Thursday, March 27, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Christa Polkinhorn, Author of the Family Portrait Series

One of the readers of my novels pointed out jokingly that my characters love food and wine and drink copious amounts of coffee. She is right! I enjoy reading food descriptions in novels and many of my characters like to eat and drink.

Food, the preparation and enjoyment of it, can be a powerful device in a novel. Eating is a very sensual thing and in our writing, we try to convey sensual experiences with words. We want our readers to be involved with the story and one way to do this is to let them perceive the world through the senses of the characters. Let them smell, hear, see, and taste. It brings the story to life and makes for much more interesting reading.

In addition, the way we eat, what we eat, like any other activity, can say something about the rest of our lives and hence, in a novel, about the lives of the characters we create. Here are a few examples of my novels where food plays a role in the Family Portrait trilogy.

The first book, An Uncommon Family, starts with six-year old Karla, eating an ice cream cone:

        Karla licked the crispy cone, trying to catch the sliding droplets before they hit the ground. The raspberry ice cream was a dark purple, her favorite color. … She turned around and peered through the window of the art shop, where her aunt was picking up two framed pictures. When she looked back at the sidewalk, her breath caught.
“Mama?” she whispered.
She saw the woman only from behind, but the bounce in her step, the long, reddish-blond hair flowing down her back, swaying left and right, the tall, slender figure—it must be her mother. She tossed the rest of the ice cream into the trashcan, got up, and ran after the woman.

The above “ice cream scene” encompasses one of the books main themes: Karla’s longing for her mother. When a young girl tosses her favorite ice cream cone into the trash to run after someone, that someone must be critical to her life. The child’s action startles us and we are eager to know what happens. Seeing a woman who reminds her of her mother turns the peaceful enjoyment of her sweet into a heartbreaking chase after a phantom. As we find out a little later, Karla’s mother is in fact dead and the child hasn’t been able to fully accept her loss yet.

Later in the book, Karla tells her painting teacher and mentor, Jonas, about a dream that scared her and made her sad. Jonas knows just the thing that would bring some relief to Karla: comfort food or drink—a cup of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream—which he lovingly prepares.

        Jonas poured the milk into the mugs, shook the bottle of whipped cream, and squeezed a dollop out of it. “Try it.” He handed a mug to Karla.
 Karla took a sip and licked some of the whipped cream off the top. “Good,” she said.
 They sat on the couch in the living room, sipping hot chocolate. Karla put her mug down on the table and walked over to the wall to look at a photo of Eva. She stood in front of the picture, seemingly absorbed, then turned around. “She’s very pretty.”
 Jonas nodded. “Yes, she was beautiful.”
 Karla came back to the sofa and picked up her mug again. After she took another sip, she gazed at Jonas with her large dark eyes. “Do you dream about her sometimes?”
“Yes, quite often.”

The scene shows us something about Jonas’s kindness and love of his student, and it introduces us to his own heartbreak.

Other food scenes in the book provide information about the environment and the seasons in Switzerland. The scent of roasted chestnuts in the old town of Zurich, a restaurant that serves fondue in winter, or, in summer, the refreshing taste of ice-cold gazosa or lemonade.

In the second book, Love of a Stonemason, Karla invites Andreas, her new boyfriend, a stonemason and sculptor, for dinner. It is raining and Andreas builds a fire in the fireplace. The scent of burning wood and the smell of cooking mingle, creating a sensuous atmosphere which leads to their first lovemaking. In the morning, they wake up hungry and Karla prepares a rich breakfast of eggs, bacon, bread, butter, and jam.

        Andreas scraped up the leftover egg with a piece of bread and licked his fingers. “This is excellent, by the way.” He pointed at his plate. “I could get used to this.”
       “I’m glad you like it.” Karla was amused by his appetite.

Here we get a glimpse of Andreas’ character. He is a sensuous man, somewhat unpolished but compassionate. He enjoys food and Karla, who is a talented painter and an excellent cook, knows the saying, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” and prepares some outstanding meals. Another dinner scene gives us some insight into the characters of Andreas’ family, when Karla meets his mother, his aunt and uncle for the first time.

