I’m always impressed when authors put a lot of thought into the foods in their stories. Harry Potter is the first example that comes to mind because of the sheer creativity of its chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties and sugar quills and butterbeer. But even simpler descriptions, like the specifics of smelling cardamom and honey and tea or the characters having pumpkin stew and garlic flatbread in The Sky Beyond the Storm are enough for me to appreciate the effort the author put into their food choices. And I think the reason behind being so impressed is because I have no idea what to include when it comes to food. I have some automatic go-tos, like stew. Always stew. Or meat and potatoes. You know, things that I eat. I struggle with it, and I know it’s something I need to work on.
So, when I started writing “Spirits of the Sea,” which is inspired by a Dutch tradition where draft horses are ridden down to the sea, I wanted to include super Dutch foods. And I wanted to try really hard to add in a wide variety of different things and get specific with the details.
Well, lucky me, I’m Dutch and have regularly gone to Holland since moving to the States back in the late 90s. Not to mention that my dad always brings back a suitcase full of food or asks us to bring a ton for him if we go without him. So finding very specific foods to write about was easy, and I had a lot of fun with it, especially with trying to figure out how to describe and translate what it all was into English.
And now, obviously, I have to show some of my hard work. Here’s a little snippet from during the ride (Now I just need to include nice specifics like this into everything else I write):
They paraded through the center street, weaving their way toward the sea waiting beyond the grassy dunes. Cheers went up as the horses passed. People shouted at those they knew. The scent of fries and deep-fried and grilled meats, herring and smoked eel, and freshly baked pastries and sweet cotton candy wafted over the riders and gathered crowd of people watching.
Veerlie’s stomach rumbled as the wind whipped the scent of her favorite deep-fried, raisin-stuffed, powdered-sugar-covered, fritters toward her. They were only ever made the week of the sea ride. Now that her nerves were under control, she realized how hungry she was and wished she’d eaten a better breakfast.
“That smells so good,” Marysa said wistfully, looking over at the mini-pancake stall standing in front of a dark-windowed store. A line of people wound its way around behind the gathered watchers.
“On our way back, we should stop to get food. I’m starving,” Veerlie said. The sweet, buttery scent hit her and sent her stomach rumbling again. Her mouth watered at the idea of the puffy palm-sized pancakes coated with powdered sugar.
What I wrote over the last week
Chapters fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen of The Children of Oher.
What I’m reading right now
The Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir
Red Dust and Dancing Horses by Beth Cao
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown & Dave King
I wasn’t planning on writing this for a few more weeks, but then I started writing a story yesterday that came from a dream, and it seemed to better fit today. So, let’s start with that dream: Last May, my mom died of cancer. Then, sometime between last October and this month (I can’t remember exactly when it occurred) I had a dream that when I was coming out of the barn where I ride horses, I got a phone call from an unavailable number. When I answered, my mom was on the other end, and I told her, “But this is impossible. You’re dead.” She agreed and then carried on as if everything was normal. The moment I woke up, I knew I wanted to write a fictionalized version of that. And yesterday, after months (possibly even a year) of sitting on it, I finally started it. Naturally, it brought up some feelings, and I made myself tear up for the first time while writing. So that was…fun?
And yes, I am going to absolutely post a bunch of pictures of my mom, because she was the best. I know a lot of people don’t want to be like their parents, but if someone told me I was like my mom, I’d be nothing but thrilled and honored they thought so.
When my mom was still alive, I called her pretty regularly after work or after riding to just say hi, and we’d talk on my drive home. And sometimes she’d call me around the time I was usually done working to do the same.
There were numerous instances after she was gone where I’d get into my car and get this almost instinctual thought – I don’t want to call it a thought, because it wasn’t a thought. It was more like an automatic thing I was supposed to do because I’d done it so often, but thought will work, I suppose – to call her. That was followed by a near immediate reminder that I couldn’t. And that sucked. So. Hard. It was like a nice little punch to the gut. Like having the rug swept out from under me. Thankfully that doesn’t really happen much anymore.
