Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eggs, Milk and a Keyboard: Ingredients Needed To Write for a Food Review

By Kimberly Johnson

I’ll admit it…I’m a foodie. I watch the culinary shows (even, The Chew). I download the instructional videos. I will spend my next-to-last-dollar on a cookbook.

Last Sunday, I perused the aisles of a local mega bookstore and ooh’d and ah’d over Lidia and Ming. And just before I got hungry, I forked over the cash for Jamie’s Kitchen (Jamie Oliver) and Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible.

At home, my kitchen turned into a full production set that would rival the one on Food Network. I tried out Paula’s Tomato Pie recipe. The ingredients were simple: four tomatoes, basil leaves, mozzarella, cheddar cheese, and mayonnaise, to name a few. The tools of the trade were modest: a deep dish pan, a grater and the oven. In Paula’s original recipe, she combined grated mozzarella, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. I substituted plain yogurt for the mayonnaise. The result was a tasty treat that I may fix for brunch. Suddenly, I realized that I am good at cooking, eating and writing. But, I wasn’t sure about selling my two cents to an audience. So I hopped on the Internet to discover ways to write a cookbook review.

The experts offered this advice for the beginner reviewer:

#1: Select two or three recipes from your favorite cookbook and sample them. This way, you can get a feel on the author’s cooking style to write a comprehensive assessment. I cheated. I tried just one: Not Yo’ Mama’s Banana Pudding from Paula’s Just Desserts book.

#2: Explain why the book is unique. That’s what Garrett McCord (blogger with Food Blog Alliance) does with his entries. “For example, how does the author explain the use of ingredients in baking better than other authors? By setting the author and subject apart from the overcrowded world of food literature you detail their importance.”

#2: Discuss the author’s flair, presentation and photo arrangement. Let the reader discover the best (or worse) part of the book and don’t give away too much information.

#3: Identify the format. Be sure to include the title, author, and the general theme of the cookbook. Comment on the quality of the photos.

#4: Summarize your impression of the recipes and cooking style of the author. Set a rating system.

Writing a cookbook review seems like hard work. I’m going put my keyboard and taste buds to the grindstone. And hopefully, I can get someone else to spend his or her next-to-last-dollar on Paula Deen.

Sources: www.ehow.com, www.foodbloggersofcanada.com, www.foodblogalliance.com

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How to Write People: One Socially Inept Writer's Hopeless and Sisyphean Struggle to Capture the Complexities of Human Social Behavior in Prose

By ShaunMcCoy

We’ve all met them, the people who are people people. They have an intuitiveunderstanding of their fellow human beings which allows them to give touching gifts, make funny jokes, and avoid awkward silences even with people they don’t know. Were these people to write, they would write realistic characters who’d pop off of the page like a celebrity foldout book.
But what if we’re not people people? Well for us, there’s cognitive psychology.
Now, mind you, I’d never recommend that you seek psychological help in the traditional sense; after all, I like you just the way you are—particularly that silly little way you have of trying to pass off your personal brand of insanity as being “eclectic.” No really! It gives you character. And you’re a writer, too, so I expect you to be comprehensively kooky. But cognitive psychologists have discovered some gems that have raised my character development to the next level, and I bet they can do the same for you. So let’s look at the Principle of Reciprocity and how combining this with indirect speech is a better way to make your characters appear to be real than the more traditional method of asking your readers to experiment with hallucinogens.
Now you’ve certainly noticed that there are differing levels of expectation for different relationships. We experience reciprocity in communal(family), exchange(friends), and dominance(your superiors or subordinates) on a day today basis.
For instance, if I invite you to my house and communally offer you some sweet tea, I’d be miffed if you tried to pay for it. Whenever there is a break in reciprocity expectation there is often serious tension.
So let’s see this in fiction!
In Conan the Barbarian, Conan, having become a jewel thief, gets drunk with his accomplice, the warrior/babe Valeria. She tries to steal a ruby from him, breaking their reciprocal relationship. Rather than react negatively, Conan unexpectedly gives her the jewel as a gift. He not only forgives her transgression, he offers a communal brand of reciprocity while doing so. This interaction makes their affection suddenly believable.
If I need my feminist protagonist to have a working relationship, I might have her alternate paying for dinner with her date. This mimics a communal reciprocity. If I want her relationship to be on the rocks, I can automatically lower the reader’s expectation of their intimacy by having her split the check at every meal—which doesn’t even mimic reciprocity at all. While these transactions are only a hint towards their relationship’s health, such hints can develop a resonance with the rest of the clues the author drops.
Playing with levels of reciprocity between your characters gives your fictional relationships a level of legitimacy that separates them from the ho-hum interactions in your competition's stories. Imagine a girl flirting with her waiter. Imagine a boy with a crush on a girl in an elementary school playground. Imagine a person assigned to torture a prisoner of war. How can these people show that they want to change their levels of reciprocity?
But does this technique alone give your fictional relationships the much needed veneer of legitimacy which will separate your prose from pack? No. Using Indirect Speech in conjunction with a touch of body language and the Principle of Reciprocity, however, will make your characters come alive.
Well, what’s Indirect Speech, you might ask? What body language is the most effective in accentuating the interpersonal dynamic of our protagonists? What do Joe Bastianich, Steve Buscemi, and Steven Pinker have to do with all of this?
Find answers to these questions and more in: How to Write People: One Socially Inept Writer’s Hopeless and Sisyphean Struggle to Capturethe Complexities of Human Social Behavior in Prose, Part II! (coming soon).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Personal Experience Trumps Research

