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  • jrblackburnsmith

Playing with Food

Do you remember, when you were a kid, playing with your food? I can remember shaping mashed potatoes into a mountain and digging a hole in the top for the butter. As the butter melted, I would cut channels into the mountain and it would become a volcano, and the lava --the melted butter-- would spill out to rain havoc on the village below. I remember how broccoli florets became trees tossed about by a tornado. You had to be careful with that one, because if you got carried away and the 'trees' flew across the table, you were sure to be in trouble.

I think that is one of the reasons so many adults drink hot tea. Don't get me wrong, I drink it myself. My favorite is Earl Grey. When you tear the little pouch open, if you sniff deeply before removing the tea from the foil pouch, you'll realize that Earl Grey tea smells just like Fruit Loops! Anyway, what is steeping a tea bag but officially sanctioned food play? You get to dunk and twist and shake and stir and you can keep it up for a good five minutes if you try. I love watching the people who wring their tea bag out with a spoon. You, know, they crush the tea bag against the spoon and wrap the string around it to squeeze all the essence out of the bag. I always wonder who they are murdering --imaginarily, of course!-- in that moment. If you look them in the face, intensely, they will blush and look away guiltily, so I know I'm right.

What has any of this to do with the art of storytelling? Well, I've reached the point that is the equivalent of playing with my food when it comes to writing. My agent, Linda Langton, of Langton's International Agency, accepted my most recent novel (working title The Devil's Interval) a couple of weeks ago and now it is time to get serious with a new project. Since I always have odds and ends of writing projects hanging around, now is the time to jump into several of them and see if I find value in any of them. It's a lot of reading of stuff I wrote months or even years ago and trying to reconnect with the motivating factor behind each project. It's not uncommon for me to get excited again about a project. I rarely can remember, in that new excitement, what led me to abandon the project previously. Slowly, the shape of the barriers come into view.

This is the playing with food part. If I'm the least bit excited about the rediscovered project, I begin moving things about, writing new chapters, saving a phrase or paragraph I like but dumping them somewhere else. Sometimes, I find a path forward, but more frequently I find the original barrier insurmountable. Surprisingly, it is never the difficulty of the project that discourages. I've never written a novel that I knew I could write when I started it. I've always worried that I don't have what this particular project needs to succeed, but over time I worked through it. The real barriers are things like realizing I don't really care about the characters or the plot (If I don't care how can I ask a reader to care?), or more often, I can't find a way forward. It's like being lost in the jungle and not knowing which direction to go, or like a kid at the table with his broccoli and no cheese sauce. What are you supposed to do?

I've been bouncing back and forth between projects, both with heavy fantasy elements in them, both with real possibilities to develop. It has been exciting and frustrating, because as I'm working on one, the other is hanging around the edges of my consciousness demanding attention. I envy songwriters. Three hundred words and a couple of chords and they are done; I need 90,000 words if I need a dozen. I'll admit, I'm a slow writer. I'm a slower re-writer. Regardless of what writers say, to write is to re-write.

This week, in the middle of this tension between these two projects, as I was driving to work Monday morning, I was suddenly called to a third project, something I had set aside back in 2016. I wasn't even sure I had saved any of it. Rather than fantasy, this project is fantastical, and I spent three days reading what I had done previously. I immediately thought this is good, but I can't do it. It will require a subtlety of language and thought that is beyond me.

It is set in a fictional backwater village in the south of France in 1938 and revolves, loosely, around a plot to assassinate Hitler, a pseudo-Marxist revolution, and the power of love, or at least sex, to heal the world. I'm hooked and I hope you will be as well.

Win a free Kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for this month's drawing. Good luck!

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