Fiction Writing: What Does Food Mean?

“Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” — A quote attributed to Sigmund Freud. It means that sometimes you don’t have to look deeply for answers or meanings, and you should just take things at face value.

Sometimes, but not always, a cigar is just a cigar. Well, as I write my novel I am not thinking about cigars. But I am thinking about food. No, not because I’m hungry. But because food can tell readers a lot about a character. The type of food a character eats can tell readers about race, class, gender… culture, religion. Maybe there are foods the character doesn’t eat.

Who cooks the food? The main character? A servant to the main character? Where is the food eaten: a bar where the main character gets information from the bartender? Or in the front seat of a beat up 1975 pick-up while on a police stakeout?

Is this food from a sacred recipe passed down from grandparents? Or is the dinner just an event to get characters together to talk?

Food can have a powerful meaning to readers. In one or two sentences, you can convey poverty or wealth just by describing food. Food is a universal supporting detail in the story because every reader needs to eat. But not every reader will know food is important to culture. With a short sentence or two, you can convey that cultural info, and that will add depth to your character and story.

But don’t get carried away. Unless you are writing a story like “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” food should just be a way to reveal something about the character. Don’t create a seventeen-page description of how to cook Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Sometimes macaroni and cheese is just macaroni and cheese.

I started thinking about food because I am close to finishing the first draft of my novel. The main character is at a dinner party, and I am thinking about what kind of food should be served. And of course… now that I am writing a short blog post about food, I am getting hungry ;-)

Anyway, my first draft looks like it will be around thirty-five thousands words. The final draft, after all the rewrites, edits, and added details… will probably be around one-hundred thousand words.

What about you? What does food mean in your storytelling?

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Posted in fiction, food, Musings, novels, Philosophy, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Parenting: We reached the “Why?” Stage

“Where did momma go?” asks our three-year-old foster kid.

“She went to visit her friend,” I say. “She’ll be back later.”

“Why?”

“Because she wants to come back. She would miss us.”

“Why?”

“Because she loves us.”

“Why?”

“Because she does.”

“Why?”

“Um. Let’s practice not talking.”

“Why?”

**sigh**

Posted in children, family, fatherhood, Foster Care Journal, Humor, Musings, parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

How I Avoid Writer’s Block

It’s a writer’s block!

Writer’s block! Nooooooo! How does one deal with one of the deadliest viruses to ever assault the creative arts? Well… I have never had writer’s block… so I do not have a cure for it. Instead I call it “writer’s detour” resulting from “writer’s blah.”

I typically avoid writer’s block because I don’t write unless I have creative energy. I have never sat down to a computer, a notebook paper, or a typewriter … without knowing what I was going to write about (yes, I am old enough to have typewriter experience). I am writing every day when working on a story. Even when that writing only takes place in my mind, I do not take a day off from writing. When I actually sit down to put words to paper (to computer screen) I have a wealth of stored up creative ideas.

If I get to a point in my novel that isn’t working… I don’t freeze up. I do not stop writing for five hours, six days, or two weeks. I actually call this “writer’s blah” because it is not as if I cannot write anything. It’s just that a particular section of the book is not interesting to me at that moment. At least, not interesting for me to have a high level of energy and excitement. So I avoid the writer’s blah by switching to a different section of my story. I call this the writer’s detour.

The writer’s detour is normally when I try a different ending for the book, work on the beginning of the book, or perhaps a complicated action sequence of the book that is more interesting than my current section. This is especially true during the first draft stage, where I do not see a reason to write in chronological order. The writer’s detour can be thought of as free writing which might even reveal what you SHOULD HAVE been writing in the section you avoided. At worst the writer’s detour allows me to explore characters’ motivations in paragraphs that may or may not ever make it into the final copy of the story.

Writing fiction should be a fun adventure, not a horrifying experience where people become frozen and unable to write a single word. Seriously… don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Because with the combination of Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V I can move entire chapters in the book around. Or DELETE entire chapters.

Something else I think about regularly is: If I am not excited about writing a section of the story… then why would readers be interested in reading it?

Occasionally the writer’s detour becomes a train wreck. Well… the “delete” button can erase entire sections of the story that seemed amazing Thursday night… but now appear to be utter crap and make no sense for my story the following morning. Sorry if I just triggered a one night stand flashback for you.

Anyway, I have written several screenplays and books, and have never experienced writer’s block. Two of my self-published works have long been deleted from existence. I wrote them 13 years ago and they were passionately, but not great. However a play I wrote a couple years ago was one of the winners of a playwright contest… so I am somewhat talented.

