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The Thin Grey (Haired) Line in Women’s Fiction

Finding Love over Forty

I’ve been in the publishing industry as a literary agent and an author for a long time. Publishing has gone through changes over time. Some changes have been permanent, while others were essentially transient. It’s still centered around fiction and nonfiction with a host of genres and sub-genres.  Both fiction and nonfiction books are reflective of the times, trends, and movements. Nonfiction books that focused on race and gender, now include titles that cover the Black Lives Matter Movement, transgender issues, and gender identity to name just a few. The same applies to fiction sub-genres in a multitude of categories, I am going to focus on women’s fiction.

Wikipedia defines women’s fiction as an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women’s life experience that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels or women’s rights Books. It is distinct from Women’s writing, which refers to literature written by women. The Women’s Fiction Writers Association says women’s fiction may include romance, or it may not. It could be contemporary or historical and have magical, mystery, thriller, or other elements. What defines a novel as women’s fiction is that the driving force is the protagonist’s journey toward a more fulfilled self.

The wonderful thing about fiction is it allows you to create a world from your mind’s eye. The only limitations are the ones you put on yourself, at least that’s the case when it’s just you and your laptop or notebook. If you are a female author who happens to be north of forty or fifty-plus, then you are in for a fight from the outside.

There is so much talk about age and how it’s just a number. The fact is that your grandparents’ fifty looks nothing like it does today. With good nutrition, skin care, and surgical intervention, in some cases, people are not only living longer, they are looking better than ever. Moreover, the sit in a rocking chair mentality has gone out of the window. You are more likely to find a grandmother in a spin class, and if she does like to knit, today’s north of fifty grandmothers are doing it in between yoga and Pilates. Life north of forty is viewed as an opportunity to make our second acts more exciting and fulfilling.

It’s the reason I am often puzzled by fiction categories for women over forty. First off, a lot of people think romance when you say you’re an author. There’s nothing wrong with being a romance author at all. It’s the most popular category in fiction. Romance novels focus on relationships and romantic love with an emotional and happy ending.  When it comes to stories of love, everyone wants a happy and satisfying end. However, that view or path changes as we get older, and many female authors who are north of forty, fifty, and even sixty-plus reflect that in their writing.

Currently, romances for people over forty are called seasoned romances. Some hold to the happily ever after formula, only with older characters. Why it’s categorized differently when it’s still all about love, is beyond me.  Then there are the seasoned romances where the path to true love isn’t easy. It’s fraught with many of the issues people over forty face when looking for love, or when they are trying to keep romance alive in a relationship. In Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream we’re watching the Athenians pursue love and all its follies, and find The Bard was quite correct to state that the course of true love never did run smooth.  Romances with older characters develop the romance in a nuanced way that reflects their experience and the time in their lives. Situations when one was quick to get angry about and summarily dismiss at thirty-years-old, aren’t looked at in the same way at forty or fifty. In the end, north of forty and fifty characters are looking for love and find it, but the path to get there is different.

Then there is the relatively new genre of chick-lit.  Viewed by some as a derogatory term, it’s loosely defined as literature that appeals mainly to women. (obviously, a man’s idea)  The other definition for chick-lit is a genre fiction which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists. What’s not said in this definition is what is usually found when you pitch it to editors. Chick-lit is about women in their twenties and thirties. Anything written with characters over forty is defined as either matron-lit or hen-lit, neither of which particularly flattering. Matron is a term associated with female prison guards or a verb that’s the kiss of death in fashion. Hen conjures up images of women sitting in a room laughing or talking while men refer to their chatter at clucking.  Why can’t women over forty and fifty still be chicks? Writing about mature men isn’t called Prostate-lit or Dick-lit for men who use Viagra. No one would dare do such a thing even though publishing is overwhelmingly female, but it’s still mostly a boys club the further up the chain of command you go.

