As American as Apple Pie

apple pie

What’s wrong with that?

First of all, with the sour exception of crabapples, apples themselves aren’t American. Apples as we know and love them probably originated in Asia and migrated to Europe.


apples in bowl


Apples and apple pie were brought to the colonies by British, Dutch, and Swedish immigrants during the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, that was pretty late in the history of apple pie.


Fossilized evidence of apples date as far back as the Iron and Stone Ages in Switzerland and other parts of Europe. Although most sources trace apple pie to Europe, there is a minority view that the first apple pie was made in Egypt, 9500 B.C.E.

English apple pie recipes go back to the time of Chaucer. A 1381 recipe calls for good apples, good spices, figs, raisins, and pears in a pastry casing. It is the first known written recipe for apple pie. Fruit sweeteners were typical of the times. Early apple pies had no sugar because of the expense but were sweetened with fruits such as these.

Apple pie was a prized dessert in England by 1577. The first mention of a fruit pie in literature was apple-pyes in Robert Greene’s Arcadia. Greene wrote between 1580 and 1592. A medieval Dutch cookbook (around 1514) has a recipe for apple pie that is almost identical to modern recipes. Such a pie was featured in a Dutch Golden Age painting from 1626.


In 1941, newspaper reporters talked about GI’s fighting for Mom and “good old American apple pie.” This seems to be the origin of apple pie attached to American identity—even though apple pie did not originate here. Vermont even made apple pie the official state pie in 1999.

The history of Mock Apple Pie (made with crackers instead of apples) is a bit murky. It may have been invented by pioneers on the move in the 19th century, or possibly in the South during Civil War food shortages. But in the 1930s, Ritz Crackers provided a recipe using Ritz Crackers, water, sugar, cream of tartar, lemon juice, grated lemon peel, margarine or butter, and cinnamon. The one thing that’s clear is that anything that leads to an imitation must be very popular indeed.

According to the American Pie Council, Apple pie is the most popular pie in the U.S., the favorite of 19% of Americans (approximately 36 million people at the time of the survey).


And now we get to the downside. Although homemade apple pie hasn’t changed much over centuries, anything that popular has to go commercial, including fast-food chains. McDonald’s started in California in 1940. In 1969, McDonald’s opened 211 new franchises, and the first Wendy’s was born in Columbus, Ohio.


Welcome to the world of food additives. L-cysteine, an amino acid used to condition dough for increased pliability, is derived from human hair and/or duck feathers. It’s used in McDonald’s Baked Hot Apple Pie (among other offerings). McDonald’s is only one of many fast-food providers who rely on L-cysteine in bakery products.


Bonus facts: Sand (silica dioxide) is an anti-caking agent that shows up in chili and other processed beef and chicken products on the menus of Wendy’s and Taco Bell; processed wood pulp (cellulose), used to thicken and stabilize everything from cheese to strawberry syrup, is on the rise because products  can boast less fat and more fiber. For more disturbing food additives, go to


And to know what happened when with food, go to good books!


The Century in Food and The Food Chronology

Toxic People Are Great

Toxic people are great

True? True—in your writing if not in your life. You may recall that last month I wrote about the types of toxic mother/daughter relationships, and how the patterns could hold regardless of who the two people are. You’ll find that this blog is related.

Lillian Glass profiled 30 types of toxic terrors, and just the labels are thought-provoking: cut-you-downer, chatterbox, self-destroyer, runner, silent but deadly volcano, gossip angry pugilist, gloom and doom victim, smiling two-faced backstabber, wishy-washy wimp, opportunistic user; bitchy, bossy bully; jokester, unconscious social klutz, mental case, bullshitting liar, meddler, penny-pinching miser, fanatic; me, myself, and I narcissist; Eddie Haskell, self-righteous priss, snooty snob, competitor, control freak, accusing critic, arrogant know-it-all, emotional refrigerator, skeptical paranoid, instigator.

Toxic People by Lillian Glass
Toxic People by Lillian Glass

Translating this into writing: the presence of a toxic character immediately raises tension and conflict. That is their role, to make other people’s lives miserable. But spread the glory: don’t make one character carry the entire burden of toxicity. Consider a couple, apparently happy together but each toxic to other people in different ways.

Glass’s book is basically a self-help book, so she also offers 10 techniques for handling toxic people: tension-blowout (deep breathing), humor, stop-the-thought, mirror (reflecting the behavior back), direct confrontation, calm questioning, give-them-hell-and-yell, give-them-love-and-kindness, vicarious-fantasy, unplug (the person from your life).

Translating this into writing: have your characters deal with the toxic person(s) in different ways, with varying degrees of success. And the inappropriate behaviors that she advises you never to do in real life (e.g., physical violence) are perfectly appropriate—and often effective—in achieving your writerly goals.

Glass offers an exercise for identifying the types of people who drive the reader nuts. As the author, you could complete this exercise for your main characters. Identifying the consistencies might even provide insights about how to make your character(s) richer and more real.

