How Writing is like Baking Cookies

cookies and baking compared to writing

It was a bet I did with my daughter over a Netflix movie, Designated Survivor, that made me think of how much writing is like baking cookies.

It was one of the heights in the series and I exclaimed ‘oh, no!’ – which I seldom do 🙂 Then the episode was over and it was bedtime for school kids.

… Yes, I could have stayed up and watched further since I am a grownup, but Designated Survivor is something we watch together, so I had to take one for the team… (Parents Guide on IMDB is UK 12+, US is TV-PG, and 15+ on Common Sense Media. I say 12+ and I am strict, ask around)…

My daughter and I were contradicting each other over what will happen next. I had a gut feeling that her prediction will be correct (she’s really good at this), but since I was keen on my forecast too, we decided to have a bet.

The Bet

Whoever looses bakes cookies.

I am sure you will all agree that the boys in our house are the true winners here.

How Writing is like Baking Cookies

How Writing is like Baking Cookies? Read on.

It all starts with an idea.

We were excited right then and there. It didn’t matter who will win the bet anymore, we were going to have freshly baked cookies.

Whenever I get an idea for a new book (and I do, most of the time, wish I could clone myself) I get this tingling feeling, a surge of energy and I am HAPPY thinking about it. What will happen, where will I travel (most of my novels include some traveling), and will there be a dog? As all my books include (at least) one dog.

How do you feel when you think of freshly baked cookies in your kitchen? I feel bouncy. And I get a Christmasy feeling too.

Planning comes next

I think that even writers which are pantsers, who fly by the seat of their pants, do a little bit of planning when they begin work on a new book. I like to plan quite a bit. I have an outline, with plot points and acts, then I have my copy of synopsis where I write all that will happen, all the little details, the clues, the catches – in neat order.

My synopsis usually looks like a painter’s work. I start with the basics then I go over it again and again and again…

Baking cookies requires planning too, even if it happens on the spur of the moment – like our bet did. The least is co-ordinating the recipe with what’s in the pantry, right? And going one step back, any good cook will agree that a few basic things are always to be found in the pantry. I am just a mom of teens 🙂 therefor my pantry will always contain flour, sugar, oil, eggs – the very minimal basics.

How Writing is like Baking Cookies

The anticipation

I find the writing process highly addictive. Whether you write a blog, poetry or a book, the entire ritual of creating from scratch is addictive.

The anticipation is there to fill us up with excitement, with adrenaline and serotonin. Our hearts beat faster, there is more oxygenate blood reaching the brain, helping with the writing process. While the serotonin gives us that well-being and overall happiness.

Who wouldn’t want to feel that again and again?

There is anticipation in baking too. Memories of sweet vanilla and rich cocoa flooding our kitchen and sneaking through the rest of the house always come to mind… Shut doors miraculously opening and people with bright eyes and wide smiles emerging, subdued by the unseen power of the cookie scent… I love that.

Which cook doesn’t?

And there is the anticipation of the baking process itself. Baking is such a hands-on approach. Just like writing. The miracle of mixing powdery stuff with wet stuff still amazes me. Much like stirring words together into a story. How do they just work together?

With magic, my child.

The actual process of baking and writing. And the cleaning.

This might be the part where baking cookies and writing differ.

Everyone will tell you what a solitary job writing is.

It is a “leave me alone while I die” kind of activity. A self-doubting, lone-survivor, one-man kind of show.

Writing is the kind of act that makes a hero, but one no one knows. For to show up each day and do that tedious job of writing for weeks, months on end, with the only premise that one day, one day, you would have told that story that only YOU can and no one else wants to hear of right now, because only YOU know it intimately, love it, yet you are not able to make others fall in love with it until you write it – is the stuff that only heroes are made of. Unsung heroes. Writers.

The baking itself and the waiting is pretty awesome and Physical Science classes should include such experiments, don’t you think?

Mix chemical elements, organic compounds, solids and liquids, increase the temperature and prepare to be amazed.

Cleaning the kitchen is much like editing, I think. I don’t mind cleaning after we baked something, since the first wisps of that heavenly aroma begins rising to keep me company.

