CRAFT: Overarching Theme of a Series/Hook of Series (LONG)

Hey! Guess what?

That editor replied to my request right away. “Overall I thought it was pretty good. I would need to know what the hook is and what the series is about. What’s the hook? What’s the overarching theme that links your books together?”

[pause for general cheering and ***squeee***]

OK, deep breath. For cozies that are part of a series, there’s sort of a tradition now saying that they need a hook–think of the many “Catering Mysteries” and “Knitting Mysteries.” I think to some extent she’s looking for such a “hook.” I don’t have anything like THAT, except in the other series (Jacquidon/Chantal), where diabetes control is a minor deal and the addressing of “SIN” in society is a recurring theme (the sex clubs and the recruitment of the unwilling in NICE WORK, the intimidation of the weak in CHRISTMAS WRAPPER.) Y’all know that I don’t want to do some “Crossword Puzzle Mysteries” schtick here, but . . . I need to formulate exactly what my hook IS. I think there’s some potential here to develop a relationship with this editor (perhaps I’m delusional, but spare me reality checks for a moment.)

She concludes the e-mail by saying that the pages are good, but that right now the hook is not quite there for her. “At least not yet.” [Is that not promising? Suggestive of a potential opening?]

So now I need to articulate exactly what the hook is. Aaaannnnddd . . . y’all are invited to help me out. (Isn’t that special? Thrilling? Well, it’s a mitzvah, a good deed. So add a star to your virtual crown.)

Let’s brainstorm this a bit.

THE HOOK. (This always brings to mind Vonnegut’s _Cat’s Cradle_ and “the hyo-o-ok.” But anyhow.)

All of these are Southwest-set mysteries that explore (along with the themes common to all mysteries, which include the morality play and “justice is served”) the setting, which serves as a sort of character. There is also a paranormal or supernatural (or perhaps I should say *supernatural-seeming*, because at least one character always rationalizes it all away, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions) element that is part of the plot and is tied to the setting. In this one it’s the Marfa Lights *and* the esoteric, mystical religious sect that Aaron was involved in, as well as the trickster preacher Gil (who is her “guide,” in a sense, through this “new world.”) In the next, it’s a near-death experience. In the third, it’s a ghost story like “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” or in the teevee show “Ghost Hunters.” Perhaps WOO-WOO is the hook? Even though you don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid to enjoy the book (cynics can sneer all the way through, if they like)?

In every book, Ari is lured into a romance that is a mistake–this will change over time as she grows and “wises up” (as Grandpa would say.) Many mystery novels now include a long-term romance with a police officer or a detective, but that’s not my take on it. Ari (obviously) has a knack for choosing men who are not good for her. Some are merely confused themselves, but others are sociopathic types who simply destroy women . . . and this is something she needs to work through. I hope to provoke women to think about this further, as they may see parallels between their relationships and hers, and might learn to approach things differently. (Ari is the bad example in these first few novels, I mean.)

In this one, Gil (the preacher) is the trickster AND the slippery one who despite his fascinating repulsiveness (smarminess) still has an enigmatic hold on Ari. His pull is tough to define. I’m playing with the concepts of hero and anti-hero there. The musician character is also an obvious anti-hero in the beginning. I don’t know if this could become a “hook” in the sense that the editor wants.

Every book also brings Ariadne to a point at which she has to deal with something in her personal history. Here it’s the death of Aaron, her One True Love, and part of the mystery (as one of my readers noted!) is whether Aaron really loved her after all or was just a ship passing in the night. She faces a reckoning with the past . . . something in her past that is either her worst fear or something she hasn’t worked through. To some extent the premise is that she has a chance to change her fate or destiny–which she misses in the first couple of books, remaining in the Slough of Despond but getting more and more savvy about how she can jump out if only she’ll put on her PF Flyers and take a leap of faith.

(Ari and Zoe both do find happiness in the end. I hope; I haven’t yet actually written all the books that I’ve planned.)

