My novel, FEAST OF SORROW, is full of food. Everything about the story pivots around meals, ingredients and what food represents. One of the main characters is a Roman gourmand named Apicius, whose name is on the world's oldest known cookbook.
Posts about Writing:
Writing tech and freelance marketplace startup, Reedsy, is running a really cool campaign called "#IWriteBecause: A Campaign By Writers for Writers" which showcases authors and the reasons why they write. They want to bring writers together through video. For every author who contributes a video, Reedsy is going to donate $10 to Room to Read, a non-profit foundation that focuses on literacy acquisition and girls’ education in Africa and Asia. Over 11.5 million children have benefited from Room to Read’s charity efforts in over ten countries.
Or at least that's what she says about herself. "I don't think I'm a food writer any more than I am a love writer or a fish writer or a fowl writer. I just write about life." And yet her view on life was very much driven by taste and pleasure and food:
Last year I had a few goals that I wanted to meet related to reading and writing, some of which I accomplished and some that I didn't. However, I did:
It seems like the last retreat has just come and gone and here we are again, leaving husbands and children behind, off to Maine and a kickass writing schedule with good good friends and inspiring fellow writers.
Many people I talk to think my retreat is a boondoggle of sorts, as though I'm only saying that I'm going to Maine to write but I'll really just be sitting on the beach getting tan. So to prove that idea wrong, here's our schedule.
Awhile back I mused on the myriad of writing rules that are out there to help any aspiring writer. Part of what was most amusing for me was that there were so damn many. We writers are wordy, opinionated sorts and it seems that everyone who is successful at their writing has a word of advice for other writers. I came across dozens upon dozens of long winded lists of what to do, or what not to do (all seen at the link above). And then I came across this bit of brilliance from Anne Rice, which I think mostly says it all:
In the last few years there have been a bevy of studies, articles and even video games thrown at the masses with the aim to help one's brain age well, to become more intelligent or to stave off dementia. The most common method of giving your brain a boost is to jolt one's self out of your routine. Drive a different way home from work. Sit in a different spot in class. Take the stairs if you commonly use the elevator. Basically, stop the routine and start doing something that makes you have to think a bit more. The trick I always seem to remember is to do something simple, like shower with your eyes closed. Try it--it's hard! And I recommend skipping using a razor if you opt to try. Or try walking through your house with your eyes closed. You'll find that you second guess yourself, and that there is a bit of fear involved as well as some discovery.
Over and over, this seems to help with cognitive processes, especially as you age. Companies have realized that they can monetize the idea of training your brain, leading to the rise of sites and apps like Lumosity, Braingle and FitBrains. Do these types of sites work? I think that the jury is still out on this, but on a minimum level, they do help with creativity.
There is a formula for a perfect writer's retreat: a Maine beach house + two 1/2 days + a schedule + amazing writing partners = success. Actually, success = three chapters + a more fully fleshed out timeline + incredible momentum to keep going.
What it didn't yield for me and my three writing partners was a name. We've been meeting bi-weekly for five years and for those five years my husband says to me every other week, "are you meeting up with the Women?" Which is a fairly terrible name, like a bad film remake or something. We tried. We consulted a worn 1884 copy of Clubs and Club Life of London (this is 1908 version if you are curious) which we found in a bookshelf full of ancient books and photo albums. We learned about the Beef-Steak Society, the Blue Stocking Club and the Boodles, but alas, it didn't give us ideas. We dug through Roget's 1911 Thesaurus, which we all agreed is a writer's best friend (we also shared fond stories of our own dog-eared copies we used as kids before traditional thesaurus' really became popular). Nada. We are still Nameless.
I've been a bit sparse in my posts lately because my time has not been my own! But it's all good and the world of writing, of ancient Rome, of Renaissance Italy and all that goodness has been swirling around in my head in grand incubation mode. It's the Muse at work, I think.
We're coming up on the next Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace and I couldn't be more excited! I have a session on social media at the conference, but I will also be there as a writer, participating in the Manuscript Marts (I'm meeting with two agents this year, more on that in a future blog post), and attending classes. This year's keynotes include James Wood and Amanda Palmer. It's the first year that the Muse has had two keynotes (one on the Muse, one on the Marketplace) so that should be interesting!