Editing fits right with cleaning. I find editing to be one of the most satisfying aspects of writing. Plus you get a few positive comments along the way, so craved, isn’t it? Especially after those emotionally fasting and draining weeks of writing.

How Writing is like Baking Cookies

The opening of the oven and the publishing

Usually our entire family is in the kitchen by now. Is it done yet? What about now? Plates are handed out. Watch out, it will burn. We have to wait five minutes. Ah, noooo. Okay, you can have a bit till it cools down. Yay! Love you, Mommy.

Seeing your book published is, I think, Ladies and Gentlemen, the moment we’ve ALL been waiting for since the idea for the story sparked in our hearts and minds, isn’t it?

And, Voila! Enjoy.

About Designated Survivor

Designated Survivor is a political thriller drama TV show about an obscure cabinet member who finds himself (and his family) thrust into the role of the United States president after a terrorist attack kills the president, vice president and most of Congress. What we like about it is that humanises the president and his immediate political circle. Highly recommended.

One of my favorite episodes was the one when President Kirkman went in a secret mission in Afghanistan, the location of my latest book. It was exhilarating to see him meeting with infamous warlords to determine whom he can trust to hand over territories to the United States – which is part of the political agenda revealed in my Silent Heroes novel (read the opening pages here.

Rich Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 125 g butter or margerine
  • 30 ml castor sugar
  • 125 ml condensed milk (in all honesty we used 100 ml water to avoid dairy)
  • 375 ml (210 g) self- raising flour (or normal flour and add 2,5g baking powder)
  • 80 g chocolate chips (we smashed a slab of chocolate – it was fun!)

Cream butter, sugar, add condensed milk / water and beat well. Stir in flour (if using baking powder, add it in the flour). Last, add the chocolate bits. Try no to eat (too many).

Place teaspoonfuls on a greased baking tray dusted with flour. Flatten slightly with a fork.

Bake in a preheated oven at 160 degrees Celsius for 15 -20 min (we baked for over 30 min).

The recipe says turn onto a wire rack to cool. I say that is impossible. Have a glass of milk ready and dig in 🙂 Careful, it will be hot.

Silent Heroes
My latest book, Silent Heroes, is available through Amazon.

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Afghanistan, a Dangerous Landscape

Afghanistan dangerous landscape

Much or less is known about Afghanistan and its dangerous landscape. An old Afghan proverb says: ‘There is a path to the top of even the highest mountain.’ Of course there is, and a view to go with it. A history lesson too, I would add.

Jalalabad to Kabul National Highway, Afghanistan, a tarred dangerous landscape

This road is on World Health Organization’s list of dangerous roads

The 65-km stretch from Jalalabad to Kabul , also known as National Highway 08 (NH08), loops through Taliban territory and the Kabul gorge, the Tang-e Gharu gorge. Speaking of being trapped between Scylla and Charybdis.

But it’s not the threat of insurgency that makes Highway 1 so dangerous — it’s a combination of the narrow, winding lanes that climb up to 600 m through the Kabul gorge.

‘The highway snaked through the deadly desert, a ribbon of asphalt put there by the U.S. army as an illusion of U.S. soil under the tires, secure and everlasting.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

The remote Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan, a geographical dangerous landscape

On the North-West of Afghanistan a narrow, looking like a dagger, protrudes into neighboring China and separates the two more adjacent neighbors, Tajikistan from Pakistan. It is the Wakhan Corridor and the most remote place you can think of in Afghanistan, complete with wild river crossings, long slogs up steep mountains and many miles of beautiful single-track.

Although the terrain is extremely rugged, the Corridor was historically used as a trading route between Badakhshan and Yarkand (east and west). It appears that even Marco Polo traveled this way.

Noshaq – Afghanistan’s highest peak

At 7 492 m (24,580 ft) Noshaq is Afghanistan’s highest mountain peak and is part of the Hindu Kush Range, this 800 km mountains stretching at the north of Afghanistan like the spine of a sleeping dragon. Noshaq (also called Nowshak or Nōshākh) may be the highest peak in Afghanisatn, but the highest peak of the Hindu Kush Range is Tirich Mir (at 7,492 m, 24,580 ft) located in Pakistan.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, mountaineers stopped visiting Noshaq because of the dangerous political climate. The laying of landmines in Noshaq Valley during the country’s civil war in the 1990s further isolated the enormous mountain.