The books also deal with trust and gullibility–and maybe even with the guilty pleasure of being willingly gulled or “taken in” by masters of the talent (Gil, in MARFA LIGHTS, as well as Aaron’s fake “sister” . . . and, ultimately, Ari herself, as she realizes in the end. She could run a con . . . but would it be ethical? Would it fulfill her proper destiny and purpose in life? How would it change her?)

I would like readers to come away from each volume in this somewhat dark-toned series with the belief that defeating despair takes only hope . . . that we should fight fear with laughter as well as with faith and trust (but always protect yourself) . . . that we are allowed to escape from the mundane and achieve our dreams. Also, Ari is a very complex central character, with a hidden past that is revealed slowly. (For once, it’s not rape or sexual abuse. She caused an accident that resulted in the death of a classmate when she was a freshman in high school. Her guilt, feelings of unworthiness, and need for “redemption” is something she’s been working on only recently–Zoe dealt with it at the time by creating a new life with a boy she adored, although this only made things so much worse for everyone–um, it’s a long story. Again, none of this is immediately revealed.)

Later novels build on situations I have set up in the first novel. For example, now that MARFA LIGHTS is the series opener, I have Aaron’s software (which was on a memory stick and was seemingly lost in the creek at the climax of the book) turning up again on a CD. The software goes the present open-key encryption technology used on the ‘net one better, and was the reason for Aaron’s murder. Ari took some music CDs when she left Aaron’s cabin for the last time, and one of them was a Willie Nelson CD that was the soundtrack to one of Aaron’s favorite movies. But in the CD case is actually a backup CD of all his software, including the source code. This is a source of new problems for Ari as she tries to figure out whether to market it or tell anyone–after all, it is an advance in technology that could benefit millions. The interested buyers from the past re-emerge, and bad things start happening. I’ll make it such that this book could stand alone, but for readers who have followed me from the first novel, it’ll be another link.

Does any of this make sense?


The editor adds, “The sisters are cute, but there could be a bit more chemistry between them in their scenes.”

I think she’s specifically hinting that the sisters seem so un-affectionate. This is a result of Zoe’s prickliness and barb-laced remarks, but there are good reasons for this (in her personal history, which I avoided doing an infodump on this time.) The editor feels that the sisters need more “happy” chemistry. Ah, you noticed that the way they interact is through false gruffness and barbs? This could be offputting for “normal” types who don’t know how people like this operate. I need to look at that, without ruining the vibe that I believe is ~real~ for these two.

I can do that. I think.

Obviously, teamwork and problem solving while having issues and incompatibility/bickering as your basis (which can be quite amusing for those whose siblings or spouses communicate in this way, as people may recognize these patterns in themselves) can be entertaining. MOST of today’s sitcoms rely on this, don’t they? Many sitcoms are little more than strings of zingers aimed at other characters. Here we’re dealing with it as a result of past pain and the way of addressing a world that you cannot trust (the only ones these sisters could trust in their teen years, because of the parents’ being in the clutches of a “Cult Church,” were each other. And to some extent ONE aunt. I don’t address this until book three, when the aunt has the “Ghost and Mrs. Muir” deal going on.) At any rate, I can’t take this out of Zoe, and I don’t want to make Ari a needy little thing always fishing for compliments or validation from her sister. I need to make this an asset rather than a drawback. “The Bickersons” was an old radio program that could have been recorded at our house. So these sisters interact using sarcasm or challenges, but with love beneath. Also with issues, of course.

Generally, it’s the romantic couple who serve as Bickertwins: Darcy and Elizabeth, Beatrice and Benedick, Bob and Emily. Obviously the Bickertwins can be done poorly and can read like jackasses sniping at each other because they really don’t like each other (and you don’t like them, either). But anything that can be done wrong can be done right.

It can indicate a problematic relationship, but it doesn’t have to. Because a pair who can argue together, in the best way (zinging back and forth, coming from different viewpoints, both being intelligent, neither backing down until/unless proven wrongheaded), will know each other very well. True knowledge is very close to true love, of course.

Which is not to say that bickering is the only way to express this. Some characters can be all Alan Alda as Hawkeye, all about equality and rapport. But then I live *here*, in Texas, where that Sensitive Man stuff is mocked even by marshmallows who have a soft spot for petting bunny rabbits and saving the cat out of an elm tree. (Said marshmallows can be heavily tattooed, wearing motorcycle leathers, and covered with Anger. But they’re still marshmallows inside.)