When we first found out she was dying of cancer, I asked my boyfriend how I was supposed to function as a normal person after she was gone. It’s crazy how we do, actually, eventually, continue to just function after someone we love dies. How we get used to a new normal without them. How we can even be happy without them in our lives, as impossible as that seems. Or, at least, I learned to function like a normal person. I’m sure not everyone is able to do that.
And naturally I think about her daily whether it’s just from seeing her pictures on my desk or when she comes up in conversation, but generally there’s not really sadness associated with those thoughts. Like of course I wish she was still here, and I miss her. She was never anything but loving and supportive. But it’s normally surprisingly easy to just continue life without being sad.
But there are moments where her being gone sucks extra hard. Big moments where I want to call her and tell her exciting things have happened, and I can’t, and I hate it. Last year, after she was already gone, I managed to finish a draft of book one of the Enorians Saga. This year, I not only finished writing book two in five months and then revising book one in another three. Neither of which I ever thought I could ever manage so quickly. And then I got my MFA in writing, and my professor had nothing but good things to say about my thesis.
And it was so hard not to be able to call her about all of that. Especially because I feel like she started all of this when she picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and read it to me when I was a kid. I’ve probably said this many times, but I honestly believe that I wouldn’t love reading and writing and fantasy, I wouldn’t be the book crazy person I am, if she hadn’t done that for me, because before Harry Potter, I didn’t like reading. I want to share it all with her and go, “Look. You did this. This is because of you. And I can never thank you enough.”
I’m sure there will be many more moments in the future when I have similar feelings. But thankfully I do have a bunch of other wonderful supportive people in my life that I can tell all the exciting things to. But it would still be pretty cool if cancer wasn’t such a bitch. To everyone who has lost someone to cancer, I feel your pain, and I hope you can find some joy in the world beyond their passing and remember only good and happy moments.
Now, let’s end with a little excerpt from that story, which is currently untitled, because titles are hard. I didn’t use much from my own life in this beyond the whole mom died bit. But this is one moment, the moment I mentioned above when getting in the car, that I did pull from my own experiences. It wasn’t quite as dramatic for me, but I wanted to try to illustrate just how much it sucks:
“As she slumped down into the front seat of her car, Phoebe had a momentary instinctual desire to call her mom. It lasted only a second before the realization hit. Before she remembered that she couldn’t, because her mom was dead. Her heart plummeted into her stomach. Her stomach dropped down into her pelvis somewhere and vanished. All her insides had been sucked out of her, leaving her with an empty, hollow feeling. Her throat burned along with her eyes, and her cheeks grew warm as she felt the tears pooling.
She’d thought she was done with this now. It’d been over a year since her mom died. She’d had many moments like this over the first few months after her death. Moments that left her trembling and crying. Moments that left her breathless with unexpected grief.”
What I wrote over the last week (since 11/5 in this case):
“The Folly of Blissfruit” – A myth about an enorian fruit (blissfruit) that causes crazy amazing highs and why enorians shouldn’t eat it.
“The First Aesan” – A myth about Aesa’s decision to take children to her realm upon their death rather than sending them to the Aether.
“Aesa’s Ring of Conception” – A myth about a Velite woman who desperately wants children but can’t have them and Aesa’s special ring that allows conception no matter the circumstances.
Children of Oher Chapter One: The Wedding – This one started out as a short story idea that, entirely unsurprisingly, has grown into novella length. Kora Mercer gets kidnapped by the Children of Oher and is forced to marry one of their young men because the group hasn’t had a female child born in years, so they have to resort to pulling women in from outside their walls. But when she realizes her new husband, Asher Webb, is in love with his best friend and wants as little to do with all this marriage business as her, she has to decide whether to trust him in hopes they might escape their prison together.
Untitled story about someone struggling through a busy lunch shift at a restaurant.
Untitled story about a girl who one day she gets an unexpected phone call from her dead mom.
More things written from Rowan’s POV that weren’t originally written in Rowan’s POV, just for funsies.
To see little excerpts from all the things, go check out my Instagram.