I started referring to my writing as Still A Chick Lit as I went through my forties to being in my fifties. Life and love are essentially the same, but there’s much change as you age. If you’re single/divorced, the dating pool is considerably smaller and you don’t have the time to take long applications. Everything has to be put on the table rather quickly so you can make the decision if you want to pursue a relationship or not. It comes down to the devil you know or the devil you don’t know. The number of people who get back together after divorce or long-term dating/cohabitating is quite large. I used to wonder about that when I was in my thirties. I couldn’t fathom doing such a thing. If you got rid of a man, you did it for a good reason. He should stay gone, right? Well no. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of being mature, scared, or just tired of the gerbil wheel of dating. Things change and there’s a level of acceptance and communication that you are a little more willing to do to make love work.

The bottom line is grey hair in a book doesn’t mean the story is old. As a matter of fact, you can find a plethora of characters that are made more charming and interesting with age. One of the biggest announcements at the end of 2020 was a Sex and the City re-boot with three of our favorite ladies in New York navigating their lives as women in their fifties with husbands, children, careers, and friendships. What made the series and subsequent movies successful was going on the journey with Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. Age didn’t make them any less interesting. In fact, they became more inspiring as women over forty and fifty began to think about their lives in different ways. Why that won’t happen with books is beyond me, but it’s something that I hope to change.

I hope that you will come with on this journey as an author of Still A Chick-lit and nonfiction passion projects to go on this journey with me

Classic Chocolate Cake recipe from Add A Pinch and adapted by me

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sweet rice, or sorghum flour)

2 cups sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, golden sugar, coconut or turbinado sugar, pulsed finely)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process cocoa or regular unsweetened cocoa)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon espresso powder 

1 cup buttermilk (non-dairy: 1 cup almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk plus 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice)

1/2 cup vegetable oil canola oil, or melted coconut oil

2 large eggs (1/2 cup Aquafaba, ½ cup silken tofu plus ¼ teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)

2 teaspoons vanilla 

1 cup boiling water

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.

For the chocolate cake:

  1. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  2. Add buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter until well combined.
  3. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the chocolate cake comes out clean.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.

Notes

The cake batter will be very thin after adding the boiling water.

Freezer Friendly

Let the baked cake layers cool completely. Wrap them well with plastic wrap and then with foil. Put each layer into a freezer bag and freeze up to 2 months. To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight with wrapping intact. The next day, the layers are ready to fill and frost

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting by Add a Pinch adapted by me

Ingredients

1½ cups butter 3 sticks, softened (vegan butter, margarine)

1 cup unsweetened cocoa (Dutch process cocoa or regular unsweetened cocoa powder is fine)

5 cups confectioner’s sugar (Organic confectioner’s sugar, Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)

½ cup milk (dairy: whole milk, 2%) (non-dairy: almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk)

2 teaspoons vanilla 

½ teaspoon espresso powder or 1 tablespoon brewed coffee 

Instructions

Add cocoa to a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer. Whisk through to remove any lumps.

Cream together butter and cocoa powder until well-combined.

Add sugar and milk to cocoa mixture by adding 1 cup of sugar followed by about a tablespoon of milk. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute. Repeat until all sugar and milk have been added.

Add vanilla extract and espresso powder and combine well.

If frosting appears too dry, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. If it appears to wet and does not hold its form, add more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.

Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

1 ½ cups almond milk (soy, rice, or light coconut milk) (dairy: whole milk, 2 %, non-fat milk)

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup white sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, golden sugar, coconut, or raw cane sugar, finely pulsed)

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process or regular unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

Step 1

In small bowl, combine cornstarch and water to form a paste.

Step 2

In large saucepan over medium heat, stir together soy milk, vanilla, sugar, cocoa and cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Continue to cook and stir until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Pudding will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow to cool five minutes, then chill in refrigerator until completely cool.

Dairy whipped cream

½ cup whipping or heavy cream, chilled

¼ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (Organic confectioner’s sugar, Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)

In a clean glass or metal bowl, add the heavy cream and cream of tartar.

On medium-high speed whip the cream and slowly sprinkle the sugar in. Continue whipping until soft peaks begin to form. When you run a spoon through the bowl, it should leave a path.

