Possibly Not the Kitchen Sink

Last night I made stirfry because I had a bunch of food that was about to go south, and you can put anything in stirfry. So I did. It’s not bad–just had some for lunch–because it turns out if you pour enough tamari and sesame oil and garlic on vegetables, they always taste good. But it was lacking direction. There’s so much stuff in there that I just added chow mien noodles and concentrated on the tamari and the crunch. I mean, it has to be healthy–green beans, peas, mushrooms,bok choy, celery, scallions, half a tomato left over from my sandwich, garlic–but there wasn’t any there there. I’m thinking that’s what happened with the first draft of Nita.

I just kept throwing in things that I wanted to write. People with fire on their palms. Twins. Businesses with awful pun names. Ranger Rich. Socks. Cthulhu. Jimmy. Jeo falling for Daphne. The Hotels. Button the Demon Slayer. Thanatos as grandpa. Ukobach’s father, for god’s sake. Belia and the panic at the hellhound breeder. Rab’s romance with the newspaper guy. Breakfast. Mom, the serial killer. And that’s not the half of it. What is this book about? Oh, right, two cosmically-out outsiders falling in love. Huh.

I think the key is that that’s all good in a discovery draft, swing wide. But then in the NEXT draft, you start with your spine–Nita and Nick falling in love–and you pare away everything that doesn’t attach to that spine.

So what does have impact on the romance?
Twins actually undercuts Nita’s isolation, so Mort has to go.
Jeo and Daphne are a foil for Nick and Nita and a plot point. I’ll keep the set-up but nix their HEA.
• The socks become a plot point in the romance. They stay.
• Cthulhu. Not sure about that. I love it that it’s in there and that Nita has a stuffed one, and that Nick uses is as an analog to his reptile brain/id/emotions waking up, and Nita proposes it as the Big Bad and Nick starts to use it, too, showing their adapting each other’s language. Plus it’s a metaphor for what the big bad is doing . . . I think I can keep it.
Dumb names for businesses. This does nothing for the romance, but it’s good for setting, so I’ll cut them back. I don’t need lists, just a couple of names and then wherever the characters go.
• Ranger Rich’s smite is a major move in their relationship. He stays. And goes on the page, of course.
• The Hotels (and Dorothy and Mr. Alcevedo) are needed as victims, but I don’t need so much of them. Nita and Nick argue about them . . . tie them closer to the relationship and they can stay.
• Thanato as grandpa and Ukobach’s dad: now that I see them together, they’re part of that family thing. Nick’s family is all dead (he thinks, he doesn’t know about the art gallery in Ohio), Nita’s dad being all in even if he’s not her biological father, Nita accepting Thanatos as grandpa, Ukobach sneaking onto Earth to get his kid out of Hell Jail, Keres as warrior sister, Mom coming to the rescue at the end, the team becoming family . . . that’s all a mess, but if I got a grip on it, it would be part of the romance as a move to community, pulling everything together. Must cogitate.
Jimmy. He’s dead, let him go.
• Belia. Well, Belia stays, but I need to tie her closer to the romance; she gets there in the end, but right now she’s pretty much Ficelle Central. And I’m keeping the poodle.
Rab’s romance. Sigh. I don’t think it’s working, and it’s not supporting the main plot. But I liked it. Maybe if I do a sequel.

I know there’s more stuff that should go–Vinnie pretty much disappears in the last half of the book, that scene with Dorothy and the doilies is out as is the devil bear Nick buys from her–but I think I can save the stuff that sticks to the romance plot while throwing overboard everything else. It’s the romance, stupid.

Moral: Everything and the kitchen sink is fine for discovery drafts, but then prune that sucker right away or you’ll grow attached to the stuff that doesn’t matter. Which I will certainly keep in mind when I start Alice and the next time I make stir fry.

36 thoughts on “Possibly Not the Kitchen Sink

  1. Since I have never written a novel, what to prune out is not something I can relate to.

    The cooking I get. More dishes have been ruined by adding too much then by leaving stuff out. Note: if a sauce isn’t working DO NOT add more cream or butter. A little water or vinegar will smooth it out or give it some life, whichever you need. More butter or cream just curdles or makes it oily. Maybe that is true with writing also.

    Also if it was not tasty the first time, why am I saving it in the refrigerator until it molds? It won’t work the second time either. Throw that stuff out.

