Category Archives: Writing

Get ready everyone! It’s #showtime! #writingtips #cheesecake

Week #6 Showtime

Or: The Final Hour

(This is the last of a six-part series)

We’ve spent the last three months planning and practicing a dinner for four unknown guests and writing a short story that has swelled to way more than flash fiction proportions. Together we had an idea, brainstormed and arranged the sequence of events. We’ve suffered the highs and lows of the creative process. We have three courses; a beginning, a middle and an end. Now it’s showtime.

It’s six-forty-five. The stage and the table are set. Car tires crunch in the driveway. I can see the headlights through fogged-up windows. Warm, inviting, savory smells, sweetened with cinnamon and spice swirl in the steam over the stove. Ice cubes clink as they drop into frosted glasses. I burn my arm as I pull the ginger cake from the oven. And I’m still stirring the pots, watching every detail in case something goes wrong because it still can. If I let my guard down now, overlook one detail, the outcome could be crushing for a perfectionist like me.

I run through my plan again–yes, I’m admitting how many times now. I believe it’s this sort of double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking that makes the difference between a good dinner and a great dinner. The difference between a good story and a great story.

In order for me to be at ease enough to receive guests or to write that query letter and press send, I need diligence in this final phase. For me, editing and proofreading is where the joking around stops. I like to be creative just like the next guy and I love to see what liberties other writers take with sentence structure, punctuation, use of commas and so on. But now I need some discipline, so I refer back to the one source I swear by in the editing process. The Chicago Manual of Style.

It is a simple handbook of simple rules. Ok, not always so simple. Because I tend to be chaotic, I try to follow these guidelines to the best of my ability. It is at the same time a challenge as well as an alleviation. Coherence instead of confusion. Consistency instead of chaos.

Just like one of my favorite simple cake recipes, The New York Cheese Cake. I follow this one (almost) to the tee. Yes I do. I measure (almost) everything. I do! I really do! We’ll make this the day before the big event for two reasons. One, someone may detest Ginger Cake Love (could not imagine why, but…) and, two, this cake could actually make a great accompanying cake for the ginger cake, if one was so inclined to include the king and the queen on one plate. No, wait, three reasons. This cake has to be refrigerated overnight. Actually, to end the event with this sort of powerhouse might just be the thing we need.

This recipe is simultaneously simple and genius. It’s subtle and direct, filling and left wanting. It’s innocence and ecstasy. Any cheese-cake lover will be putty in your hands. I have had many a cheese cake and the simpler the ingredients the better. Please don’t start using gelatin or, like the Germans do, quark–that curd cheese stuff. No need for flour or starches. Stick to the best creamed cheese you can get. (I would recommend Buko, it’s Danish and in my opinion, superior. There are no additives like you’ll find in the Philly brand.) Sour cream, eggs, white sugar, vanilla. And a graham cracker crust. That’s it.

I hear the doorbell. No, I may never be ready. I may never feel that this project is finished no matter how many times I pass through it. But now it’s time. I took care of loose ends so I have enough time to entertain my guests. Now I need to relax and touch every one of them somehow and make an impression.

And with all this in mind, I chisel away at my pitch and read through my query letter. I have independently self-published my novel in electronic form and paperback but I’m still querying agents. I have had some non-replies; have had a number of rejections and one request for a full manuscript followed by a rejection. And my short story, The Women of Tragic Hearts, is right about 5000 words before the final edit. I thought of posting it on my blog, yet another piece posted for free to the we.we.we. But after passing it by my trusted beta reader, I realize it could just be good enough to hold its own in the real world, meaning, I could query a magazine.

I re-read my query letter for the bazillionst time. Close my eyes and press send. Now the waiting begins. I stare out the window. An oak leaf falls from a tree, lands in a puddle and the water ripples away from it like the resonating waves a blog post can create when enough people read it. In the back of my mind, an idea springs to life. The scent on the wind gives the idea its first breath of life. I hear something a good friend told me the day before last. It’s time to open up a doc and see if this idea could sprout legs and become a story. What better way to while away the time between query letters than to write another story or…stomach rumbles…or look in the pantry! How about roasted turkey breast with a fresh herb and olive oil rub, homemade soft pretzel stuffing, candied yams and some sort of fresh greens?

