While writing Theft By Chocolate, the last thing on my mind was what would happen if the work ever reached an audience. Doing readings, participating in panel presentations, attending book clubs, and speaking in public, in general, were not on my radar. I was just trying to finish a novel, page by page. What would come afterwards, would come - back to writing.
Then, miracle of miracles, the book was published. And miracle of miracles, I have been doing regular readings in libraries and some really unique settings attracting people who seem interested in hearing what I have to say about my story and process - miracle of miracles!
Royal Ontario Museum back in the day.
Although I have a typical writer’s temperament - I'm shy, I'm an observer, and having attention drawn to me makes me squirm - I do have some public speaking experience from a previous life. I'm not referring to all the Ukrainian concerts in which my parents forced me to participate as a kid. But many, many, many years ago when working in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Programs Department, my job required me to introduce speakers and instructors to crowds as large as 300 people. I was nervous each time I went on stage, even though I knew I would be off in a matter of minutes, and I was also aware that when you're introducing rock stars of the academic world or celebrity authors, like Kathy Reichs or Jean Auel, no one was paying attention to me.
So no one has been more surprised than I have been at how much I have been enjoying promoting my book and meeting new people. My first gigs related to Theft By Chocolate were trial-by-fire events. There was Toronto’s Word on the Street, the city’s largest book and magazine festival, where I participated in a panel presentation organized by Humber College, and where I spoke to a packed tent. And the official launch of my book and first reading which took place at ChocoSol Traders, a unique chocolate-making cooperative in Toronto, was another miracle-of-miracles moment as a capacity crowd attended. Another large event included participating in a fundraiser for the Peterborough New Canadians Centre held at the Peterborough Public Library.
But even the intimate events have been really satisfying. I did a reading at Toronto’s Wellington Street Art Gallery where we squeezed in just over a dozen people. I was able to speak to everyone in attendance and some lasting relationships were formed.
I also attended a book club meeting in Toronto’s Beach(es) neighborhood where all eyes were directed at me from very close proximity. And yum, what a spread we feasted on, thanks to Terry Comeau's homemade delights.
A reading at a branch of the Hamilton Public Library (Locke Street) was also most cozy, and the casual atmosphere encouraged people to ask lots of questions. The participation of local chocolatier, Forrat's, made the afternoon all the more sweeter.
And very recently, I did an up-close-and-personal reading followed by a screening of a heist film, The Thomas Crown Affair (the original), in a private and exquisitely plush private screening room in the TIFF Lightbox Tower, thanks to film festing compatriot and cinephile friend, Andra Takacs.
Toronto's Wellington Street Art Gallery.
Terry Comeau's book club spread.
Hamilton's Locke Street Library.
At all these events, the participants had the opportunity to grill me and draw out confessions about my writing process, inspirations, and my very long roller coaster ride to publishing. My appreciation of these events comes not from talking about myself (which I still find incredibly embarrassing and results in palatable physical discomfort – I have been contemplating carrying a portable defibrillator), but from some of the thought-provoking questions people have raised. With my curious audiences, I have discussed everything from the vulnerability a writer feels when one pours heart and soul, private moments, and even one’s own character traits into a work, to matters of inspiration and challenges of commitment to a work, and to overcoming difficult obstacles (i.e. getting your work published... and then noticed).
These inquiries have made me ponder my journey, my successes and motivations, my weaknesses and strengths, what I want never to do again, and what I want to do better.
I have come away from these events with adrenaline highs stemming from the connections I have been making with people reading my book or contemplating reading it, but more importantly, from the realization that people are just as curious about my experiences and travails as they are about the book itself.
One reader recently asked me if it has all been worth it – all the time invested, rewrites, rejections, the work I still need to do to market and promote the work. Of course, my answer was “yes,” but not because I was published, but because I now enjoy the pleasure of meeting fascinating, endearing, sweet, funny, charming and, yes, sometimes odd, but memorable people (beware, you too may inspire a character in a future book).
Because my survivor job mostly keeps me bound to a computer and my communications with people are largely electronic, my experiences post-publication have impacted me with a profundity beyond anything I could have imagined. And it seems I am coming out of my shell, chocolate shell, that is!
At the end of November, I held my first reading of Theft By Chocolate
, attracting an audience of 70 people with standing room only. And it was held in a bicycle shop in a semi-industrial area of Toronto. Huh? How did that happen?