In MARFA LIGHTS, a big-time theme is “family secrets,” in both Aaron’s family and in Ari’s. I don’t reveal them in backstory or infodump in the first chapter or two as strongly as I did when I was writing the first two books, and here we are in trouble for not doing it. I didn’t specifically tell her that Zoe had been a teenage single mother who was kicked out on the streets to learn to survive because the parental units were idiots and in a “cult” sort of church, and so she questions whether I’ve messed up:

“On page 15, you write, “last year when Zoe turned thirty.” But based on the age given for Ricky, this would have made her like 17 when she had him. Is that correct?”

Yep. That was supposed to be a hint. But, again, readers don’t trust you when you’re not a published known quantity. This may mean that I need to insert a line explaining this. BUT!! BUT!! AND AGAIN, BUT!! When I do add that “deadwood” line, that will “slow down the story” or be “something we don’t need to know yet” to other editors and readers. You can’t win. (But this time, I NEED TO.)

Family and belonging is a major theme of the series: Ari and Zoe mostly just have one another, as their family is dysfunctional. I spent quite a bit of time on that in the FIRST novel in the series, which I’ve now moved to the position of second in the series because I decided this would be better saved for after readers had become fond enough of Ari and Zoe to stay with them through explanations and mild infodumping. Family is an anchor and a source of order and security/strength in many people’s lives, especially when they start out, but in order to mature, you’ll have to reboot and look at your family more objectively, in addition to understanding your role in it as an adult. This is, however, theme instead of the kind of hook we’re supposed to be talking about.

All of my books contain or hint at a theme of the need for ultimate acceptance–of fate, of destiny, of what IS and what WILL BE–but also demand that people have determination and drive to reach their potential. Although we cannot control the wind, we can set our sails to determine our course through that destiny we can’t change. Also, I always address the mystery/serenity of faith and spirituality. Some of my themes are the typical literary ones such as, “It’s always best to do the right thing in spite of the difficulties and sacrifices.” Or “Don’t trust appearances.” Sacrificial love, the real reasons for friendship, and doing what’s right in preference to whatever is easiest or would be most popular with the masses.

Part of reading my books is knowing that characters are not always what they seem (Ari’s boyfriends tend to be leading a double life, for example) and realizing that the overarching theme or problem that is being solved may be more important than the characters themselves in the larger scheme of things–no matter how this may upset us, as it makes us feel like specks in the vast universe (which we both are and aren’t, because ART elevates us).

There’s always good vs. evil, guilt and regret, illusion vs. reality, etc., all of which I believe I deal with in MOST of my books. Is there a lesson to be learned? A philosophy to consider? I always wham people over the heads with these bricks. Coming of Age used to fascinate me, in the sense that it’s not puberty or age eighteen and getting a driver’s license or credit card but is instead the point when you come into wisdom and mature into a fully-developed person. Order vs Chaos is always good for creating tension and making apparent the role that each value plays in someone’s life. Strong women facing adversity. Yeah, yeah, all these are literary themes and not what she really wants to hear about.

So! Anyway! Should I insert some kind of schtick about “Crossword Puzzle Mysteries” or whatnot? After all, I do show Zoe doing puzzles in ink, and I show that Aaron used to do the same thing. That COULD be a kind of interesting thing, as I wrote software years ago that makes crossword puzzles given a list of keywords (and using common “fill-out” words to complete the grid). I could generate a puzzle or two per book.

But that wasn’t what I really had in mind. I was counting on readers who liked the Anne George “Southern Sisters” mysteries and the Joan Hess wry/ironic mysteries and so forth. I didn’t think about a hook in the sense we’re talking about now. I need one. I think.

What say ye, Hivemind?


Piano virtuosity~!

If you are a fan of classical music and you enjoy watching YouTube videos, please feel free to click through and watch the videos that my piano teacher (yes, the same long-suffering lady who taught me ONE lesson in 1974 and then took me back this year only to find that my diabetes went out of control along with my mother [nyuk nyuk] and I have had to miss a few lessons in a row) has posted. She is a graduate of Eastman School of Music in New York and a virtuoso who has played concerts with symphony orchestras around the country.