 

 

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Can you relate to The Dark Night of the Soul? #creativity #inspiration

Week #5 Despair

Or: Dark Night of the Soul

(This is Part 5 of a six-part series. Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

How does one feel when one has invested hours of research, money for materials and glistening bits of self in a project? At some point the hour may come to bare all. If one decides to share.

My plan is in place and I’ve practiced the process more times than I am willing to admit. I stand before the big event and I feel like I’m coming out of a cave, into the open, to expose my soul to the rest of the world. I’ve finally mustered up enough courage to submit my story. And the guests are coming tonight.

The sun is setting as the year heads towards the dark and damp winter solstice. A door opens elsewhere in the apartment and a cool draft goes through the hot kitchen. I hear stamping boots in the hallway. I peek around the door. A sigh of relief escapes my lips. Thank goodness, it’s not an early guest, only my significant other.

The heat of the kitchen is stifling, tension is mounting. Self-doubt creeps up my spine. I’ve come this far: everything that needs to simmer is simmering, what needed to be baked is baked, what needs chilling is chilled. Except me. I need to wash up and get dressed. I wonder if I can really pull this off. Who am I to think I could actually show anybody else what I have done here?

Suddenly the soup tastes too salty. The gravy has the consistency of wallpaper paste, the salad is wilted. I prepared yet again another piece of venison and it hasn’t gone the way I had planned. My mood slips from less-than-confident into a downright panic. I wonder why I even attempted this in the first place. A blackout or an earthquake would be a welcome relief. I feel like I’m in my own ‘All is Lost’ scene towards the end of Act 2.

I should not, no, I cannot judge my project at this stage by myself. I am my own worst critic. I see problems where there aren’t any. My brain manufactures grave scenarios when I step back and look at what I have created. Heck, I do this with lots of things in my life, not only my projects. As soon as it becomes important to me I am afraid. Afraid I can’t trust my intuition, afraid that I can’t write, afraid that I can’t cook, afraid that oh my God, what will these people think of me when they see what I have done! I don’t want any guests. I don’t want anyone to read my writing. Everything just plain sucks!

Heat rises in my face and I smell like fear. Despair sets in. When I was younger and wrote on paper, it was easy to set a ream of poems on fire and watch them burn with an almost ritualistic fervor. Not so easy with a laptop. Somehow pushing the delete button just doesn’t satisfy like fire does.

And here I stand over my perfect savory chocolate gravy. My tweaked Mexican Mole. I have cured the sauce and I taste it over and over until my tongue is numb. Yet another piece of meat is in the oven at a low temperature and can stay there until I’m ready for it. But the color is all wrong. It smells like a cadaver. I thought the desserts were perfect but I am now unsure.

I am no longer in the position to decide these things for myself. I need a fresh set of taste buds, a fresh pair of eyes.

We all need someone we can trust to honestly tell us if we’ve been true to our goals. I want to ease my guests’ spirits with my aperitif. The pumpkin soup should whet their appetites and leave them wanting more. The meat should carry the basic theme. I need the potatoes to hold their own like a supporting character. And I want the gravy to make a walloping impact; a subplot that rises to influence the final twist. The dessert is the climax. Have I done that?

Hopefully we have someone who has the guts to tell us what we need to hear, no chocolate-coated, candy-covered input. A willing food taster. An objective beta reader. I personally need someone to say, ‘Why did this character do that?’ Or, better yet: ‘This is a muddle!’ Then I’ll know if I’m getting my point across and if my plan is working the way I see it unfolding in the little world I so often inhabit alone.

I want my story to weave a classic mystery–did my beta reader ‘get it?’ If the reader didn’t get it, then I haven’t done my job. An honest reader tells me I may have missed a snippet. For me, an external opinion can make the difference between me throwing a meal out the window, setting a story on fire, pressing the delete button, or, hell, giving up on the rest of my life! It could make the difference between me melting down or buckling down to finish the job.

