Tag: writing

A plate, fork and spoon.Famously quoted on the original, Japanese Iron Chef, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”  I guess I believe that, because food is a thing with me in my writing.

Granted, food is a thing for me in general.  I spent a few years in my early twenties with so little money that eating every day wasn’t always an option.  I never miss a meal now (if you know what I mean).  And my characters rarely miss meals, either.  Also, you may notice when they eat I tend to tell you what’s in those meals, occasionally in detail.

Once I was told by a beta-reader that I had a seeming obsession with chairs.  That’s more of a hangover from a weird piece of advice I got as a young writer.  By contrast, writing about food is a way of making character and situation come to life, and it’s such a simple technique.  Ian Fleming used it in the James Bond novels to show how Bond is particular about what he puts in his body.  Tolkien used it to make a cultural point about how hobbits live.  George RR Martin writes extensively about food because apparently he really likes food.

That’s not a fat joke, by the way.  There’s a Game of Thrones cookbook (link), so clearly he’s a food fan.

Are characters eating a fancy meal?  A plain one?  Is it junk food or something healthy?  A particular ethnic variety?  All of these questions and more reveal things about situation and character.  In Walk Away (link), Camaro Espinoza‘s sister makes a complicated dish in one scene because she has become highly domestic after a lifetime of doing things halfway.  You know that now, and all I had to do was show you how she cooks.

I’m not saying everyone uses food in this way, but the next time a character in a book you’re reading eats, pay attention.

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Writing

Nahuel HuapiOne of the things for which I was lauded when I wrote the Borderland Trilogy (link) was the authentic flavor of the cities in which the books take place: Ciudad Juárez for The Dead Women of Juárez (link) and Tequila Sunset (link), and Nuevo Laredo for Missing (link).  This is due largely to the fact that I’ve been to these places multiple times, and know the areas well.  Granted, my knowledge of these things is some twenty years out of date, as I don’t recommend anyone go there while the drug war rages, but the fundamental nature of cities and towns generally does not change in a single generation.

Since the Borderland Trilogy, I’ve had to rely on less extensive experience for locations and, in at least one case, I have no firsthand history with the place at all.  See if you can spot which one of the Camaro books (link) features that locale.

As I move ahead with new books in new places, I’ve taken to travel.  Early next year I’m headed off to Montana.  Later in 2019 I’m going to Argentina.  In both cases I’m going to take the opportunity to work in solitude for a week or more — I’m thinking about a whole month in Argentina, given the low cost involved — but the positive secondary effect is taking lots of time to walk/drive around and see people, places and things I can incorporate into my books.

If you can travel as a writer, absolutely do it.  Depending on your genre, you can go to the exact spots, or you can visit some close facsimile.  And even if you don’t do any direct research in your travels, simply pay attention to what makes a location unique.  You’ll find a use for this experience someday, I guarantee it.

Writing

ClockI work quickly.  I don’t do this because I have a desperate need to release a book every three to four months, as so many self-publishing gurus suggest, but rather because I have a lot of stories to tell and a finite time in which to tell them.  Some believe it’s perfectly okay to take years to write a book.  If they only have a handful of stories in them, that works.  If the opposite is true, they need to get a move on.

There is no secret to writing quickly.  I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news.  The only real way to write quickly is to write a modestly ambitious amount five days a week.  There is absolutely no need to write 5,000 words a day, or more, no matter what anyone tells you.  There’s no reason to spend twelve hours slaving away on a treadmill desk, churning out fiction.  If you want to finish a book in what many would consider record time, write about 2,000 words each day, five days a week.  That’s it.

Yes, I know, some of you are saying, “Two thousand words a day!?  Are you insane?”  Depending on your definition of the word, I definitely am insane, but that’s not why I set this amount.  I figure about 80,000 words for a novel, broken out by forty days (eight work weeks), which reduces to two thousand.  Two months is more than fast enough for anyone’s purpose and, really, two thousand words is nothing.  As of this sentence, you’ve read 250 words.  Not much, is it?

At first you’ll take some time to hit this rate.  I started slowly back in the mid-oughts, writing just those 250 words a day.  It didn’t take long until my writing energy exceeded that count, so I increased to five hundred a day, then seven-fifty… you see how it goes.  Right now I can do approximately 1,500 words in an hour, which means I’m done with my daily count in an hour and a half.  Do you have an hour and half to spare?  I’m willing to bet you do.

Note that this doesn’t include time for revision once the book is done.  I set aside another twenty days for that, as revision is a more labor-intensive process.  But, again, three months to finish and polish a book is nothing in the scheme of things.  And if you have stories to tell, that makes all the difference.

Writing