She would love to have more ratings on her videos! I couldn’t get YouTube to let me comment on or rate all three of them, but I’m going to try again. [bam bam is this thing ON?]

Beethoven “Tempest”

Scriabin Op. 8, No. 2

Bach Preambellum

We now return you to my regularly scheduled writer-brainstorming.

Is that a poem in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

Via newport2newport (and yes, I’m going to sort those stamps and send them ANY DAY NOW . . . REAL SOON NOW . . . do you still do the workshops where you need them?):

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. Share your favorite poem–or one you believe is widely applicable–today! Note to self: Be sure to wear pants/skirt with pocketses.

Now . . . which poem should I carry in my pocketses? What has it got in its . . . oops, never mind.

This one has remained etched in my memory since I first heard it–the day that my professor, Dr. John Skoyles at SMU (now of Emerson College), passed it around in our poetry workshop as an example.
Bus Stop by Donald Justice

Lights are burning
In quiet rooms
Where lives go on
Resembling ours.

The quiet lives
That follow us—
These lives we lead
But do not own—

Stand in the rain
So quietly
When we are gone,
So quietly . . .
And the last bus
Comes letting dark
Umbrellas out—
Black flowers, black flowers.

And lives go on.
And lives go on
Like sudden lights
At street corners

Or like the lights
In quiet rooms
Left on for hours,
Burning, burning.

(Yes, this is where I stole the image of the black flowers blooming as Ariadne looks down from the seventh-floor window at the riders getting off the bus in the rain.)

But that poem could confuse people who’ll say, “But nothing HAPPENS–it’s not ABOUT anything.” Let’s settle on something short. (Also handed around by Dr. Skoyles. Had an incredible effect on me, as my dad had died a couple of years before and the scars were still bleeding.)
Elegy (Alan Dugan, 1963)

I know but will not tell
you, Aunt Irene, why there
are soapsuds in the whiskey:
Uncle Robert had to have
a drink while shaving. May
there be no bloodshed in your house
this morning of my father’s death
and no unkept appearance
in the living, since he has
to wear the rouge and lipstick
of your ceremony, mother,
for the first and last time:
father, hello and goodbye
No, something more uplifting.

Everyone already knows Frost: “Birches” (“One could do worse than be a swinger of birches,” the line I used to win a 5 on the AP English exam so many years ago), “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping By Woods,” and “Window Tree” (“That day she put our heads together,/Fate had her imagination about her,/Your head so much concerned with outer,/Mine with inner, weather.”)

Frank O’Hara, Langston Hughes, James Tate, e. e. cummings . . . any of them so worthy of your attention.

But, anyhow, let’s do the lighter stuff.
One you don’t see too often, from Ogden Nash.

Always Marry An April Girl

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true —
I love April, I love you.

Round up the usual painkillers

I just finished e-mailing an editor at Penguin, asking her if she might mail me the notes she has on the partial that I sent to her as part of the NETWO writers’ conference last week. I couldn’t attend the con (as regular readers here will recall) because Mama and the puppy needed me, and it turns out my diabetes was indeed out of control (the doctor chewed me out, but good, and Mama as well, because her numbers were also terrible–all my fault, of course, as far as he’s concerned) and I wouldn’t have been very functional. Still, I really needed the change of venue. My original plan had been for us to rent an RV and park it right there on the conference grounds (actually a Baptist encampment meant for retreats, out in East Texas’ Piney Woods and on the shore of a lake) so that the family and dog could come with me and enjoy some outdoors time while I attended the sessions . . . I still think that could have worked, but you should’ve heard them squealing in protest every time I floated the idea.

