Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Welcome to #CampNaNoWriMo

As a child, I loved summer camping. Although I never got the chance to attend one of those fancy camps where you sleep in a cabin named "Wisheemeemoo" and swim in a lake for weeks on end, I did get to go on many Girl Scout weekend expeditions that I absolutely adored. Cherished memories include watching an owl glide past a background of stars while I watched from the safety of my sleeping bag, and the morning I gathered with Scouts and Girl Guides from all over the world to sing "Rise and Shine" at the top of our lungs. Camp was fun--a rare chance to run around in the woods, get dirty, and play with fire, aka learning to cook.

As an adult, I've retained the camping bug, but now days I prefer the ease of an RV and a proximity to five-star restaurants. If a camp site hasn't got an espresso bar and hair dryers, I'm ready to keep on driving. Which is part of the appeal of signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo: I can hang out in my blanket fort writing my heart out for an entire month with all the comforts of home. And the espresso is free.

I didn't intend to join my fellow writer-campers until this past weekend when I realized I'd finished up so many pre-set tasks from my New Year's list I had nothing to do (well, sort of nothing to do. My lists are essentially endless. . .). But cleaning out my home office on Saturday I realized I've got my manuscripts with agents; I'd completed the second draft of my Taiwan poetry as well as the accompanying series of illustrations; and I'd made so many pairs of earrings I'm completely beaded-out, for the moment at least. Hence the need for a new and compelling challenge. Welcome to Camp NaNoWriMo!

Sponsored by and similar to November's National Novel Writing Month, July's Camp NaNoWriMo requires a commitment to writing 50K words in a single month, but with a key difference: you can write whatever you want. Memoirs, poetry, screenplays, how to train your new puppy--it's all good. Heck, you can even write a novel if that's what your heart desires. In my case this is not what my heart desires--I have enough novels in various states of revision and submission to last me a lifetime, thank you, but I do very much want to write some short stories.

To get ready for the adventure I've:
  • Joined an online "cabin" with nineteen other writer-campers.
  • Prepared a new binder with a variety of writing prompts in the form of magazine photos, strange and obscure sentence fragments, and some outright commands, e.g. Write about a pair of shoes. I'll be using my prompts at random and keeping track of my progress by printing out my pages each day to file in the binder. 
  • Bought some new pens and a journal.
  • Filled the freezer with Trader Joe's ready-to-heat meals and supplies.
  • Cleared the decks of any marketing tasks for my other books. I need to stay focused.
I'm excited; I can't wait for July 1 to roll around so I can get on board the writing bus and head off to the hills with my Alphasmart and a backpack full of ideas. Now to just find the sunscreen. . . 

Tip of the Day: Here's an idea: pull up a tent and join me for some writing! Even if you don't officially sign up for camp, July is a good half-way point in the year to re-evaluate. re-assign, and re-dedicate yourself to your creative goals. As a reward you can make yourself some s'mores. And don't forget your bathing suit. See you in the crafts room.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Food, Glorious Food!

I've been thinking a lot about food, mainly because I haven't been able to eat much of it thanks to an emergency dental issue. All my favorite go-to writing snacks, e.g. carrot sticks, wasabi crackers, tortilla chips, cheese, etc. have been put on hold in favor of soup and endless glasses of water-and-lemon. And if you think writing and liquids make a good combo, let me tell you, they do not.

I don't know why I get so hungry when I write, and it's even worse when I read. I am a born snacker-grazer (thank goodness I love carrots) and one of my pet peeves when reading an otherwise engaging book is the lack of any mention or description of food. Whether the characters are dining on lobster bisque at a five-star luxury resort, or heating up beenie-weenies on a campfire, I want to know. 

Food, to me, is vital to a story: Meg's first disastrous dinner "party" in Little Women; Proust and his madeleine dipped in tea; "Babette's Feast"; Like Water for Chocolate; William Saroyan eating a messy peach in The Human Comedy. In other words, a story without food is like some miserable diet--impossible to follow!

Both the consumption and preparation of food can play a magical part in your own writing. For instance,
  • Food can be the basis of an entire memoir: one triggered by family recipes; favorite holiday meals; what you cooked when where, and why; favorite cookbooks; good and bad restaurant experiences. Tip: a fun way to start is to write a recipe as a letter to a friend--real or imaginary. Spin off into tangents of freewriting as you go.
  • Food can be the subject of a poem or short story, or a whole collection.
  • Food and meal prep can be great ways to "show, don't tell" when exploring fictional characters, and even writing action scenes. What do your characters love, hate, won't for anything? What about their attitudes to cooking--good, bad, indifferent? Do they prefer to order take-out? How do they feed kids, pets, spouses? Are they vegetarian, gluten-free, suffer from unusual food allergies? What's their favorite snack, adult beverage, brand of chocolate? There are so many possibilities I sometimes think you could write a complete character-bio made up solely of food choices and experiences.
Some other ways to include food in your writing can be to:
  • Create a character who specializes in food preparation and the pleasures of the table: A chef, a restaurant owner, a food critic, an artisan cheese maker.
  • Dig into cookbooks and food magazines. Both are excellent resources when you need to find new meals for your characters to enjoy, especially if you're writing about characters in foreign settings. I'm a great fan of food magazines in particular and often cut out the actual recipes along with the accompanying gorgeous photos to place in my work-in-progress files. The photos can later be used for painting references and collage elements. 
  • Use your favorite restaurant as a setting. Better yet--try writing while you're there!
  • Never overlook the opportunity to write your own cookbook, how-to article, or restaurant review, whether for print or online. The same applies to starting and maintaining a food blog if you find yourself falling in love with the idea of culinary writing in all its many aspects.
However you choose to write about food, the one thing I'd like to suggest is never ignore it. There's nothing worse, I think, than to read about a character who never eats unless he or she is some kind of mystic or suffering from an eating disorder. I once read an otherwise excellent mystery set in Barcelona, the home of the world's best tapas, where the characters lived on nothing but coffee. They didn't even get cake! I couldn't stop wondering how they maintained enough energy to catch the bad guys when they never stopped at a single cafe or convenience store. I was starving by the time I finished the book. 

Tip of the Day: As fun as it is to gorge characters on sushi and streudel, you don't want to bore your readers with endless step-by-step descriptions of all-day banquets or baking marathons. Like the best recipes: keep it light, keep it simple, and always keep it tasty. Bon app├ętit! 

P.S. The good news is my mouth is on the mend--I'll soon be crunching on those yummy carrots in no time at all! See you next time.