The alluring Durand Line, a political dangerous landscape

The Durand Line is the 2,640-kilometer (1,640-mile) border between Afghanistan and Pakistan established in 1893 for political reasons. It is the result of an agreement between Sir Mortimer Durand, the secretary of the British Indian government at the time, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the emir of Afghanistan. The agreement was signed on November 12, 1893, in Kabul, Afghanistan. When the Durand Line was created Pakistan was still a part of India. India was in turn controlled by the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom ruled India from 1858 until India’s independence in 1947. Pakistan also became a nation in 1947.

The Durand Line is a historic, much disputed border that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan nations and families.

‘You want to ask why they don’t close the border, Marine? Think of the U.S. southern border, of Germany’s borders during the Communist Bloc and, lately, the North-Korean border. Could those be closed? Has the Durand Line, cutting through Pashtun and Baloch tribal areas, worked?

‘There is a natural flow of movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan that does not pose a threat to any of the two countries. Nor does it pose a threat to regional security and stability. It is the transhumance. The pastoral nomadism of livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures found on both sides of the Pakistan – Afghan border means that shepherds need to feed their livestock in winter to keep their families alive. And these families, residing on both sides of the border, feel stronger about their ethnicity then they do about their nationality.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Afghanistan’s Highway 1, the Ring Road, the Afghan Highway to Hell

Afghanistan’s H1 is a 2,200 kilometer nationwide highway network circulating Afghanistan. The road is extremely dangerous because of Taliban and insurgent attacks and ambushes, of roadside bombs as well as extreme weather conditions. Although police checkpoints are scattered along the road and patrols are sent out daily to secure portions of the highway when NATO convoys pass, roadside bombs and ambushes make Highway 1 one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

‘Both Smit and Welsh were part of a critical security unit operating at the nearby notorious bridge where AH1, Afghanistan’s Highway 1 or the Ring Road, crossed over the Helmand River. During the past ten years of war, Taliban ambushes and shrewdly placed IEDs have killed hundreds of troops and innocent civilians in this specific location. Every stop and search had the potential to become a lethal one for the soldier on duty, as performing searches on suspicious looking vehicles had a high potential to turn lethal, while pedestrian body search was something Muslims felt highly against. To help alleviate the situation the army introduced female soldiers in these checkpoints, their job being body searching Muslim women they estimated as suspicious looking.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

I will end with one last quote from my latest novel, Silent Heroes.

‘‘You know how they call Afghanistan?’

A ‘highway of conquests and the graveyard of empires’ because so many military campaigns conquered the world and arrived here to fail.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
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Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. The Hindu Kush Mountains

Hind Kush Mountains in Silent Heroes

Rafik, the youngest character from Silent Heroes is forced to leave his home village of Nauzad, alone. Somehow during his trip, no spoilers here, he ends up at Camp Bastion, then is forced to wonder through the Afghan desert and he even takes a drive in the US Marine’s Oshkosh vehicle, a short moment of respiro before his life is endangered again.

We are now approaching the emotional ending of Silent Heroes.

‘Conde immediately took in the mountain sight in front of them, the one shooting towards the sky. There was only one thing higher, the cerulean sky above.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
journey Hindu Kush mountains
The majestic Hindu Kush Mountains

‘If mountains could, Kent asked himself, would they choose to close their slopes and crush the intruders coming in with wicked thoughts?’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

The Hindu Kush mountains, a natural maze of valleys and peaks blocking all satellite signals are the preferred hiding-spot for the Taliban, their secret lair. Very few locals know how to find their way around.

‘Marcos noticed the zig-zagged pattern of her approach as she followed a barely visible path. For the untrained eye, it looked like nothing, a maze of greenery and rocks. But Marcos saw the trail, wider where the shrubs were missing and the rain had softened the soil, narrower in the rocky passes. In places, it looked like a disturbance in the dirt, like a child had sketched a line with a stick. Nevertheless, it leads upwards, towards the Taliban camp.