But anyway, I e-mailed the editor. Hope that turns out to be kosher. The writer to whom I gave my conference membership (a value worth over $100–and it was a stranger I found through the NETWO mailing list, to boot) didn’t e-mail me or call me to say that she’d enjoyed it or even that she’d attended, so finally last night I e-mailed her to ask how things had gone and whether she had met with the editor in my stead to apologize for my not being there. She replied this morning and told me that the editor had allowed her to pitch her middle grade book, and that she was sending a hundred pages of it immediately. That made me feel as if the entire hassle of transferring my membership was worth it. She also said that the editor had some notes on the partial I sent–I think it was MARFA LIGHTS that I sent, sixty pages–and that I should probably e-mail her to ask her whether she might send me the notes.

Now, what this obviously means is that, as usual, the book hasn’t impressed anyone, and I should probably just shut up. After all, had she been excited about the book, she’d have e-mailed ME after the conference! This is just simple logic. Still, as always, I couldn’t resist, and I dropped her the note below. No, it’s not the completely impersonal request that I’m sure everyone thinks it ought to be, but whatever–I’d rather get a note that had some personality, myself. I hope it doesn’t rub her the wrong way, but hell, I would like to hear anything that she was going to tell me. I mean, she was going to tell me anyway. . . .

Dear All-Powerful Decider,
I hated to miss the NETWO Writers’ Conference last week and my “audience” with you to discuss my writing sample. I’m the sole caretaker of my mother, who turned eighty on Shakespeare’s birthday, and both she and my little Pomeranian were on a medication schedule and needed me. Luck doesn’t smile on me very often–which is actually the premise of my paranormal romantic comedy, _Little Rituals_–and this, alas, was another example of the Universe saying, “Gotcha!”
But I did get in touch with LuckyDog, the writer to whom I gave my conference membership, and she mentioned that she attended the appointment and that you requested pages from her manuscript. That is wonderful to hear. At least the Universe does have a use for me: as a conduit to get others into position for their success. *grin* This is not the first time I’ve put someone in line for something good, so perhaps I should accept my fate as the unseen hand in the background.
Still, LuckyDog mentioned that you had some notes on the partial that I sent. I would be so very interested in seeing or hearing anything you have to say about my work. If you weren’t taken with this particular novel, but liked my voice or style, I could send a partial of _Little Rituals_ or of my dark YA urban fantasy, _Camille’s Travels_. (It’s terribly forward of me to suggest that, but I figure, what the hell.) I’d be happy to send return postage costs or whatever you need.
I hope your conference experience was a blast! Not everyone would come out to a church retreat in the middle of East Texas and stay in a dorm. In fact, I’ve only done that one time myself . . . I’m a city girl, and one of my fondest memories is of my visit to New York City in 1998, when Scotch Brands/3M flew me to the final round of the Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper Contest. I know the NETWO “folks” (as they say around those parts) did their best to give everyone fantastic opportunities.
Again, thank you for taking the time with Lucky and for (I hope) providing me with some feedback about my manuscript pages, if possible.

Yours truly,
the hapless Shalanna Collins

Okay, I didn’t actually sign it “Hapless.” But I should have. Thinking over this entire event just convinces me once again that my apparent purpose in this life is to put others in position to achieve their great successes. It started when I tutored the star math performer (a boy) in junior high to go win all the awards at the UIL contest because the principal felt he would make a better showing (he won by solving the very type of problem I had coached him on, over and over). It continued when I taught my First True Love, in college, how to love and how to interact with people so that he could dump me just in time to go out with the woman he married. (He even asked me where to take her and how to date her . . . he wanted to “remain friends,” probably so he could keep on with the cool date ideas.) It just keeps keepin’ on. Why can’t I be happy with that? Some people never have anything but a negative impact on others. I could well have been stuck with that kind of function.

*sigh* But anyhow, I might as well shut up. Maybe a couple of hours out in the garden with the dog will improve my attitude.

I’m also thinking of making a board book out of my “Splatterfairies” story just to keep here on the coffee table. I picked up a few more images of fairies that are from vintage storybooks (out of a clip art/rubber stamp catalog) and realized that I could make a twisted little “Pressed Fairy Book” sort of book out of it. You know, as if it were a kids’ story, but for twisted fantasy readers instead.

