Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lions and tigers and bakers, oh my! By Victoria Curran, Senior Editor

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.”

Lightbulb moment!!!

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.

Victoria

*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?



37 comments:

  1. I feel for Chris and her therapeutic baking! Too funny, though. I like how you point out motivation is everything. One thing I love about writing is getting to create characters with goals and dreams, a past and baggage, and a personality that is impacted by all of those things! I need to go find some oatmeal cookies now. Thanks for that ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Amy! Or you could become a marathon runner. I give you choices...

      Delete
  2. Well, I wish I was in YOUR office for all those goodies. I'm surrounded by health freaks with snow pea pods, carrots and celery...no dip. Boring.
    So, since I'm one of those bakery authors who loves to write about fabulous sweet treats....I adored this story!
    Thanks for swallowing that bit of crow and not being embarrassed to share with us!
    I hope its a long, long time till the snow flies.
    Great shots of the doggies, by the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Coincidentally, I've been living off snow pea pods, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli WITH dip for about a month now. Since a friend overdid it at an anniversary party, and gave the vegetarian all the vegetables. I'm dreaming off hot food, though...

      Delete
  3. So funny, Victoria! I have a friend who also uses cooking as a coping mechanism to deal with her mother when she comes to visit. She loves her mom, but well, like Chris M's MIL she can be a lot to take in. Lucky for me, I also benefit from her "baking therapy." She's got Paula Deen like skills, only lives a half-mile down the road, and loves to share her bounty. Character motivation is one of my favorite aspects of a story, as a writer and a reader.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The best part of this is we had no idea. We just thought she was a woman who loved to bake and was generous enough to share with us! Love characterization revelation...

      Delete
  4. That is some great motivation! :D I love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder what this motivation could translate into for an unmarried woman who didn't have a mother-in-law (which, admittedly, is a bit of a clichéd motivation!...

      Delete
  5. That sound you hear is dozens of author light bulbs exploding overhead! love this, LOL. And locking in a character's motivation is always one of the most exciting parts of story creation. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it really was a light bulb moment for me, too. A hilarious one... Except Chris M has just read this blog and muttered, "Sure, chuckles for you. Me? Hm."

      Delete
  6. Staying with the flow of comments about motivation, coping mechanisms and therapy, I'll say that in my case they're all wrapped up in two black Labs, Harley and Logan.

    And, yes, Victoria, those two doggie bums are quite dirty!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bowser the Beagle sat down in the muddiest stream ever because it was so hot and we'd all overheated. My bro was trying to tug him out of the crick and I told him to leave the poor dog alone--he was already muddy so whatever. And then Bowser lay down in the mud.

      I got a very dirty look from my brother.

      Another lesson for writers: Just when you think it can't get worse, turns out it can! Keep on one-upping the tension.

      Delete
  7. I have never liked to cook, and now I see that what I lacked was the right motivation. But I love eating what others are so good at preparing. Love, love that last photo of the dog. It'd be so nice to spend a whole weekend like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, you lacked motivation, Roz. I used to have a neighbor who retired at age 40 and he told me what had made him so successful: an unhappy childhood. He and his sister were so determined to get away from their past, they both became multi-millionaires. He made his fortune in selling used cars and eventually becoming partner in a number of dealerships.

      Yet again, though: bit clichéd, right? I probably wouldn't believe it if I read it in a book!

      Delete
  8. Love this (and the dog pics), Victoria! This really made me laugh because I'm sure many can identify with Chris's motivation or a twist on it lol. It really is all about the layers and motivation, isn't it? Now, between Chris's baking and the other editor's running, I can see two fun post titles but very opposite: How my MIL made me fat...or...How my MIL made me lose weight. LOL.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interestingly, the dog that's passed out on the grass AFTER the two-hour hike is the basset hound that belonged to my brother's mother-in-law, who passed away a couple of years ago. So his title might be: How my MIL got the last word? (Am I being cruel?)

      Delete
  9. A great story to illustrate the importance of character motivation. Thanks, Victoria! And cute doggie pics!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Linda! I have to stop enjoying the story so much. Chris M is not amused by me.

      Delete
  10. haha- those are some dirty dogs- but happy ones :) I love taking my dog on walks but oh do I ever dread the bath when we get home. I loved your post about subtext.

