25. January 2016 08:36
I love it went writers tell me something I didn't know about them that makes me look at their books in a different light. Wendy is an excellent author and now I understand what makes her meals scenes in her novels so good.
I have a weakness for skill-based reality TV shows. I’ll watch participants design, drive, build, forge, style—you name it—but it’s cooking shows that really hook me in. So when I heard the buzz about The Great British Baking Show, I binge watched the season. It delivered everything I love about the genre. No surprise there. But I never expected it would also give me an “Aha!” moment about my writing. THIS. This is what I was going for.
The connection grew with each episode and by midseason I’d started to play around with elevator pitches. “The Cross Cutting novellas are The Great British Baking Show meets Half-Resurrection Blues and Supernatural” or “The trilogy is like TGBBS with fewer cakes and more monsters.” Clearly, I won’t be teaching a pitch class any time soon; however, the spirit of the show is an example of what I wanted to capture.
Those bakers put their all into that competition. Each contestant clearly wanted to win the big prize. There was loads of dramatic tension. And yet, despite the stakes, the atmosphere remained warmly supportive. The drama mostly focused on the task at hand instead of personal conflicts.
In the Cross Cutting trilogy I wanted to create a fundamentally harmonious group of characters to face the darkness. The problem is there’s a danger of making them sticky sweet and—boring. Trying to hit the right balance is a cool challenge. I tried to tackle it in the novellas because they’re long enough for character development and short enough to keep a lot of the attention fixed on action.
The route I chose began with thinking about the magic. My main character, Trinidad, has magic that’s cooperative in nature—she has to work with whatever city she’s bonded to. She needs a strong will and a stronger sense of self, but she can’t be selfish. One of the trade-offs is that she doesn’t deal with many people. She relates to the fringes and periphery better than the mainstream, anyway.
I balanced her by making Achilles a clairvoyant. His abilities are tied to his empathy and connection to people. It feels like a different form of cooperative magic. The rest of the supporting crew are family—tied together by blood or by choice. Put them all together and you have a group of characters engineered for harmony. It doesn’t always work, of course. A little friction is like salt. You need some for flavor amplification.
My favorite thing to do as a writer is to experiment with tones and genres. I learned a lot about finding balance while working with the novellas. I’m hoping it will help me out when I tackle more divisive characters.
In the meantime, I’ll still be looking to The Great British Baking Show to satisfy my cravings for seeing elaborate pastries being constructed in a tent by lovely people.
In case anyone is disappointed by the turn I took here, I’ll end by saying the cake is not a lie in The Thin. All of the novellas do include actual food moments. It’s another way to create bonds, to show fellowship. Characters do need fuel to keep fighting, after all.
And yes, everyone gets dessert.
Wendy Hammer teaches literature and composition at a community college in Indiana. She has stories in Urban Fantasy Magazine, the horror anthology Suspended in Dusk, and elsewhere. The first of the Cross Cutting novellas, The Thin, has been published by Apocalypse Ink Productions. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably making a mess in the kitchen or telling herself “Just one more episode.” You can find her at wendyhammer.com or on twitter @Wendyhammer13.