I write because I do. I always have done. I write for myself, keep a journal and devise stories–it’s a great way to keep my bored brain entertained. But I want to share my stories. They come alive when someone else reads them. In the same vein, I eat to live. I can go weeks on boiled potatoes and carrots and a few handfuls of nuts. But the kitchen is the beating heart of the home and comes alive through the banging of metal pot lids, the smell of frying onions and a splash of sherry, the laughter of fed and watered friends.

Bring on the guests. Bring on the readers.

It’s showtime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there such a thing as too much romance? #amwriting #ambaking

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Week # 4: Romance

Or: How Spicy is This Going To Be?

(This is Part 4 of a six-part series. Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

So, we’ve had an idea, brainstormed and have sorted out some sort of structure for our meal and for our story. Now we’re coming to the next phase. I need to reassess the work I have done, season, thicken, tweak and refine. I need to tighten up the plot, add descriptions and emotional nuances, elaborate here and there and spice up the characters in order to make this experience large and memorable.

Here’s the question: How much is too much? It’s easy to over-salt. And it’s just as unsavory to add so many foreign flavors that the original tastes of the foodstuffs themselves disappear underneath. Just the same, I can add unnecessary description and zesty scenes that will suffocate the plot and we forget the original story. I’m never sure how much seasoning I can lend to a good creation. Overdosed spicy-hot herbs border on scandalous and can spoil the event. On the other hand, too little won’t excite the guests and will leaving them wanting.

I have experienced a meal like this. The cook added so much spice that I wondered if he was just covering up the fact that he was unsure of what he was trying to accomplish. Now is the time to keep the goals in plain view. I have a meal comprised of quality ingredients and I want that to shine through. And I have a story that revolves around adult relationships, broken marriages, friendships; the human condition, compact and concise. (Oh, yeah, and a dead body.)

Many human relationships do involve some sort of sensuality. In my first novel, I wrote the intricate adult personal relationships with little physical contact. I was unsure how far I could go with it so I did nothing. Then I changed my mind and went full tilt, writing explicit love scenes. Neither approach suited me.

Josip Novakovich discusses love scenes in his book Fiction Writer’s Workshop, a book I highly recommend. It helped me a lot when I was writing the Heaven’s Ponds series. I wanted to include realistic, personal love relationships but I didn’t want to put an 18-plus warning on it. Novakovich takes a more poetic, metaphorical approach to describing a scene between two lovers. For my particular project, this take on writing love scenes helped me a lot. If I was writing erotica, this would not be the case. Again, it all depends on my goals, who I’m writing for and how I want to make people feel.

Personal love relationships are really the dessert of life. We may not always want them, but they taste so good. They can be unhealthy. They can make us over-indulge, are too rich and our bodies shouldn’t have as much as we sometimes give them (see: sugar shock.) But we crave them, don’t we? They taste like more. They fill that hole in the soul. Like brownies twenty minutes after they’ve come out of the oven, the chocolate chunks cooled but still molten. Served with a deep frothy mug of cappuccino, the earthy smell of fresh ground espresso beans surrounding the young man behind the counter who brushes your hand with his, smiles and winks a coffee-brown eye as he hands you your change.

Yes, Love is the dessert of life. Mmm, dessert…Oh my God! I haven’t decided on dessert yet! And I haven’t written the ending!

No, this story does not have an ending yet. Some writers have to know the ending before they begin this phase, others don’t. I tend to do both, depending on the project. All I know at this stage is that I want all this to end on a happy note, the meal and the story.

Once again, we’re trying to guess what the guests or our readers are going to want or need to call this experience fulfilling. A conservative ending? A twist? A classic? Would they rather a cheese platter after the main course? (I’d have one on hand just in case.) With a dry red Franconian wine. Or are the guests charged, animated, inspired, the correctly-dosed spices of the meal still tingling on their lips?

Right now, I would have a few tricks up my sleeve. I have alternate endings for the story and will remain flexible to see where the characters are going with their antics. For the dessert, I will have a few alternatives on hand too. But my main offering to crown the evening will be the king himself, HRH Ginger Cake.