To make the chocolate mousse filling, fold in ½ the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate pudding. Fold until you don’t see any white streaks. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream. You can put it in the fridge for up to 1 day in advance, otherwise, fill the cake right away. Let the filled cake set in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Vegan Whipped cream recipe from Minimalist Baker

1 14-ounce can coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk  (do not use cream of coconut, it’s too sweet and won’t work, It’s great for a pina colada)  (I like Whole Foods 365 brand of coconut milk)

1/4 – 3/4 cup organic icing/powdered sugar (Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Instructions

Chill your coconut cream or coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight (see notes for top brands!), being sure not to shake or tip the can to encourage separation of the cream and liquid. See notes for more insight / troubleshooting.

The next day, chill a large mixing bowl 10 minutes before whipping.

Remove the coconut cream or milk from the fridge without tipping or shaking and remove the lid. Scrape out the top, thickened cream and leave the liquid behind (reserve for use in smoothies).

Note: if your coconut milk didn’t harden, you probably just got a dud can without the right fat content. In that case, you can try to salvage it with a bit of tapioca flour – 1 to 4 Tbsp (amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size)- during the whipping process. That has worked for me several times.

Place hardened cream in your chilled mixing bowl. Beat for 30 seconds with a mixer until creamy. Then add vanilla (optional) and powdered sugar (or stevia) and mix until creamy and smooth – about 1 minute. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed.

Use immediately or refrigerate – it will harden and set in the fridge the longer it’s chilled. Will keep for up to 1 – 2 weeks!

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I was a teenage man snatcher and Martha Stewart is partially to blame

It’s a heck of a thing to call yourself a teenage man snatcher, and to point to Martha Stewart as the reason it happened. Well, I have to be honest, she was just one factor that contributed to my delinquency, and she is in good company. Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Bronte, and Emily Bronte also contributed to my rep as a modern Victorian seductress.

I loved all things baking from a very early age. My dad gave me an Easy Bake oven when I was four, and once I saw a wedding cake, it was all downhill from there. I was hooked on stacking and frosting cakes. Eventually, my baking repertoire grew over time to include cookies, pastries, bread, muffins, and naturally more cakes. At eleven, I had a subscription to the cooking magazine, Cuisine, which eventually became Gourmet. I loved trying new recipes to challenge myself and improve my skills.

I was a teenager in the eighties. It was a time of big hair, shoulder pads, Dallas, and Dynasty. General Hospital’s Luke and Laura were the onscreen soap couple. Cooking shows were limited to PBS on Sundays and for a few precious hours on Monday evenings. I wasn’t allowed to date at the time. So, while other girls were getting ready to go out to a movie on Friday and Saturday night, I was at home or spending the night over my best friend Melissa’s house listening to the Beatles, Adam Ant, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Madonna got some airplay from us too. After all, she was a Leo like Melissa and me. Not to mention, Madonna and I have the same birthday.

I had friends, but my girl circle was fairly small, but I had a lot of guy friends. Who were really friends and not the euphemisms used to define friendship now. Melissa liked being in the kitchen as much as I did. As a result, we were able to monopolize (as other girls and some of their mother’s thought) all of the guys time with scones, chocolate cookies, muffins, and the like. By no means was it a den of ill-repute, we’d either be at Melissa’s house under her parent’s watchful eyes, or at my house with her mothership (my mother) and my younger sister.

In the beginning, learned how to set a table for company from my mother. She worked in my junior high school cafeteria as a lunch lady, but she also worked on and off for Stone catering company. That helped me get a grip on the basics, but I wanted to do it will a little more style. I was fifteen when I went on a mission to find a cookbook that combined both recipes with entertaining. I checked the shelves of my local libraries and bookstores regularly to no avail.

