Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Writer's World - Cooking Up a Romance

The raw product
 Hi everyone, and welcome to my writer's world. Yes, I can see you're wondering what some ripe plums have to do with writing. Well, let me tell you that home-made plum jam is one of the major treats I know, so having a fresh supply at hand is a luxury that comes close to being a necessity.

Also, I thought you might like to know I do occasionally do things other than write or think about writing. Yes, really. Thirdly, because even though I wasn't meant to be thinking about writing, as I cooked I started to realise the similarities between jam-making and writing a good romance.

I'm sure some of you are shaking your heads now, wondering if Annie has finally lost it, but bear with me. Just think about the process. First I took ripe plums, with that lovely tree-fresh fog still on them, some lemons and some sugar and set them on my bench top. It's a bit like starting a romance - working out that you have what you need - a lovely fresh hero and heroine and the other necessary ingredients - attraction, setting and the biggie - conflict! There's no point starting the book unless you know you've got the right things to add to the mix.

Next came the preparation. Cutting the fruit and excising the stones. This took a while and, like so many other repetitive tasks, was a great time for letting the mind wander (which is when I started thinking about this blog). It's like the process we go through in the early stages of planning and writing a story - we dream a little about the characters, imagine various possible approaches and how they might work, then cut out the bits we don't need and retain what's going to work for our story. For me, having those characters right, or as right as they can be at the beginning of the book, is important, even if I keep learning more about them as I go on.

Adding Heat
Having mixed the ingredients together we've then got the fun bit. Applying heat! The lovely Miranda Lee has spoken about writing a romance as being like putting your heroine and hero in a crucible they can't escape and applying heat. I love to do that with my stories - make sure my pair just can't escape each other no matter how much they want to, and then watch them react under pressure. Hey, I'm not mean, I'm just a cook! Honestly!

It's during that heating process that the magic happens. The ingredients come together and turn into something that's different and more than the separate ingredients. They gel (literally, that's what the lemon juice is for in my jam) into a single substance. It takes a while and a good bit of testing to be sure. I have to keep coming back to the pot every so often to see what's happening and how well it's coming together. It's a bit like the final stages of story writing, when I have to reread and polish to make sure I've got a coherent story. And then of course are the revisions - maybe adding a little more juice if the jam's not setting as it should.

Finished and waiting to enjoy
Then comes the lovely moment when the jam is ready and poured into the waiting jars to set. Instead of being jars of cut plums, lemons and sugar, they are filled with (hopefully) delicious plum jam - a completely different substance, the result of planning, work, checking and adjusting and of course, patience. It's something to store away and bring out when you're in the mood for that particular flavour, just like taking a particular story off your book shelf and savouring it. I love that moment!

How about you? Do you see yourself as creative? Do you write or cook or do some other creative ventures? Do you have stories to share about the most successful thing you created or maybe about the big surprise flop? I'll send a copy of UNDONE BY HIS TOUCH to one person, drawn at random, from those who comment. Drop by the blog again tomorrow and I'll post the winner's name in the comments section.

 Annie is thrilled to have UNDONE BY HIS TOUCH  out now in the UK. It's a May release in New Zealand and Australia and a June release in North America. This is Annie's first Beauty and the Beast style hero and features a severely scarred but oh-so-sexy hero and a feisty heroine who's more than his match. You can read an excerpt on Annie's website: http://www.annie-west.com or go to your favourite online bookstore to grab a copy. Annie is also celebrating the recent news that her story PROTECTED BY THE PRINCE (published in the UK and Aus/NZ as PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE) has just won a 2012 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award. Yippee!


  1. Annie, I've never actually made jam but your analogy convinced me. Actually I find baking time is a great opportunity for mulling over book problems. Mind you, I think cooking offers quicker gratification than writing a novel!

  2. Yes, I see myself as creative. I write poetry, I scrapbook, and I cook by changing up recipes.
    Let's see now.... Poetry was started back in high school days, and I still have my poetry books with limericks about teachers back in the seventies. Now I do my Christmas "newsletters" in verse every year as well.
    Scrapbooking was started about seven years ago as a way to preserve photos that I had maintained in magnetic albums. I'm stagnating on 1992 right now and hope to resume it once my income taxes are done this week.
    As for cooking, I am reminded of my early married days when I baked butter tarts for my husband. He sat at the table, didn't say a word for ages, and then asked for a spoon. When I asked why, he explained that I had forgotten to cook the tart shells! Oops! This "flop" became a winner, though, as instead of calling it butter "tarts", they were now "sauce", which tasted great on ice cream too. (The same thing happened to my "fudge" that was too runny - it was really, really good drizzledon ice cream!)

  3. I made plum jam for the first time in Year twelve at school for home economics. I bought some Doris plums which are the yellow fleshed ones and then added some blood plums which most people don't use because they don't set as well (there has to be a metaphor a la Annie West in that). It made the most delicious jam and the colour looked beautiful. Even I ate it and I don't like or eat jam at all usually.

  4. Hi Annie!

    Love plum jam! My mother used to make it from fruit in our backyard. I like to make plum tortes in the summer. The recipe calls for Italian plums which are smaller, but I use the plums in your picture.
    Happy Jamming!

  5. Anna, yes, you're right - much faster to cook than to write a book! How interesting that you find baking a good time to think about your book!

  6. Laney, it sounds like you love experimenting. I'm smiling over your sauce. What a great find. So long as they taste good it doesn't matter if it's how you'd planned.

    I'm fascinated by scrapbooking but never tried it as I know it would distract me from the other things I already try to do. It's hard needing to divide your time, isn't it?

  7. Hi Princess Fiona. Is that what the yellow fleshed plums are - Doris plums? The ones with the dark purple skin? I tend to use whatever is to hand. How interesting though about the blood plums not setting as well. That could explain a batch I made a while ago and had to cook a lot longer and add more lemon juice.

  8. Hi Jennifer. How great to find another plum jam lover. My mum used to make jam from the fruit in the backyard too. We always had buckets and buckets of plums in season, including Santa Rosas and a few others. Mm - plum tortes sound fantastic. You're making me hungry!

  9. I do a lot of creative things - not so much cooking, but I knit and sew and have made all sorts of things over my life - quilts, blankets, cardigans and I'm currently working on a pinafore dress. I love having some time to myself to sew or knit.

  10. Hi Alison, it sounds like you keep very busy, indeed! Isn't a treat having time alone to focus on a project you really like?

  11. Annie, I love your analogy between writing romance and making jam -- especially the bit about applying heat. ;-)

    My latest creative venture is teaching myself how to sew...as in how to make clothes using a sewing machine. No flops yet, but am wondering if my latest project isn't a tad beyond my Learner's status. In this instance, however, I'm not sure that applying heat is the answer. :-)

  12. Hi Michelle,

    I'm glad you like the analogy. Actually, my favourite part is applying heat. Such fun!

    Good on you teaching yourself to sew. That must be so satisfying. I think you're right no - no heat while sewing!

  13. Hi... Definitely not creative. That's why I read so many romance books! :)

  14. Hi May, you know I used to believe I wasn't creative, before I started writing. And I too read lots of romance books. Sounds like we have some things in common.

  15. Hi everyone, I've just the random draw for a winner of UNDONE BY HIS TOUCH. The winner is ALISON. Congratulations, Alison.

    If you send your postal address to me at annie(at)annie-west(dot)com I'll put the book in the post.