Sunday, February 21, 2010

One hell of a night out... the Pizza-man's tale

It was a dark and stormy night, which was about normal in these parts, when suddenly all hell broke loose! At least, part of hell broke loose, cheering and running. Gwaarg, the dog-headed demon in charge of the western perimiter hell-fence maintenance growled "F'kit!" furiously, as he saw the damned souls streaming out of the nether regions toward Taki O'Loughlin's Irish Bar and Grill, Belly-Dancing Tuesday. He groaned as he set out after them. This would be another all-nighter. The only way of separating them from the rest of the patrons would be to listen to the accents, because merely looking for half-naked flayed-alive souls with white-hot scorpions clinging to their genitals was hopeless in that crowd once the Irish-Greek dancing started. Worse, he could hear the escapees practicing. "Begorrah!", "Nancy-Wuskey!", "Banshee!" Whuskey yee'r th'divil!" they bellowed eagerly in chorus, except for the one who was yelling "Mazeltov!" You always got one. No, that wasn't true. There'd be at least three in the pub, and while it might seem perfectly justified, he'd get yowls of outrage from human resources and a ream of paperwork if he took anyone too soon, or, as unlikely as it might seem, someone who wasn't heading for hell at all, but was just delivering pizza. And in a pub with shamrock-covered plastic tablecloths, delivering in pizza (even with anchovies)was considered a penance, as Gwaarg had found out last time.

Heh. Ok so I was taking a few moments to write a prologue to poke fun at Elmore Leonard's 'rules'- except for being Margret Atwood, which, as I am perfectly happy to write science fiction (with or without conversational cosmic calamari) I cannot imitate. They're actually not bad guidelines, just not 'rules'. Before I was so distracted the thing I was going to write about was food. Now, as we sort-of-I-hope proved up there, one man's terrible and boring and another's entertainment vary. One of my own pet entertainments is putting food into my books. It's such fun prising the pages apart later, trying to work out the squished splotches might once have been. It's also a good way of getting roaches to edit out paragraphs that you wish you'd never written or even read.

Actually, on that charming, appetising note... what I meant writing was about food. Now, as the sort of person who reads recipe books for light entertainment, I will admit to being a little biased here. The landscapes of my worlds are colored by food (and occassionally drink. I have come across red wine that permanently stained concrete, let alone the worlds of my imagination). They're a window to fill in on some of that descriptive guff I am (thank you Mr Leonard) generally quite sparse on. I have this odd idea that they appeal to different set of senses than ones involved in looking at scenery - But I could be wrong. What is your take, folks? Do you like food in books to be described, and had you noticed that I do so? (So does Sarah, for what it is worth).


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good point, Dave.

I look on food as something I use to fuel my body.

But there are times when I need to know more to make a scene work. And then I have to go a research. Because, when you think about it, where people eat, who they eat with, who eats first, who gets the scraps, etc, tell you a lot about a society.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

There is an absolutely wonderful scene in Sharpe's Enemy where a collection of British and French officers sit down to a meal to celebrate a Christmas day truce. The description of their food, meticulously researched like all of Bernard Cornwell's work, is delightful, and while being so very different to the rest of the book, the tone he uses is still in perfect keeping with how he has told the story up to that point.

I have ambiguous feelings about using food in writing, mainly because its fairly rare for me to read examples of it. I enjoy it when it is there, but more importantly when used at the right time. I don't want to hear about the particular crispness of an apple eaten when the general takes a short break in planning a battle, but if the general is attending a celebratory feast for vanquishing the foe, I absolutely enjoy knowing what the stuff tastes like then.

Timing and context, I suppose, is everything.

Ori Pomerantz said...

I tend to "space out" on descriptions that are not particularly interesting for me. So your food descriptions don't really make for a better reading experience, but they don't hurt anything either from my perspective. If they add something to some readers, that is great.

However, I love the association of some of your characters with food. I think you did an excellent job making Chip a chef. It added a lot of depth of his character, especially when he threatened to scallop the paratrooper officer that interrupted him with Ginny.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved reading about food. I also have a secret fondness for recipe books, but don't tell my family because then they'll expect me to cook...or cook better, I should say.

Food is something everyone can relate to because we all have to eat. And we all have our favorite foods. That's an excellent set-the-scene tool. I'll make a conscious effort to use it soon.

Linda Davis

Amanda Green said...

I have to make an admission. I love to read a good description of food in books. Of course, I also read the recipes, when included at the back of the book. The inclusion of food, and how it is prepared or procured, tells a lot about characters. Besides, I've gotten some good recipes that way.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I like to think I don't put descriptions in books so much as "stage business" into which the description comes at time. I confess I like to know where things are taking place, and when I'm writing historical, the setting is essential to giving clues about the environment. BIG chunks of description are, like everything else, stopping points. So I don't do that if I can help it.

Anonymous said...

Meals are handy indications of passing time in a novel, or an indication of the time of day.

It can help set a character's mood, whether viciously squashing peas, or nervously shoving food about the plate.

It can be appropriate to the setting or a jarring disconnect, over cooked, burned by the time they returned from the battle, minimally warmed and eaten nearly raw.

The garlic can draw them in or twist their stomach after the horrors of the day.

It can be very sensuous. Succulent and sweet, licked, delicately bitten, swallowed with a faint ripple down an elegant throat.

And it can sound really yummy.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

One flashback -- uncooked, frozen hotdogs, in Draw One In The Dark. IN the plastic. :-P

Kate said...

So far as I can tell, I don't see food in books any differently than anything else. Done the way you do it, Dave, it's wonderful.

Some authors have the tastebud equivalent of a tin ear.

In my writing, I try to aim for "does it move things in the direction I'm going?" - if a banquet also provides a whole lot of context on the society I'm writing and something critical to the plot (even is not particularly big) it goes in. If all I need to move things along is "had cold breakfast, is really looking forward to being back in civilization and able to eat hot meals again", that's all that happens.

Stephen Simmons said...

Sometimes food plays an absolutely essential role in world-development. Lackey's "It Takes A Thief" springs forcibly to mind, where the process of how food flows from the Lord's table through codified stages to the lowest of the low serves to illuminate his city's economy from a brilliantly unorthodox perspective.

The narrative character in the SF novel I hae almost ready for submission is something of a gourmand, so she tends to be specific when talking about food -- but that's a product of the character, not a general trait of my writing. The problem is, I have fairly simple tastes (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches really are one of my favorite meals), so I have to work at food references.