Tag Archives: Setting

The Kitchen Culprits

"I suspect: Colonel Mustard, in the Kitchen, with the Candlestick."

The Prompt:

On page 38 of Room to Write, Bonni Goldberg describes the kitchen as a “symbolic place” that is “well stocked with associations, memories, and metaphors.  Today, then, we are to write about our kitchens as though we are detectives on the scene, conducting a forensic analysis of sorts as we use visual clues to deduce what may have happened there and how the kitchen reflects who we are.

Response:

With trepidation, I approach the kitchen.  Squinting as I scan the grey and black-splotched stone of the countertops, I pan my head to the kitchen island.  I crouch like a jungle cat to bring my eyes level with its flat surface and frown at the otherwise camouflaged crumbs to be spied at this angle; I straighten and peer over the infected area more closely, pressing a fingertip into the crusty debris and raising it to my tongue:  digestive biscuit…dark chocolate…Marks & Spencer.  And do I detect a hint of sesame, poppy, and pumpkin seed cracker?  Hmm…before I can analyze further, my attention is usurped by a darkened stain a mere inches away.  Blood!  No, it’s not red.  Urine!  Ewwww, no, we may leave crumbs, but we’re not that uncivilized (at least I’m not).  Tea!  Yes.  Dripped when pouring yerba mate from my iron Japanese tea pot.  Phew.  Aside from that, a benign burgundy pasta bowl rests on its wrought iron stand, bearing oranges, apples, and bananas (green-turned-yellow ones, only…the second they start to spot and infuse the room with that banana smell, they’re outta here!), standing squatly beside the coin jar and miscellaneous utility bills.

I redirect my focus, then, on the longer, L-shaped countertop comprising the kitchen corner.  A food-stained cookbook (used at long last!  Hurrah, newly discovered inner Domestic Goddess!) reclines on its wrought iron easel next to the paper towels, obscured only by the blue Brita-filter water pitcher that hangs here due to no space in the wee London-sized fridge as well as my aversion to drinking cold water because it hurts my teeth and throat.  Adding to the clutter on this side of the sink are a couple crystal wine goblets with little puddles of deep crimson collected at the bottom.  The sink is suspiciously empty…yet the anal-retentive way in which the hand soap, lotion, washing-up liquid, and sponge are aligned behind it indicates that exposed dirty dishes are not an option in this space.  Turning my head further right, I see a retro-style chrome toaster tucked into the corner, chillin’ with its buddies the french press, tea pot, and all the tall cooking/serving utensils standing to attention atop tiny silver stones inside a clear vase.  Which brings us to the stove…hmm…more crumbs and stains, and a red tea kettle splattered with grease.  This doesn’t happen on my watch; the husband clearly was the last to cook.  Salt, pepper, knife block, and corkscrew are still present and accounted for on the stove’s other side.

But wait a minute.  Something is amiss.  I turn round in circles and rove my line of sight all about the wooden cabinetry that surrounds me.  Where are all the major appliances?!  Thief!  Whodunit?!  Inhaling and exhaling rapidly, my heart thumping against my breastbone, I slowly sink to a squat as the scene starts to flicker like a film reel, and the words Crouching Tenant, Hidden Dishwasher splay across the silver screen.  I extend my hand toward the sleek metal handle protruding horizontally from one of the cabinet doors; held in my clammy grip, it yields with creaking resistance as I draw it down like a drawbridge.  The dishwasher!  A musty, swampy smell wafts out as I pull out the lower drawer:  dishes are segregated into different quadrants by dish, small plate, large plate, and miscellaneous.  It becomes evident I was the last to load the washer, as they would otherwise be arranged haphazardly in such a way that only a third of the dishes would be able to fit, indeed if they made it into here from the sink or countertop at all…I shudder at the thought and return my gaze to the efficient logic that does, thank goodness, reside in front of me, then close the door.

I stand with fists clenched, resolved to find the rest.  In a flurry, I throw open all the cabinet doors to reveal what lays behind, and it’s as though the kitchen is a life-size Advent calendar when the hidden goodies are revealed:  a fridge, a freezer, a washer-dryer—you heard me.  Remember, it’s London.  Why not do laundry in the kitchen?  Why not risk perishing a painful death in flames when the water from the washing cycle drains out and is automatically replaced with searing heat?  Just as I think it, a vibration unbeknownst to me earlier begins to thrum with more aggression, shaking the tile at my feet.  I look to the washer-dryer and notice a spin cycle in play, remembering that what the spouse lacks in dishwasher-loading-strategy (will be commencing his virtual training soon via the Tetris game) is readily compensated for by his penchant for doing laundry.  I become more cognizant than I’d like to be of all the untoned bits hanging off my body as they shake along with the machine.  The humming rises in volume as my breasts and biceps begin to blur, and I dive to the carpeting in the adjoining living room with hands clasping my head as the drum propels our terrified clothing about like a jet engine about to send our flat airborne.