Is this too spicy, too provocative, a little too pungent to end the meal? No, I don’t think so. This is the punch I want to pack. The guests will have had a few drinks. I’ll see a yawn and notice a few glassy stares. Satiated stomachs cause the eyelids to droop. What better way to illuminate the guests before I send them on their way than an espresso and a piece of Ginger Cake? Numerous discussions surround the search for the perfect recipe. And I have found one by Felicity Cloake using dried, fresh and candied ginger and Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Smile. I will share this with you here.

And I’ll end this story on a frosty November evening, the washing up forgotten and decorating the kitchen like a trophy to would-like-to-be gourmet cooking. The guests have gone home leaving behind a settling quiet. A ballad has taken on a life of its own–Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Lenny. The significant other returns, famished and looking for leftovers. Candles burn on the cleared table illuminating a glass of Remy, a mug of cinnamon-spiced apple herb tea and a plate of warm, dripping-with-golden-syrup Ginger Cake Love.

 

 

We have to learn the rules before we break them #amwriting #RRBC

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Week #3: Rules

Or: Learn Them Before Breaking Them

(This is Part 3 of a six-part series. Here is Part 1 and Part 2)

Last post we brainstormed the appetizer and the beginning of the story. Better said, we threw a soup together and slammed a thousand words into a word document. The soup simmers away on the back burner. The story turns over in the back of my mind along with feedback from friends who’ve added their grease to the plot.

Now things are getting serious. I proposed to grill an expensive piece of venison for the main course. I am not a meat eater therefore I am not a meat cooker. I am a meat destroyer. I have never made an edible roast except to plunk a chunk into a slow cooker overnight. Am I overreaching my area of expertise? Should I just forget about it and make a tofu stir fry?

This is the point where I need to seek help. There are plenty of well-meaning meat eaters out there who readily and graciously share their experiences. Teachers of the trade who are willing to impart their wisdom, share their rules born from trial and failure. Scientific rules–the ability to cook is really an understanding of chemical processes, reactions of certain substances as they are combined, heated and cooled.

Like my story. We have two women meeting after two years in a restaurant called Tragic Hearts. And we have a dead body. Oh no! It’s becoming a murder mystery? I’m not a mystery writer! Well, I’ve never written a mystery before but murder has now become the hub of the conflict. Here too I need to seek help: writers who blog and write how-to books, sharing their tricks for us to read and expound on. And writing a mystery involves understanding certain reactions as words form paragraphs and paragraphs form structured ideas. One should flow with purpose into the next as an understandable, working, concise story forms. Emotions are heated, cooled, causing certain reactions.

Refreshing rules is a constant venture, yes, but now is not the time to learn them. Structuring the story is for me like preparing this piece of venison; much too costly and time-consuming to screw it up. I better have a game plan before I start. All the work and investment will be for naught if I get this wrong. Or force me to throw the whole thing out and start over.

Grilling meat on this rainy November afternoon is out of the question. So I petition our experts (surf the internet) and find that this piece of meat I bought can be successfully browned on the stove and then cured to perfection in the oven for two hours at 80° C (175° F.) I think even I can handle that. I have a workspace where this project can unfold, come what may. And I’ve decided on mashed potatoes today–adds a bit of creamy, buttery comfort on this chilly autumn day. Peeling potatoes is also a therapeutic, mechanical movement just right for daydreaming. And I’m hell-bent on making a savory chocolate sauce, just because I want to throw a conflicting, unexpected twist into the whole experience. I now have a structure to use the next two hours effectively.

I need my story to flow in a similar fashion. I love to free write but I need a plan to move within. An outline. For me the structure of the story is not only like cooking a meal but also comparable to building a house. I have the framework, the walls, the doors, the windows. Once the structure stands, I can move in and decorate as I see fit. An outline for a short story can be a few sentences describing what I intend to achieve. For a novel, the outline is more involved.

I am a big fan of NaNoWriMo. The novel I am now working on is a product of that. And this is just the right time of year to be discussing that, now that November is right in front of us. The first NaNo that I participated in and finished was accomplished with moderate planning. The characters were already alive and the story half-formed. I made a tentative outline as I went along and made it through to 50,000 words. Last year, though, I took the whole month of October and outlined and researched so that November could be dedicated to free writing. Out of that came a 50,000 word first draft, bare bones, start to finish.

