One year ago I interviewed my good friend Jennifer Barnes for a column about geek girls. I'm happy finally to bring it to my readers and show her how much I appreciated the time she took out of her busy schedule to do the interview for me. Please welcome publishing tycoon and figist—yes, you heard right, figist—Jennifer Barnes!
A Love Affair with Books
I have always been a geek about books. As a child learning to read I struggled with dyslexia but once it clicked I read EVERYTHING. I spent a lot of time on classics and then works from outsider groups like women's and African-American lit. I also read a lot of horror novels. Of course I majored in English in college and worked in a library—I was in charge of the circulation desk on Saturdays and would read all day. Eventually I went into the graphic design field but when my husband began to get interested in a writing career I helped edit his work. Together we took over operations of an ezine called The Dream People. I was in charge of the graphics but also did some of the editing. After a few years doing that we ventured into print, launching our own publishing house called Raw Dog Screaming Press. Again I handled much of the graphic design involved, from book layout and covers to maintaining the press web site. There's something exhilarating about taking a manuscript through the entire process from acceptance, through editing, to a finished product. Publishing provides an entirely different perspective on books from my initial vantage as voracious reader. So now I can go on at length about everything from the psychology of cover design and the esoterics of type layout to the impact of ebooks and the publisher/author relationship in addition to character development and plot twists. I'm a real hoot at book club get-togethers!
But lately something magical has begun to happen that I can't quite explain. Next year RDSP will celebrate its 10-year anniversary and I believe the company has really hit its stride. We're launching a new imprint for Science Fiction, Dog Star Books, and we've taken on two new editors. Things are growing past all expectations so that it's not just about books and a publishing company anymore but RDSP is becoming part of the community. I believe it is now shaping and being shaped by the public: the authors, readers and reviewers. That has me more excited about books than ever before!
Better Haunted Homes and Gardens
I don't consider myself a writer but I do have a few publishing credits which include articles, poetry and one children's book. My picture book Better Haunted Homes and Gardens is one of the projects I'm most proud to have been involved with. It is unique from most other story books in that the story was created with the artwork in mind. I had stumbled across Kristen Margiotta's paintings online and thought her work was perfect for illustrating children's books. However, we didn't have any children's books to illustrate. So I decided I would write something myself and came up with the story based on ideas that I thought would best showcase Margiotta's work. The story involved an unusual girl, Ivy Spookerton, and her search for the perfect haunted home. This allowed for several image-laden locations and lots of spooky details. My goal was to create a book that would appeal to children but also entertain and amuse parents who might have to read the book many times. One of my favorite things about Kristen's artwork is that it mixes childlike innocence along with a depth and shadowy texture that provides many layers. Her paintings can be fun and a little bit frightening at the same time which works perfect for a wondrous and sophisticated storybook. The collaboration turned out even more successful than either of us expected and people are constantly asking when we'll do a follow-up.
And just so you don't think my WHOLE life revolves around books I will tell you about my secret life as a figist. OK, that's not a real word, but I don't think there is a word for a 'person who enjoys figs.' The funny thing is that up until two years ago I had never eaten a fresh fig and didn't even know what they looked like! However, the summer after we bought our current house I realized that we had a massive fig tree on our property that produced many, many figs. At first I didn't really like the fruit but didn't want to waste it so I set about trying to find as many fig recipes as I could. After experimenting for a couple seasons I've discovered several delicious ways to prepare figs and also developed a taste for the fruit. It probably helped that I can better recognize when they are ripe now. I also think the unusually warm summer this year produced more delicious figs. If you've never had a fresh fig they are completely unlike the filling in Fig Newtons, and dried figs don't really give you the experience either. They are unlike any other fruit I have eaten with a subtly sweet taste that's never bitter but a texture that's hard to describe. Here is a run-down of my favorite ways to serve fresh figs:
This is the easiest and most delicious way to eat figs. It doesn't really require a recipe you just cut them in half and cook them face down in a pan with some butter and honey
-Bacon Wrapped figs
These are fancy and delicious. The combination of the salty bacon and the warm sweet fruit is unimaginably good. Many recipes call to stuff the fig with cheese which is also tasty
-Cut up in salad
Fresh figs make a great addition to all kinds of salads
This turns out kind of like a fruit cake or coffee cake. If you like fall spices-cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves-this is irresistible
These are a cake-like cookie, sweet and hearty
Admit it—now you want some figs.