        It was only now that Karla noticed a third person in the room, a thin, quiet, unassuming woman, probably in her fifties. Andreas introduced her as his mother. She greeted Karla with a shy smile. After saying hello, she seemed to disappear among the other people. Karla was amazed how little mother and son resembled each other.
        Aunt Maria had prepared a typical dish of the area for lunch—coniglio and polenta, rabbit stew with slices of corn mush fried in olive oil and topped with parmesan cheese—as well as vegetables and salad. It was a very tasty meal, but Karla, who by nature wasn’t a big eater, constantly had to stop Maria from putting more food on her plate.
Cara, you’re much too thin, you have to eat.” Uncle Alois tried to put another piece of meat on Karla’s plate.
“Leave her alone, for god’s sake,” Andreas finally intervened. “You know, Alois, not everybody can eat as much as you do. You could actually do with a little less yourself. You must be twice as fat as when I saw you last time.”
“Don’t be fresh, young man.” Uncle Alois grinned. “Here, have some more wine.”

In the above scene, we get to know the family by the way they behave at the table. We see Andreas’ unassuming mother, we witness his kindly aunt and boisterous uncle showing their old-fashioned hospitality and we experience the playful bantering between Andreas and his uncle and we realize that Karla despite her cooking skills is a slender woman and modest eater.

In Emilia, the third book of the trilogy, a meal at a grotto in the south of Switzerland (grotto is a special kind of country restaurant), Andreas and his children eat out, since Karla, the mother, was visiting her ailing father in Peru. The youngest child, Emilia, wants to eat her spaghetti the same way her older sister does, rolling the strands on her fork.

       He (Andreas) scrunched his forehead and glared at Emilia. “What are you doing? Stop playing with your food.”
 Emilia, who had been trying to roll spaghetti on her fork, which kept sliding off, looked at him with big eyes, which quickly filled with tears. She was obviously shocked at her father’s unusually harsh tone. So was Laura.

An otherwise loving father, Andreas also has a temper and the tension that has been building between him and his wife brings out his angry side. The conflict in the family is made even more obvious during a meal, which is normally a time of sharing and relaxation.

In all these examples food is used both as a way to enrich and enliven a story as well as showing underlying themes and giving us insight into the characters. 

Thank you for stopping by to share your food for thought, Christa!

 You can find Christa and her books here:

Friday, March 21, 2014

FOODFIC: Divergent - Veronica Roth

Beatrice is a girl after my own heart.

She leaves not only her family but her entire faction of society behind just because of the food.

Okay, that’s not the whole story, but she does sarcastically say it after eating a hamburger (or circular pieces of meat wedged between round bread slices, as she describes it) for the very first time. Although her new peers are shocked by her life inexperience, Tris (as she now calls herself) is not embarrassed to explain that in her old lifestyle – Abnegation* – they believe such extravagance is considered self-indulgent and unnecessary.

She’s never had interesting cuisine, nor fashionable clothing, nor even a real friend because she’s never had any sort of free will to make choices or even have opinions; Abnegates live selflessly in the fully literal sense, as in no self. At all.

Of course, while that may be how society has required her to behave outwardly, it’s never been how she’s felt on the inside, which is why on choosing day she makes the drastic choice to join the Dauntless.** She’s certainly not the only 16-year-old to switch groups, but the resounding shock at her decision implies that her move is indeed the boldest.

What’s ironic is that much of her Abnegation upbringing helps her succeed at the Dauntless training, although she does feel constantly torn between acting selfless or brave. And what she sees as a struggle, the powers that be view as duplicitous and uncontrollable. Divergents like Tris are not only a problem, but one that must be eliminated at all cost.

