This weekend, I sent out an SOS via tweet to the Writing Community because I was struggling with what to blog about. It has been a while since a good topic has come to mind–that wasn’t about an upcoming book. Lots of great ideas were suggested, because the people I follow and who follow me back are great. I’ll probably end up using all of the ideas eventually, but I can only use one per blog post, so…
Writers often have a style or thematic elements that make their writing instantly recognizable. I think I have a few things about my writing that identify it as “Chase Connor,” though I think I attempt different styles from time to time to challenge myself and keep things fresh. However, one thing that is almost 100% consistent from one book to the next is that I mention food. In some books, food is almost a character itself.
My relationship with food is…complicated. Not to say that I’ve ever had an eating disorder or a severe problem with eating, but I’ve experienced both abundancy and scarcity. Food insecurity in my youth and early adult years was something that had a major impact on who I am today. It’s a huge motivator in how hard I work and hustle. Food insecurity is something I never want to experience again. Other than losing someone I love, it is one of the things that terrifies me the most.
Needless to say, food insecurity is a major problem in the world, and if you’ve experienced it, you know how traumatic it can be. Not just in the moment, but it really shapes your future. It’s one of those lasting traumas that becomes a specter in the back of a person’s mind. I probably tend to indulge a lot more than I want due to fear of food insecurity. When you’ve had to worry about where your next, not even meal, but even bite of food, will come from, it’s paralyzing.
When you have ready access to good, whole, nutritious food, life is good. Obviously, food being a basic need, having easy access to it, and the means to acquire it makes life so much easier. It relieves anxiety and lets a person focus on living a better life and achieving their dreams. Like shelter and water, basic needs being met, and not worrying about them, is critical and should be a basic right for all human beings. Even so, it doesn’t just have to be viewed as simply a necessity.
Food is also a great luxury and indulgence. A great plate of cheesy pasta, a juicy steak, pastries–crispy, creamy, crunchy, chewy, spicy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth, sour, umami–there are few foods that don’t make me happy. If you’ve ever read one of my books, you might have noticed that already.
Our race, nationality, ethnicity, and religion are sometimes identifiable through our use of food. Don’t misunderstand–I’m not talking about hateful stereotypical correlations bigots spout. I’m talking about common ingredients, dishes, and preparations that are specific to certain cultures. A creamy, crispy, velvety (yet humble and filling) cassoulet in French cooking. The expressive and exciting use of a variety of chili peppers in Mexican foods. The earthy spices and vegetarian options in Indian foods. The variety of noodles, rices, spices, sauces, and meats used in other Asian foods, not to mention the stocks and broths with so much depth you can hear choirs of angels sing when you consume them.
Food, its availability, our relationship to it, the ingredients we favor, and how we cook it is intertwined with our human existence.
Because food has shaped who I am, how I behave from day-to-day, and how I think of the past and future, I feel that it helps flesh out my characters. It informs the reader about what their life is like, their geographical location, or simply lets a reader know some of their likes and dislikes.
But you don’t have to take my word in this blog post. Let me break it down for you:
JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE series – The food court at Dextrus Academy has a coffee bar, a taco cart, and an Indian option. Donuts and bagels make an appearance frequently. A date between two characters and a celebratory dinner take place at a Thai restaurant. JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE was my first published book and it proves I was all about the food from the beginning, mentioning some of my absolute favorites.
GAVIN’S BIG GAY CHECKLIST – Mexican and Tex-Mex food, as well as some Jewish and Polish (by way of Ukraine) foods, are mentioned frequently throughout this book. From menudo, to chilaquiles, to tacos, to matzo balls and pierogi, food informed the reader about the main character’s likes and dislikes, as well as explored his racial and ethnic identity.
A SURPLUS OF LIGHT – When Ian and Mike “meet” for the first time, they share Cheetos and Cokes, though we later find out that Ian prefers sunflower seeds and half-lemonade-half-tea. The Cheetos and Cokes were an “in” for Mike to get Ian to drop his guard and talk to him. Food loosens everyone up, right?
JACOB MICHAELS IS… series – Oma makes heartwarming, stomach-filling, stick-to-your-ribs breakfasts and German meals. This not only informs the reader about Oma as a character, it also helped set the Midwest backdrop of the series.
WHEN WORDS GROW FANGS – Jude and his family are of Italian descent, so pasta and other Italian dishes are mentioned frequently. In fact, the book opens during Christmas and all of the foods that comprised their Christmas dinner are written about at length. If you don’t start that book with your mouth watering, you’re probably not human.
A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF NORMAL – several scenes in the book take place in the main characters’ favorite diner where Noah always gets pancakes and sausages. Food texture was used to explore an ASD character’s identity and explain a relationship to food many people don’t experience.
BRIEFLY BUDDIES – A lot of the book takes place in a hamburger/ice cream joint. Need I say more?
These are just a few of the examples of how food appears and plays a part in my stories.
For me, writing about food is just as natural as writing about being LGBTQIA. Or human. It’s (hopefully) a common element in all people’s lives and plays a role in who they are. As long as a person has a healthy relationship with food, it is comforting and elicits memories of family dinners, or dinners with friends, or an amazing meal they had on vacation, or a new food they tried that changed their whole perspective. It reminds them of times and places and memories–that were hopefully good–and helps them settle into the setting of the story and identify with the characters who inhabit it.
Beyond that, I just love food. Writing passages describing foods I love make me happy as a writer. So, my characters loving food is one of the ways that I inject myself into my characters. It grounds the story in reality and makes it easier for readers to accept the characters as fully fleshed out individuals.
I’m certain many of you are wondering what my favorite meal is, or what a perfect meal for me would be. There are just too many wonderful cuisines, ingredients, and preparations to give a specific answer. However, humble, warming, gut-filling dishes made with good ingredients by someone who loves to cook will always leave an impression on me. The dish doesn’t have to include anything exotic or expensive–it just has to be prepared with love and good ingredients that go well together. If it also contains a shit ton of carbs and fat, even better. Additionally, having at least one wonderful person to enjoy it with makes it a slam dunk.
To appease everyone, one of my favorite meals is spaghetti carbonara. It’s simple, humble, easy to make, and comprised of ingredients that are available almost everywhere. However, when my husband and I sit at the table and enjoy it together, it feels like home. For the record, we make it the “easy way” with bacon and parmesan since guanciale and Pecorino Romano are not always readily available here.
Until the day I stop writing, food will be a calling card in my books. And I can’t wait to write about more delicious things…
Tremendous Love & Thanks,