The venison roasts in the oven. Protein coagulates, juices brown, a tasty crust forms on the surface of the roast. Potatoes soften in boiling water just waiting to be slathered in butter and creamed to perfection. After skimming and discarding the recipe for Mexican Mole, I set to creating the perfect chocolate sauce. Onions brown in oil with a few spicy chilies. Add garlic to the hot oil, inhale and slake with homemade venison broth, not caring that the smells of browning meat permeate every inch of my body, my hair and the house. Add tomatoes, roasted nuts and puree the whole lot in the mixer. Pour the sauce back into the pot. Break off 70% baking chocolate, let a piece melt on my tongue and feel wanton longing rising in my heart as I sink the chocolate into the hot mixture and see its melted godliness spread on the surface.

I remove the venison from the oven and stand over it like a defendant awaiting a verdict. Touch the knife to the meat’s surface. The juryman hands the decision to the judge. The knife slides through the meat as if it was hot butter. A smile escapes the judge’s usual stoic expression. A muffled cheer bubbles up from awaiting friends and family in the courtroom. Absolution clears the clouds and an angelic ray of sunshine pierces the dirty windows of the courthouse. Music and birdsong crescendo and then echo and the scene fades to black. Roll the credits.

Welcome awesome #RRBC Spotlight Author Michael Lynes! @woodheat

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Please join me today as I welcome awesome RRBC author Michael Lynes, author of There is a Reaper and The Fat Man Gets out of Bed. Take it away, Michael! 

Just south of the Delaware Valley National Park, a sharp right hand turn upward and away from the winding headwaters of Dingmans Ferry shoals, you will find the idyllic nature reserve known as George W Childs State Park.

The small paved parking area is convenient, and many picnic tables and natural areas have been set amidst the shady glades.  It is a beautiful parkland where an indolent lover of nature can while away a sunny afternoon, listening to the ever-changing lilt of the falls that are the primary attraction in this secluded locale.

Though I’ve lived for the better part of three decades in the vicinity of Child’s Park, I’d never taken the time to visit. I’d recently been ‘separated’, (read laid-off), from my job as a somewhat highly paid software engineer and as a way to both cheer me up and get out of the house for a few hours my spouse suggested that we pack a picnic lunch and tool our way over the broad Delaware, just twenty short minutes by car, and take in the falls and the beautiful surrounds.

I was not initially inclined, but I allowed myself to be persuaded, and I can say with no reservation that I am very glad that I did.

We arrived just past eleven in the morning and were at once struck by the sweeping beauty of the towering White Pines, some six feet in circumference at the base and reaching a height of over eighty. Below the trees, well-tended paths are laid, and as they wind their way towards the falls they become steeper steps made of treated wooden ties.

We walked along the paths, arranged cleverly in a series of loops with well-constructed bridge crossings. They led us right to the rushing edge of Dingmans Creek, which moves from placid tannin-stained pools to rushing rock strewn beds and then headlong over a series of beautiful falls, the tallest, Fulmer Falls, almost fifty feet!

As you walk by this rushing torrent the sounds of the forest become at first infused and then over whelmed by the sounds of the falls, the ever-changing notes of a fresh mountain stream.

We tarried for several hours in this beautiful place, finding the perfect spot to consume our picnic, and talk and commune with Nature. In the end, we emerged refreshed and for my part relaxed and cheered.

I would recommend Child’s Park as a day trip for anyone, young or old. Enter, enjoy and leave your cares behind you!

Michael D Lynes

6/2/2016

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Mr Lynes is a serial entrepreneur who enjoys dry red wine and single malt scotch. When not occupied with arcane engineering projects he spends his time playing with his two grandchildren, baking bread, feeding seasoned hardwood into his ancient Timberline woodstove, working on his various cars, bird watching and taking amateur photographs. His current menagerie includes one short-haired turtle shell cat and a pair of actual turtles.

