Friday, November 18, 2011

Expose Yourself

Last night I made spicy Thai chicken curry and served it over quinoa. So what, you ask? For one thing, I am definitely not a foodie and even more assuredly, not a great chef. B) My mother was a terrible cook whose idea of a gourmet meal involved ground beef smothered in a can of Campbell’s vegetable soup. And thirdly, I spent my formative cooking years in Nebraska. For the uninitiated: most indigenous Nebraska meals involve a slab of meat, a copious serving of potatoes, bread and gravy, Jello to represent the fruit/vegetable group and anything with sour cream, cream of mushroom soup and/or Velveeta. Finish it off with thick hunks of cake or pie.

In other words, cooking low-calorie, high-nutrition, spicy, delicious, ethnic meals doesn’t come naturally to me. So how did I reach this gastronomic pinnacle? Completely by accident.

Several years ago I escaped from rural Nebraska to Boulder, Colorado. I can’t quote the vegetarian to carnivore ratio in the Republic of Boulder but we’d be safe to say it’s higher than in Nebraska. I experienced Indian restaurants, vegetarian deli’s, Vietnamese and even, gasp, sushi.

A string of (fortunate or unfortunate depending on how I feel on any given day) events brought me to Flagstaff where I spend my days working for an environmental non-profit. I’ve gone out in the field with real, live vegans. Exposure involved more than the weather. They’ve fed me soyrizo and scrumptious hummus burritos. One of them even gave me my first jar of curry paste. Without noticing it, my palate and recipe list expanded. It now seems natural to serve eggplant stuffed portabella mushrooms with sun-dried tomatoes and call it a meal.

And so it is with writing. (Did you wonder when I was going to get around to that?) Surprisingly, I didn’t start out with the knowledge to write a publishable book. I didn’t even know what ingredients a person might combine to make a good novel. My first attempts resembled a dried up flank steak with a side of canned peas and overly sweet bread pudding smothered in heavy cream.

I started going to conferences, reading books on writing, experimenting, entering contests, going to critique groups. I exposed myself to all manner of writing influences. I’m now getting ready to serve up a savory read with a blend of spices far more interesting than the salt and pepper I limited myself to previously.

I’m no Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen and any time I get a meal on the table it’s still a minor miracle. I admit I’m not an Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver or John Irving. But if I keep exposing myself (not THAT kind of exposing—mind out of the gutter, please) maybe I’ll keep producing an ever more tasty dish—uh--book. Who knows, I might even try fried tofu next time.

What about you? What kind of silly extended metaphors can you come up with for your writer’s journey?


Robin Allen said...

Now I'm hungry! Your writing experience aligns with mine, Shannon. I had lots of kitchen mishaps with my first one, but kept mixing and tasting and baking until it came out just right.

Shannon Baker said...

Yes, but Robin, you're a real cook. Sadly, I'm a hack in the kitchen.

Lois Winston said...

Welcome to the blog, Shannon! As for food metaphors, I think my first attempt at writing would best be described as filled with "everything, including the kitchen sink." Sometimes, along with learning what ingredients go into writing a book, you also have to learn which ones to leave out.

Shannon Baker said...

Good point, Lois, you know how disappointing it is when you get too much salt in the soup. Thanks for the welcome.

Vicki Doudera said...

Fun post, Shannon...hmmm..I'll use dancing. As a nonfiction writer for 15 years, I was doing a line dance -- The Electric Slide, if you will. Repetitive, fun for a while, but not very creative. But fiction writing is like interpretive dance, and with every recital I'm becoming more fluid.

Ugh! Can I really post this? You asked for it!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Yay Shannon! I look forward to tasting your first serving.

Alan Orloff said...

Here's my metaphor: a solitary writer banging his head against the wall until the words come leaking out from the cracks in his skull. (Wait? What does "metaphor" mean again?)

Welcome to the blog!

Sisters of the Quill said...

Killing them softly? Karen

Deborah Sharp said...

Love this post, Shannon ... and welcome to the blog. I, too, grew up with lots of cream-of-mushroom added dishes, mainly casseroles. Just like w/eating, it's hard to break out of a writing rut. No clever metaphors for you (I can't top Vicki's Electric Slide!), but I do know that getting to decide the endings as a fiction writer is a lot more fun than it was reporting real (often tragic) life in my former career as a journalist.