Thursday, February 21, 2013

Something's Rotten in Storytown

Shakespeare is the inspiration for that title and it applies to the max to storytelling today. Actor/director/smart guy Jon Favreau calls this the heart of every strong story. I heartily agree.

“The world is broken,” he says. From this seed at the start springs the plot which proceeds apace until the break is mended – or not. Favreau uses his own life as example.

He was a kid in Queens NY growing up in a relatively ordinary life. Then his mom died. “She was suddenly just gone.”

With no warning he was plucked out of the life he had known. That was where everything began. The struggle to survive a broken world. The struggle to regain a semblance of wholeness.

Unfortunately a version of this scenario happens to most of us in our lives. The struggle follows. If we are blessed that struggle does not destroy us.

Fortunately for us as storytellers this scenario is also the template for strong storytelling. Stories we know in our bones because our bones have been shattered by the likes of them at one time or another.

We set our main character onto the earth of her story at the moment when the scent of something rotten has just wafted into sniffing range.

The struggle then commences. The object of that struggle is to banish the stink. The outcome will be that our character either succeeds or goes down gasping.

The disgust level of the stench varies according to story type or genre. Softened in a romance by tincture of roses. Heightened in a thriller to send the reader strangling for cover.

Still the eau de essence remains the same. Something’s rotten. The world of the story is broken. The struggle toward wholeness proceeds. The outcome happens.

Meanwhile all of it – as my friend Herma once said – is for the porpoises of the plot.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Handsome Hunk of Beef for V Day

This is one of Jonathan’s favorite dishes. It’s become a Valentine’s Day tradition. I can smell it slow cooking now. Set up in the early a.m. so I simply flippd the switch later on. In between because I’m a writer I compose a sexy scene – handwritten for a more sensual experience.

Approximately 3 pound bottom round roast (or other cut if you prefer).
1 large onion peeled and cut in half-inch slices
1 ½ tsp. each cinnamon, paprika, garlic powder.
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 package onion soup mix
1 cup beef broth or bouillon

Mix together cinnamon, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Wash beef in water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub beef all over with cinnamon etc. mix.
Heat olive oil in skillet to sizzling. Brown beef on all sides 2 minutes per side.
Place onion slices in a layer to cover the bottom of your crockpot/slow cooker. Place browned beef on top of onion slices.
Combine onion soup mix with broth or bouillon. Pour over beef in crockpot/slow cooker.
Cook on high for 6 hours.
[Optional – Add peeled potatoes and carrots cut in large chunks halfway through cooking time.]

This is an author-easy recipe that pleases all the senses with its deep dark aroma and juicy tender texture and reassuring sizzle and rich reddish-brown color. Plus it tastes delicious. At least that’s what my handsome hunk husband Jonathan says.

Try it on somebody you love soon and please let me know what they think of this Recipe for Writers.


Romance Romance and Nothing but Romance

“It’s all about the love story, Sweetheart.” That in a nutshell – or a heart shaped hatbox – is the message my agent Denise had been trying to deliver to me for months.

When it comes to writing romance fiction that sells – to agents and editors and readers alike – the secret is in the sizzle and sex and struggle at the beating bleeding heart of the story.

I may not be hardhearted but I’m definitely hardheaded. It took some skull blasting to get this simple truth past my dumb denial.

I was messing with side relationships. I was entangled with sub stories. I was about to swath my office with butcher paper covered in colored plot lines.

Then Denise in despair got truly down to it. “They’re either together or thinking about being together or agonizing over why they shouldn’t be together.”

Not a direct quote but the direct essence of how she referred to my heroine and hero. Finally I got the message and it came with a plotting problem attached.

How do I keep the story from stagnating? This is the art of romance writing in a nutshell – or a heart shaped hatbox. You as writer-creator must simply make excitement happen.

You do that by way of the same basic storytelling element that makes any story a must read. That element is Struggle. Your would-be lovers grapple together and separately to get from would-be to is.

The harder and more apparently impossible the struggling and grappling you create – the more of a must read your story will be.

Then there’s the sex. A scintillating source of struggle and sizzle and even suspense for certain in fiction and real life as well. We all want to know how that tangle will untangle – or knot.

So what do I do with all the side and sub stuff I struggled to invent? It helps that I’m writing a series – which by the way is the way to agent-editor-reader hearts on Valentine’s or any day.

Each of those discarded tangential relationships and alternately colored plot lines cries out for a related but separate story of its own.

That story also will be about – you guessed it – Romance Romance and Nothing but Romance.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chocolate Truffles to Die For

I've been inspired to begin a new feature - Recipes for Writers - and since this is Superbowl Sunday I begin with a treat. Son in law Luis loves this. Check him out for a testimonial.

There's nothing nutritionally redeeming about Chocolate Truffles to Die For. And despite the name these are not just for mystery-suspense writers. Feel free to Die By Chocolate whatever your genre may be.

By the way these are Recipes for Writers mainly because they are great part-brain activity. They're simple enough to be thrown together after a writing session when intense intellectulizing is usually a can't-do.

Yet they are creative enough to be interesting. They're also creative enough to challenge you to create changes. And they're tasty. At least I think so. My husband agrees to offer his testimonials too if required.

Chocolate Truffles to Die For

Ingredients for up to 72 truffles depending on how big you make them.
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (two 12-ounce packages)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (Like I said. Not nutritionally defensible.)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract (Rum or orange-flavored extracts work well also.)
Cocoa (This is the traditional coating. Feel free to be employ alternatives.)

Melt chips and milk in nonstick pan over lowish heat stirring pretty much constantly till smooth.
Stir in vanilla or other flavor extract of your choice.
Chill till easy to handle. An hour or two should do the trick.
Shape into one-inch balls or larger if you prefer. I use a melon baller for this part.
Roll balls in cocoa or whatever other tasty treat stuff you like.
Store in air tight container.
You can present these in small muffin cups - or not. They'll disappear fast either way.

If you get started now you can have these ready by game time. Try not to eat too many during prep. You do have guests to think of after all.

In the meantime -- Go Sixers. Go Ravens. One of you will definitely win.