Thursday, November 05, 2009

Veggies or Dessert?

What I'm reading: The Professional, by Robert B. Parker

Like countless other children, I was encouraged—with the fear that children all over the world might starve otherwise—to finish whatever my mother put on my plate. Most of the time, I liked her fare, but like countless other children, there were some things I found less palatable than others. Veggies often fell into this category. Still, we were expected to eat them. Not understanding how not finishing Brussels sprouts could cause the death of children in China, but not wanting their demise on my conscience, I'd do my best to eat what was put in front of me. And there was no Food Network in those days; my mother's cooking wasn't all that creative until we were much older (Just watch, today will be the one day Mom decides to read my blog!)

My strategy was always to get the yuckiest stuff out of the way first, then move on to the good tastes.

When I was a young mom, the experts suggested not creating the "dessert as reward" mindset. Rather, they suggested that while youngsters were still being spoon fed, one alternate all the 'courses' so that strained peaches were no more important than strained peas. Once my twins were into solid food, I just stuck everything into those compartmentalized plates and let them at it.

I went the mixed vegetable route more often than not, and when one had picked out her favorites, I swapped plates and let them have the other's leftovers. One liked peas, one liked carrots. One picked out the corn. Okay, so I wasn't June Cleaver. My kids survived and were healthy enough.

Aside: I'm not getting into the basic reasons babies like sweets—that sweet things were 'safe' to eat and bitter things were often poisonous, so genetically, we're wired to like sweets, and not until we're older do we develop a taste for the more exotic flavors. That's a completely different topic, and I'm rambling enough already.

Keep Reading...

What does this have to do with writing? Allow me to stretch the topic until it threatens to snap. When I write, I have to be linear. I go from appetizer to salad to entrée to dessert. The farthest I can deviate is to leave a scene not quite finished, knowing how it's supposed to end, but just not sure how to get that hook so the reader will turn the page. Or maybe there's a bit of research, and I'm waiting for an answer. I know where I'm going, so I skip ahead just a little and begin the next scene.

For the book I'm working on, there's a "secret" which happens to be a letter. We see it written in the prologue, but don't know what it says. Frankly, at that point, neither did I. But eventually, in order to make sure I had the right motivations for my characters, I had to write the letter. I did, then set it aside until my characters found it. But that's as out of sequence as I've ever been able to write. I fear that if I skip around, the characters won't be behaving the way they should at that point in the book, because they'll have changed by the time they get there.

What really triggered this post, however, is the way I read, not write. Although I love my cross stitch project, it's not really the way I normally live.

I was reading an anthology, which I got because I love one of the 4 contributing authors. I'd never heard of the other 3. And that favorite author's story was the first in the book. I read about 15 pages, then stopped, because it was dessert. It was a story I wanted to savor. I knew the characters, and I wanted to be able to know that when I finished that story, I'd be left with a good taste in my mouth. After a quick check to confirm the other 3 stories were definitely independent, with only the tiniest thread connecting one to another, I moved on and read the other three first (but in order). Then, I went back and had my dessert.

I tend to read dessert books at home, usually when I know I have a reasonable amount of uninterrupted reading time. These are not the books I take to the doctor's office. Even a long wait is still full of distractions. Or on errands, where there are a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Or at the hair salon, which is a noisy place, and the 'wait here while your color processes' chair is not comfortable. I like quiet, cozy surroundings with my dessert reads.

Day before yesterday, I got a meat and potatoes book from the library. This morning, I got a dessert read. Eager as I am to dive in, I'm going to finish my entrée before indulging in dessert.

What about you? Do you have different reading styles? Preferences?


Jess said...

There was food I didn't like?! ;)

I HAVE to read books in order. I got one in an airport once, read it and was a tad confused at the character development... Until I discovered it was about book 8. Off I went to get the rest of them. What's worse, is that I will re-read an entire series if there was a big gap in publishing dates, just to refresh myself.

But they're ALL dessert.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm reading a book now for my book club that's definitely a main course book. It's not that I'm not ENJOYING it, but I unfortunately haven't had the time to devote to it that I'd like. I need some dessert items!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Sam said...

Thanks for the look into your writing style, Terry. I love to read about other writers' techniques and try to pick up things that will help me.

