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'11 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
From Inspiration to Publication
Writing the First Draft
Seduce Your Reader
Be a Real Writer
Sexy Writing Partnerships


Kill Electrons, Not Trees
by William Gaius
What Does It Mean...?
The Decision to Self-Publish
The Decision To Self-Publish, 2
Printing ... for Self-Publishers
A Copyright Primer
How to POD, free (almost) Part 1
How to POD, free (almost) Part 2


The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Three Top Tips...
Not Writing Erotica
The Importance of Being Colin
Dream Writing
To Boldly Go
The Unforgivable Taboo
Managing Multiple Projects
Doing it in Public
Nil Bastardum Carborundum
Workshop Insights


Assorted Attractions

Meet Robert Buckley
Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister

Cooking up a Storey

by Donna George Storey

From Void to Voice:
First Drafts, Fecund Fears and Transformative Soups

 

Cooking up a Storey by Donna George StoreyOur writer’s feast continues this month with musings on an intimidating, yet indispensable stage of the creative process:  transforming a juicy story idea into a tale that will engage a reader.  Or in other words, writing the first draft.

One of the most dangerous myths for writers is that great or even plain old good stories come into being all at once as if by magic—Jack Kerouac typing out On the Road in one three-week marathon (although it took six years and some revisions to see publication) or Katherine Anne Porter beginning “Flowering Judas” at 7 p.m. and posting it to the publisher at 1:30 the next morning, where it is was immediately accepted upon receipt (or so she claimed in an interview with The Paris Review).

Even if some stories do come into the world so easily, it will help us ordinary writers to remember this is the exception, and most stories take many drafts, while novels can take years of revision.  More to the point, I’d wager the majority of writers are unable to sit down before the blank page—or these days, blank screen—without a twist of fear at confronting the Void, that huge gap between the intriguing idea and the actual story.  The specific voices of doubt that clamor to feed our fears might differ at various stages of our experience.  When I began writing some fourteen years ago, I worried primarily that I didn’t have the talent to be published.  With over a hundred publications under my belt, the worries have shifted a bit.  Can I still grasp the storyteller’s magic or has my luck run out?  Am I just repeating my favorite themes over and over?  I’ll spare you the full list of cruel, self-directed taunts, but, although it does get easier with practice, pre-first-draft anxiety never fully disappears for many.

At such times, I try to remember an inspirational reminder that is posted on the drama bulletin board at my son’s school:  “Fear is a window of opportunity.”

In fact, over the years I have come to see this creative “fear” in a different light, at least in my wiser moods.  Rather than simple self-loathing or insecurity, feeling scared before we start a new story can be seen as a sign of respect for the mystery of the creative process.  It might be easier to fall back into my own comfortable formulas, but I owe it to my readers to take a risk and stretch my storytelling skills to the best of my ability.  No doubt I will “fail” to reach “perfection” with each story, but it is the process of trying that is the magic of writing.  As market-place minded as writers must be these days, we might forget that while the one sentence elevator pitch is the best way to sell a story to an agent or publisher, a story is more than a pithy tease.  It must deliver.

I’ll explain what I mean.

When I first started writing, I had hazy ideas for wonderful stories I wanted to tell.  The first draft was an annoying phase I had to pass through on my way to the glory of a polished piece admired and loved by millions, at least in the screen adaptation.  Slowly—ever so slowly—I came to realize that the initial ideas that sparked my imagination were often barely recognizable in a story’s final draft.  A detail or two might make it through untouched, but inevitably the plot took unexpected turns and the characters hijacked my plans.  Sometimes even the language itself made decisions for me.  I’ve learned to appreciate these detours and rebellions.  A story doesn’t exist in the outline or plan, it comes into being sentence by sentence as I write it on the page.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that my stories that intrigue and surprise me the most as I write garner the most enthusiastic response from readers as well.

Experience has also taught me ways to push back against the word-freeze commonly known as writer’s block.  My favorite way to convert the Void of a blank page into a much friendlier first draft involves tricking those wily voices of self-doubt.  “I won’t tackle the first draft today,” I say loudly to distract those naysayers who will settle for nothing less than perfection.  Because of course, first drafts are not about perfection.  They’re about discovering my characters and their dilemmas and generating lots of pages to further shape and polish.  And so I vow to let the blank file rest for a bit while I head over to another file with my notes for the story. 

There I simply begin to flesh out the outline with more detailed descriptions of the action within a particularly appealing scene, letting my fingers type as they will and letting go of any expectation of quality.  Before I know it, I’m writing dialogue and responses.  A half hour later I find myself with a full scene from the story and a lot more knowledge about my characters in action.  Even if it’s not the opening scene—and it rarely is—I now have valuable momentum I can use to build the rest of the story.

Sometimes, as with the piece I’m working on right now for example, I’ll be speeding along nicely with my opening scenes, then suddenly everything sputters to a halt.  I have to grind out each gesture and line of dialogue as if I’m pushing a heavy weight over rocky ground.  I now recognize this as another danger sign.  Ideally a story takes a reader on an engaging ride, with the characters as the body of the car and the plot conflict the engine.  If the engine fails or the body collapses, the poor reader is left stranded at the side of the road.