    The unseen motivations always fascinate me both as a reader and a writer. The moment in a book where we feel like something we questioned (or better yet, didn't question based on assumptions) gets answered in some unexpected way that helps make sense of everything is such an A-ha moment. My first adult romance, WISH ME TOMORROW, has a pediatric grief counselor who spends her free time leading cancer group meetings after work. At first we think it's because she's committed to helping others and understand her passion as she lost a brother at a young age. However, it's not until much later in the book, at a cathartic moment of revelation that moves both her character arc and the romantic arc, that her guilt over not being present the night her brother passed because of a selfish teenage decision is proven to be why she spends every hour at the meetings... to atone... to seek forgiveness.

    I cried at this moment with the character as I wrote it because it'd been ever present in the back of my mind while crafting the novel and to finally have the moment to "get it all out" was a huge relief, although a painful one at that moment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's it, Karen: the ah-ha! moments. Live for those in books. I think that's the key to great stories: I can't see what's coming a mile away. There are still those moments that surprise me.

      Delete
  11. I'd have loved to have heard that conversation around the credenza! Of course, being the age I am, I just keep thinking about that mother-in-law who hasn't found a life of her own so she's bushwhacking her son and daughter-in-law's.

    Like Kate, I'm fascinated by the unseen motivations, particularly those that only show up to the writer when she's three quarters of the way through the book. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Liz! The mother-in-law's motivation is still unknown. I foresee a new character revelation ahead. (Must keep on Chris M to discover it. Heck, maybe she already knows.)

      Delete
  12. I agree with Anna and the lightbulbs! Funny how you can know something and then wham! there it is in black and white and it's like...oh, yeah! :-) And I'd probably be the marathon runner instead of the baker. My mil would have wanted to join me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh, I have an update on the MIL's motivation! I told Chris M some of you wanted to know why she was coming to the house every single night, and this was her response:

      "Good God – I hope she’s not coming for the baking – that would be a vicious circle indeed!"

      So her next obstacle: does she give up baking? The one thing she has come to rely on and love?

      Stay tuned!

      Delete
  13. As a baker, I see Chris's motivation. I do it as stress relief too. Your point about subtext is really important. My husband folds laundry when the kids are driving him crazy. I will never admit to what I do when the clothes basket gets full.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Okay, Sophia, you're scaring me. Please do not tell us what you do when the clothes basket gets full.

      Delete
  14. Meeting around the credenza must be the current version of 'around the watercooler.' And your 'her tone carried the weight of the world' says it very well. When you get tired of being an editor, you should try writing. I hate cooking, too, but fortunately am surrounded by neighbors who are wonderful! And who are raising granddaughters who come to cook with them - Ron and I are a willing and grateful tasting panel!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know, Muriel. I don't think there's ever been food around our water cooler. The credenza is a more magical place. And thanks for the career advice, but I'm too lazy to be a writer! You guys work too hard.

      Delete
  15. I love to bake and I don't need much motivation to do it. My sweet tooth speaks to me. But my weight also speaks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shirley, my weight is more than speaking right now, it's screaming.

      Delete
  16. A very timely post for me, Victoria, since I have two mothers-in-law in the book I'm working on and you've given me some good ideas! Thank you for that. As to the baking, sadly, I seldom need this as an escape. Loved the photos and having just said goodbye to cottage guests, can totally relate to the last pic ! Off to have my nap,now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll let Chris M know that her story inspired you! She might appreciate that more than my laughter. Go off and collapse now, Janice.

      Delete
  17. I love this and totally support the baking motivation!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you chimed in, Laurie. I cannot wait for your debut Heartwarming to come off the presses. Speaking of creating a character in the food industry who is fresh and MOTIVATED! You've killed it. Everybody keep their eyes out for the May 2017 book by Laurie--it's currently titled Just Breathe, but that may change.

      Delete
  18. I agree. It's the development of the characters that captures our interest.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I know I'm late reading this. I saved it to get back to later. I was out of town at a funeral when it posted. What a great post, and some of the comments were hilarious!! From the start I thought the MIL was coming over for the sweet treats. ( :
    As a reader I love it when something is revealed about a character later on in the book that explains her motivation for a particular action. Always a winner for me.

    ReplyDelete