An author blog post
by Julie Bozza
As many of you will have already realised, I am a bit of a foodie. I love food. I love eating out, I love cooking, I love eating, I love nurturing others with my food. When I travel, I love exploring the local cuisine. It seems natural to me that a home revolves around the kitchen and dining areas, that people gather together to share lunch or dinner, that birthdays, anniversaries and other events are celebrated with a special meal.
Because it’s such a central part of my life, I have quite naturally included food and all its associated circumstances in my writing. Characters plan to meet again over a meal out – or at least over coffee! One character offering to cook at home for another is a Significant Step in their relationship. The point-of-view character happily indulging in the taste, scent and texture of … let’s say pancakes … helps express their enjoyment of life in all its glories.
It was a surprise to me, early on, to be laughed at over this. Laughed at fondly, in an ‘omg only you would include pancakes in this story’ kind of way. I hadn’t realised it was an idiosyncrasy! I thought it was just life as she is lived! The laughter didn’t stop me, though, and I certainly know by now I am not the only author who explores the meanings and metaphors of food in their writing, even when food isn’t the main subject at all.
Another aspect of my writing is that I like to write about adult characters who are reasonably self-sufficient. This is often signified by the characters being ready, willing and able to cook. Whether they live alone or with others, they can manage a home and a kitchen. They also care enough about themselves to eat properly, balancing health with a happy enjoyment of indulgences.
This all goes right back to Albert, main character of my very first attempt at a professional novel, THE DEFINITIVE ALBERT J. STERNE. He’s been living alone since his mid-teens, and he’s super efficient in managing himself and his home. He’s a vegetarian – not because he’s squeamish, but for all the many logical, moral and ethical reasons there are – and he has developed his recipe repertoire accordingly. Albert is also a well-barricaded loner, so allowing Fletch into his home is a huuuge deal. Soon Albert is not only cooking for him, but also exploring and inventing vegetarian versions of the Creole and Cajun dishes that Fletch enjoys so much. To me, this all speaks volumes about their growing relationship.
My more recent novels continue to include similar tropes. As I have mentioned in other blog posts, the first building block for A THREEFOLD CORD was Ben’s huge warehouse-conversion apartment. This gave the couple and then the threesome a safe haven with plenty of room in which to grow. As well as this, Ben is a serious cook with a serious kitchen, and he quite deliberately sets out to not only nourish Grae with his food choices but to intrigue him as well.
Why, yes, I was brought up with the notion that the way to a loved one’s heart was via their stomach! But seeing as my stomach also benefited from such efforts, I figured it was a win-win situation.
When Ben and Grae are finally invited to Chris’s place for a meal, they realise he is also house-proud (if in a more modest way), and he is also a serious cook. This gives Chris and Ben something to bond over (other than Grae himself!) but also drops a few clues about Chris’s true nature that neither Ben nor Grae pick up on right away.
Apart from my love of food, there’s no hiding the fact that I’m a coffeeholic. I always know what my characters drink by way of coffee (or tea); their preferences in milk, sugar, lemon, and so on; and their choices of mugs or cups. Coffee provides the rhythm of my own day, so I tend to conceive of my characters in the same way. Unlike me, some of them are tea-drinkers instead, but I figure that similar concerns apply.
So far so good, but there’s no denying that this focus on food and drink can go wrong sometimes! There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as they say!
As with any trope or subject matter, readers’ tastes will vary from the author’s, often significantly. My focus on food and cookery (and coffee!) will work for some readers but not for others. I guess that must be true for just about any subject you care to name…
I’d love to hear from you in turn! What are your thoughts on defining and exploring characters via food? What other subjects are you interested in reading and writing about? The books the characters read; the locations in which they live; the way they decorate their room(s); the music they listen to; the social media they use? What helps truly define a character for you…?