Plot in particular can be a challenge in erotica.  When I first started writing sexy stories, I was so blown away with shock that I was actually writing about the taboo topic of sex, I didn’t notice my “story” was nothing more than a description of an erotic encounter.  On occasion I still make the same mistake, that is, losing sight of my character’s motivations in the midst of a hot and sweaty wrestling match between the sheets. 

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a fix for this problem as well.  Usually if I go back and clarify the conflict—that is, what my character wants and what is standing in her way—I invariably find myself back on track. I learned this lesson best when writing my first novel, Amorous Woman. I kept my story moving by giving my protagonist a large and impossible desire—to become intimate with the whole country and culture of Japan.  Chapter after chapter she tried, and mostly failed, to do this, but her ambitious yearning kept the plot chugging along nicely until those satisfying words “The End.”

Each writer has his or her own tricks to face down the Void and keep the story flowing.  I covered two of the most basic strategies here this month.  First, just sit down and write something, even if the words aren’t perfect (I always think of Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” as outlined in her writing guide, Bird by Bird).  Second, always remember a story lives by conflict, a character who wants something passionately meeting obstacles in pursuit of her desire.  Keep sight of your conflict and the words will come.  Conflict of any kind propels the author’s writing and the reader’s interest, it can be external, internal, dramatic or subtle.  Fortunately in erotica, we always have sexual yearning to fuel the flames and a natural climax built into the story arc.  In fact, in my next column, I’ll explore these specific challenges and perks of writing erotica, how to balance sex with story and how much sex is necessary to qualify as a good one-handed read. 

I hope all this talk about Voids and writer’s block has made you a little hungry.  Now it’s time for the soup course.  Naturally soup can be a main dish in itself, coupled with bread and cheese for a satisfying ménage a trois.  These days I seldom use recipes for my everyday main dish soup.  I take a look at the vegetables in my weekly box from the organic farm and stir them all up into something seasonal and tasty.  I usually start with olive oil and an onion or leeks, add in chopped hard vegetables like carrots, celery or potatoes and sauté them for a while.  Then I add chicken or vegetable broth, canned tomatoes if desired, and a suitable blend of herbs.  Basil, oregano and marjoram with a rind of Parmesan cheese make for a tasty Italian flavor.  Cumin is good for a Mexican soup with corn and black beans.  For an Indian flavor, I use toasted cumin seed and mustard seed or good quality curry powder, which makes an especially good lentil soup.  A little later I’ll add softer vegetables like zucchini, green beans, chard or kale.  Finally I add some cooked beans (if I haven’t added lentils earlier) or pasta, which I cook until al dente.  This kind of peasant-style refrigerator soup is very much like a first draft, because I’m never sure how it will turn out—but usually the result is scrumptious.

The magic of soup is that it can also transform an ordinary meal into a fancy spread.  One of my favorite meals for the early spring is asparagus risotto.  If I whip up a batch of carrot dill soup as an appetizer, a fairly simple dish becomes a fancy company meal.  I also recommend one of my favorite Indian-style red lentil soups, which can either be served as a main course, or part of a more elaborate Indian feast with home-baked naan and vegetable curries.

Bon Appetit and happy writing.  Creativity is always delicious!

Carrot Dill Soup adapted from Bon Appetit, May 1998
8 servings

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced, preferably sweet, fresh ones from the farmer’s market
6 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tablespoons Arborio or medium grain rice
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Heat oil in soup pot over medium high heat.  Add onions and sauté until translucent, 5-10 minutes.  Stir in carrots; add stock and rice.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 35 minutes.  Puree soup with wand blender or in batches in food processor.  Stir in the dill.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.


Bengali Lentil Soup

Serves 6

1 cup red lentils
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 can of chopped tomatoes
2 T vegetable or olive oil
1/2 t cumin seeds
1/2 t yellow or black mustard seeds
4 cups onion (2 large), finely sliced
5 t garlic (3-4 cloves), sliced
A half bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Mix lentils, broth and turmeric in a soup pot, bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes until lentils are soft.  Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes longer; reduce heat.

Meanwhile heat oil in a medium skillet.  Add cumin and mustard seeds and sauté until fragrant, for just a few minutes.  Cook on low heat, being careful not to burn seeds.  Add onions and garlic and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes or somewhat more.

Add onion mixture to lentils and cook a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat, add cilantro, cover and let steam a minute.  Serve hot. 

Donna George Storey
March 2011


Contact Donna at Donna George Storey or at Sex Food And Writing
Donna is Cooking up a Storey in ERWA 2011 Archive

______
"Cooking up a Storey" © 2011 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written

About the Author:  Donna George Storey taught English in Japan and Japanese in the United States and has finally found the work of her dreams writing erotica. If you're really nice, she'll bake you a batch of her Venetian cookies, with layers of marzipan, jam and chocolate, that take a ridiculous amount of time to make and are (almost) better than sex. Her work has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies including Clean Sheets, Fishnet, Best American Erotica, Best Women's Erotica and Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica.
Her first novel, Amorous Woman-a semi-autobiographical tale of an American woman's love affair with Japan, Japanese food and lots of sexy men and women along the way-was published by Neon/Orion. It's currently available at Amazon and Amazon UK, and from her web site, DonnaGeorgeStorey.com.
For more of her musings on sensual pleasure and creativity stop by her blog:  Sex, Food and Writing. You can also take a quick trip to Japan with Donna's provocative Amorous Woman book trailer at: www.youtube.com



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