Nonetheless, writer’s block is not something that ails me. Writing should be a fun journey. I make it fun. If you have writer’s block then you might be taking fiction writing too seriously.

So… my answers to writer’s block are:

  1. Only write when I feel creative energy flowing.
  2. If the creative energy isn’t flowing in one part of the story, don’t stop writing. Just switch to a different part of the story and explore that. Sticking to writing in chronological order, especially for the first draft, makes no sense in the age of computer word programs.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Something might become your “favorite mistake!”
  4. Have fun.

What about you? How do you deal with the terror known as “writer’s block”?

Posted in ebook, fantasy, fiction, Musings, novels, Philosophy, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Will this diaper nightmare EVER end?

Every day we’re diapering. No, this is not a Stephen King horror novel or an episode of the Twilight Zone. This is life in foster care.

As I have said before, cloth diapering is not hard. Although it is occasionally gross, the impact on the environment is worth it. In addition, even with the laundry loads they are cheaper than disposable diapers. I am glad we are doing it because of the saved money and the environmental friendliness (no disposable diapers filling up landfills). You can’t throw disposable diapers away… because “away” is still “somewhere.” Once a week there is an amazing discovery in the cloth diaper and I wish I could throw it away. But in general the gross factor is acceptable. I definitely recommend you choose cloth diapering for your infant/toddler.

However, in foster care, there is no specific light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to diapering. Maybe parents of biological children know all their kids will eventually get out of diapers. But for us… we may continuously have children who use diapers.

In the past 14 months we have had 3 twelve-month-old children, 1 three-year-old, 1 four-year-old, and 1 five-year-old. The three, four, and five-year-old all had pull-ups/diapers for overnight sleeping and sometimes naps. We did not use cloth diapers for them because they were too big for the cloth diapers we had. In addition, one of the twelve-month-old children got really bad diaper rash, so we used disposable diapers for him because it seemed to help. Sometimes, whether it is disposable diapers or cloth diapers, I look at these diapers and realize as a foster parent to young ones I could be changing diapers for the next ten to twenty years.

Keep in mind we are not the Duggars!

How long will we be okay with changing diapers? A few more years at least. I think it will get easier when we adopt or have biological children. But until we have some kids who are permanently in our home, well… there is no light at the end of this diaper changing black hole.

Posted in Adoption, Bucket List, children, Environment, family, family finances, fatherhood, financial management, Foster Care, Foster Care Journal, Healthy lifestyle, love, motherhood, parenting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Marathon Training Day 722: I Turn Forty Next Year

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by the Oatmeal My marathon training has become completely derailed this year. Not all of it is my fault. In fact, most of it is not my fault. Currently I am physically healthy. But after a really disappointing year of running, it is hard to mentally get back into it. For a marathon runner… I’m not sure I have run over 60 miles this entire year.

I’ve had a knee injury, and I was sick and completely missed the 2014 Eugene Marathon. If I was 20 it would be much easier to rebound. But I’m not twenty anymore, and I am constantly reminded that my body hates me. But… when I am in shape, I enjoy running.

In response to that fact that my body and mind are not working in perfect running harmony, I made a decision this weekend to eat better. I was already eating well. My wife and I eat organic as often as we can afford it… and check ingredients on labels to limit our intake of high fructose corn syrup (and other hard to pronounce ingredients that should not be in my stomach). Well… I enjoy drinking Sprite. But I have now deleted Sprite, and all other soda drinks from my diet. In addition, I am switching from Quik chocolate milk to homemade chocolate milk (or just plain white milk).

These changes are partly because I want refocus on running, which requires my body to be healthy. In addition, my right pinky finger has been mildly sore ever sense my trip to Kings Island. This mild arthritis, irritated by a fun day at an amusement park, reminded me that I am turning forty next year. So eating even better than I have been is becoming more of a priority.

I am not interested in becoming a vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian a few times, and may become one again. But currently I just want to cut the questionable ingredients from my diet intake. In general, I am not going to let pain in my pinky… or other parts of my aging body… deter me from doing the things I want to do.

The 2015 Eugene Marathon is less than 12 months away. Now that I am fully recovered from the knee injury, the stomach bug, and the sinus infection … I plan to be back in the gym and running this week. Exercise helps me burn off stress, helps me think through my dissertation and fiction novel, and of course keeps me healthy.

Posted in Eugene, half marathon, Healthy lifestyle, Inspiration, marathon, Marathon Training Day, Philosophy, running, Seattle Marathon, training | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment