mean when they say “write what you know,” because when it came time to create the grandmother of Kate Reilly, my racecar-driving protagonist in Dead Man’s Switch, I thought about someone like my grandmother, with a strong commitment to doing what she feels is correct and appropriate, even if that’s not what everyone else thinks should be done. Plus a penchant for weird desserts.

Though Kate’s grandmother was only mentioned in the first Kate Reilly Racing Mystery, she’ll make more of an appearance in future books as Kate’s family story is explored. But her character is fully formed in my mind: a woman with firm ideas and a story in her background of doing what needed to be done. Much like mine was.

I’m guessing some lemon zucchini cookies will also show up. For sure I’ll pick those over the persimmon bars.

So my question is, what eccentric foods or behaviors do you find in your family? And how would they make great characters in a novel? A commenter to this blog this week will win a copy of Dead Man’s Switch!

Since I know readers of this blog enjoy new recipes, I’ve copied my grandmother’s down for you:

Lemon Zucchini Cookies
3/4c margarine
3/4c sugar
1 egg
1t ground lemon peel
2c flour
1t baking powder
1/2t salt
1c shredded zucchini
1c chopped walnuts

Cream the first four ingredients until light. Sift flour, baking powder, and sale together and mix in. Stir in the zucchini and walnuts. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Frost, if desired, with 1c powdered sugar mixed with 1 ½T lemon juice.

Thanks, for joining us today, Tammy. Our readers are used to seeing zucchini in all sorts of recipes, so I don’t think they’ll find your grandmother’s lemon zucchini cookies odd in the least. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet quite a few of them bake up a batch. Right, readers? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Dead Man’s Switch. -- AP


Patricia said...

I completely concur. I use people from my present and my past in creating my characters. It's a great way to be able to make them real for our readers with the way they dress and talk and interact.
Good post.

Jill said...

One of my favorite things about having in-laws is that I find their personality quirks so much more charming than those in my own family. So the story that my father-in-law tells about conning his (now) ex-wife into trying to make hot dog gravy is far more amusing than the memory of the time my mother duped my brother and I into eating carob chip cookies. (Thirty years later and I'm still bitter.) Sometimes the fruit is juicier on your spouse's family tree.

Tammy said...

Thanks, Patricia! It's write what we know, isn't it?

And Jill, I understand. In-laws are crazy without the emotional burden or embarrassment, I'd say. Er, not that I'm embarrassed by my in-laws. Or think they're crazy. Just saying hypothetically ... (hoping they don't read this). :-)

Theresa said...

Tammy, thanks for the trip down memory lane. I also cringe when reminded of things I ate (sometimes unwillingly) when I was a child; or sometimes, things I didn't eat, like when my mother would pan fry a steak and drench tortillas in the drippings for my 5 siblings and me. We are all grown with children of our own and still laugh about it, because we don't know who got the steak?? It was'nt me.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

One of many things things that I liked about DEAD MAN'S SWITCH is that Kate Reilly has a family history. It makes her a fuller more realistic character. Family history certainly does help those of us who write create better, richer novels if we reach out and embrace it for our work.

Wishing you every success,

Jacqueline Seewald
THE TRUTH SLEUTH--check it out at your local library

Tammy said...

Theresa, it's pretty funny what we remember and don't, isn't it? I know that I avoided my mother's standard foods for years and now I find myself serving them....

Jacqueline, thanks so much! We all have to make our characters live and breathe for ourselves first, don't we? And then we have to make sure we describe them well enough that readers see them the same way.

Barb Goffman said...

My dad will not eat anything green, except mint chocolate chip ice cream. If something green comes with his food, he ignores it. If something green comes in his food (say scallions in soup), he picks them out. He has not eaten anything green since he was about four years old, when he had some bad incident with a pea. It certainly is an interesting quirk.

Donis Casey said...

If it weren't for my eccentric relatives (and their eccentric recipes), I wouldn't HAVE a series.

Tammy said...

Donis, I've always said writing fiction is cheaper than therapy. :-)

Barb, that's a crazy food bias! I have my own food issues, so I'm not judging ... just thinking it must be tough to navigate. And "a bad incident with a pea" seems like a great anecdote for a story.

Jackie Vick said...

One author said that she was nervous about her book because she based a flawed character on a real person. That person didn't recognize himself at all. I guess we don't see our faults as clearly as others. Still, I'm wary about using my hubby's family members. I guess it's good that I have such a large, extended family on my own side!

Anonymous said...

Zucchini has become almost a staple in baking. It is always good as well as good for you.

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