A minute later, all is calm.  Quiet.  I crack an eye open to scan the perimeter before making another move.  Turning myself about, I army-crawl back to the washer and wait for the click to signal I can open the door.  As I do so, hot steam rudely breathes in my face, and my husband’s boxer shorts look to me hopefully as they cling to the edges of the drum and leave my panties to fend for themselves when they peel off and fall to the bottom.  With a pissy sigh, I climb to my knees, then feet.  My inner Domestic Goddess has long since fallen and rolled down Mount Olympus, so she mutters under her breath as she trudges out of the kitchen to retrieve the drying racks and thinks about tending to that damn dirty countertop.  At any rate, case closed.

Reflection:

If anything, this exercise has reminded me I need to clean my kitchen 🙂

I think it would have been interesting to have tried this activity a couple years ago when I was still single and living alone to compare/contrast with how I approached it here.  It seems clear that many of my present kitchen’s connotations relate to my adjustment to cohabitation and those little domestic idiosyncrasies that occur between couples.  The dynamic of the setting is also influenced by virtue of being in a different city and country; there’s a cultural impact on physical features and layout that differs from what I had in the States.

Overall, I enjoy this sort of “investigation” based on visual clues and have used it overtly already in my current manuscript—there’s a scene I included for comic relief in which my protagonist wakes up after a night of heavy wine-drinking and follows the trail of evidence she herself left behind to figure out what she did before passing out.  Based on a true story, of course… 🙂


In the Beginning, There Was the Blank Page…

…or, these days, the blank computer screen.  Every true writer’s mind has a story just dying to get out of it, yet this doesn’t necessarily make getting started any easier.  Following up directly on my previous post regarding the writing conference I attended last weekend (sponsored by the organization Room to Write), one of the topics we addressed was beginnings, which cannot be more critical to a story, particularly if you want to get it published.

First of all, as far as how you begin to write each day, the key is:  1) ensuring that you do write every day, even if just a few sentences; and, 2) the authors leading the conference particularly advised us to write first thing in the morning.  That is when our heads can be freshest and leave us feeling for the rest of the day that we’ve already accomplished something massive (so you don’t have to feel guilty taking that nap 🙂 ).  While I wish I could discipline myself to haul my keester out of bed earlier than the minimum allowable time for getting ready for work, I have to admit I have my most significant rush of ideas in the morning as I shower, as though I’m massaging them out of me noggin as I shampoo my hair.  I always hate that I have to leave for work soon after then, just when I’m in the groove and risk losing the momentum by the time I return home drained from the daily toil.

As far as the actual beginning of our story or novel, we must note that the first chapter (indeed, first page) is the “imprint of the entire book.” The sense of place and voice established in that first page predicts the rest of the book.  My tutors also stressed the impact of including a sense of smell right from the getgo, as it creates a lingering impression unlike the other senses (and is unfortunately one of the most underutilized, as I’ve mentioned before in my “Smell No Evil” post).

With regard to place, we were advised to give places names, even if it’s a fake name to anonymize an actual place.  In this way, a place, if prevalent enough to the story, can become a character in itself.  Closely related in terms of setting, the time period in which our story takes place should be implied well enough to give a clear sense, yet we don’t have to preach to the reader when exactly it is.

With regard to the sample of best-selling novels we read in preparation for the course, we evaluated the following common denominators that we noted across each of their beginnings:

– Drama or sense of impending danger

– Character (be it the main character’s name or an archetypes to be represented throughout)

– Setting (again, the sense of time and place)

– Conflict (at least a sense of the issue at the crux of the story)

– “Filmic”—i.e., achieves ready visualization and engagement through drama and descriptive language

Finally, we may have a strong temptation to overly explain some aspect of the story right out the gate, be it the character, setting, conflict, etc.  To avoid this, we need to give our reader credit and exercise restraint—we can always introduce this information in a creative way later on.

I do believe I am at the end of discussing beginnings, so meet me here next time for a few words on dialogue.


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