I sometimes read too quickly--especially with a really gripping thriller or mystery. For those books, I've started limiting myself to a maximum number of pages per day. That forces me to slow down and allows me to enjoy not just the story, but the author's style. And when I find a passage I really like or want to study, I slap a sticky note on that page so I can find it again later.

Terry Odell said...

Jess, I'm sure you had "not favorites" but those years are too much of a blur to remember which ones.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth: I'm leery of joining a book club for just that reason. Makes it feel like homework, not pleasure. My idea of a book club is to let everyone read whatever they choose, then come back and share opinions. If something sounds good, others could pursue it.

BTW -- My publisher offers a hefty discount for book club orders. :-)

Terry Odell said...

Sam -
I hear you on reading too fast. I have this push-pull thing when I get near the end of a book, especially if it's one with characters I'm loving. I want to find out the end, but I know once I do, the book will be over. I think that's part of the reason I don't like those fast 'wrap up the threads and get out fast' endings. (Which might be why I'm having so much trouble ending my WIP.)

Crystal Clear Proofing said...

I just LOVE your analogy of certain books being DESSERT!

Most definitely! Right now I'm in the middle of a meat-and-potatoes book. I just picked up one the other day because it's the next in a series by a favorite author.

Oh how tempted I've been to dive into that book! This is just so funny because I've never actually THOUGHT about it! But I'm saving that new book until I finish the one I'm reading. The new book is dessert!

And I love my sweets just as much as the next person!

Great post!

Terry Odell said...

I use the library a lot, and having a due date does tend to move a book up my priority list. But deep down, I'm a 'save the best for last' kind of gal.

Terry said...

I know what you mean by savoring books. If I like the protagonist,I hate for the book to end. I think that's why I like murder mystery series. I get to read more of his or her adventures in the next book.

Mary Ricksen said...

I hate to say it but if I happen upon the desert book and I am reading a vegetable, I have no problem starting the better story and going back to the vegetable. I just can't help myself. I may not live forever so I want the best first!

Terry Odell said...

Mary - hence my cross stitch in my kitchen. No need to apologize - there's no 'right' or 'wrong' -- just different.

And your point is certainly valid. Right now, I have about 30 pages to go on my entree book (although it's more of a chef's salad) before I can start on my dessert.

Oh, and yeah, I have one more wrap-up chapter to WRITE. At the moment, that feels like a vegetable task.

Sheila Deeth said...

I think I'm still a kid with everything on the plate waiting to be mixed together. I'm usually reading at least two books at once, and one is usually meat while the other's dessert. Maybe an extra dessert, or a fine exotic vegetable at the same time...

Wynter Daniels said...

I'm like you about the "dessert books." I savor certain ones and read them at home, little indulgences that serve as rewards for "have to" reads. Those "have to's" are kept in the car and it takes me eons to finish them.

Terry Odell said...

Wynter, I often deal with those 'have to' reads by reading them very quickly. Not that they're bad, but they're just not enticing enough to linger over.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila, once in a while I'll have two books going. Normally, one is on my e-Bookwise, and because it's back-lit, it's my 'wake up at 2 in the morning and can't get back to sleep and don't want to get out of bed or wake hubby' book. So those tend to be read in bits and snatches.

Ray said...

I like to read series in order, but if I can't I don't get too upset. I just read the older books when I can find them. It really isn't much different from a book I just finished. It is the last of a four part series in which we finally find out what makes each of the four women who have a book of their own tick. The first three books leave everthing up in the air except that the murder in each book is solved by the end of that book.

Sorry I haven't been around, but reading has kept be away from emaikl, blogs and groups.


Terry Odell said...

Ray, glad to see you back. I've read books out of order, but usually there are so many spoilers for the earlier books that I either don't read them, or if I do, feel like I've already read it.

Ray said...

Interesting coincidence on yesterda's comment. I read Perry O'Shaughnessy (two sister coauthers) whenever I happen to see a new book. I picked up SHOW NO FEAR. It is a new book, but it goes back to Nina Reilly's first case in 1990 to clear up some of the back story that is only alluded to in the series.

Of course in a way this is a teaser as their newest Nina Reilly mystery DREAMS OF THE DEAD is listed as coming soon in hardback. That means I have to put it on my wish list instead of waiting until I MIGHT see it on the shelves.