Food for thought

Food creeps into my stories.  Enough so, that people comment on it.  But for me, most good things in life revolve around food.  I love restaurants.  I love to cook, and I love to eat.  If there are people together for any length of time, there should be a group meal.  So if I have characters hanging out together for a day, I want to know what to feed them.  Which character would be the one who cooks?  What would he make?  Is he gourmet or does he open a can?  Which character would just order pizza?  A person’s relationship with food tells me a lot about him.

I loved the movie Julie and Julia.  The story was fun.  The acting was great.  The food made me drool.  By the time my husband and I left the theater, I couldn’t wait to get home to fry slices of French bread to make bruschetta.  Then I went out and bought Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Not that it’s my most used cookbook.  Even flipping through its pages is sort of intimidating.  But it looks solid and serious sitting beside my grimy, well-used cookbooks.  It’s sort of like seeing my Complete PELICAN SHAKESPEARE jostled alongside my favorite mysteries and urban fantasies.  It lends a heaviness and substance to my reading material.  It adds more purpose to my writing endeavors.

Just as social gatherings of any kind involve food, for me, my protagonists often feel the same way.   A somber scene in a novel should involve serious food–like coq au vin or Sunday roasts.  A jazzy scene might serve etouffee or po’ boys.  A nonchalant evening would veer to chicken wings or spaghetti.  Food conveys mood and mindset.

I was enjoying comments on GoodReads a few days ago, and one of the reviewers was talking about a book she absolutely loved, then she said she couldn’t wait for supper because she was going to have toad in a hole.  Guess which I looked up first?  The review or a recipe.  What can I say?  My protagonists are usually hungry.


4 thoughts on “Food for thought

  1. Food seems to be creeping into a good many novels I read these days. Right now I’m at the mid-point of IN LEAH’S WAKE by Terri Giuliano Long and just came across a food item called Haricot verts. I confess to ignorance and was so intrigued by the name I had to stop and look it up.

    Turns out a Haricot vert is a green bean, a French green bean. For those of you (like this writer) who don’t read or speak French, Haricot means bean and vert means green in the French language. And surprise, surprise! The French hold that Haricot verts, while they may be nothing but a green bean, are tenderer and have a more complex flavor than their American cousins.

    Whatever! The French are a bit too full of themselves in my opinion. Green bean or haricot vert, I suspect a green bean is a green bean is a green bean.


    1. I watch foodtv, and they never just say “green bean.” It’s always haricot verts, but I had to look it up, too. How do you like IN LEAH’S WAKE? I think your writing style is a lot more literary than mine. This book sounded like a good fit for you. Are you being nice to Garrick’s Landing and promoting it more? I love your southern voice.


      1. I’m not sure yet about IN LEAH’S WAKE since I haven’t finished it, but I will say this since we’re on the subject of food. I’m convinced that when any of us write about anything that can be linked with a brand name, that it isn’t always in our best interest to constantly name brands. There have been quite a number of named brands in this book and sometimes it works. Other times, at least for this reader, too much of it becomes a minor irritation. Of course, like always, when you need specific examples they desert you but I do remember one from this book when the author told me that the character reached for the “Wise potato chips.” Maybe there’d been too many brand names already, or maybe it was because I wasn’t familiar with that brand of chips, or maybe, just maybe, it was something I didn’t need to know. And I’m about 99% sure that the writing would have worked better without nameing that particular brand at that moment in the story.

        I’m not suggesting that as writers we never use a brand name. But maybe sometimes it is enough for a potato chip to simply be a potato chip.


  2. I always shy away from name brands, because I’d heard that they can date your writing. But then Stephen King was known for using them because it made his novels feel hip and current. I’m not hip and current, so I’d probably name the wrong thing. I’m safer being generic. And I’m with you. Sometimes, it doesn’t add anything.


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