Then one Sunday afternoon PBS had a special on entertaining with a caterer out of Connecticut, Martha Stewart. I’d never heard of her previously, but her name and style made a lasting impression on me. I was fascinated by her attention to detail, her home décor and the way she presented food on a holiday table. Martha was my parents age and everything about her seemed smooth, elegant, and just plain regal. I scoured TV Guide to see when she was going to be on television again. I couldn’t get enough. Then one day at Waldenbooks, I saw it. Entertaining by Martha Stewart. There she was on the cover in a Victorian style white dress presiding over a perfectly decorated table. I was there with my friend Joel, who I begged to buy the book for me. Lucky for me, he bought it with the catch that I’d have him over whenever i made something from the book. That was one of the easiest deals I ever made. There was no way I wasn’t going to cook my way through the book, or die trying.

It felt like my own little storyline was happening in real life. I wasn’t going on dates but I was in the kitchen with Martha and my friend Melissa. I was in my Victorian phase. I loved Gunne Sax dresses and old lace. We made scones, muffins, bread, pies, cakes, and more kinds of biscotti than anyone could shake a stick at. Although I predate Kelis, her Milkshake song is appropriate here, except it wasn’t my milkshake that brought the boys to my yard, it was my pepperoni loaf.

Martha Stewart’s first book was my gateway drug to Cuisinart food processors, Kitchen Aid stand mixers, mini-herb choppers, wedding cake pans, Madeline molds, and more. My entertaining game was on the rise and my guy friends could reap the benefits from my properly set table.

Entertaining worked perfectly, and I had all the eligible guys were at my house and around the kitchen. The funny thing was I didn’t want anything more than friendship. Although I had to admit there was one guy I liked, and my mother was okay with him. My sister didn’t like him that much, but that was neither here nor there at the time. I wasn’t allowed to date, and he was already in college. All the man snatching hullabaloo happened because he was the object of someone else’s affection, and that affection wasn’t returned. I can’t say that I didn’t understand why she and her mother needed a heavy. Who wants to believe a guy rejected them straight out of hand. So, naturally, I was deemed a little Entertaining hussy, tempting men with baked goods and cooked meals. Still, I didn’t let it faze me in the least.


At the height of our entertaining jag, Melissa and I held a formal dinner for all the guys at her house. There was Melissa’s Greek Moussaka, my pepperoni loaf, rolls, roasted vegetables and cake for desert made by me. It was a success and enjoyed thoroughly judging by the number of second helpings and empty plates. It was the only dinner party we ever had as teenagers, but that was okay with us. I had the opportunity to show off my Martha skills long before her name became a verb and before Snoop ever heard of the lady who used to rule over an estate and property in Turkey Hill, Connecticut (at the time). I have come a long way from the wide-eyed sixteen-year-old girl when the first edition of Entertaining was released. My skills have gotten better and while I still prefer to make things from scratch, I am a little more relaxed about it courtesy of another lifestyle/tv-chef maven, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I’ve integrated Martha’s penchant for good things, with Ina’s how easy is that philosophy, and the amalgamation works.

I’m no longer a man snatcher and my milkshake is a little thicker, but I still bring all the boys to the table, only this time, the boys are mine and the loves of my life. My twin sons Sean and Scott, who are my ultimate good thing.

I am including one of the first recipes I ever made from Entertaining by Martha Stewart Copyright 1982.

Banana Bread recipe by Martha Stewart adapted for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-sensitivities, low sugar, and no-sugar dietary needs by Chamein Canton

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan (vegan butter, margarine)
  • 1 cup sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed finely)
  • 2 large eggs (4 tablespoons Aquafaba, 1//2 cup silken tofu, pureed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free all-purpose flour, sorghum, millet, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (dairy; light sour cream, plain yogurt) (non-dairy; soy milk, or almond milk yogurt) (vegan sour cream)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions

  1. Step 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat to incorporate.
  2. Step 2 In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla; mix to combine. Stir in nuts and pour into prepared pan.
  3. Step 3 Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

Additional Notes

  1. To make a flax or chia seed egg, mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed/chia seed meal with three tablespoons of water. Mix together, and let sit in your fridge for 15 minutes to set up and thicken.
Flaxseed Egg photo from Chocolate Covered Katie