My edition of the book was published in 1997, but toxic people are timeless! This and several of her other books are available on Amazon, and I urge you to consider whether it would be helpful to you.

Related Posts

Psychology For Writers series

Writers Need Toxic Relationships

Psychology of Uncertainty 

The Principle of Least Interest

Why Writers Need Empathy

Why Women Have Sex: Character Motivation Matters

Rational and Irrational Behavior in Your Characters: Guest Post on Thrill Writers

More on Characters

Quirking Your Characters

Writers on Writing

What’s in a Character Name?

Books for Writers: Deborah Tannen


Beware Beautiful Words

Beware Beautiful Words
Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them.
The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk
The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk
One of my personal favorites is dudgeon. In the Chesapeake Bay Mysteries, Van reflected on Nora being truly formidable when in high dudgeon. And from my rural Ohio roots, I like caddywampus and whopperjawed (both of which mean, basically, out of kilter or poorly constructed) as well as redd, as in redd up the table (meaning clear away or make ready).


Belly-pinched, meaning starving


Blutterbunged, meaning confounded or overcome by surprise


Brownstudy, meaning gloomy meditation or distraction


Bruzzle, to make a great to-do


Cabobble, to mystify, confuse, or puzzle


Davering, wandering aimlessly or walking dazed


Fabulosity, meaning  being fabulous or telling lies


Falling-weather,rain, snow, or hail


Flamfoo, a gaudily dressed woman, a clothes horse


Flurch, a great many (things, not people)


Fuzzle, to make fuzzy or indistinct with drink


Greasy tongue, a flatterer


Heart-quakes, exactly what it sounds like


Hipshot, sprained or dislocated him


Nightfoundered, lost the way in the dark


Noggle, to walk awkwardly


Prinkle, a tingling sensation in the skin, gooseflesh?


Quanked, overcome by fatigue


Smoothery, ointment or medicine to take away hair


Squiggle, to slosh liquid around the mouth with the lips closed


Stepmother-year, a cold, unfavorable year


Tazzled, rough untidy hair


Teaty-wad, a lump of damp sugar in a twist of cloth to quiet an infant when the mother is unavailable to feed


Thinnify, to make thin


Thrunched, very angry or displeased


Unlicked, unpolished or unkempt


Woman-tired, henpecked


Advice to Writers

If you choose to use colorful, unusual words such as these, use each only once in a given story or novel. They will be noticed. The only exception is would be when a given word is a speech tag for a given character.


Not to worry. The world is full of rich language, plenty to go around!

Writing a Book Synopsis is a B**ch!

Writing a Book Synopsis is a B**ch!
I just finished drafting a synopsis of Nettie’s Books for circulation to possible agents. Writer’s Relief offers lots of free advice to emerging writers, as well as fee-for-service support. Anyway, they offer the following advice.


1) Formatting: Write your synopsis in the same format as your manuscript. Double-space, use one-inch margins, do not right justify, put a header on every page, use Times New Roman or Arial, not Courier font.
2) Begin by describing your story in 25 words or less that hook the agent’s attention. Be neither cutesy nor boring.
3) Write in present tense, and include a complete summary of your story from beginning to end. Focus on major characters and plot points.
4) Include the setting, main characters, the all-important conflict, and its resolution
5) Do tell the ending of your book.
6) Don’t ask rhetorical questions in your synopsis.
7) Proofread! This includes grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
8) Write your synopsis in third person.
9) Keep your synopsis to 2 or 3 pages, two preferred. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but briefer is better.


My synopsis is twice as long as Writer’s Relief recommends. How can I possibly do all they recommend for a 500 page manuscript in two pages? Back to the drawing board. No wonder writers hate synopses!
book synopsis for Nettie's Books

Making Weather Work For You

Making Weather Work for Writers

In my blog about writers on writing, I gave you Elmore Leonard’s first rule: Never start a book with the weather. His expansion on this said that unless you are writing about a character’s reaction to the weaker, keep any weather mentions minimal.

Advice to writers: any time you write about weather, ask yourself why. What is it contributing to the plot, tension, conflict, threat?
Combining this with insights touted at the recent James River Writers Conference, I offer this additional advice: whenever and whyever you write about weather, make it as extreme as is reasonable for the scene. Sometimes this can be done with word choice. For example, a cold wind vs. an icy wind, wet roads vs. roads awash. You get the idea.
Consider truly extreme weather. I have two favorite books about this. (Of course I do!) Both are by Barbara Tuffy and include info on natural disasters other than weather.
The Officer and Page book includes a very nice chapter on floods.
Tales of the Earth
Of course, you can also research extreme weather online. Advice: if you are writing about something you haven’t actually experienced—say a hurricane or a flash flood—searching online for videos of actual events is extremely helpful (pun intended).
Last but not least: consider weird weather. I just ordered a book by Joanne O’Sullivan titled Bizarre Weather. It purports to present true stories of such freakish events as showers of worms, watermelon snow, gory storms. Should be fun, could be inspirational!
Bizarre Weather

From Marines to Character Insights

Happy birthday, Marine Corps! On this date in 1775, the Marine Corps was established. Originally a division of the Navy, it became a separate branch of the military on July 11, 1789. One image imprinted on the national consciousness is the photo of five U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy hospital corpsman raising the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima during WWII.
USMC War Memorial Night

Not a national holiday, but coming the day before Veterans Day, flags are often flying for the Marines as well.
Character considerations: does your character fly a flag year-round, on holidays, or not at all? Why?