As if to mock them, a spring ran on their right side, rushing down the slope, singing and jumping from rock to rock. The steeper the slope, the more cheerful the stream whooshed.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
fortress - Taliban - journey Hindu Kush mountains

‘A skinny figure detached itself from the tight group approaching the Marines, his eyes dancing on a dirty face, streaked with dust and blood.

‘You came, you came!’ it chanted then hugged each one of them not minding their weapons poking his ribs. ‘I knew you will come,’ the boy said then turned towards the small crowd in an out-pour of words and gestures.

The bouncy body, the cheerful eyes?’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
An Afghan boy about Rafik’s age, eight years.

‘From between the trees, a skinny Afghan boy bounced more than ran down the path and he didn’t stop until he reached the girl. He jumped around her, waving his arms up and down, not sparing any cheer. His cheeks were strung with tears, yet his mouth showed all his teeth in a wide grin.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Has Rafik found his people’s peace? Is the young boy finally reunited with his small family – whatever was left from it after the Taliban’s attack on their village?

I wished I could hold his hand, my youngest character, but I could not. Life and war threw insurmountable challenges at him. He was asked to perform missions that put him in life-threatening situations. During his journey he was exposed to an IED field, got lost in the desert and ended in the Hindu Kush Mountains.

But this is war. This is life during wartime. And Rafik made it to the last chapter.

Will his heartwarming nature and willingness to help be something you will take with you when you close the book? I hope so.

I hope that Rafik’s long journey culminating with the Hindu Kush Mountains spiked your interest. You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

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The Soldier and his Dog, Silent Heroes

Silent Heroes of war

Early in the morning when the sky’s still dark

And no lively ray has yet pierced the night,

When all are sleeping and all is still,

When no wind blows and no bird sings,

So early in the morning –

The soldier wakes up.

soldier dog silent heroes

He’ll say a prayer for family and friends,

For the day to come and the day that went,

For those who fought and those who fell,

For himself

And for his best friend –

His dog.

soldier and dog pray together. silent heroes

Early in the morning in a quiet yard,

Under the cover of stars and the silence above,

Early in the morning they share a meal,

A hug, a game, a kiss, a lick.

For a new day’s ahead,

One more in the never-ending war.

Dog and soldier sit side by side

And watch the miracle that’s each sunrise.

And share a quiet moment too-

Like everything else, it is shared in two.

Friends, companions, brothers in arms;

The deployed soldier and his military dog.

love my dog, doglover, dogs of twitter

Early in the morning as the sun comes up

And heat and war engulfs the land,

A man and his dog walk side by side

And know that none of them is all alone.

The real world is far, a long ago dream.

Here, life has no price, but the price you’ve set.

And in this land where rules are upside down,

So far away from the world where they both saw the light,

The bond and the love that unites dog and man

Is stronger than a war, precious as life itself.

Silent Heroes of war

‘The Soldier and his Dog’ is a poem I wrote while researching for Silent Heroes. The history of military working dogs, MWDs, is fascinating and heartbreaking, as is the life of US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and fighting the war there. It later led to Silent Heroes, When Love and Value Are Worth Fighting for.

War in Afghanistan, literary fiction
soldier dog silent heroes
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Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. An Oshkosh Vehicle

Rafik, the youngest character in Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, undergoes a rather explosive journey in an Oshkosh vehicle belonging to the US Marines.

I hope you followed his footsteps thus far, from his home village of Nauzad, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan all the way to Camp Bastion, and through the Afghan desert.

The past – a journey of heroes in the pre-Oshkosh vehicle era

How interesting it was researching the vehicles used by the US Marines in Afghanistan! We are all familiar with the classical WWII image of a US soldier in a jeep.

US jeep WWII - journey heroes Oshkosh vehicle

With the need for an improved army vehicle dating back to the 1970s, it was in 1989 that new and improved combat vehicles, the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV – colloquial: Humvee) were first used and soon replaced all tactical vehicles. The Humvee first gained national fame during the First Gulf War.

the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV - colloquial: Humvee). journey heroes Oshkosh vehicle

After 9/11, when US troops were deployed in Afghanistan, the Humvee proved perfect on the non-existing roads and rough mountainous terrain.

