November. Sunrise comes later and sunset comes sooner. Though I live in California, the nights are chilly. I bundle up on the sofa, a fleece throw over me, book in hand, and a cat or two jockeying for position on my lap. What’s for dinner? This time of year, it’s usually soup.
I start with the basics. Onion and garlic sauteed in olive oil. Add lots of veggies, whatever is to hand. Carrots for color, mushrooms, a handful of fresh spinach. Toss in that leftover cauliflower or broccoli. Add cans of tomatoes and pinto beans. I like pinto beans in my soup.
I add homemade broth made from leftover chicken or turkey bones. Perhaps I’ll add a splash of Worcestershire, soy sauce or even rice vinegar.
Then it’s herbs and spices, going beyond salt and pepper. Toss in oregano, or maybe a pinch of tarragon. With so many spices to hand, I’m experimenting with smoky paprika, cumin and coriander. Cayenne and chili, curry and sometimes even cinnamon or nutmeg for something different.
Soon there’s a fragrant pot of delicious homemade soup simmering on the stovetop.
And what does that have to do with writing? Plenty.
When I’m writing a novel I start with the basics. Instead of onions and garlic, it’s plot, characters and setting. Decisions must be made. Will it be first person, or third, or a combination of both? That depends on what kind of novel I’m simmering.
The plot thickens—sorry, couldn’t resist that, as long as I’m going with the cooking analogy. Suffice to say I want my soup to have plenty of variety and flavor. And my novel to have a story full of twists, turns and surprises.
The Jeri Howard novel I’m finishing up, The Things We Keep, is one such pot of soup. This is the 14th book I’ve written with Jeri as protagonist, so I’m well acquainted with my fictional Oakland private eye and the world she inhabits. On that basic framework I build my story, and I think this one has its share of plot twists.
As for the setting, this time Jeri is sleuthing in familiar Bay Area territory. In other books I’ve taken her farther afield, though for the most part in California, though she goes to New Orleans in The Devil Close Behind. In Witness to Evil, I sent her to Paris, though she eventually wound up in Bakersfield.
As for characters, I do have a list of staples. Jeri’s father Tim, now retired, who at the start of the series was a history professor and a major player in Till The Old Men Die. Her fiancé Dan, who has his first appearance in Bit Player. Longtime attorney friend Cassie Taylor, who has appeared in several books since the first, Kindred Crimes. I enjoy adding new characters to the mix and if I like them well enough, they get return appearances. For example, New Orleans private eye Antoine Lasalle, who appears in The Devil Close Behind, has a walk-on in The Things We Keep.
It’s soup weather, a comforting bowl on a chilly night. Or several nights. Because soup melds flavors when it sits in the fridge overnight. I can put it on the stove again and add new herbs and spices. Basil this time or lemongrass for something different.
Novels, like soup, can always be revised.
4 thoughts on “Soup Weather”
Janet, I’ve been waiting for this book! Also hoping for a Zephyr book soon. I wish we were nestled in back in our Bay Area home and not stuck where we are! Al Banta
Zephyr book in the future but I have to finish this one first.
I love when writers use experiences everyone knows to show how they write. Great post, Janet!
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