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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

“When I’m not writing” with Lena Coakley



This week, we’re joined by Lena Coakley, the talented writer of the YA high fantasy novel, Witchlanders. Tynga had the chance to preview the book; you can read her thoughts here. Lena has a great “When I’m not writing” post for us and I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know her off  the page!




If you are careful…if you use good ingredients, and you don't take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.

― John Irving, The World According to Garp

I wasn’t sure what I’d write for this post.  What do I do when I’m not writing?  I procrastinate from writing.  I think about how I should be writing.  I talk about writing with my writer friends.  ‘Dang!’ I thought.  ‘Why did Jenn ask me to do this?  She obviously thinks I have a life!’

It took my dear (writer) friend, Aino Anto, to remind me that I have a second art, one that is so much a part of my life now that I sometimes forget it’s there.  I cook.

The grandmother who raised me wasn’t much of a chef.  She saw cooking as a chore.  And although I sometimes feel nostalgic for some of the things she made—lamb burgers with mint sauce, a bean and rice mess she called “capital casserole”—her repertoire was limited, and she never felt the need to consult any other recipe book other than a battered copy of The Joy of Cooking.

It wasn’t until I came to Canada as a nanny that I learned there was more to cooking than putting five ingredients into a pan.  I was asked when I was hired if I would mind making dinner for the family as part of my responsibilities.  I readily agreed, imagining Kraft Dinner, hot dogs, and other dishes a three year old and a one and a half year old would enjoy.  Little did I know that my charges and their parents were more used to eating cold cherry soup, moussaka, salade nicoise…and many other things I’d never heard of. 

Perusing the family’s library of cook books and learning to make these dishes gave being a nanny a bigger learning curve than it would have otherwise had, but I soon learned that I loved cooking.  The family I worked for saw this and gave me a recipe book for every birthday, starting me off on a library of my own.

It’s been a long time since I was a nanny, but I still love to cook and collect recipe books (far too many!)—and I especially love to cook for other people.  I belong to a gourmet club in my apartment building, and there is nothing like coming home from work knowing that someone is cooking you a gourmet meal, or, if it’s my turn, setting out the good dishes and hearing them sigh when they take that first bite.

LenaRedVelvetLena and her famous red velvet cake 

Lately, it’s occurred to me that cooking and writing have a lot in common.  When I’m planning a novel, I get the same feeling of balancing ingredients that I do when I’m trying to create the perfect menu.  And here are a few other things that work as great advice both for cooking and for writing:

Be bold—Take chances with your cooking and with your writing.  If you fail at cooking your friends will forgive you, if you fail at writing, no one ever has to see your mistakes.

Let it sit—Stews are one of my specialties, and I’ve learned to make them the day before if I’m serving to guests so that the flavors come together.  Leaving your writing for a day and coming back to it later is also crucial.  It will be a different piece when you come back, and you’ll see it with new eyes.

Trust your instincts—Your recipe might say one thing, but with cooking, your taste buds have the last word.  Abandon your recipe if that’s what they are telling you, and abandon your novel outline if your instincts are telling you to follow a new character or a new plot thread. And unlike with cooking, with novel writing, you can always go back to a previous draft if it doesn’t work out. 

Use simple, quality ingredients—Sometimes the best word is the simplest one.  We’re all tempted to over-spice our writing with metaphor and poetic language, but, as with cooking, simpler is often better.

And finally, create with love—That one is self explanatory, I hope.  Your readers and your diners will always be able to tell.

Happy cooking, happy writing, and happy reading!

WritingGroupLena’s writing group, about to tuck into her pork and beer stew


Thank you so much for sharing your love of cooking with us, Lena! That cake is making me hungry! =)

Want to get to know Lena some more? Visit her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.



High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.

It’s all a fake.

At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated?

But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned—

Are about him.

Tynga’s review

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository

Read an excerpt


Do you guys have suggestions for who you’d like to see featured on the blog? If so, you can make your suggestions on this page. No guarantees that your favorite authors will be able to participate but we’ll try!

Authors, would you like to visit and share with us? Please email me at jennblogs (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll set it up!


Born and raised in the Toronto area, Jenn moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, eight years ago for school. She's still in school (thankfully on another degree!), now trapped in her dissertation. When she's not dissertating, which happens more often than it should, Jenn spends her time reading, watching movies, playing volleyball, travelling, and enjoying the local music scene. Her latest addictions: yoga and Almond Crunch cereal.

2 People left their mark' :

  1. Great post - blog looks intriguing - like a friend you've never met face to face. Now I'm inspired - and can't decide whether to pick up a pen, a paintbrush or a ladle! Cheers!

  2. Great blogpost Lena, thank you! I don't really love cooking, but when I try something new, it mostly comes out nicely. Your book blurb sure captivated my interest. I'll put it on my wishlist at once!