Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Word soup with a side of crusty sourdough

I’m proud to report that I managed to repulse both my agent and a critique partner with yesterday’s blog post. They’ve refused any future invitations I might extend for them to join me at my house for a glass of milk.

But since we’re discussing the contents of my refrigerator (and since I promised to talk about something writing related) I should confess that I love to cook. I own three-dozen cookbooks and consider allrecipes.com a delightful form of Internet porn. I have a lust for sauces and marinades, and achieve a near-orgasmic thrill from creating my own recipes from scratch.

Though Pythagoras will cheerfully eat anything I set in front of him, I suspect he’d be content to eat Top Ramen every night. Even so, he always makes an effort to compliment my cooking. Unfortunately, he tends to zero in on the item that required the least effort. I could spend a whole day preparing an elaborate German feast of Sauerbraten (marinated for two days, natch), red cabbage, fennel salad, and homemade spatzle, with a loaf of store-bought sourdough bread tossed on the table as an afterthought.

Inevitably, Pythagoras will compliment the bread.

What does this have to do with writing? I’m getting there.

I recently had a conversation with one of my critique partners, the amazing Linda Brundage, who was reviewing feedback she’d just received on her new manuscript.

“It’s funny,” she said, “I’ll spend days slaving over a scene trying to get every word perfect, and no one will comment. Then I’ll have a scene that I totally phoned in, something I dashed off one night when I was too tired to be creative. And all my critique partners will love it.”

This was one of those special bonding moments we writers cling to because they remind us we aren’t totally nuts.

There’s a scene in my recent manuscript, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, where my two main characters are chatting on the sofa. I recall being mildly brain dead while writing it, and I slogged through with no idea what the hell I was hoping to accomplish. I made a mental note to go back and fix or remove it, but like mental notes are wont to do, this one ended up in a crumpled ball in a dark corner of my brain.

The draft made the rounds to my two critique partners and three beta readers, and every single one of them commented on that scene. They loved the dialogue. They enjoyed the character development. One person even laughed at a joke I didn’t realize I’d made.

“Yes,” I told them, sounding writerly and wise. “I meant to do that.”

I’m not suggesting one should never slave over an elaborate scene or a complicated meal. If nothing else, it’s a good way to hone your skills. But I am slowly learning to give myself a little more credit for the less complicated endeavors in life. Just because a scene or a Sauerbraten takes all day doesn’t make it any more fabulous than a grilled cheese sandwich and half-a-page of drivel dashed off when you’re grouchy and hung over.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a recipe for Pompano En Papillote with a light buerre blanc.


Linda G. said...

This is where our paths divide. Cooking is, um, a challenge for me. (I was going to say a pain in the @ss, but then I remembered your mother reads your blog, and decided to watch my potty-mouth so as not to embarrass you.)

I do like reading about cooking. Kind of the same way I like watching National Geographic specials about alien cultures. It's fascinating. And I love to eat what other people cook.


It's funny, in my teen years, I swore to my mother that I was never going to learn to cook and that I'd be sure to marry a man who'd do all the cooking for me. I think it was some sort of lofty, feminist goal I was working on at the time.

Then I became a food snob realized that the only way to ensure I got precisely what I wanted for dinner every night was to make it myself. Not that Pythagoras doesn't do his part, but his tastes run more toward the sloppy joes and Top Ramen. Besides, I really do enjoy cooking!

Lest anyone think I run around the house in a daisy-print apron dusting end tables, I should mention that I hate cleaning with a bloody passion.