As odd as it may seem, the unique setting could not have been more sublime. I had teamed up with ChocoSol Traders
, a distinct chocolate-making cooperative to host the event. I knew I had connected with the right group upon first contact with ChocoSol founder, Michael Sacco, and ChocoSolista, Lauren Baker. The way they spoke about chocolate and the crafting of the delicacy was poetic and intriguing. Furthermore, their concerns about community, on micro and universal levels, combined with their conscious and progressive notions about relationships with farmers and their crops and ethical notions about agriculture and production all resonated with me.
ChocoSol Traders, the location of the reading.
Setting up the audio visual equipment for the reading.
So the idea of having the reading set in a spot somewhat off the beaten path for downtowners, in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, seemed oh-so right rather than oh-so risky. All I hoped was that there might be more people at my reading than at J.K. Rowling’s first reading – which according to Lifetime’s recent made-for-TV movie, Magic Beyond Words, was only about a dozen people.
And then something magical happened – RSVPs started rolling in faster than I was able to keep up with. I suddenly found myself suffering from “careful what you wish for” syndrome. Ironically, I was in the middle of doing Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditation series on abundance, but holy smokes, I did not expect it to work that quickly!
Before I knew it, I was facing some dilemmas I could never have imagined. Would we have enough space for everyone who wanted to attend? Was it fair for me to ask ChocoSol Traders to keep their commitment to provide complimentary drinking chocolate and chocolate samplings to my ever-growing audience?
The ChocoSolistas were gracious beyond words, but some scrambling ensued nonetheless. Realizing that my voice might not project to such a large crowd, my friends rallied and provided not just a simple mic and amp, but a full-fledged PA system that could have amplified my voice in a sports arena.
Another friend dusted off not one, but two, HD cameras to record the event – which actually came in very handy in the end. And a number of friends stepped in to help with meeting and greeting, book sales, and managing a raffle.
But the most unexpected turn of events came when I turned up at ChocoSol, a couple of hours before the reading, to discover ChocoSol had enlisted the help of the bicycle shop located on the ground floor of the building, Issie Cycling Services, to accommodate the burgeoning crowd. Okay, I thought, we can make this work. And we did.
Luba debriefs Irena, Jody, and Bev, her meeters and greeters.
The ChocoSolistas prepare for the chocolate-tasting component.
Guests begin to arrive and settle in.
Michael Sacco prepares drinking chocolate for the crowd using pedal power.
Luba begins the evening with introductions and thank you's.
Bike shop owners Issie and Kathleen had scrubbed the shop clean and we settled on doing the readings among the throngs of bicycles, and the chocolate tastings and education component in ChocoSol’s loft space upstairs.
As people arrived, they seemed a little confused (why wouldn’t they be, I was). But in the end, a rolicking and enlightening evening was had by all – some called it the “funkiest and most fascinating event they had attended in ages.”
I did three readings from various parts of Theft By Chocolate: The Chocolate Burp; Terrorists in the Museum; and The Bug Room – all of which elicited waves of giggles, some white-knuckling, and some humbling applause.
Following the first reading, the enigmatic Michael Sacco took over and mesmerized the crowd. He spoke of chocolate’s abundant healing properties and expounded on the food’s history, from its Mayan origins as nourishment of the gods and use as currency to its transformation by the Europeans whose production processes (most of which have stayed with us until today) unfortunately strip cacao of most of its antioxidants and remarkable qualities.
Michael reads a passage from Theft By Chocolate.
Without complaint, the crowd ascended a staircase to the ChocoSol loft where Michael discussed how the ChocoSolistas create their artisanal chocolate using methods reminiscent of Mayan practices.
Everyone had an opportunity to taste cacao in its pure form, to sample a variety of flavored chocolate, including some infused with spicy peppers that led to beads of sweat forming on people’s foreheads, and to purchase some of ChocoSol’s scrumptious wares.
I somehow managed to pull people away from the chocolate and get them back downstairs for the final two shorter readings and for the raffle, a gift assortment of ChocoSol products, which was won by audience member, Kim Ireland.
I then surprised everyone with an additional contest - anyone at the event who submits a review to Attica Books
) by December 31 is eligible to win a mini Kobo eReader. Entrants who submit a review and who also post their review on an Internet site such as Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, or Goodreads, will have two chances to win the electronic reader. The draw will be a random one.
