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When it comes to creating characters, most writers will tell you to allow your characters to come alive and dictate their own destiny. I think this is basically correct, and it takes some getting used to, but some very surprising things will happen if you let them develop on his or her own. If you start out with a rigid concept and try to impose it on a character, it will show in the narrative: the story will seem artificial and stilted.
I believe the most important thing is to allow yourself to create a mental space that is part fantasy, part daydream, and totally devoted to your current project. I find it really useful to think about my characters right before I doze off to sleep. I also insulate that fantasy world during most of my waking hours. We don’t have a land line at home, I don’t own a smart phone, and I don’t send or receive text messages. I have the ringer turned off on my cell phone, and look at it once or twice each day to see if anyone called. The method of creating that mental space will vary from person to person, but I don’t believe it’s possible to nurture it if you’re staring at a phone all day.
When I’m working on a story, I let the characters reveal themselves through action and dialogue. I try to avoid description. Frequently I’ll come to the end of a first draft and realize that I haven’t even told the reader what the character looks like. You can always go back and add missing descriptive detail, but I think it’s crucially important to let the character emerge through action, dialogue, his or her private thoughts, and interaction with other characters.
For me, all of this tends to result in a story that is far more clipped and forceful than the average novel writer during the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th. I think that’s both necessary and desirable in the current era. Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to turn back the clock to an age without TV, movies or the internet. Writers may like to think of themselves as artists, and they may be artists, but the truth is we’re also competing with Facebook and The Real Housewives of New Jersey for the time and attention of readers. People want drama, action and stimulation, and if we don’t give it to them there are many other places they can get it.
Journalist David Fox arrives in Palm Beach to interview the chef for a story on the restaurant’s silver jubilee. He quickly becomes involved with Chateau de la Mer’s hostess, unwittingly transforming himself into a romantic rival of Avenzano. The chef invites Fox to winter in Florida and write his authorized biography. David gradually becomes sucked into the restaurant’s vortex: shipments of cocaine coming up from the Caribbean; the Mafia connections and unexplained murder of the chef’s original partner; the chef’s ravenous ex-wives, swirling in the background like a hidden coven. As his lover plots the demise of the chef, Fox tries to sort out hallucination and reality while Avenzano treats him like a feline’s catnip-stuffed toy.
Enjoy an excerpt:
Several years after the opening of Chateau de la Mer, the triumvirate of Avenzano, Walsh and Ross appeared to be one big happy family, although there were rumors of strains in the relationship. One night, at the height of the Festival of Champagne, there was an incident. Ross, a notorious womanizer, was sipping Cristal with a redhead at the restaurant’s corner table. His wife slipped through the front door of the mansion, unannounced. Walking slowly through the dining room, past the Medieval memorabilia and dramatic cast-iron griffins, she strolled up to Ross’s table, took a revolver from her evening bag, and calmly shot him through the heart.
The ensuing chaos did more to establish Joseph Soderini di Avenzano in the American imagination than his designer pasta, his Bedouin-stuffed poussin, his recipes transposed from Etruscan or Old Genoese, or his library of 10,000 cookbooks. This was more than a good meal, after all. This was sex and death in Palm Beach. Even more intriguing was the Chef’s refusal to comment on Ross after his death, except for informal and effusive eulogies in his famous baritone.
“Watch that Cristal,” David’s friend Bill Grimaldi told him before he left Manhattan to do an assigned story on the 25th anniversary of Chateau de la Mer. “It’s a killer.”
About the Author: Global Gourmet blog. He is the holder of the Certificate and Advanced diplomas from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Mark’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Men’s Journal, Art & Antiques, the Continental and Ritz-Carlton magazines, Arizona Highways and Newsmax. He is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Lyons Press, 2014). His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is published by Black Opal Books.
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