His last book, There Is A Reaper: Losing a Child to Cancer, was an Indie B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion Honoree in January 2017, a silver-medal winner of the 2016 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards for Memoir, a medalist in the 2015 New Apple Book Awards for Memoir, a winner of the 2015 TISBA (The Indie Spiritual Bookk Awards), and a finalist in both the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year award and the Beverly Hills Book Awards for 2015.

Mr Lynes was awarded a BSEE degree in Electrical Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology and currently works as an embedded software engineer. He has a consuming interest in the science of emotion as promulgated by Dr. Paul Ekman and has made a comprehensive study of his Face and Emotion courses.

Mr Lynes has four sons, has been married for over thirty years and currently lives with his wife and youngest son in the beautiful secluded hills of Sussex County, NJ.

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Follow Michael online:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/woodheat

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MLynesAuthor/

Website – https://mikelynes.wixsite.com/mlynesauthor

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Michael’s Books:

THE FAT MAN GETS OUT OF BED:  https://www.amazon.com/Fat-Man-Gets-Out-Bed/dp/1938812905

THERE IS A REAPER – https://www.amazon.com/There-Reaper-Losing-Child-Cancer-ebook/dp/B00XNZW6C4

Learn how NOT to follow a recipe #MondayBlogs #amwriting

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Week  #2: Chaos

Or: How Not to Follow a Recipe

In my last post we discussed the project at hand. I am writing a short story called The Women of Tragic Hearts and working through the trial round of a three-course meal for unknown guests in order to compare the creative processes involved and underline some of the similarities. And I have time today to practice the meal and to write. But I’m not feeling it. The inspiration has left me. Or could it be that I will regret exposing my so-called talents?

My life has changed drastically over the last few months and stress levels are high. I have taken on commitments, have deadlines and other obligations to meet. I cannot just bow out now because I’m not coping. On top of this, I have invited four unknown guests for a meal and they are going to want something to eat. I haven’t been able to stomach a decent meal for the last few weeks and have lost so much weight none of my clothes fit. But these guests don’t want to hear my problems, they want something to eat.

Like my editor. She is awaiting my writing and I have to get this work done. No one is going to ask me how I’m dealing with my life situation. No one wants to know that I accuse my neighbor the painter of holding the muses hostage in his cellar while I sit in my tower alone, my hair hanging out the window, like Rapunzel waiting for her rescue.

I sip my alcohol-free aperitif and pull out a cook book. Wipe away a few tears, pull up my big girl panties, throw the cookbook in the corner and look for recipes online. How do I want my guests to feel? October is upon us, its pungent, spiced breeze invading. Our bodies are slowing down for hibernation. I want to give my guests and my readers motherly warmth and protection, a feeling of security and solace, solace that I myself seek. But they can get those feelings at home, can’t they? They expect something more from night out or a good story. They both better involve a bit of adventure, something to pull them out of their comfort zones and offer them some drama. Otherwise they could just as well sit on the sofa in front of the TV.

As autumnal ideas flow and take shape, I find and print out some recipes that fit my basic idea. Harvest, gratitude, mystery, shorter days, cool nights, cold mornings, crisp-blue sky, sitting in the sun, skin sweating with a chill up my back. I study those professionally-photographed dishes and note the feelings and memories that might come up. Brainstorm.

I open a Word doc and type out some initial impressions. How involved is this story going to be? I want to keep it under 1000 words. Not as much planning needed as a novel, of course, but again, it could be the opening scene for one! These can take me anywhere from three to six hours, not counting the times I reread, days after I post them. That’s about the time I think I need to cook this meal, assuming I have all the ingredients.

Time to take stock of my experiences. Do I have enough to be writing the piece I want to write? What feelings do I want to convey to my readers? Maybe I’d just been to a restaurant that inspired the setting I’d like to write about. Maybe I had a deep conversation with a good friend the day before last and that set up the mood and the conflicts. Maybe I made up a fictitious city and would like to inhabit it. The best way for me to take stock is just to continue typing. Or stare out the window. Or go look in the pantry for something to cook. Then I can hopefully focus and story will take shape.