Some of ChocoSol's spicy chocolate surrounded by its flavorful ingredients.
ChocoSol's tasty and "good for you" wares.
Luba with raffle winner, Kim Ireland.
Luba catches up with a fellow writer and yoga instructor.
ChocoSolista Lauren with attendees.
For a first-time published author, I could not have had a more unforgettable evening. After completing the first few pages of my first reading, I managed to chill out and truly enjoy sharing some of my favorite passages from Theft By Chocolate
. In between readings, it was a delight catching up with old friends and long-time supporters and extremely gratifying meeting so many new people who ventured out on such a chilly, early winter evening.
To add to the feeling that someone had sprinkled fairy dust on me, I sold dozens of books both that evening and from orders received the following day from people who had either attended the reading or had heard about it from friends in attendance. As a result of the sales, I was able to raise some notable donations for some great causes. For every book purchased from me directly, $1 is being donated to American Forests
, an organization that plants trees all over the globe ($1 = 1 tree); and $2 for every book sold is being donated to the eLibrary Project
which is putting electronic readers into the hands of children in disadvantaged schools in South Africa.
Everyone who helped make the event happen in any shape or form, from schlepping chairs around, taking pictures or video, greeting, hosting, or attending, will have a special place in my heart because for me, that evening was one of the most brilliant experiences I have ever had and this night alone made my long journey to publishing worth every single moment.RELATED LINKSYouTube Videos
1. Introductions (link not yet live)
2. Thank You's (link not yet live)
3. The Chocolate Burp
4. Terrorists in the Museum (link not yet live)
5. The Bug Room
6. Culture of Chocolate (link not yet live)
7. Making of Artisan Chocolate (link not yet live)Credits
1. Hosts: ChocoSol Traders
2. Videography: Michael De'Ath
3. Audio Visual Support: Nick Cuda
4. Still Photography: Andy Kulchyckyj
Word on the Street is Canada's largest public book and magazine festival. It's held in a few Canadian cities and I had the privilege of participating, for the first time as an author, in Toronto's event held on September 23. The whole experience was beyond positive and I'm sure to be buzzing from it for some time.
| || |
The Friday before the festival, I was contacted by the WOTS's publicist. Seems I was one of three authors selected to be interviewed by CBC TV (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) for a national live spot interview. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and freaked out at the same time. I hadn't done a TV interview in about 15 years and had never done anything live. So there was a lot of OMGing going on in my head throughout the weekend. Meditation was required!
But there was no need to be nervous. My biggest challenge, as it turned out, was the unseasonable Toronto weather (is there such a thing?). While setting up for the spot, we experienced sun, cloud, drizzle, sun, cloud...But the moment we went live it started to rain. I was off camera feeling me hair go flatter and flatter.
CBC correspondent, Zulekha Nathoo, interviews Luba for a live TV spot on CBC News Now.
CBC's interest was primarily in the concept of going direct to eBook and the reasons for making that choice (doing so is not nearly as common in Canada as it is in the US and abroad).
My three-minute interview with CBC correspondent Zulekha Nathoo flew by, but I managed to mention Theft By Chocolate,
squeeze in the 'log line', and talk about the reasons for publishing electronically. And wouldn't you know it, as soon as the interview ended, so did the rain. Check out the interview on YouTube. You can thank the rain for the background sound (sorry). Due to copyright issues, the original CBC interview is not available (sorry). But you can come and watch it at my house. :)
Next on the agenda was rounding up as many authors as possible to make donations to the eLibrary Project
. I left donation forms with various authors and author representatives attending the festival.
And then I took a few quiet moments to prep for my upcoming presentation.
I had been invited by Humber College to speak at the Scribendi.com
Word Shop Marquee Tent on the subject of going "Straight to E-Book." I was paired with a Canadian digital publisher who was caught in Toronto traffic. But just as I finished speaking, miraculously, my other panel member turned up. Whew!
The tent was packed to capacity and people were jammed around the perimeter. But during the session it started to pour in buckets, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees, and my teeth began to chatter. Hope no one noticed.
But considering I hadn't spoken in public for about 15 years, I think I did reasonably well. I was relieved, however, to sit back for most of the Q&A as the majority of questions, from hopeful authors, were directed to the publisher.
