An inspirational trip to the island of Anguilla (more on that soon!) has led me to the realization that The Kitchen Mistress needs some adjustments. I’ve been unable to finish it for months, knowing something was wrong but not being able to pinpoint the problem. Though nearly every single scene is in place for Katherine’s story, I came to see that the voice is slightly off, it lacks that engaging hook that readers need in order to love it. In this case, the novel needs to be rewritten in first person.
This realization got me back to thinking about setting and character development as I think a story told in first person changes the way the setting comes to life. I wrote this article for Writer’s Digest last summer and thought it might be good to pull it out and re-educate myself. Have you been thinking about all the ways setting can change the way a character moves through a story? Well, I’ve included the opening paragraph (the link is at the end o the paragraph, too) of the article to help you think more…
Five authors can be given the same basic plot elements and through each author’s use of time and place the characters will develop differently and each story will unfold in utterly unique ways. For example—boy meets girl, hot romance ensues, parents intervene, boy and girl separate, they get new jobs, some how boy and girl end up together, happily. Set in New York City, 2015 each element of this “story” will be unrecognizable in the face of the same events plotted out in 1905 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Attention to setting as a means of character development gives the author the chance to write an original story that leaves readers attached to the characters long after the book is finished. Here are some ways to infuse your manuscript with meaningful and unexpected details that keep the reader turning pages…
Another etching by Henri Boutet done sometime in the 1880’s-90’s. This one is called Discovery and the accompanying line at the bottom reads (very loosely translated from French): “She attended a ball. It was successful and now the love letters are flying in!”
Although I’ve been unable to tackle huge chunks of The Kitchen Mistress I have been doing small things like writing the love letters that Aleksey sends to Katherine even though he’s right there in town. Was he particularly romantic? We would certainly characterize that behavior as romantic in today’s world.
But a man could not pick up the phone and call to talk to the woman he met the night before in 1890. Nor was every man automatically invited to pop in for tea the next day. So with his heart pounding for the babe he danced with three times the night before, he wrote letters. I suppose the one sure way make sure a woman knew what a man thought about her was to get it down on paper and into her hands before the rest of her suitors did.
Of course, tightly laced rules and manners loosened up for people who did not run in high society circles. Women and men in “lower” segments of society might have run into each other heading to the mines and the dress shop. They might have been freer to converse than the courting couples who were closely supervised by their leisure class elders. Some of those boundaries are explored in The Kitchen Mistress as Katherine and Aleksey rekindle their prairie friendship.
I’m thinking about this quote in terms of characters in The Kitchen Mistress. Characters shouldn’t only see the world in black and white or be entirely good or bad. But Pearl has an innocence, a generosity (even though she has nothing much to give) that makes me smile every time I think of working on a scene she is in. She has some flaws, but I love this part of her–the giving part.
My writing has been up and down in the past few months. Life has interfered in a way it never has before. Outside voices have mixed with the inner knowledge that I am on the right path, scaring the hell out of me. Rupi Kaur’s poem came to me at just the right time. I’m slowly working my way back into the writing. But it’s completely different. I’ve gone from being able to make broad sweeping revisions at the same time as I make teeny specific alterations to only being able to fiddle with timelines or voices or snapshots of scenes. It’s frustrating and frightening that this has changed for me. I’ve even sat with the idea that maybe I am not cut out to continue writing. But that isn’t it. I want that work in my life. And I have to find a way to invite a reliable production patterns back into the process. Even if it’s different than it’s been the last 15 years, I have to believe the answer is somewhere near. I just need to find it.
So much happens to Katherine on her journey as Violet Pendergrass’ Kitchen Mistress.
As readers of The Letter Series know, Katherine is an artist, a painter, a sketcher—an intuitive young lady. I found this painting on Ebay. As soon as I saw it I thought, Katherine would paint just like that. And so I had to have it.
As I rewrite Katherine’s tale I’d like to know—what do you want to know about her life?Coming 2016
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While writing Katherine’s Story (still untitled) I decided I needed to bake some bread–the old-fashioned kind with yeast and sponges and rising dough that has to rest and breathe and get snuggly under a blanket before going into the oven. I used to bake a lot more but haven’t baked from scratch in a long time. And I am RUSTY!
As you can see from the beautiful photo of the finished product, the bread looks gorgeous. But in fact, the middle of it is dense and mealy. Yuck. Either my oven runs to hot or… well, something, I don’t know…
I could use the loaf for display in a store but to actually enjoy it? No!
I am going to try more. I’ve done some more research and see that I might need some specialized baking tools. But then that just seems wrong to me because my mind goes back to the 1800’s when they didn’t even have temperature control on ovens and I think I’m making it way too hard… it has to be simpler than baking stones and cloches and special whisks.
The one positive from this was that I did get the yeast to work. At one point I thought I either didn’t get it activated or that I killed it… yay, yeast was alive and kicking. More soon…