My friend BarbJ told me that I need something that would allow more “instant” gratification than writing does, and that’s one reason I started working on my piano repertoire. But that isn’t doin’ it, because my teacher has me in some fairly advanced repertoire, and it isn’t coming as easily as it did when I was sixteen and used to practice three hours a day. Thus, I came up with the board book idea. And also I’m working on that “Mixtape” CD. One or the other of those may turn out not to be too embarrassing.

The flowers aren’t doin’ too shabbily, either.

Happy Birthday, Jodie (Mama)!

Happy 80th birthday to my mom, Jodie!

She feels a lot better today–she’s been dealing with various nuisances and stomach bugs and so forth for over two weeks now–and I propose to take her over to one of the buffet places to eat. We’ll see how that goes, because the doctor chewed us both out over our diabetes numbers at the appointment yesterday, so we have to figure out where we are allowed to go. No real cake or ice cream for anyone, as usual. But at least we’ll get out for a bit. And we have to pick up ALL THOSE NEW PRESCRIPTIONS (sigh) anyway. Even the dog has a prescription waiting!

(Junior) High School Never Ends! Please, grow up.

I was already of the opinion that actual grown-ups are lacking out there in the grown-up world, but really, now. I mean, first there was QueryFail, in which a group of agents posted lines from queries that authors had sent them, WITHOUT asking permission to reproduce those authors’ queries, on Twitter and openly made fun of them. (Yes, perhaps it did clue in a few people who had no idea that you mustn’t mention your Girl Scout Fiction Writer badge in your query. But most of the people following that thread already knew better, and were just riding along to mock. It was preaching to the choir. IMHO only, of course.) Then there was a backlash to QueryFail that was also inappropriate, as the authors should have turned around and let it run off their backs (as Grandpa used to say. He was part mallard. The green part.)

Anne Rice went after a reviewer on Amazon to “explain” how dumb the reviewer was. Others have gotten on to rebut various claims made by reviewers. But now . . . writers and other pros GONE WILD. Embarrassing even without the “flashing.”

Look Who’s Snarking Now: Novelist Uses Twitter to Trash Critic

“Alice Hoffman has a new novel out. Roberta Silman gave Hoffman’s book a lukewarm review in the Boston Globe. Alice Hoffman then went insane on Twitter, even publishing Silman’s phone number and encouraging her fans to call and attack her. The most vexing thing about of all of this is that Silman’s review wasn’t a trashing by any standard, other than inside of Hoffman’s obviously delusional mind. . . .”

“Rise above it. Be classy, child,” said Auntie. She was right.

That’s not the only author who has come after her reviewers. It never makes a lot of sense. Just remember what Mae West said–“there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

And this writer (or poser? Who can say?) is taking her rage out on agents for perfectly sensible rejection slips. These aren’t nasty rejections at all. Maybe this is a spoof.

The other day an agent got a “retort” replying to a rejection, and instead of just ignoring it the way agents surely have for decades, the agent said, “When I’m attacked, I hit back,” and started a Twitter campaign to mock the author–complete with his real name. Sheesh! Is there no one who rises above it and remains a professional? The real killer is that a mob of bloggers/blog commenters jumped on the wagon and mocked the author with haiku (you can’t help but chuckle a LITTLE–who else mocks with haiku?!). Whether that was just a mob mentality or it was because they thought they were currying favor with an agent, I don’t know. But, still. High school never ends. Three other LJers covered this, or I wouldn’t have known about it, because Twitter strikes me as a huge timesink. But I’m surprised that people will act like that. Why am I surprised?? Still, I am.

The mature response to any of this is to be gracious. Even when you disagree, and you want to say that you think whoever-it-is should be ashamed, there’s a more gracious way to do that rather than mocking or starting a long attack thread. This will always be the better response. To learn this is the beginning of wisdom and maturity. I hope someday I can learn to be like Grandma and just rise above things that we see as insults or taunts (though I try, I don’t always succeed). You never win when you engage in these kinds of uproars. It always reflects poorly back on you, you see. Sure, it’s tough for me to be mature . . . but it’s worth the effort. I’m glad I missed this entire thing!