I had a brief chance after the talk to catch up with my mentor, author Kim Moritsugu, and with the Director of the Humber School of Writers. Fun times!
Luba with Humber Creative Writing Program mentor Kim Moritsugu, and Director, Humber School of Writers, Antanas Sileika.
| || |
One could not have scripted it better as the rain cleared up just as everyone was departing the tent and I managed to stay dry while trekking to the other side of the festival grounds for my book signing.
One suggestion I would make, however, to any first-time author participating in a book signing of this sort - avoid being sandwiched at the table between media celebrity and award-winning authors.
I mean, seriously, I was wedged among renowned Toront0-based environmental writer Adria Vasil, Charles Taylor Prize winner Andrew Westoll, and CBC media darling Jian Ghomeshi, all of whom had off-the-register lineups.
But I held my smiling face high with pride. Between my supporters and people who had been at my "Straight to E-Book" talk, my sales were most respectable. Even a few of the tent organizers (University of Toronto) remarked how well I had done for a first-time author.
Overall, I can’t say enough positive things about the way I was handled by Humber College, the Word on the Street organizers, CBC, and the University of Toronto.
In conclusion, I want to give a big shout out to everyone who helped make this day such a success: Attica Books, my publishers (angels on Earth); Beth Barany and Carissa Weintraub, my publicists (thanks for all the advice); Kim Moritsugu and Antenas Sileika at the Humber School for Writers (without whom I would not have had an opportunity to participate in the festival); Nicola Dufficy at Word on the Street (who bent over backwards to accommodate me); the CBC (for selecting me for an interview; Aleks Wrobel at the University of Toronto (for coordinating the book signing); and most especially to Jo Anne Tudor, my videographer, book carrier, and great friend, and to Andy Kulchyckyj, my photographer, brother, and biggest supporter.
And thanks to all my other friends who came out to support me, especially on a day with such unsettled and unfriendly weather. For a writer, getting a book published is like making it into the Olympics. So it was such an honor and privilege to share my first "appearance" with you all. Let's do it again next year!
The original concept for Theft By Chocolate sprung from the lead character, Kalena Boyko, a hopeless chocolate addict. Setting her story in a museum came naturally to me as I had been employed in Canada’s largest museum for more than twenty years, and I wanted to share my privileged access to this awe-inspiring place with readers. As for the plot, it did not develop so easily at first.
The work began as a story of a woman going about her day-to-day duties as a museum administrator and routinely getting into trouble, à la Lucille Ball style, as she searched for her next chocolate fix. But seventy-five pages in and even I could see the tale was lacking a clear direction.
However, while working in the museum’s consulting department and conducting some research on travelling exhibits, I chanced upon information on a touring show organized by Chicago’s Field Museum called “Chocolate.” As it happened, one of the exhibit’s signature artifacts was the world’s oldest piece of chocolate. This item of Maya origin seemed to have captured the public’s imagination and it was drawing tremendously huge crowds to institutions like the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Bingo!
A pathway had opened up for my novel, but I knew from my experience at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, that although the oldest piece of chocolate could attract large numbers in cities like New York, natural science exhibits were not traditionally the most lucrative “money shows” in cities like Toronto. What were sure-fire hits, not only in Canadian urban centers, but in international ones, were special exhibits featuring ancient cultures such as those of the Egyptians, the Inca, the Chinese – and the Maya. And seeing as the Maya invented chocolate, the various pieces of my plot finally began intersecting in a most satisfying way.
The complexity of the Maya culture is very intriguing to child and adult alike. The fact that the Maya knew the Earth revolved around the sun long before western astronomers, that they had developed a sophisticated calendar, that the construction of their monumental architecture humbles modern architects, and that these people sacrificed human beings to their gods, keeps drawing millions of visitors, over and over again, to exhibits about the Maya.
During my time at the Royal Ontario Museum, we hosted a significantly large exhibit on the Maya, and the revenue generated probably carried the institution for at least a year or two. Intermittently, the ROM brings out its own impressive New World collections and very recently hosted and co-created another massive blockbuster, “Maya: Secrets of Their Ancient World,” in collaboration with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization, where the exhibit is on display until the end of October, 2012. The Penn Museum in Philadelphia is home to another Maya exhibit, “Maya.2012 Lords of Time,” until January, 2013. And if you want to catch the exhibit that started it all for me and inspired Theft By Chocolate, it’s not too late. It just finished a stay in Hamilton, Ontario (the city where I was raised), and is currently at the Turtle Bay Exploratorium in Redding, California.
