Salad Days

Back when I was in college, back when the transportation of choice was the covered wagon, I aspired to afford the salad bar at Fritz That’s It. What’s that, you say? It used to be a well-loved restaurant in Evanston, Illinois—part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain of restaurants. Alas, it closed in 1987. Click here and here for more information on the restaurant. Today, that name is associated with another establishment.

A menu from 1973 (I was not in college at this point, in case you were wondering.)

When I was a student, I was always broke. So I shared restaurant menu items with my friends, who were equally broke. As the articles I linked to above will tell you, Fritz was known for its extensive salad bar. It even had caviar and pâté! But the salad bar was an extra cost.

A well-stocked salad bar was the hallmark of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. Rich Melman, the founder of Lettuce Entertain You, talked about the salad bar at RJ Grunts  (the first restaurant he opened) in this post at Foodandwine.com:

Instead of just iceberg and a few toppings, I would say we started with about 30 choices, maybe more, and it just kept growing and growing.

I loved having so many choices. Those were indeed salad days! But years later, many restaurants scaled back on the salad bars. Even Wendy’s pulled the plug on them back in 2006.

Yet salad bars live on at some restaurants (like buffets) and many grocery store chains. The grocery stores in my area have salad bars with multiple options (including soup) and charge for the salads by weight. (The photo below was not taken at a grocery store in my area, in case you wondered.)

The element of choice is one many people treasure, not just in a salad bar but in other areas in life. I love going to a craft store and seeing aisle after aisle of colorful skeins of yarn of all different textures in which to choose. Many of us love to binge watch seasons of shows on Netflix because we have multiple episodes from which to choose. (Unless the show is uploaded once a week like The Great British Baking Show is this season. Sigh.) And many make purchases on Amazon because of its staggering variety of items.

Another area of choice I love involves authors with multiple books just waiting to be discovered. Many, like Jill Weatherholt, John Howell, and Charles Yallowitz, have been featured on this blog. (To discover where to purchase any of these books, just click on the cover.)

   

What authors have you discovered recently, who have multiple books just waiting to be read?

Have you visited a salad bar recently? What do you like about it?

Kitty thinks her giant veggies will net her a fortune at salad bars across the nation. But I doubt that, since most edible vegetables don’t have faces.

Fritz menu from worthpoint.com. Salad bar image from Rochebros.com. Salad items from clkr.com. Kawaii veggies from etsystudio.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

Let the Sunshine In

In case you’re wondering, I did not have the musical Hair in mind when I wrote that post title. Because of the previous post, I thought I’d share this photo of the sunflowers, now that all are open.

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They look like eyes, don’t they? They see you!

Though this photograph doesn’t show dimensions, each sunflower is about the size of a dinner plate. Such happy, but huge flowers. They came at the right time, too, providing beauty and color to the walkway outside my apartment building. But the fact that they draw energy from the life-giving sun also reminds me of my need to refuel. Ever feel creatively drained? That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. When your tank is empty, there’s only one thing to do: fill it. (I learned that from Andra Watkins.) So recently I decided to take some time off to do activities that replenish me.

1. Visit bookstores. I spent a fun afternoon with a friend looking at books at Halfprice Bookstore and Barnes & Noble. It had been too long since I’d walked through either door. At B & N, I was pleased to find books by fellow VCFAers: Trent Reedy, Varian Johnson, and K. A. Barson.

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2. Hang out with friends and mooch meals off them. It’s great to have a home-cooked meal that someone else prepared, especially when good leftovers result. Even if they don’t, spending quality time with good friends is a gift I gladly gave myself this past weekend.

3. Have lunch with a friend at Panera Bread and dessert at Oberweis. Oh yes. We dared. If you aren’t familiar with Panera, click here. For Oberweis, click here. While Oberweis is known for milk and ice cream, they also have a chocolate layer cake my friend raved about and insisted that I sample. Who was I to say no?

4. Watch this funny, fantastic movie with another friend. I’d looked forward to seeing this movie for months! I’m grateful to say it did not disappoint!

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Chris Pratt, one of the lead actors, is just what the doctor ordered. I won’t spoil it for you, however. If you love Marvel movies or stories set in other galaxies (Star Wars anyone?), head on over to the theater.

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When you need refueling, what fills you up?

Book covers from Goodreads, except for Varian’s book, which is from his website. Oberweis photo from eatinwheaton.com. Chicken photo from donnahup.com. Chris Pratt photo from insidemovies.ew.com. Guardians of the Galaxy logo from static4.wikia.nocookie.net.

How Do You Know You Have a Jewel?

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I’ve talked about diamonds; now I’m moving on to geodes. But I assure you, this is not part of a planned series on precious minerals. It just happened that way.

220px-Geode_inside_outsideEver see a geode? We talked about them in fifth grade science. But more recently I was reminded of them when I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s 1995 animated movie, Whisper of the Heart (directed by Yoshifumi Kondō). The main character, Shizuku, was handed a geode. Geodes contain fragments of different types of crystals—quartz, amethyst, jasper, agate, and others. But the thing is, you don’t know what’s inside until you crack it open.

220px-J__K__Rowling_2010I watched Whisper of the Heart a month ago. But today, after watching the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (directed by Alfonso Cuarón—one of my favorites of the series; the book as well), and watching an interview with Jo Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe the other day, the subject of geodes returned to mind. (You can watch the interview at Ellar Out Loud.)