What I’m reading this week:
Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill
I also just finished Blackbird Broken by Keri Arthur yesterday and am impatiently awaiting the release of book three, Blackbird Crowned.
I’m participating in my first writing (virtual) convention this week! It started yesterday, and it has been absolutely phenomenal so far! I learned so much already between the editing, world building, and query letter writing workshops. I can already see why people participate in these kinds of things on a regular basis. The next four days will be jam packed with just so many fantasy and writing panels and readings by authors and digital art shows. Many of which I’m sure will help make my writing better! I’m so excited to see what the rest of the week brings. I’m going to be mentally drained by Sunday night, but it’ll be so worth it.
I didn’t do a whole lot of writing this week what with preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which starts Sunday, and also getting ready for the convention, but I did finish up a “short” (I say because it’s 27 pages) story I started a few months ago. I thought it might be fun to give a little excerpt from that, so here’s the first page and a half.
Excerpt from “Spirits of the Sea”
The wind moaned as it swept through Senrese in the early hours of the first day of spring. The villagers had long believed the moaning was caused by the spirits of the sea, and the fact that the sound seemed to originate from the water only helped fuel those beliefs. The wind rattled the shutters of steep-roofed houses, rustling well-kempt bushes and causing dimly lit lampposts to sway as it blew along the red bricked streets. The air smelled of an oncoming storm, the dark, swollen clouds covering the moon.
Newly sixteen-year-old Veerlie Smalbrok lay awake in her bed, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars. They were the same stickers she’d placed there with the help of her best friend, Marysa, when they were in first grade. She’d sat on her mom’s shoulders, sticking the little plastic pieces to the ceiling. Then they’d run next door to do Marysa’s room, too. She wondered, listening to the wailing wind make the rusting windmill atop the barn creak and groan, if Marysa was also lying awake with her stomach in nervous knots so bad it hurt. In only a few hours they’d both be riding, for the first time, in the four hundredth annual sea ride. Anyone with a horse would ride through town and down to the beach to wash their horse’s legs in the salt water to banish the evil winter spirits.
She almost grabbed her phone to text Marysa, but she didn’t want to wake her friend if she was asleep. The clock on her nightstand read 4:06. Only three hours until she had to be up.
Next door, Marysa Kenser slept deeply beneath her glow-in-the-dark stars. Her dreams were full of nightmares where her mare, Mellie, shrank to so small Marysa could touch the ground from her back. In one she rode through the streets naked. In another she felt herself pulled beneath the waves. She rolled over in her sleep, bunching the handmade quilt in her fists.
A few miles down the road, the moaning wind whipped through an open barn door, sending the hanging lightbulb swinging back and forth. Twenty-two-year-old Joren Holka stroked Wybren’s thick, bay neck. The gelding stiffened at the sound, snorting nervously. Joren couldn’t sleep, so he’d come to check on the horse for the sixth time since dinner. He ran his hands down Wybren’s legs, down across the feathers around his hooves, making sure the horse was in top shape for the ride that afternoon.
It was his and Wybren’s fifth year parading through the streets. His sister, Amalia, had just turned sixteen and would be riding their other horse alongside him. Their parents weren’t exactly thrilled at the idea of Amalia riding so soon, but it was tradition, and she’d insisted. Joren promised to keep her safe.
He did one last check of Wybren’s body, gave the gelding a pat, and went to inspect their other gelding, Soleil, before heading back inside to hopefully get a few hours of sleep before the long day ahead of him. A spattering of rain lashed against his back as he ran to the dark house across the yard…
What I wrote in the last week:
“The Soulbond Mark” – An enorian myth explaining markings
The last seven pages of “Spirits of the Sea” – Every spring the people of Senrese ride their horses down to the sea to wash their legs in the salt water. It’s said to get rid of bad winter spirits. But danger lurks beneath the waves, for the sea spirits require a sacrifice to keep the island flourishing.
What I’m reading this week:
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (Yes, still reading Mistborn haha)
Writing Unforgettable Characters by James Scott Bell