  2. I’m working on book #3 of the garlic farm series, and there’s a thread I thought of while writing the first book, but I knew it didn’t belong there, so I told myself I’d put it in the second book, where it would make more sense, and it went into the outline, but then another thread popped up that was more necessary, and I had so much stuff in the second book that I needed to cut a thread, and I did, telling myself it would fit in the third book. But of course, there’s no room for it as I’m writing the third book. Sigh. I wonder if it will ever really fit anywhere. Fourth book, if the publisher contracts for more in the series? Or maybe it’s not as good a thread as I originally thought. Dunno.

  3. So, stir fry you just add garlic, sesame oil and tamari? Does it matter to substitute olive oil for sesame? And what does tamari change vs. Soy sauce? Flavor? Do you get a terriyaki flavor at all?

    I throw whatever I have in my story and it never ever tastes as good as other peoples’. XD

    1. Keeping in mind that I put the “amateur” in “amateur cook”:

      I still fry in olive oil. The sesame is just a little for taste. When I throw in sesame seeds at the end, I just skip the sesame oil. Tamari is milder soy sauce, less salty; I think it has a smoother taste, although I love soy, too. I think the difference is no grain, it’s gluten free, but I just like the taste better. I think (not sure) that teriyaki has a sweeter taste; it’s soy with ginger and sugar, so it’s easy to make. I’m not a fan of sweet in my savory, so I stick to tamari, garlic, and ginger (I forgot the ginger last night). I also slop in broth for whatever the protein is, beef for beef or pork and chicken for chicken or shrimp. I usually freeze half of whatever I make, and freezing tends to dehydrate.

      ETA: Meant to add: don’t stir fry in sesame oil. It’s added for taste, not good for frying.

  4. I also wonder if because the original inspiration for Nita was a TV show pilot that it showed up with a lot of the kinds of additional characters and details and detours you might take over several seasons of a 22 episode serialized TV story and that’s why there was so much you had to prune that away to get it to the final format.

    Like all the original ingredients are good stuff to have available on the Mongolian grill buffet line, but you can only have some combinations on the final plate you bring up to make this particular stirfry meal work in harmony. But like if you were going back for another round, you might add more tofu and less bok choy and maybe go for a sauce with less spice but more umami… and it would still be Mongolian Grill goodness, just with a different combination this time. And you could eat there for like a week straight and never have the same meal and never be bored, but always generally know what you were getting yourself into cuisine-wise.

    And now I want all-you-can-eat Mongolian grill for dinner with an intense desire …and Monday night is discount night after all….

    1. I veered off the TV show so fast that I don’t think there are any parallels left except Nita is a cop and there was a drive-by shooting.

  5. Huh. Stir Fry in my garage is anything I cook in a wok with less oil. If I’m trying for an Oriental flavor, I include sesame oil instead of olive oil. Everything cooked in a wok gets some minced garlic and/or garlic powder and/or garlic pepper. Oriental might get chicken or pork strips. I’ll probably use water chestnuts, bean sprouts and bamboo shoots

    If I’m trying for Polynesian, I keep the sesame and garlic, the chicken or pork, and add extra peppers and a can of pineapple chunks. Maybe peas and/or green beans. Baby ears of corn goes good.

    Generic stir fry is more likely to get beef strips, but truly the meats are interchangeable. I’ve even used all three plus some sausage. This will be in olive oil. The garlic goes with all of them. This one gets the most onions, bell peppers, hot peppers, carrots, corn or baby corn, peas and string beans.

    Any of them can be served on chow mein noodles or rice noodles. Oriental also goes good on Skinny Pasta or brown rice. The Polynesian also goes good on croutons made from toasting Hawaiian sweet bread. Generic works on all the above or in pita pockets, or even on spaghetti other pasta.

    I’d be getting hungry now if I hadn’t already eaten today – calzone, as it happens. Nearly appropriate for pizza month, sort of. Dessert will be some kind of Russell Stover Sugar Free chocolate confection. I have choices.

  6. I’m currently envying your beta readers who got to read the version sent to your publisher. Feel free to share any of the cuttings that won’t make it to the final version. 😁

    1. I’m currently envying anybody who ISN’T reading Nita right now. I’m so tired of it.

      1. I hear that. That’s the downside to being an author. By the time you get through reading and reading and reading the book, you kind of hate it. Luckily, if the book ends up not sucking, a year later you love it again.

    2. I am currently wishing I was one of your beta readers.
      I see your point. but when it’s you, I don’t mind stirfry with everything.
      Your wit and dialog are the tamari oil and sesame to your plot.