But to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what it’s like to mount a special exhibit of the magnitude of “Maya: Secrets of Their Ancient World,” Theft By Chocolate will give you a taste of this extremely challenging process. And it may spark some giggles and trigger some chocolate cravings all in one read.
Besides being the author of Theft By Chocolate, I work at a city college in Toronto that is home to one of Canada’s most renowned cooking schools. And I live in a city that has the most restaurants per capita than any other city in the world! So I have done a lot of enjoying, consuming, dreaming about, and contemplating of food over the years. And much of that food meditation has focused on what it is about chocolate I love so much.
Chocolate is not the only food I love (though it is the only one with which I am truly obsessed). I love eating - plain and simple. And for twenty-five years, I have been a dedicated gym rat and added yoga, dance, and running to my activities over time to accommodate my love of food. In other words, I have always worked out to eat. I became vegetarian three years ago and although I cut out meat, fish, and poultry, my love for food has not diminished. I miss some elements about these foods, but it has less to do with flavor and a heck of a lot more to do with another food characteristic.
When I first became vegetarian and was shopping for alternative foods at my favourite organic grocery store, the deli counter carried mock chicken and mock shrimp (tofu-based). I found these foods rather odd. Wasn’t the concept akin to people wearing faux fur instead of real fur (which to me is like saying “we’re going to pretend we’re wearing fur, but it’s not real fur, really”). So with the faux animal proteins, it’s like saying “we’re going to pretend we’re eating meat, but it’s not really meat, really.” Huh?
But as my days as a vegetarian continued, it all started to make sense to me. I began to miss the texture of meat, the way it broke down when you chewed it, the way it felt making its way down to my digestive system, and even the way it rested in my stomach. So suddenly I understood the reasoning behind mock meats. It seems humans can more easily get over living without certain flavors than they can of being deprived of certain food textures. And this notion, I comprehended, applied as much to chocolate as it did to animal proteins.
I first noticed how much I loved the texture of chocolate after I started doing detoxes or cleanses, as they are also known. For a period of anywhere between a few days to a month, one eliminates products like meats, sugars, grains, and dairy from their body to help “cleanse” the digestive system and to rid it of toxins. People always ask me how I am able to be so disciplined about it considering how much I love my sweets, but once I commit to the process, I stick with it until it is concluded. Surprisingly, I have found that I can live relatively easily without these foods. But what I always find most challenging about doing a cleanse is not having a food that crunches like chocolate and then melts into a liquid treat as it glides down the throat.
I do eat a lot of nuts during a detox (note: a lot of cleanses advocate eliminating nuts, but I would starve without them), and they do satisfy the crunch factor I would normally get from chocolate. But there is nothing, nothing, and nothing that crunches and then melts like chocolate. I know carob has been touted by many as a substitute for chocolate, and no offense to carob growers, but it ain’t chocolate.
I’ve tried just about everything from meditation and hypnotherapy to Bach flower remedies and past life regression to eliminate my chocolate cravings – and been unsuccessful. The longest chocolate droughts I’ve had have lasted about three to four months, following hypnotherapy. I have tried to make peace with the fact that chocolate and I will likely be “one” for the rest of my life. But I will have to continually work on monitoring the quantity of chocolate I consume. And some of those struggles are mirrored in the capricious adventures of chocolate addict Kalena Boyko in Theft By Chocolate.
A huge congratulations goes to Marcia in Michigan for winning the coveted Theft By Chocolate Blog Tour giveaway.
Marcia wins $150 gift certificate to an online chocolate retailer.
Is the author allowed to be jealous? Delish!
I had long completed the first draft of Theft By Chocolate when I had a chance encounter with an individual who would send me back to my computer to completely reconfigure the plot of my sassy museum mystery about a capricious woman of a certain age looking for chocolate, love and an international art thief in all the wrong places. While working as an executive assistant at a city college in a project office that was managing the construction of a new campus, I happened to mention my book to a security consultant working with us.