By Fred Fields

I have a complaint with Rush Limbaugh. He sounds so logical and knowledgeable and smart. But every time he talks about a subject I know something about, he seems to be just a little bit off the mark.
That happens too, on occasion, when I read an article or a book. The author's research may be correct according to the time of writing, but is not correct within the time frame of the action in the published piece. Or his research may have turned up false information.
Our world changes more in a decade today than it used to change over a hundred years. And I'm not just talking about medicine, computers, and flush toilets. People today live longer, and we're also bigger, stronger, and faster than our ancestors. We can do things they never dreamed of. Consequently, we think differently.
We can get in our car and go to the same store several times a day if we forget something. But during horse-and-buggy days, they had to think more efficiently.
Research is important, and done correctly, will put us on the right path. But nothing takes the place of personal knowledge and experience.
If one is writing a piece about a lawyer trying a case, it is more authentic if the author has experience in court and is familiar with differences in the laws over time. If your story is about the military, it helps to have served and to know about changes in tactics and materiel.
My point is that we are ahead of the game when we write about something we know.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


By Alex Raley

From time to time, most of us have been drawn to write a something based on our own experiences. I have often been so tempted. The results are usually disastrous. What you get, one might title “bio-fiction,” which is a beast to handle. I am not talking about a memoir or historical fiction. Those are totally different with their own problems.

Early in my writing I tried a story that I hoped would become a novel. I was actually writing my own history. As I wrote, facts were pouring onto the page. Conflict was nonexistent and there was no story line to guide the reader, just a series of events. “Boring” does not begin to describe the results. Fortunately, the effort never saw the light of day. In moving everything from an old to a new computer the bio-fiction piece flew into space to await an alien to decipher it. Even with her three eyes, she will not find anything there.

Sometimes a real event does click, but you do need a thought line that gives substance to your writing. My wife and I sat in the garden reading the morning paper. My wife said, “Look at that little creature.” There was something smaller than a midge moving across the paper. I took that situation and wrote a poem in which I posed a series of thoughts that interested me. The poem won an award. Who would think that a small creature could become a poem?

Bio-fiction should not be confused with non-fiction which usually is a well-organized telling of an interesting event or an essay in which personal thoughts are presented and developed. I like to read essays by good writers, because you can learn so much about writing, Essays need the same intensity of focus found in good fiction. Good essays are highly organized and have the climax of good fiction.

When my son and his wife had their first child (an adorable girl), I chose to write a non-fiction piece to remind him of many things I wanted him to hear once more. All the events in the piece are true, but they are organized to lead to the final paragraph (not unlike fiction). I began by opening a box in the garage which had been there since he was nineteen. All the items in the box led to an expansion of the story. That piece was published in a literary journal.

At the beginning of this blog I related how poorly my early writing dealt with personal stuff. I even coined a word to describe those efforts, “bio-fiction.” I still have massive failures writing stories from personal experiences, but sometimes I seem to be successful. How does that happen? I read. So much can be learned from reading.

Read. Help stamp out bio-fiction.