29 December 2019

Season to Taste




Just for fun, let's use the premise that the act of writing stories is similar to the art of cooking fine foods. We'll skip any images of hopping from the frying pan and into the fire as far as plots and scenes go. No, what I'm referring to here is adding a little extra flavor specifically to a particular story or its series. Just like every chef prefers to season various foods with certain flavors to add more richness to the taste, I think stories should be flavored with a little extra seasoning to enrich the consumer's enjoyment. So, pick your own condiment: mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, curry... I have one series where Buddha Soy Sauce comes to mind, therefore, I'll start with that one.

Paperback cover - coming in 2021
Tales from the Golden Triangle

When I came back to the world from Nam in '68, I brought back a brown, rough-cast glass bottle of Buddha Soy Sauce. Over there, we put it on cooked white rice and the Vietnamese version of sub sandwiches. Seems the French had had a large influence in that country for a while and had introduced the Annamese to long, narrow loaves of French bread.

As a young lad fresh from Kansas, I found that part of the Orient to be a fascinating and exotic land. Many years later, I went on to write fiction about the Golden Triangle, an area contained in Burma, Laos and Thailand, right next door to the conflict in Nam. My story protagonist was a pure-blood Chinese young man raised in the British school system of Hong Kong. His father was an old White Nationalist Chinese soldier turned opium warlord who had taken his younger son (the protagonist) out of the civilized world and placed him in the jungle camps to learn the family business. The protagonist's elder brother who was half-Chinese and half-Shan hill tribe was raised in the savage environment of the jungle and wants no obstacle between him and inheriting their warlord father's opium empire. Plots and counter-plots begin.

For extra seasoning in this series, I added at least one Chinese proverb to the mix in every story. Not only did one of the characters recite the proverb in the story dialogue, it was said in the appropriate place in the story to foreshadow the action about to happen or to explain what had already happened. For instance: "He who reckons without his host must reckon again." Roughly translates to: Some people think only of the advantages they can get in a relationship and yet make no allowances for any potential disadvantages that could happen. In the story, Elder Brother has made a nefarious deal with a rival opium group, but the rival double-crosses him. Bad reckoning on the part of older brother. Then, after the protagonist rescues Elder Brother from the rival group, Elder Brother thinks he is still in a position to be one up on his rescuer, but in the end, he hasn't reckoned with his new host, his younger half-brother.

E-book cover, also in Paperback
as of 2019

Twin Brothers Bail Bond series

Here, I think the heat of curry is appropriate. The proprietor of the Twin Brothers Bail firm has reluctantly hired a new Executive Secretary. Seems all the other candidates have died in accidents, committed suicide, moved, disappeared or were otherwise no longer available for the job. The new hire is a cadaverous Hindu later reputed to have come from an old-time family of Thuggees in India. In this series, to match the action in an appropriate place, the Secretary/Thuggee will utter a saying from the pacifist Mahatma Gandhi. But, when the Secretary says the same words, they end up with a sinister meaning. Example:

     Late the following morning, Theodore entered the outer office and found the swarthy man sitting behind the executive Secretary's desk.

     "What are you doing here?"

     The Hindu fixed his unblinking gaze on Theodore.

     "The divine law is that man must earn his bread by laboring with his own hands."

    Moklal Feringheea then stretched his outstretched fingers.

     Theodore watched the sinuous movement of the muscular hands and took a step sideways.

(NOTE: Thuggees usually strangled their victims. Not quite what Gandhi had in mind for use of  hands.)
E-book cover, also in paperback as of 2019

Holiday Burglars series

For this series, I think sweet and sour sauce, two opposite or different flavors in one. Here, the title of each story has more than one meaning. In "Click, Click, Click," a Christmas season burglary, Beaumont and Yarnell are breaking into the house of Antoine, a drug dealer who hides his illicit proceeds in gift boxes under the Christmas tree. Normally, the "Click, Click, Click" would put one to thinking of the Christmas song where the line goes: Up on the rooftop, click, click, click... referring to the sound of reindeer hooves. However, in this case, our boys have counted houses from the wrong corner and have now broken into a house belonging to a member of the NRA. So, what noise does a revolver make when it's being cocked before firing? Right. And so it goes with the other titles, such as "Labor Day" where the burglars are escaping from the scene of the crime in an ancient elevator when it stops for a pregnant female headed to the hospital..

Anyway, these are just a few examples of how I try to spice up my stories and put a little something extra in them to differentiate my stories from all the other good stories out there.

How about you?

Got any tricks of the trade you would care to share?

All this talk of food made me hungry. I'll go make a sandwich while we're waiting for your answer.


6 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Like your listing as I follow your stories in magazines.

Since you asked, I use setting and character to differentiate my stories and novels from others.

New Orleans is a great setting with many unique areas and great names (streets like Soraparu, Cucullu, Salcedo). The cuisine is a character in itself. I must avoid the overused cliched references.

Differentiate by having main characters a little different like John Raven Beau who is half-Cajun and half-Sioux. An pets. The main chracters all have cats or dogs who have their own quirks.

Eve Fisher said...

As O'Neil said, since you asked - for the Crow Woman series, I used Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Crows and the sound of wind through dry corn stalks. Between the two, I had the setting for three stories, and hopefully more will come.
For my Laskin stories - well, there's a rhythm and a silence to small town life, and talk, that's unmistakable. And is always the background. And then my main characters each have a different take on life - Sgt. Grant Tripp (who lives with everyone in town believing he killed a drug dealer), Linda Thompson (connected to both the law & order and the criminal families of SD), and John Franklin (who's odd, and not from around here).

R.T. Lawton said...

O'Neil, New Orleans is definitely a story character on its own. And, I was a fan of John Raven Beau long before I finally met you at the last Bouchercon in New Orleans.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, having lived East River for 10 years and West River for 16 years and having worked in the cities, small towns and various rural areas, I have to say that you have definitely hit the tone, characters, dialogue and setting with your Laskin, SD stories. It's like being there again.

Eve Fisher said...

Thank you, R.T. I'm honored.

Leigh Lundin said...

Good point, RT. Often we say words are sweet, honeyed, sugary, bitter, or salty. I'm wrapping up a story where I don't particularly discuss taste, but dip into the scents of fried onions and funnel cakes in an outdoor concert. It takes place in the Deep South, land of Moon Pies. Does that count?