All posts by Wendy Van Camp

Author * Poet * Illustrator

Italian Cooking

There is something about the scent of homemade spaghetti sauce as it bubbles away in my kitchen. It speaks of lazy summer nights out on the patio, of food that is healthy and rich in flavor, and it reminds me of the love I have for my little family as I provide good food for us at economical prices. My sauce is full of rich tomatoes, Italian sausage, red wine, garlic, basil, a touch of brown sugar and lots of time in the crockpot to develop its thick and rich character.

I started cooking at the tender age of twelve in defense of a mother that couldn’t cook her way out of a disaster. My mother attempted many recipes from chili, to spareribs, even to pickling cucumbers. All the recipes were from a parade of modern day cookbooks that were stacked haphazardly in our kitchen. Everything she touched was met with culinary failure. I remember a day when she silently stared at four long rows of homemade pickles in our basement, opened a jar and sniffed the contents. Then she threw out every single jar of pickles she had canned. She told me that she did not feel that they were safe to eat. About the only positive thing you could say about my mother’s cooking was that it remained edible…almost. When I around five or six years old, my father started to take over the kitchen and on the days he cooked, while the fare was hearty and not imaginative, at least you could eat it. I always regretted that I had no family member to learn cooking from and that there were no regional or old world dishes for me to inherit.

During my teenage years, I slowly took over dinner preparation. Both my parents worked and then went out square dancing four nights a week, so the task of getting a meal on the table for myself, my parents and younger brother fell on my shoulders. Cooking, cleaning and washing dishes became my daily tasks. I did not enjoy washing the dishes or the cleaning, but I slowly gained an appreciation for the art of cooking. I watched cooking shows on television and learned that each region of the world had their own pallet of flavors that they favored. Learning how a culture cooked its meals gave me an understanding of what it might be like to live in other parts of the world and how other families might gather around their table. My favorite type of cooking became Italian cuisine. Mainly northern Italian since I loved aborio rice and the rich beef dishes of that region. I find the food is healthy, light and full of variety.

As fate would have it, I met and married a half-Italian man. One of the things that he loved while we were dating was that I cooked Italian food that reminded him of his mother’s, although he would always point out that his mother cooked Southern Italian fare and I cooked Northern Italian style. I would hear him chat with his mother about my dishes and she would integrate him about what I cooked and what ingredients I used. Then declare that it was not quite what she considered Italian. Even so, I spent many a day watching cooking shows with my mother-in-law and we both enjoyed comparing notes about our favorite television chefs. Cooking was something that we had in common.

I think about my mother-in-law sometimes when I make my homemade spaghetti sauce. It is not a recipe handed down to me by my grandmother or mother, but one that I found rave reviews for on the internet. It is Jo Mama’s Spaghetti Sauce, the author claims that her children will turn down a steak dinner in favor of her sauce and after making it many times over the past few years, I agree with her. It is now my sauce and one that I’m known for. I always make a huge batch all at once and freeze away four or five quarts of it for future use. My husband loves it. I might not have been raised with the traditions of an Italian mother, but I think that my mother-in-law approved of my cooking and how I take care of her son. I hope she is up there smiling down on us as we enjoy our spaghetti dinners.

Book Review: A Princess of Mars

Book Name: A Princess of Mars
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
First Published: 1912
Original Title: Under the Moons of Mars

In 1911, thirty-five year old Edgar Rice Burroughs suffered a dilemma. His business ventures had failed miserably and he needed more income to support his wife and two children. Being a fan of serial novels, he often told himself that he could write a better story than what he saw published in those pages. As he worked at his brother’s stationery company, he penned a novel on the company pads during his off-hours, telling no one but his wife about it. In the end, he was too embarrassed by the tale to put his name on the manuscript.

The All-Story magazine bought his first story as a six part serial in 1912 and named it Under the Moons of Mars. Due to the typesetter believing that the author’s pen name “Normal Bean” was a typo, the author was listed as “Norman Bean”. The humble serial would become the inspiration of a new sub-genre in science fantasy, the planetary romance. Stories by Burroughs became popular with the public quickly and by 1914 two of his serials were re-printed as novels. His Tarzan of the Apes series was novelized first, followed by his first serial, renamed A Princess of Mars. The Barsoom series featuring John Carter of Mars was born. The novels have since not been out of print for the last 100 years.

A Princess of Mars is the fictional travelogue of Captain John Carter, a Confederate soldier who prospects for gold in the American Southwest after the civil war. After an attack by Apaches, he is mysterious transported to the planet Mars. There on Barsoom, as the planet is known to the natives, he shows great physical prowess as the lighter gravity of the red planet allows him to leap about to the amazement of the four-armed, and tusked men known as Thrak. His skills in battle become renown to all Barsoomians as he gradually battles his way to the top of their society. Driving John Carter to fight is his love for the beautiful princess, Dejah Thoris. The captain spends much of the novel in pursuit of and in rescuing the princess as she is captured by various lustful villains.

I first discovered A Princess of Mars during my early teens at the public library. It was a well-worn, earmarked copy with a four-armed green giant battling a smaller, sword wielding man on the cover. Despite the novel having been written at least half a century before I was born, I was pulled in by the myriad of battling cultures, the intriguing scientific imaginings, and the emergence of love and friendship overcoming the hatred that drove all these different colored people of Mars.