Speaking of Veterans Day, this one’s enjoyed a twisted history. The fighting of WWI—known at the time as “The Great War”—ceased when an armistice took effect between the Allied nations and Germany. It went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—the end of the war to end all wars—in 1918. In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November the first commemoration of Armistice Day. In 1926, the U.S. Congress officially recognized November 11, 1918, as the end of WWI and urged people to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies. In 1938, it became a legal holiday—dedicated to the cause of world peace.

As we all know, WWI did not end all wars. Following WWII, in 1954, President Eisenhower signed the bill changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day.


And then there was the issue of dates. In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill was signed into law, intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees. The holidays affected were Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. Confusion ran rampant when Veterans Day was celebrated on October 25, 1971, and many states and organizations observed the original date. The disaffection was so strong that President Ford signed a law returning the annual observance to November 11.

Character considerations: is your character patriotic? By whose definition? How would your character have responded to the renaming of the day, the changing dates, and the changing nature of the celebrations?

When you think about it, writing fodder is everywhere. Think about it!


American flag, November 11, 2015, Veterans Day

Frangible Characters

Is your character a plastic bottle or a glass?

plastic bottle and glass goblet representing frangible characters
Frangibility is a characteristic typically applied to objects, but think about it for your character. An object is said to be frangible if it is easily broken into fragments, as opposed to deforming elastically and retaining its cohesion as a single object. Does your character change or endure regardless of possible physical or emotional deformity?


Manufacturers often make objects frangible by design—for example, easily breakable in case of emergency or accident, to provide easy access or escape. Consider how being frangible might be beneficial to your character.


On the other hand, frangible toys are not suitable for young children. And one of the most frequent areas of intentional frangibilityis in ammunition, for bullets that do the most damage. How might a frangible character do the most damage in your story? What if that character is a parent? What if s/he is a child? How would that be different if an only child or one with siblings?


Ask the same sorts of questions about characters who might warp but who basically remain who they always were.


Which sort of character does your story need to up the conflict, raise the stakes, and grab the reader? Do you need a cracker or a slice of fresh bread?
bread and crackers representing frangible characters

More on characters

frangible characters

Richness of Place Redux

Richness of Place Redux
Since my last blog, I’ve continued thinking about place, and about ways for writers to make places richer. OVERALL ADVICE TO WRITERS: look for richness in trivia. I turn to books such as this (as you might expect) but you can find similar info online if you only ask the questions.
The Largest U.S. Cities Names after a Food
The Largest U.S. Cities Names after a Food by Brandt Maxwell
But where to start? Consider the following:


How common is this place name? In the U.S., here are 29 Franklins; 23 Clintons and Madisons; 22 Union/Union City and Washingtons. Or maybe the place is odd or unusual, as in Accident, MD; Between, GA; Boring, OR; Ding Dong, TX; Bumpass, VA; and Caress, WV, among others. Some cities have been immortalized in the titles of songs (think “Abilene,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “El Paso,” “Kansas City,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Battle of New Orleans,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” among others).


In your place, is it called a stream or a creek? A brook, branch, or run? Is it a route or a highway?


How about Interstate highways? Anchorage, AK; Salinas, CA; and Brownsville, TX have neither Interstates nor freeways. Is public transportation readily available?


Where do residents come from? In my home state of Ohio, more than 71% of the people living in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo were born in Ohio. Pennsylvania has even more cities in which 71%-92% of the residents were born in-state. What might that say about your character as a resident born there? And what about a come-here? Ask the same question about Sun City West, AZ, where less than 1% were born in-state—or even Las Vegas, where less than 20% were born in-state.


What is the proportion of residents born in a foreign country? There are U.S. cities where more than 90% of the population is white, and others that are less than 5% white. Consider what your city’s profile says about tone, power, pride, access. The same questions can be asked regarding the proportions of women to men, of elderly to young, obese to fit.


Comparatively speaking, is this a rich place or a poor one? And where does your character fit into that continuum?


What do people do for recreation? Hunting or golf? Horseshoes or horse shows? Ice hockey or fox hunts?


The number of questions that can be asked about a place is infinite, and the variety of answers nearly so. No one would be expected to consciously craft answers to all questions. But consider the depth that answering a few of them might add.