Not glad that I’m missing the NETWO conference. Someone did come forward and say she would attend in my place on Saturday. There was a bit of a kerfuffle at first when the Powers That Be didn’t really want to let me send a proxy (they said I shouldn’t use the word “scholarship,” but I suspect that wasn’t the major issue), but they relented. So now someone gets to go, at least. It’s a gorgeous afternoon, and I would hate to spend it inside . . . I’ll bet they all go sit around the lake at the picnic tables for the workshop. I hope they think of that, anyway.

Beautiful Soup–er, stew–er, stoup! 10-can veggie soup

If you like Potbelly’s garden vegetable soup (and if you haven’t been to Potbelly, which is apparently a chain of sandwich shops, you should be warned that they live up to their name and cause pot bellies quite effectively!), you might like my all-canned crock pot version.

I decided that I didn’t want to pay $4.50 for a small styrofoam container of the soup when it looked so much like what we used to make when I was a kid. It’s very chunky and delicious, IF you like vegetable stuff and you like canned veggies. (Some people hate them, and I know they have that problem with the plastic can liners–we’re pretending that doesn’t exist, for now.) This is something you can throw together in no time and have ready in twenty minutes.

I bought cans of
Del Monte Zucchini in Tomato Sauce (about .89 on special)
Del Monte Sweet Peas (around $1)
Del Monte Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Oregano, and Garlic (~$1.25)
Diced new potatoes (~$1)–also Del Monte, I think, but others make ’em
Whole new potatoes (for chunkier potato bits) (~$1)-I quartered these to get large chunks.
Del Monte Half-Can of Lima Beans (I didn’t want it to become a bean soup) (this was almost $1, too)
. . . I think that’s all.

I already had some Texmati rice and vegetable-derived seasoning mix (it has dried red bell peppers, onions, sun-dried tomato flakes, and so forth.) I also had frozen yellow squash on hand, which I added on impulse after everything else was in, but wouldn’t add again next time, as it just didn’t do anything for the mixture, IMHO.

Open the cans and dump ’em into your crock pot, including all the liquid out of the cans. If you don’t think there’s enough liquid in there at the end, you can pour in some of that Swanson Vegetable Broth that comes in the aseptic box (no MSG) or some water or whatever you use as soup stock. I thought there was enough. Then I threw in about 1/2 cup of the Texmati mixed wild rice/brown rice/jasmine rice, raw. I considered throwing in some Cheerios, but resisted this urge. For seasoning, I decided to sprinkle in a couple of good shakes out of this vegetable seasoning all-natural mixture I had splurged on at the fancy grocery store. You could try Mrs. Dash (several varieties–my mother loves that stuff) or any other seasoning mixture you like. Don’t use cumin or chili powder the first time you make this stuff, because that will overpower every other flavor. (If you do decide to try that, pour in a little salsa or picante sauce, too.) Now just plug in the crock pot and set ‘er on “high” for a while, until everything is thoroughly heated. You can let this simmer, too, while the veggies get softer. They never got “too soft” for me, even though I think this stuff simmered a couple of hours after I’d tried a serving.

VERY FILLING. So just have a small bowl along with a grilled cheese sandwich or whatever other sandwich you like (not PBJ or BLT, though, as it’s too different!) Or with a small salad. Two “extra” bites after you’re full can lead to serious discomfort in the form of a bloated tummy!

The zucchini really “makes” this dish, so don’t omit it if you find it only at the fancy grocery store and it costs almost $2 a can (which it does when it isn’t on special.) Unless you hate zucchini. You could add canned spinach, turnip greens, or collard greens, but not an entire can!–maybe just a few pinches. If you like those, I mean. We couldn’t risk it, because my mother has kidney stones if she eats that stuff (and she does love it–she’s an old farm girl from way back underneath that city slicker veneer.) You could add dried lentils, too, as a thickener, instead of the rice. Don’t put too much, or you get bean soup instead.

My blood sugars have been insane because we’ve been relying far too much on take-out, fast food, burgers, and frozen dinners for the past month (a lot goin’ on.) I decided that I could make up some quick dinners that would serve us much better. I also think my version is cheaper per serving than the soup from the restaurants.

Let me know if you make it and how you like it!