Jan 15 2013

Bringing Fiction to Life (in the kitchen)

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s no secret that I focus on the natural world here at What I Saw, bringing to life the outdoors through photography, and relating my nature observances to writing and reading. My photos of the Sonoran desert obviously rely on the sense of sight:

But today I focus on a different sense: taste. As it relates to fiction, of course. Maybe this will whet your appetite (or simply confound you):

What are these Pac Man-looking discs? Read to find out.

Every good novel employs the senses, does it not? And while my WIP (work in progress) isn’t food-themed, a few “culinary” scenes have emerged that will hopefully tickle readers’ taste buds.

In one, a character waits for a burger concoction that came straight from my head: the Poco-burger, made at a fictional mom n’ pop burger joint in the Poconos.

… Today was no different as he waited for his Poco-burger, a mouth-watering combination of a quarter-pound patty, cheese, onions, a fried egg, and two slices of infamous New Jersey pork roll, Taylor Ham, sandwiched between a Kaiser roll.

So – you guessed it. I took to the kitchen last weekend, working to bring this made-up dish to life.

The ingredients for the Poco-burger, right on my countertop.

Wait. That’s a lie; I wasn’t the one in the kitchen. My husband spearheaded this endeavor. Why him? Well, it’s a New Jersey-inspired meal. And he’s a Jersey boy. (I admit to being fascinated – and a little scared – by the main ingredient).

Meet Taylor Ham, found exclusively in New Jersey and some areas of Philly and Eastern PA.

So back to the Pac-Man discs. Yep, that’s Jersey Pork Roll, known to locals as Taylor Ham. The slits in the side help this mystery meat cook evenly. It’s a roll of ‘breakfast meat’ that many compare in taste and texture to SPAM, mild salami, or US-style Canadian bacon. I disagree. It tastes like none of those things, boasting its own unique flavor, with a very unique history, including battlefields and lawsuits. Most importantly, it’s yummy (I’d never heard of it until my first trip to New Jersey after meeting my husband).

In true Jersey fashion, my husband decided the Poco-burger should be a “smash burger,” like the ones made in New Jersey’s White Manna diner.

Then he fried some eggs and threw American cheese on them (Jersey style, of course). And finally, the finished product emerged – from my head, to the page, to a plate:

I think I’m on to something here: the recreation/reenactment of fictional elements in my work (because, let me tell you … the Poco-burger was phenomenal). And there just so happens to be another fictional dish in my WIP, a dessert called the Gob Sundae, that I’d love to tackle, myself … Stay tuned.

For Readers & Writers: As writers, our job is to bring the imaginary worlds of our novels to life, allowing readers to touch, taste, smell, see and hear. What senses do you most savor in your fiction? How do you bring them to life?

The Poco-burger was inspired by regional food preferences. How important is it to ground readers in geographic tastes, sounds, experiences? Which are hardest to write?

P.S. You, too, can have Taylor Ham delivered to your doorstep by The Taylor Ham Man.


Dec 16 2012

So Long, Farewell

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Sometimes goodbyes are inevitable. Such was the case last week when I watched a part of my writing life barrel down our dirt driveway, dust plumes exploding behind it, the aftermath settling like brown mist on nearby prickly pear cacti.

We purchased our travel trailer in '04 as a safe place to sleep while we completed renovations to the “honey house” that we now call home (then filled with dead lizards, scorpions, & one live tarantula). The structure was once a building for beekeeping. Click to enlarge.

Many of you may know that the camper became much more to us over the years – a guest house for visitors, a hiding place for holiday gifts, storage space, and most importantly – for me – a writing getaway. Many a word was penned inside that rectangular box – on my first fiction attempt and my current novel (as well as various freelance projects).

Hubby temporarily removed the dinette and created a workstation for his ham radio hobby. All that counter space was also perfect for my fiction writing! Click to enlarge.

So while this post may not appear to be much about nature and its ties to writing, it is, actually. The camper afforded a wonderful view of the mountains in front of our home. Many times, I’d be greeted by a Say’s Phoebe, hummingbird, oriole, finch, quail or rock wren teetering precariously on the clothesline in front of my camper window. From my writing perch, I’d seen roadrunners, squirrels, lizards, javelinas and bunnies.

This Say's Phoebe graces us with little Phoebies every year. As seen from the camper window. Click to enlarge.

The writing-studio-on-wheels* was a place of quiet solitude (our ‘honey house’ is a wide open space – a bit difficult for someone like me, who needs complete silence to write!), and a connection to nature via its paper-thin walls (evening coyote serenades felt almost too close for comfort).

But sometimes in life, one must say goodbye to things she loves – or, in this case, enjoyed and appreciated. It made sense for us to sell the trailer before it was reduced to a pile of dust by the harsh rays of the southwestern sun. It has served us well, and its sale may open new creative doors for us both.

For Writers: Saying goodbye to the writing-studio-on-wheels is not too different from editing. I know from recent personal experience the pain of waving farewell to characters, scenes, and words. It ain’t easy saying goodbye to those old friends. And it ain’t pretty. But in the end, it sometimes is necessary to clear things out to make room for something better. What are your thoughts on editing? Have you ever had to give up something you love/like/appreciate, only to find that something better was on the other side?

Happy trails, my friend. Your departure has led the way to a new chapter.

* Thanks to debut author Natalia Sylvester, who nicknamed the camper, “writing-studio-on-wheels.” Her book, Where We Once Belonged, publishes in Spring 2004.