Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Column: Cooking Our Bounty by Karen Albright Lin

(This is the second in a two-part post. Read Karen’s first post here.)

Photo taken in China by Karen
Last time I wrote about planting our literary seeds, weeding, and harvesting. Today I ponder tools, secrets, and tricks for turning our produce into an enjoyable meal.

Equipment is important. It’s almost impossible to cook or write without the proper tools. Cutting boards, knives, and woks are a few of the tools necessary to prepare vegetable stir-fries. For writers it’s not only about the laptop. It’s about collecting the skills essential to our craft. Taking classes, attending workshops, reading books on writing, finding a good writing coach or critique group.

It’s best if we weigh carefully the flavors we work with. Our choice of genres can be thought of as our garden’s herbs and spices. Mix too many genres and we’ve got confusing flavors. Hybrid genres are one thing. A post apocalyptic fantasy thriller that takes place in the Wild Wild West with SF and romantic elements will taste like some of the confusion foods that try to pass as fusion foods. Know what we are writing and write it boldly.

Just as gardeners and cooks approach produce differently, each writer has a unique style and brings to his work different strengths. Some focus on plot and some excel at developing characters. Some are all about the beauty of the sentence. Even thin or unwieldy plots can sell well if the writing is brilliant, just as one chef’s simple, local offerings can succeed as can the creations of another who focuses on complex and exotic ingredients.

Writing, like gardening, is all about hidden secrets. Seeds are the most obvious and miraculous secrets. But there are countless other garden secrets. Sure, a zucchini plant can net enough fruit to feed 100 armies, but if plucked at the just the right time, the blooms can be used to make one of the best appetizers in the world, stuffed squash blossoms. In a writing career and in each of our books (regardless of genre) there are hidden mysteries. The secret is to find and share them.

We grow veggies to eat them. It’s important, then, to do them justice, but not too much justice. Cooking them too long turns them into paste. Some of us writers cook our books so long we never consider our work finished. Sometimes we fear failure; sometimes we fear success; sometimes we hesitate to start a new project. If we are aware of our fears, we may be less likely to overcook our produce.

On the other hand, there are those of us who don’t let the sauces simmer long enough to meld the flavors. We whip through a draft or two then send our books off, false hope in the mail. Tomato sauce doesn’t belong on noodles unless it’s had a good long time to simmer the flavors to Italian perfection. We’re better off considering five drafts half simmered.

We could layer in discussion about our lives as the soil we start with, fertilizers that inspire our words, bad-habit weed barriers, and selling our produce in the farmer’s market. But metaphors are like truffle shavings, too much of a good thing overwhelms.

Words are food for thought. We grow them so we and others can enjoy them.

The clouds are cooperating. Inkpot wishes you good gardening and good eating! Bon Appetit!

(Originally posted at the Sisters of the Quill blog on June 18, 2011.) 

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at www.karenalbrightlin.com.