      1. I e-mailed you and didn’t get an answer, so I’m assuming it went astray.
        I do like being tamari, though (g).

  7. I’m such an uninspired cook. Most of the time I just can’t think of anything healthy, veggie focused, AND tasty to make.

    1. Stir fry, if you like tamari and garlic, because that’s mostly what you taste. Sear your protein, pull it out and dump in whatever chopped veggies you like with minced garlic and ginger (in theory sear one at a time so they stay crisp, but when I’m in a hurry I just dump it all in) for about five minutes, dump in tamari and broth and whatever else you like and reduce it down and there’s dinner. You can put anything in it, it’s done in minutes, and it always tastes good. Uncle Ben’s has rice pouches which means I don’t even have to make rice, just stick the pouch in the microwave for 90 seconds. I like the wild and brown rice mixture but there are many variations. Or there’s always good old chow mien noodles; all you have to do with those is open a can. My big three for vegetables is bok choy, onion, and celery with mushrooms, garlic, and ginger, but anything works. Oh, and if you ease up on the broth you can put it in lettuce wraps.

    2. They aren’t easy to find anymore, but Sunset cookbooks have been my inspiration more days than I can count. My favorite is Complete Vegetarian Cooking.

    3. I’ve been making fresh tomato sauce with my excess tomatoes, then sautee-ing French beans, sugar snaps and courgette, plus a chopped up slice of bacon – or else adding bits of feta cheese for a vegetarian option. Served with fusilli (or any other pasta you fancy). The sauce takes an hour to cook down, but on subsequent days I just add a portion to the veg to heat through before the pasta goes in.

  8. I am a pretty good cook, but I have ruined some pretty decent meals by adding in one too many things. And then trying to fix it by adding something else, which turned it into what I like to call “Gluck.” Gluck is edible, but only by a small margin, if you’re too tired and too cheap to just toss it and start all over.

    1. My name for that concoction when it happens to me is “glop on rice.” I’m going to change to “gluck.” Shorter and somehow more palatable.

  9. “Jeo and Daphne are a foil for Nick and Nita and a plot point. I’ll keep the set-up but nix their HEA.” wait – just in the book, or forever? It’s dangerous to treat a demon that badly, just saying……….

    My solution to dinner gone awry is sour cream on top.

    1. Daphne transgresses Jeo’s moral boundaries pretty badly even though she does it for what she sees as a good reason, helping friends.
      Also, they’ve only known each other a week. I don’t think that brief a relationship can withstand such a values divide. I think people can deal with different concepts of success, different political parties, even different religions, but they can’t survive conflicting values. Someone who abhors lying cannot stay with a liar. Nobody’s going to change, and it’s going to be grief and guilt all around.

  10. From watching our tour leader while on this amazing Road Scholar trip to the Canadian Maritimes last month, I got the idea for a 5-book series about siblings who inherit a Pink Jeep Tour-type company when their parents die. They each have a different idea about where the company should go. I figured I could write one romance for each of them.

    The plan is that each book would run about 70K instead of my usual 100+, allowing me to complete more than one a year (in a good year).

    So that’s my plan. I suspect we’ll be equally successful at changing the basic way we write.

  11. I started reading this blog after you’d begun The Devil in Nita Dodd. You seemed to be chuckling all the time as you played with lots of possibilities: twins, Cthulhu, and much more. I enjoyed feeling that you were having tons of fun building up the Nita universe.

    Now that you’re trimming out many of the fun-for-you bits, do you feel that you needed to go through and extended exploration phase for Nita? After all, you were also faced with the fear of a failing heart. And there’s the constant pressure to publish.

    I’m partly asking how your experience writing Nita has been different from your experience writing other books.

    1. You know, every book I’ve written has been a different experience. I wrote Anyone But You in six weeks and got a perfect copy edit (perfect in that the editor was really good and not only caught my mistakes but talked about the book in a way that made it better.). Then an assistant at the publishers took the only copy home with her and her apartment burned down and they asked me for another copy of the mss (unedited) and I think they just published that as it was because it’s full of typos (from the printer) and all of my old mistakes.

      That never happened again, any of it.

      I think Nita and Alice are all tangled up in other stuff that’s going on in my life right now. Which is why I have an excellent therapist.

  12. I think I am glad I missed a lot of the first-draft posts because if I had read all of that I would be SO SAD that any of it is gone!

    My go-to destination for leftovers is chili. I can hide almost anything in chili.

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