I end up in the pantry. What sort of groceries do I have on hand? A little pumpkin called the Hokkaido, also called red kuri squash; onions and all kinds of veg; vegan and dairy cream; yeast and flour; all sorts of exotic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, pepper; fresh, candied and dried ginger; dried chilies; dark chocolate; almonds and other nuts; venison for my meat-eating friends; some prepared lupini beans for the vegans; red and white wine, sherry; enough baking stuff for dessert. If I need anything else, I may have to send some good soul to the store.

I Inhale the all-too-underrated aroma of cinnamon; allow a square of dark-70%-cocoa chocolate melt on my tongue, skim my recipes holding a pen and correcting nuances that don’t fit into my savory scheme. I can almost taste the twists and turns. So here’s the brainstormed structure of the meal: hokkaido cream soup, marinated and grilled venison with a savory chocolate sauce, roast potatoes, sweet-sour red cabbage, an optional salad and then dessert. I don’t know how to end this yet but we’ll come up with something. I often don’t know how to finish up things so I leave the endings for last. It’s just the way I like to work.

Back at the computer, I re-read the chaos I just wrote. The doc looks like it’s been brainstormed into a story about two women who have not seen each other for two years. The main character is unnamed right now because I’m writing her part in first person so I can get into her head. I will change that in order to create some distance; that’s just healthier for me. She left her husband a few weeks back and has now come back to the restaurant called the Tragic Hearts, the place she worked at two years ago before she fell out with the owner, her best friend of many years. Let’s call the owner Amalie. I have started the brainstorming with a conversation between the two so I can get to know them. But reading back through this, it is too ‘boring’ for a short story and I am more inclined to start the story with the conflict that drove them apart. Drama.

Back to the kitchen, dramatically inclined, I take my recipes and throw them into the fire. Grab that butcher knife, hold it in a tantalizing position over the guilty red kuri squash. Plunge the knife into its little heart and split it open. Dig out its innards. Chop onions and garlic, throw the onions into some hot oil. Open a vial of curry, breathe in the passion and the ambivalence of the spices, throw it onto the searing onions, add the garlic. Feel my heart rate rise. I’m on to something. Pour just a zisch of sherry and a few ladles of homemade lamb broth. Inhale. Good…

 

 

What Are We Hungry For? #amwriting #MondayBlogs

ab4db-hugoWeek #1: Idea

Or:  What Are We Hungry For?

Writing is much like the art of cooking a fine meal or baking a tasty cake. Our tastes grow, change and become more refined as we hone our skills. Not only are they both fun but they are life sustaining. There’s a certain amount of creativity, a joy of experimentation as well as trial, error and experience that goes into both disciplines. Each finished product is the result of a process. And each process starts with an idea, one based on our personal habits, whether we’re cooking a meal for unknown guests or writing a story for unknown readers.

Before I started seriously writing I had to look at my own reading habits. I’ll ask you these same questions: What sort of reader are you? Do you read one book from start to finish? Do you leave books unfinished? Do you read multiple books at the same time? Do you supplement your literary diet with short stories? Do you favor one genre or do you read just about anything? And, as a writer, how do you think this will this affect your readers?

I personally read just about anything. I read multiple books from different genres all at the same time, setting them aside when I’m not submersed in the story. I prefer to read obscure writers. Right now, I read a lot of historical fiction and nonfiction mainly because I am writing historical fiction. But I sneak a bit of chick-lit, suspense or erotica in there just to make it interesting.

So, compare this to cooking: what are my eating habits and how will that affect my guests? What am I hungry for vs. what should I feed these people?

Are you a picky eater? That will limit the choice of foods you have to choose from. Do you detest veggies? A certain fresh characteristic may be missing from the meal. Do you leave meals unfinished while others are asking for more? Or do you maybe have special needs, allergies or morals that reduce the types of foods you can ingest?

My eating habits are similar to my current reading habits: I would eat just about anything. But for some reason, mostly health issues, I reduced myself to a vegan diet last year. It works for me right now, but once in a while, there is nothing else to eat and I have to set my issues aside and eat whatever is offered. Also keeps things interesting.