John Carter is a charming narrator in this tale filled with anti-gravity cars, majestic city-states, giant riding thoats, and barbarians of many races. A southern gentleman of the old school, I found his way of offering the hand of friendship to the Barsoomians, a pleasant contrast to the way men are often portrayed in present day. He did not shirk from the violence around him and had the fighting skills to hold his own, yet through it all there was a sense of knowing that things did not need to be this way. His spreading of the concept of peace to the Barsoomians put me to mind of how people must have felt during the First World War, which started the same year that this novel became popular, when their world had gone insane with unheard of violence and war on a scale previously unknown, similar to the fighting that was protrayed on Barsoom. The voice of reason in John Carter was a counterpoint to those feelings that the First World War must have created and struck a chord with readers of his day.

I found the feisty, far from helpless, Dejah Thoris to be intriguing. Women from that era of writing normally did not have such spunk and did not look at the hero with equality as she did. While she does spend much of the novel being captured by powerful villains, she shows herself to be a woman of principle, every bit as much a creature to duty and honor as the hero. I can understand why Dejah Thoris has captured the hearts of so many generations of young men.

I hope you’ll consider reading A Princess of Mars and the rest of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. You can find the ebook version for free at Project Gutenberg, or check it out at your local library.

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

Another Monday is upon us and so I offer up a number of writing related links for your perusal. From using notebook paper to copywriting resources, there is much to take in this week.


Notebook Paper: How to Spot High-Quality Paper

How to Effectively Market with Memes

85+ Copywriting Resources

Applications Where Paper Beats Software, And Where Software Beats Paper

10 Evergreen Strategies To Boost Your Freelance Writing Career

7 Excuses To Stay In Touch With Editors And Clients

Scaling Your Work Mountain: It’s All in the Approach

Rubber Meets The Highway

There is something about the movement through space and the speed of the car on the open road that nourishes my soul. I would have never guessed it judging by the tepid reaction to my first car, an old off-red Datsun station wagon. It got me to high school and back home so I didn’t have to keep bumming rides after band practice. It was also a free gift from my parents. Since I could not afford to buy a car at that time, it was gratefully accepted. Once I had the car for a while, I began to realize the freedom that it offered me. I could go to the mall when I wished. I explored country roads. I took my guitar to the local winery to play music among the grape vines. I used it to help deliver newspapers on my paper route.

The first car I bought for myself was a little white Geo Metro Convertible. I was a sophomore in college with a new job and money in my pocket. I got the car new off the lot. It was love at first sight. My family and friends all told me that they could not picture me in a convertible. I was a sensible, hard-working girl, not to mention short and overweight. Convertibles were for fun, popular and tall blondes, not a geek like me. At those words, nothing could hold me back from purchasing that little car. Driving with the top down in Southern California was a pleasure that I relished. My favorite drive was Pacific Coast Highway where I could cruise at a comfortable clip with the wetlands and green rolling hills on one side and the white sand beaches on the other. Driving on that road, the problems of my life would float away as the wind blew through my hair. I held onto that car for a long time and when I finally had to accept a new vehicle, I mourned.

My current vehicle does not have the style of my former little convertible, but it is far more practical for me. It is a Honda CR-V SUV. I love the radio system, the air conditioning and that it has a moon roof. I can open up that moon roof and get a little of the sensation that I used to feel with my convertible, but now I have the capacity to haul the inventory for my business to where it needs to go. I drive to venues to sell my wares on a regular basis. The SUV can handle it. I often drive the highways of the southwest desert, heading to Las Vegas, Phoenix or Tucson. I like driving in the desert. The land is stark, but has a beauty all its own.

The heat outside the vehicle is intense during the day and gives the road a rippling look as you drive. I’m more aware of my surroundings when I travel in the desert. It can be dangerous to be caught without water if you car breaks down and when I’m the only car in sight on a desert road, I worry for my safety. Still, I do not let fear keep me from driving the desert. I keep my triple A card handy, not to mention a good jug of water. That is all I need.

When I write about how my characters feel when they travel, I like to draw on my own experiences of the rubber meeting the highway. The characters could be in a 19th century sailing ship, flying on a dragon, drifting through the asteroid belt in a spaceship, moving in a myriad of ways to travel toward that distant horizon of discovery. Translating these feelings from reality into our stories is what makes us writers.

What ideas do you take from your life and spin into stories?

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

It’s time for the Monday roundup of interesting posts that relate to the art of writing or the wiz-bang methods of selling your writing. I hope you’ll take a few moments to start out your week with these links. Enjoy!


10 Social Media Tips for Bloggers

Typing for Output. Handwriting for Recall.

What Dr. John H. Watson Can Teach About Writing

30 Archaic Adjectives and Adverbs

Content Writing Can Be Real Writing

Great Social Media Sites For Author Platforms

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Why great writing takes great sacrifice

Blog Smarter: Don’t Just End Up Trading Hours for Dollars

Have You Been Watching Kickstarter Lately? You Should