Remember how I said that you can sometimes have too much of a good thing? And that not every Heartwarming book has to be about a baker heroine or chef hero? (Correct me if I’m wrong, readers, maybe you DO want all baker heroines and chef heroes?) Well, to all the baker-heroine-loving authors and readers out there, I have to share with you a wonderful lesson in characterization and motivation that came from a certain Chris M in our Editorial department.
Chris M—whose identity will be protected in case her family reads this!—bakes for our department on a weekly basis…sometimes daily. We get little email notes from her about this cookie and that cake on the credenza, help ourselves. Sometimes her oatmeal cookies are all I have time to eat for lunch…I blame her for my record-breaking weight gain. She is such a committed baker that she’s recently enrolled in a local chef’s school.
Last week I was remarking on her truly awesome love for baking and she explained: when her mother-in-law comes over, Chris M goes to the kitchen and bakes. Sometimes the MIL’s visits last three hours. How often does she visit? I asked. “Every. Night.”
How long has she lived near you? I asked. “Fifteen years.” (The tone of Chris M’s voice carried the weight of the world and, not being a writer, I have no idea how a good Heartwarming author would convey that!)
Those of us gathered around the credenza during this conversation burst out laughing. The side of Chris M we never knew: the subtext that motivates her. THIS, authors and readers, is the kind of characterization that can carry a good baker heroine story.
Chris M felt her motivation was too ordinary (another unnamed editor confirmed that the same motivation is what turned her into a marathon runner: “Welcome, come on in, your son’s over there—I’ve just got to slip out for three hours to train for my next run”) and offered instead this baker motivation: “Maybe she bakes because it reminds her of a past love – they met at pastry school and had planned to marry and open a pastry shop together, but he was killed in a horrible accident. When she climbs the stairs to her secret kitchen she bakes and feels as though she’s with him.”
All to say, subtext and character depth and high stakes motivation will carry a story no matter what the hero or heroine does for a living. Any readers seeing this? And do you agree?
Enjoy the last days of summer before the solstice, everyone! In Canada we hope to have a good two months before the snow flies…touch wood.
*Also, in honour of international dog day or whatever we celebrated last week, here are pictures of my brother’s dogs during and after a two-hour hike on Sunday! Can bums get much dirtier?