Food in Fiction: Welcome Kristin
We are expanding our team again. Welcome Fantasy author Kristin S. Walker who we already interviewed a while back.
Kristen dreams of being a pirate mermaid who can talk to sharks, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new novel, A Flight of Marewings, tells the adventure of a duke’s illegitimate daughter who must stop her father’s murderers–by taming a dangerous monster. You can find Kristen (and her pirate pictures) on her homepage on kristenwalker.net. You can talk good books, cats, or medieval cooking with Kristen anytime on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook. Today, she’ll tell us something about…
Food in Fiction (well, she said she’s into cooking, didn’t she)
Stories are more vivid for the reader when they engage all five senses, but sometimes, it’s difficult to incorporate every sense into writing. One fun way to describe taste, smell, texture, and even sight is to use food in a story. The use of food can help set the mood for a scene, to establish a particular cultural setting, or even to show something about the person who made or eats the food. And since we all have to eat, we all understand how important food is—whether it’s a character starving after they lose their supplies on a long journey or a lavish wedding feast!
The easiest way to use food in a story is to mention something familiar or iconic. You can know which city the characters are in if they’re eating thin crust pizza (New York) or deep dish (Chicago). Certain foods also call to mind a certain time period, like Dicken’s Christmas punch. In a medieval fantasy, characters in a tavern will call for a mug of ale the way patrons in a modern bar order beer. We can learn more about the characters the more details are given. For example, does the burly trucker drink domestic beer, or does he stand out from his friends by ordering an imported brand? Does he slap his gut and complain about the flavorless light beer?
Sub cultures can also be revealed through food. Imagine the Jewish grandmother making matzo ball soup for the whole family. Do the characters like their food mild or spicy? And just about everyone has foods that make them think of their childhood. Calling to mind specific memories associated with different foods is one way to introduce a character’s history.
Sometimes, stories take a familiar food and add their own twist. Many fantasy and science-fiction stories invent a coffee alternative, like klava in the Vlad Taltos books or klah in the Dragonriders of Pern. And other stories remind of us old recipes that had been forgotten to most people, like Harry Potter’s butterbeer and many of the medieval-style foods in A Game of Thrones. While medieval cooking once meant the typical turkey legs and ale to most people, the popularity of A Game of Thrones has gotten many people interested in researching older recipes and cooking techniques for parties or just for fun. What was old is new again!
Moving away from the realm of the familiar, there’s some foods in fiction that just don’t exist in the real world. These are usually found in fantasy and science fiction stories that take place in other worlds, where strange plants and animals live. As much as we can try to approximate the flavors of klah, the tree bark that it’s made from just doesn’t grow on Earth. And although my daughter has asked me many times, I can’t seem to find any unicorn meat for sale at the local grocery store!
How does an author manage to describe something that no one’s ever really eaten? Well, often by comparing it to things that are more familiar to us. But sometimes it’s just magical or impossible to replicate in the real world. For example, the elven-made lembas or waybread in The Lord of the Rings is known to taste better than honey-cakes, keep for a long time without spoiling, and a single cake can sustain a man through a full day’s march—perfect travel rations! Sadly, without the elves’ secret recipe, there’s no way we could bake anything resembling lembas.
Food With My Fiction
When I love a book, I want to embrace everything about it and keep enjoying it long after I read the final page. Getting art of the characters, watching a movie or TV show based on the book, eating the food—these are all ways to keep the magic of a story alive. I’ve baked shortbread to pretend I was eating lembas, mixed spices into my hot chocolate to find the perfect balance for klah, and eaten bowls of fresh fruit salad while constructing a replica of Redwall Abbey. Today, it’s even easier with the Internet, because I can find other readers’ recipes and ideas for recreating my favorite fictional meals. I even own several fan-made cookbooks, because my whole family enjoys experimenting with food!
So naturally, when I write my own stories, I make sure to put food in! I’ve had to learn to branch out a little beyond my comfort zone for this—I’m a lifelong vegetarian, but not all of my characters are, so I have to rely on others’ suggestions for meat-based dishes. Some of them are things my family likes to cook, some are dishes that I find online. But maybe someday, a reader will want to make something they found in one of my stories.