The Humvee has been in use for 30 years. It was praised by soldiers for its off road capabilities and became so popular that even a civilian version was created, “I’ll take one in red.”

The civilian model Humvee
The civilian model Humvee

The Humvee was much liked by the soldiers in the “pre-IED” (Improvised Explosive Device) era. The soldiers would “customize” it by removing unnecessary armor and even doors, making the Humvee more maneuverable and increasing their visibility.

Came Iraq War, the use of IEDs and car bombs – and the Humvee’s popularity decreased. Its new armored doors weighed hundreds of pounds and were hard to open and additional armor to the turret decreased its road stability.

A new vehicle for the US Army: the Oshkosh

The Oshkosh M-ATV is the new a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle used by the US Army and the US Marines.

There are high chances that you have seen the Oshkosh before and its interior – on which info and images are hard to find as are classified. The Oshkosh was the guest star on Iron Man, alongside Robert Downey Jr.

And you will see the Oshkosh wherever US Army and Marine Corps will be deployed until 2060. The standard Oshkosh has a two-inch thick windscreen, a reversing camera, and a bulletproof skin.

As the Oshkosh vice president put it, these new army vehicles have “the protection of a light tank and the mobility of a Baja race truck.” – yet they are “light enough” that a Sikorsky Stallion helicopter can lift one, or even two in their light-arms-resistant form.

You can see below an Oshkosh lifted by a King Stallion Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter.

How is the Oshkosh different from a Humvee? Read on.

‘The Humvee, colloquial for HMMWV, short for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, was a four-wheel-drive no-joke combat vehicle primary used by the Army and Marines up until a couple of years back in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The increased number of patrol ambushes, IEDs and suicide attacks against such tanks on wheels soon forced the soldiers to think out of the box and bolt steel plates to their Humvees for protection. Add this extra weight to the already low design of the Humvee and the Pentagon saw itself forced to rush back to the drawing boards and come up with an improved design for a combat vehicle, this time calculated with the safety of its four occupants in mind. Something strong enough to withstand the blast of an IED placed on the road, yet light enough to be transported by a helicopter. Fast enough to allow the driver to take off in a dangerous situation, yet better suited to the uneven Afghan terrain. The Oshkosh JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) came through and FOB Day owned a brand new one.

On Dunn’s request, Kent took his place on the driver’s ‘throne’, as they jokingly called any of the four seats inside the Oshkosh as opposed to the Humvee’s close to zero padding metal seats. Dunn took the gunner’s seat, on the left side behind the driver. Once the medical technician secured the child in the back seat an eerie silence settled inside the vehicle.

‘Listen!’ Kent’s eyebrows went up with his index finger.

Both Dunn and the technician cocked their heads.

‘I hear zilch,’ said Dunn preparing his video screen for the roof-mounted remote weapons station. ‘Ex-xactly,’ said Kent, watching the big gates swing open. ‘I have great appreciation for this bubble of toughness,’ he added, caressing the dark dashboard. Making use of the sleek touchscreen Kent looked like he was back in his gaming-days until his hand stopped on the auto gear-lever sticking out in the darkness. The muted hum of the Oshkosh’s V8 started at the simple press of a button and, after Kent slot it in into drive the truck began gliding forward.’

‘‘Bye-bye Humvee?’ Kent chuckled, ‘I love that stinky, creaky tough old-bull-dog.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Oshkosh US Marines new vehicle - journey heroes Oshkosh vehicle
The Oshkosh

‘The Oshkosh, an all-terrain, Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle was such a solid truck that nothing should have been able to shake it. In theory.

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Yet nowhere is safe in Afghanistan and, soon enough, the Taliban have adjusted their attack technique with the arrival of the new US Army vehicles, the Oshkosh.

Will Rafik survive this journey alongside the Silent Heroes in the Oshkosh vehicle that’s supposed to be IED proof? And where will he go next?

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Silent Heroes

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

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