Food, Writing

A Cooking Post That’s Book-Related

It’s often true, that in novels, we have to stick to the story. Especially these days, when publishers are demanding that books be short and fast-paced. I’ve never been a fan of this trend – I like depth with my stories, and I like those little bits included in the narrative that bring realism to the world.

This is one thing I really like about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books. While she’s telling us the story, she’s also including delightful tidbits about life in the 18th century. I never feel that this detracts from the story, or slows it down. But then, Diana Gabaldon is an excellent writer.

I will humbly state that I’m not at her level, but I damn well plan on trying to be. And that means I need to jump in and try swimming around a bit. I may be at the dog-paddle stage, but I tried to include pieces of Real Life in my novel.

In The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Casey and Sam find themselves unexpectedly living their lives in the early 20th century. What does this mean in terms of food? What would any of us, transplanted from 2011 to 1911, expect to eat?

The Edwardian era was a golden age, provided one had money. French cooking was popular, wine was cherished. Restaurants did a brisk business, and the rich competed to hire the best chefs for their manors. Even the ocean liners that Thomas Andrews built had top-notch chefs and first-class dining.

So what did Casey and Sam eat? First, imagine the loneliness and homesickness they must have felt. Food is integral to our sense of place, to love and family. Casey and Sam would have used food as comfort, trying to eat things that reminded them of home, and of the 21st century.

A few scenes in the book show how they dealt with it. In their poorest days, while they are still learning how to survive, Sam builds a hotplate and makes a bean soup for them. Later, as their situation improves, they share cooking duties, one watching the chicken and the other chopping cabbage. In another scene, we see how Casey serves “raw greens” (the American salad) with most dinners.  After her marriage to Tom, she gives her servants every Sunday off, and makes pancakes for her family, just like her own parents used to do.

No, these details don’t further the plot. They aren’t essential to the story. But they don’t take up that much space, or add very many words, and I think they help make the world real, with depth and complexity.

4 thoughts on “A Cooking Post That’s Book-Related”

  1. Totally agree with that and I have always wondered about that “every paragraph must move the story forward” thing.
    I have read novels for the very reasons you said, there was one where a woman ended up in the early 1800’s from here and honestly it simply was about how she manged in this strange culture with feminist sensibilites. I read that like 25 years ago and never forgot it because of all that particular description about the time and place. I think that makes the story rich.
    Good article!
    Samantha Stacia

    1. Books like that can have a deep impression on us. I like historical fiction anyway, but when it’s told from the viewpoint of a modern character, the fun is kicked up a notch. I find it broadens my perspective regarding what we’ve accomplished and how we’ve gotten to the place we’re at. And sometimes it shows us what we’ve lost, too.

  2. Hello Marlene. Nice to meet you through your blog. I listened to Outlander on audio book about a year ago because I heard it was so good and liked it pretty well. Sci Fi and fantasy is not my usual book fare, but I’m venturing into some new genres. Some of my favorite authors get waaaay off track and their stories are anything but face paced. Love Victor Hugo (I think his sidetrack into the background of Napolean at Waterloo in Les Miserables was about 100 pages long) and love old Russian lit – Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (talk about getting off the story track). So I don’t think I even noticed is Diane Gabaldon stuck strictly to the story. I kind of expect some background details in my novels. Look forward to reading more of your writing!

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