In particular, I brought up the fact I had worked for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto for the greater part of my career and that I had drawn on my experiences at the museum for inspiration for the story that revolved around a heist. The consultant’s eyes widened to the size of saucers and he whispered to me, “we need to have a chat about this.” Somewhat taken aback, but intrigued to the max, I suggested we get together sooner rather than later to have our “chat.” I was already a third of the way into a major rewrite of the novel and I did not want to delay our discussion.
Within a week we sat down at a table of a retro diner where “my informant” proceeded to tell me his family had worked in the security industry for decades and that he had insider information about the infamous opal collection theft that had taken place at the Royal Ontario Museum in the late 1980s. I had worked at the ROM for more than twenty years, but my employment had started after the theft had taken place, but it was common knowledge that the thief was never identified nor apprehended and that the jewels had eventually turned up in a black market in Hong Kong.
What was not common knowledge, as the security continued to share with me, was that the thief had used an ingenious technique that stunned the security industry around the world. The culprit managed to circumvent what was considered state-of-the art technology in its day, a technology that was being used universally, not just in museums and art galleries, but in stores and banks and businesses. International law keepers realized it wouldn’t be long before thieves around the world heard about the daring robbery and how it was executed. Basically, the planet’s riches, both great and small were suddenly at risk.
It was this piece of information and some additional material gleaned from rare newspaper articles about the theft that appeared in Canadian newspapers that form the crux of the final version of Theft By Chocolate. My work is fiction and includes characters derived from my imagination, but the real events provided a solid skeleton upon which I was able to add a fantastical flesh. Still, the mysterious and unique real-life theft continues to haunt me. I may just have to put on an investigative journalist’s hat some day to determine whether, after three decades, some new information might be uncovered which could shed new light upon the events that shaped Theft By Chocolate.
When I first developed the concept for my book Theft By Chocolate, I knew there was no shortage of chocolate addicts on this planet that might identify with lead character Kalena Boyko, a high functioning chocolate addict. But what I was less certain about was whether readers would be interested in a sassy museum mystery about a woman of a certain age looking for chocolate, love and an international art thief in all the wrong places. But, as it turns out, taking inspiration from my own embarrassing chocolate addiction and drawing from my more than twenty years of working in Canada’s largest museum has resulted in a story hitting a cord with readers.
As a writer, you expose a part of your psyche to the world that often leaves you vulnerable. But this is amplified a hundred-fold when characteristics of your protagonist are based so closely on your own life – particularly on one’s flaws. But I thought it worth the risk – surely, I was not the only person who had eaten an inappropriate number of pieces in a box of chocolates gifted to the office (“who ate all the chocolates?”). And certainly there were other people who have shuffled around papers in their workplace recycling bin so all the candy bar wrappers don’t remain visible at the top of the refuse pile. Over the years, I learned to laugh at my own sneaky antics, and it was time to invite the world to laugh along with me.
My amusing chocolate escapades weren’t the only experiences in my life giving me the giggles. It seemed as if every time I turned a corner in Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, I encountered some hilarious new situation. Whether it was working with a world-renowned expert in their field who wore their clothing inside-out or watching a live crab being flung twenty feet in the air after a child stuck their hand in a crab tank during a public presentation, working in a museum was never dull.
But, so often museums are portrayed in books and film with a weighty sense of gravity and are the setting for murderous events and high tech heists. There’s no doubt that stakes are high in places that safeguard the world’s most valued treasures. But they can also be places of hijinks and hilarity, and that was the portrait I chose to paint in Theft By Chocolate. It was my intention to unlatch a very particular door, one that has rarely been opened, into what is normally perceived as a rarified world. To me, this side of museum life was so utterly endearing that it kept me in one spot for more than twenty years, and that in a society in which people change places of employment more frequently than they change their socks.
Theft By Chocolate is my first book and I can’t express the delight I experienced crafting the story about two of my personal obsessions, chocolate and museums. But I have also always adored a page-turning mystery or a clever museum heist tale. So it was with even greater pleasure that I was able to interweave a plot line based on a real-life and never-solved theft that took place at the Royal Ontario Museum in the 1980s. What was particularly surprising was that this theft was perpetrated with such ingenuity and simplicity that it shocked the security industry around the world and led to global changes in corporate and cultural security technology.