And that’s how we as readers find ourselves cheering for Tris to succeed – no, excel – at Dauntless training; we want her to not only reconcile and use both her bravery and her selflessness – sometimes even both in the same moment – but also to use her dangerous Divergence to upset a system that no longer serves the people.

Oh, and we’d like her to stay well fed, too. ;)


Thursday, March 13, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Luke Murphy, Author of Dead Man's Hand

When I turned fifteen and started reading adult chapter books (Oh no, there is no way I’m telling you the year to show my age LOL), I always found myself asking the same question:

When do these characters eat, sleep, use the restroom, etc.?

There always seemed to be unanswered questions left by authors, those little things that we all do, but that rarely get mentioned in books.  It’s not that I want the author to go on and on about a character’s eating or bathroom habits, but some small mention would suffice.

So when I first contacted Shelley Workinger about a possible blog post, and she told me what her blog was all about, I thought it was a great idea. She was really on to something when she mentioned to me that a fictional character’s diet can really tell the reader something about that character. Some readers want to know these minor details.

My debut novel, DEAD MAN’S HAND, is an International bestselling crime-thriller that was released in October 2012. The novel takes readers inside the head of Calvin Watters, a sadistic African-American Las Vegas debt-collector, who was once an NFL rising-star prospect, now a fugitive on the run.

But for this post, I wanted to write about the new novel I’m currently working on, specifically the main character, detective Charlene Taylor.

To put it lightly, Charlene Taylor is a self-hating, alcoholic, one-night standing, tough but broken individual who never knew her father. She was the “boy” her father never had, and has decided to follow in his footsteps as a member of the LAPD.

So in order to demonstrate the kind of character Charlene is, I needed to really sell it with her diet and eating habits.

Charlene is an “eat-on-the-run” kind of gal. Grab a muffin or fruit on her way out the door. Living a fast-paced, almost carefree single lifestyle, she has take-out restaurants on her speed dial, and the local neighborhood sushi bar is familiar with her frequent post-sex phone calls for delivery. I felt that having a sushi restaurant on speed dial, where they are used to her “dinner for 1” orders, shows Charlene’s age (I think of sushi as a more youthful meal), health concerns (obviously sushi is a very healthy food), and her loneliness (ordering always for one and having it on her speed dial).

To me, this was the ultimate form of using food and diet to show who a character really is and allow a reader to make his/her own judgements and conclusions.

Food/diet is a very important tool that can be used by authors to “show” instead “tell” readers about a certain character and his/her traits.

My newest novel is still in the editing stages, but it has been a fun project.

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Luke!

Luke Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec with his wife, three daughters and pug.

He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s held a number of jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude).

Murphy`s debut novel, Dead Man`s Hand, was released by Imajin Books on October 20, 2012.

Catch up with Luke at these sites:

Back cover text for DEAD MAN'S HAND

What happens when the deck is stacked against you…

From NFL rising-star prospect to wanted fugitive, Calvin Watters is a sadistic African-American Las Vegas debt-collector framed by a murderer who, like the Vegas Police, finds him to be the perfect fall-guy.

…and the cards don't fall your way?

When the brutal slaying of a prominent casino owner is followed by the murder of a well-known bookie, Detective Dale Dayton is thrown into the middle of a highly political case and leads the largest homicide investigation in Vegas in the last twelve years.

What if you're dealt a Dead Man's Hand?

Against his superiors and better judgment, Dayton is willing to give Calvin one last chance. To redeem himself, Calvin must prove his innocence by finding the real killer, while avoiding the LVMPD, as well as protect the woman he loves from a professional assassin hired to silence them.

"You may want to give it the whole night, just to see how it turns out." 
—William Martin, New York Times bestselling author of The Lincoln Letter

"Dead Man's Hand is a pleasure, a debut novel that doesn't read like one, 
but still presents original characters and a fresh new voice." 
—Thomas Perry, New York Times bestselling author of Poison Flower

"Part police procedural, part crime fiction, Dead Man's Hand is a fast, gritty ride." 
—Anne Frasier, USA Today bestselling author of Hush