250px-Marauder'sMapObviously, I’m not the only one fascinated by the world Jo Rowling created, especially since Harry Potter is an international sensation now in its fifteenth year. But I still get giddy over elements of it. For example, one of my favorite aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban is the marauder’s map. So brilliant! I also love the time turner. There are so many great details embedded in the world. It’s like cracking open a geode and finding it chock full of diamonds. I love a series like that.

Based on the interviews I’ve seen, when the first book was released, Rowling had no idea of the impact her series would have on the world. Of course she was passionate about her world and excited to see it introduced to readers. But holding that geode in her hands, she didn’t really know what the fans would see inside of it—jewels or junk.

What are the characteristics of a world worth exploring? I can think of these:
1. Fullness of scope—The author embraces a 360-degree view of the world and doesn’t skimp on the details, even within multiple environments. Also, the magic system is well defined and compelling. There are real costs. In this whimsical world your sense of wonder goes on overload.
Buckbeak2. Characters—You know you have a great series when you can take any character—even a minor animal character like Buckbeak—and envision him and her as the star of a book.
3. Inventive challenges—All seven books had compelling obstacles that moved us deeper and deeper into the world. By the time the series was over, we were so ingrained, we had culture shock stepping out of the world.

And there are others of course. But I can’t help thinking about the above three as I craft my own world and series. What do I have in this geode? Are there priceless jewels inside (or at least semiprecious stones)? (I can only hope.)

In your own work, do you have a sense of how special it is? Is there anything within you telling you, “I’ve got amethysts in here”? What series have you read recently that made you think, This author has a winner here?

Shizuku looking into the geode image from Screened.com. Geode from Wikipedia. Marauder’s Map and Buckbeak from harrypotter.wikia.com.

Say What?

The other day, my sister-in-law forwarded a video of seventeen-month-old twins (Sam and Ren) talking to each other. You’ve probably seen it on YouTube, especially since it went viral in 2011. (Yep. I usually join parties late.) The twins seemed to enjoy their conversation greatly. Their excitement, apparently, rubbed off on the world.

I couldn’t help laughing, not just at the conversation, but at the subsequent videos where adults analyzed what the twins were saying. Nonverbal cues (lifting one foot; waving a hand) were analyzed with a depth of concentration known to neurosurgeons analyzing MRI scans. Could they be talking about a missing sock? Ways to open the freezer? The stock market? A secret plot to take over the world? (Okay, the last two are my guesses.)

It’s great that a conversation riveted so many people. If you’re a writer, wouldn’t you love for your audience to be this engaged with your dialogue?

You have my permission to stop reading right now if you think that in the next minute I’ll tell you the MILLION DOLLAR SECRET TO WRITING POWERFUL, EXTRAORDINARY, EFFERVESCENT DIALOGUE. (And yes, such a statement requires all caps.) If I knew that secret, I’d be writing for shows like Doctor Who or Downton Abbey, and I would have people like Steven Moffat, Julian Fellowes, Will Smith, and Bruce Willis on speed dial. (Not that I don’t. . . . Okay. I don’t.)

Still, I can’t resist sharing at least one tip about dialogue:

Subtext. According to Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French, authors of Writing Fiction, “Often the most forceful dialogue can be achieved by not having the characters say what they mean” (Burroway, Stuckey-French 80). In other words, it’s all about subtext—the “emotional undercurrent” of dialogue (82).

Think about the last time you experienced strong emotion. Did you spout words that rival a Shakespearean sonnet? More than likely, none of us can make that claim.

Considering subtext as you write dialogue is challenging, but doable. Burroway et al. include examples from literature, but for this post, I wanted to find my own example. I chose a scene from Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens’s tale of money and debt and the yawning maw of the debtors’ prison (the Marshalsea).
Little Dorrit coverSorry. I can’t avoid spoilers here. Feel free to stop reading RIGHT NOW, if you wish to avoid them. One of the main characters, Arthur Clennam, winds up in the Marshalsea, a place he only visited before. In this scene John Chivery, son of the head turnkey, invites Arthur to have tea in his (John’s) room. 

Young John looked hard at him, biting his fingers.

‘I see you recollect the room, Mr. Clennam?’

‘I recollect it well, Heaven bless her!’

Oblivious of the tea, Young John continued to bite his fingers and to look at his visitor, as long as his visitor continued to glance about the room. (Dickens 756) 

Seems like a pretty straightforward conversation on the surface—two guys shooting the breeze. But John simmers with grief and anger due to his unrequited love for the titular character, Amy Dorrit. The room is a reminder of Amy, who was carried there after fainting hundreds of pages previously. John is bitterly aware that Amy loves Arthur and believes Arthur shares this awareness. Arthur, however, is completely oblivious. He’s too mired in his recent financial failure. Though he has come to realize his own love for Amy, he never fathomed that she would return that love. 

In 2009, PBS aired a wonderful 2008 BBC mini-series adaptation of this book. For a scene between Arthur and John go here. But I recommend checking out Dickens’s classic. Then go for it; let your dialogue simmer. Or go the “da da da” route of Sam and Ren. Either way, your audience will be riveted.

For more tips on conveying emotion through dialogue, check out this great post by my fellow VCFA alum, Jeff Schill.

Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction. Boston: Longman/Pearson, 2003, 2007, 2011. Print.

For more information on the Little Dorrit miniseries, click here.