So just how was this heist carried out? Well, that’s where I am going to leave the blog readers hanging. You’ll have to pick up a copy of Theft By Chocolate to learn about the intriguing and ingenious circumstances. Although chocolate may not have been involved in the true-to-life theft, that didn’t prevent me from entwining the delectable substance into my own fictional rendering!
I'm not really sure why this recipe is called "classic" as it is very much an updated and healthier version.
The original recipe calls for margarine, but the body processes butter (organic, please) quicker and more effectively.
3/4 cup sucanat (cane sugar)
1/3 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 - 1 1/2 cups chocolate or carob chips
1/3 cup oil
3 tbsp water
2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Stir together sucanat, butter, oil, water and vanilla.
3. In another bowl stir flours, baking soda and salt.
4. Add this mixture and the chips to the butter mixture. Mix until thoroughly mixed together.
5. Make spoon size balls and flatten them with a fork.
6. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
7. Try not to eat all in one sitting.
Anyone who may have read my modest bio would most likely conclude it was a no-brainer for someone who had worked in Canada’s largest museum for more than two decades to write a novel set in a museum. Ironically, it was actually my love of movies, a love which began long before chocolate or museums were on my radar, that led to the writing of Theft By Chocolate, a sassy museum mystery about a woman looking for chocolate, love and an international art thief in all the wrong places.
So just how did I get from Point A to Point B? Well, that happened via what seemed like a lot of wrong turns. But looking back on it, I realize the path I encountered was far more interesting than the direct route.
One of my earliest childhood memories is waking up in my mother’s arms in a movie theatre to a scene of Doris Day screaming at Rock Hudson. My family lived literally steps away from a movie theatre, so it had become a regular haunt for an immigrant family seeking escapism. As soon as my parents deemed my older brother responsible enough to care for me, which back in the day was far younger than it would be in our current culture, we were hitting the Saturday double-header at The Delta Theatre together.
The first time I realized I loved to write was several years after we moved away from that theater (boo!), probably around the age of eight, when a short story I wrote was a big hit with my classmates. I took English studies until I completed high school, but because of my strong dislike of literary analysis, I didn’t pursue literature classes in university. I majored in history instead, with a minor in art history, and although I wrote a Master’s thesis about a ruling family in a tiny principality in Renaissance Italy, it failed to become a bestseller – though it did fulfill the requirements of my program.
After graduate studies, I landed in the offices of the Royal Ontario Museum, but writing still tugged at my heartstrings. I completed a magazine journalism program in the evenings, but journalism wasn't my passion. So for years, the only writing outlet I had was drafting copy for the Museum’s Programs Department quarterly brochure.
But then I discovered the Toronto International Film Festival and for the next twenty plus years I took vacation time to attend the Festival full-time viewing up to fifty films per festival. But then the friend who introduced me to the event moved to England and I began writing email reviews and reports of my adventures (this was long before the term “blog” was coined and before the average person could create a web site). It turned out that many more of my friends were interested in the annual journal, and they told their friends, and they told their friends. So my list of recipients grew exponentially and my annual journal amounted to a small book.
I absolutely loved reporting on TIFF to my readers, but it was physically draining as it added a minimum of two additional hours to a 16-hour film festing day. After more than a decade of what was now officially blogging (and one year, I created a beautiful web site, if I do say so myself), I had to give it up to save my sanity. The stamina was simply no longer available to me. But what was a writer to do?
The first thing I did was enroll in a screen-writing program and I completed a screenplay. And then I started what was to become Theft By Chocolate. But like most beginning writers, I thought I knew it all. Finally an editor from Random House, whom I will never thank enough, suggested as diplomatically as possible I take more writing classes. And I listened to him. I enrolled in a summer writing workshop where I workshopped Theft By Chocolate. And then I enrolled in a creative writing program where I completed the first draft. Getting the book published is another story. But as I wrote Theft, I could not resist introducing film as a motif into the work. The tone of my book is reminiscent of those wonderful 1950s museum heist movies with less emphasis on technology and more on characters.
Film will always be my first love and no matter what the subject matter of future novels, I will always find a way to work movies into my story. I live in a city internationally reputed for having the best and most dedicated movie-going audiences in the world, so there’s no avoiding it. But how lucky was I to be able to intertwine all my loves in one book – film, chocolate, museums and writing. Life doesn’t get much better than that.