James and Amanda will have their work cut out for them though, to top this amazing keynote by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) two years ago. Absolutely brilliant. And while it's long, it's definitely worth watching in its entirety. I still have chills thinking about it. He's an absolutely masterful storyteller.
To follow up on yesterday's rejection post, I thought I'd share some wonderful inspiration from one of the most successful writers ever -- J.K. Rowling, giving a commencement speech at Harvard in 2010 on the benefits of failure.
Some of the truest words she speaks: "One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality."
As you may know from either reading my blog, following me on social or being one of my friends and acquaintances, I'm currently seeking representation for my novel, FEAST OF SORROW. The novel, set in ancient Rome, is about Marcus Gavius Apicius (hear the pronunciation here) , the man with his name on the oldest known cookbook. The story, told through the eyes of the cook that makes him famous, is a turbulent and tragic story of a family in peril as a result of Apicius' ever-growing ego. It's a story full of luxurious food, drama, violence and political intrigue.
The novel is historical fiction, but because of the time period in which it is set, it's essentially genre fiction, that of ancient Rome. Many of the novels set in ancient Rome tend to be mysteries, which my book is not. Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, David Wishart and Robert Harris (all fantastic authors!) come to mind. Other books in the genre tend to be very heavy on the war and/or politics, including a few stand alone novels by some of the previously named authors, but also by others such as Colleen McCullough, Michael Curtis Ford, or Allan Massie.
Holy writing rules! There are so many out there that it's hard to know where to start! I compiled the quotes that I have run across over the last few months and pulled out the ones that really spoke to me. The Zadie Smith quote in particular is key for me. I need to eliminate all distractions! Click on the headline to go to the article for all the rules by that author.
George Orwell's 5 Writing Rules
I'm working on research for my next book, on Renaissance chef, Bartolomeo Scappi. I find the whole research side of historical fiction fascinating. It's like peeling back layers of paint on an elaborate painting to discover the essence of the people who inspired and created such masterpieces.
One of my characters is related to Agostino Chigi, one of Rome's wealthiest bankers in the early 16th century. Some tourists may be more familiar with him as the man who built the Villa Farnesina on the banks of the Trastevere. It sports paintings by Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi, and Sebastiano del Piombo. But for the most part, it is often left off of itineraries of busy travelers who head straight for the Forum or the Trevi Fountain. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because it makes the visit so much more pleasant for those who want to bask in the sumptuous frescoes without being jostled by too many others.
For the last four (nearly five?) years or so I've been meeting with my writing group, not quite like clockwork, but about every two weeks. The three of us have hacked and slashed and encouraged each other's novels from start to finish, and gone through query letters, agent pitches and publishing challenges during that time. And of course, best of all, we have become close and dear friends as part of the process, bolstering spirits as we deal with family, illness, relationships, weddings, work woes and the ilk. I will know Anjali and Jen until I'm quite old and wizened, I am convinced.
Awhile back I thought I read that Ursula K. LeGuin has been in a writing group for many many years (if I'm remembering right she talks about this in Steering the Craft). At the time I remembering thinking, wow, someone as accomplished as she is still meets with others to go over her work?! I was impressed, but at the time, I didn't really understand the power of having ongoing encouragement that comes from being part of a small group that truly cares about your work. It's invaluable. Because of my writing group I don't get lazy. I moved immediately from finished to researching my next book. I feel compelled to move on the next chapter. I get excited to turn in work for feedback. I get lost in the worlds of their books. In short, because of this group I am on the continuous hamster wheel of writing creativity and as those of you know, if you fall off, it's a massive PITA to jump back on.
Tomorrow I leave my husband and my kitty to hold down the fort while I head to BlogHer 2012 to check out the action. It's a business trip primarily; some of you may already know my full-time-awesome-paying-the-bills job is managing social media for Keurig, the leading single-brew coffee maker in the world. There will be some Keurig action at the Got Milk booth, so I'm heading down with one of my colleagues to say hi to the crew there.