I am not obsessed with food. I am not! I am not! Okay, maybe a little. But it serves me well.
Many long years ago, while browsing the library shelves (remember libraries? remember bookshelves?), I came across Reay Tannahill’s FOOD IN HISTORY. I checked it out so many times, my husband bought me my own copy.
More recently, while I was writing the Culinary Chronicles column for World Wide Recipes (the best darn recipezine in the whole darn universe), I bought Michael Symons’ A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING.
Both of these are great, for someone who writes historical fiction or fantasy.
Historical fiction, obviously. If you’re writing about the Civil War, you don’t want the General to say, “Corporal, these men are hungry. Here, take my credit card and don’t come back without a wagon-load of Egg McMuffins!” Not that you have to have an entire chapter or scene centered around what people eat, but just a line or a word can, as was said in Gilbert and Sullivan’s THE MIKADO, “lend artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”
Same thing for fantasy. You can 1) decide what level of technology and what geography and what available sorts of plants and animals your people have and then look up something comparable in history for details or 2) browse the books for something interesting and work your world-building around it.
Both of these books are great for writing. I’ve used both of them–the first more extensively, obviously, since I’ve had it longer; in fact, the whole premise of one story began with a bit of history I read in the second book, which told me something about the history of cooks and cooking I never knew before.
Finding out things I never knew before is one of my favorite things to do. When I have to sit in a waiting room, I sometimes go for magazines appropriate to my interests, but I also love to pick up FIELD AND STREAM or CAR AND DRIVER or MULE FANCY or something totally outside my experience. I read the letters to the editor and the ads, as well as the articles. It’s a great way to expand your base of possible characters!
But that’s another post.
WRITING PROMPT: Open a history book at random and read a few paragraphs. Write a logline (one-line summary) of a story built around that information.