Notice I ask myself what am I hungry for vs. what should I feed these people. I need to take them into consideration when I’m cooking and when I’m writing. But I can’t get too caught up in this. The main person I have to please is myself. Our ideas come from our personal tastes, experiences, capabilities, from our hearts and souls, a problem we need to solve. Is everyone else going to like it? We’ll keep that thought in the back of our minds right now. But the first step is to formulize the idea, get it rolling and make it personally palatable.

I am seldom stuck for an idea of what to write or what to cook but it’s getting it tangible and edible that is sometimes a problem. I know what I want it to taste like, to smell like, to feel like. I can just about touch the atmosphere I want to create and how I want to make my audience or my guests feel. But sometimes I need a bit of guidance: a recipe, a plan. A writing prompt. Last night’s dream or a smell on the wind can trigger me off. Something someone said on the train. A random title generator can help me solidify the idea, too.

And the right tools. I cook in a tiny kitchen with a wood stove, a slow cooker and two electric hot plates. That means I need a clear workspace because any clutter will hold me up. While I clear and arrange my tools, I am thinking of how I want my creation to take form. I check my cupboards to see what ingredients I have, if I have enough of everything and, of course enough time.

The same goes for the writing process. I need a block of time, a not-so cluttered workspace and my laptop. I don’t like to write free hand. And I like to have a block of time so I can unfold. I’d rather take one day and write for eight hours than write an hour a day. But of course all rules are made to be broken. In cooking and in writing there are no absolutes for me. Flexibility and the ability to change direction mid-stream are key.

Do I have the right ingredients? Do I have enough knowledge of what I’m writing about or do I have to research? Am I writing a short story? Should I write a series of short stories and see if there’s enough material to write a novel? Can I even write a novel?

Will I be making a salad for myself or will I just put on a pot of noodles for the family? Is this going to be an intimate dinner for two? Am I having guests expecting a three-course perfect dinner? Well, if I am inviting four people for the perfect dinner, I will have to plan. If I’m writing a novel I will have to plan. But if I’m only cooking for the family, it will be more informal and the planning will not have to be as extensive.

So, here’s my proposed project for the next three months:  I’m going to write a short story for you with a beginning, a middle and an end. At the same time, I’ll work through the practice round of a three-course meal for some four unknown guests, a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ll describe my process here and compare them where I can.

I’ll post the recipes, some of my favorites, on my blog in their chaotic style. For the story, I’ve taken a title from this random title generator, The Women of Tragic Hearts. I want it to be about a restaurant owner and her recently-surfaced old friend who cook a meal together and how the evening changes their lives.

So, let’s raise a toast to our project with an aperitif. I’ll offer an Aperol Spritz or a Hugo, all the rage here in Germany right now, along with a sparkling non-alcoholic drink for those who wish not to imbibe.

d1638-aperolTry an Aperol Spritz:
(Aka lovely, poison-orange liquid in a wine glass.) Here’s the 3-2-1 principle. Three parts white wine or prosecco, two parts Aperol and one part sparkling water. For example: 60 ml wine, 40 ml Aperol and one splash of sparkling water. Add an orange slice and some ice and you’re set!

Or try a Hugo:
(could be compared to a Mojito, but fruitier and much lighter) Why don’t we mix a pitcher while we’re at it? Take 500 ml prosecco, 100 ml elder blossom syrup, 3 limes, some mint leaves and a splash of sparkling water. Crush the mint leaves and the lime in the bottom of a glass pitcher. Slowly add the prosecco, then the elder blossom syrup and top it off with a shot of sparkling water. Can also be served in a wine glass but a cocktail glass will do fine.

Non-alcoholic Hugo can be prepared with an alcohol-free prosecco or with a sparkling water.

Join me for the Aperitif of this six-part post that first appeared at the Mslexia Blog!

The theme of my blog residency is The Love of Writing Compared to The Love of Cooking. Now what do these two things have in common? Everything starts with a dilemma; a problem that needs solving. Out springs a bright idea that I think is as good as when the wheel was invented. This evolves to some sort of planning, then chaos, then the clean-up and an eventual surrender to discipline. And this results in a readable story or an edible meal. So I hope.

Part 2 of the series

Part 3 of the series

Part 4 of the series