Writing What I Don’t Know Adds Flavor to My Women’s Fiction

This week, starting Wednesday night and ending Friday night, is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.  Yes, the new year.  Yes, it’s September.  The religious Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar and sometimes there’s even an extra whole month.  But, we’re not here to talk it being the year 5772, we’re here to talk about writing women’s fiction.  (We’re taking the long route today, but we will get there.  Promise.)

So, what do I do in honor of Rosh Hashanah that I only do one other time of the year (and that would be at Hanukkah, and only sometimes)? No, I don’t mean put on heels — but yes, that too.

I bake.  And, I bake one thing only.  Kamish Bread (accent on the second syllable: ka-MISH).  When I looked it up it means “almost bread.” Most people call it Mandel Bread or Mandelbrot.  It’s akin to a biscotti but with less of a snap.  I make Chocolate Chip Kamish Bread.  When I make other flavors — cinnamon or cranberry walnut — nobody eats them.  So, I make Chocolate Chip.  It’s what I know best.

The fact that Kamish Bread is really the only thing I bake might surprise anyone who has read parts of THE GLASS WIVES because man-oh-Manischewitz can my main character bake!  It’s not part of the story the way it was way-back-before I took out the stale parts (ha, couldn’t help it) but it’s part of who she is.  And it was so fun for me to write a character who loved to do something that I actually dislike doing.  I can understand how someone enjoys it — I just don’t.  Don’t send me recipes, I don’t want to be a baker.   I’m perfectly content with a sleeve of Doublestuff Oreos, thankyouverymuch.

But – for me – writing what I didn’t know was really fun.  I imagined all kinds of baking extravaganzas with that make believe kitchen that never needed cleaning!  Fabulous!  To write about someone just like me? Boring to me.  I spent years writing personal essays which meant mining my own life for material. I’ll admit, there was plenty of it — but it’s really liberating to put yourself into the head of someone different and live his or her life. Fiction lets us do that and women’s fiction demands that we do so with the journey of the woman at the forefront of the story — and we get to make that whatever we want.  We can figure who needs to go where and we can send her.  How awesome is that?

What we know — like chocolate chip Kamish Bread — can be very comforting.  I don’t need a recipe to churn out a good batch or six.  My friends who host us for holiday meals expect a plate of Kamish Bread — and request it as our contribution.

But the excitement comes, for me, in discovering something new.  A young woman who loves to garden appears in my next novel.  Me? I buy flowers in May and water them until I don’t feel like it anymore.  Usually some time in June.  Weeds?  I think they’re quite lovely actually.  Another character I’m working on has never left her small town in Ohio.  Since 1990, I’ve lived in seven cities or towns in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona.  (The fact that I spent an unfortunate ten months in Cleveland has no bearing on that new character.)

With baking, I stick with what I know.  It serves me (and others) quite well.  But with my women’s fiction  I am adding flavors that are foreign to me, always looking for new ingredients, and I am finding the whole thing really quite delicious.

(If you click the Kamish Bread link above, you’ll be taken to blog called Your Jewish Mother.  That’s me. Or it was me — and a friend — who tried to start that blog a long time ago.  And yes, it’s the first thing that pops up if you Google search “chocolate chip kamish bread”. I totally forgot about that blog — so that was a nice, if not kind of creepy, internet surprise.)

18 thoughts on “Writing What I Don’t Know Adds Flavor to My Women’s Fiction

  1. I loved this. Chocolate chip Kamish bread. Yum! My husband is Jewish, and my novel’s POV character is Jewish (trying to decide what to do about the Catholic man she loves…) I’ll have to look at Glass Wives now. I’ve not heard of that one.

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  2. I love the way you bring this around from the baking — so that you make me feel like I know your characters (and you!) a little better! I agree, adding new flavors in fiction is fun and makes things more interesting, and has even added up to surprising results for me, too. (p.s. thanks for the recipe, and that’s too funny about rediscovering your own website!)

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    • Julia,
      I must admit when I saw the other blog I thought — is this? could this be? oh my it is! I guess I never “canceled” it and since it’s on WP, it’s just *there.*

      Glad you liked the post – and the recipe. I find it so interesting to explore things I have no (or little) experience with in real life. Except with baking, of course.

      Amy

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  3. Amy,

    Your tale started my morning off just right! Not a Jew in my family–hey, we’re all Scots-Irish, but who likes Irish Soda Bread. Now I’m tempted to make chocolate chip Kamish bread. Just might do it.

    Reading this reminded me of my main character in the Sidra Smart mysteries (up for re-release by Crickhollow Books, early 2012) who took up making Alligator Pickles. So–who tromps into the kitchen and starts making them by the gallons to sell at book signings? Yep, me. The lipsticked, aproned, dancing alligator on the label sold all the pickles I could make. Finally had to stop–after all, I’m a writer–not a pickle wholesaler. But my husband still begs for more. Likely I’ll have to make more to sell with the re-release.

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  4. LOL – I second Karoline – was totally ready to log on to amazon and order! Indeed – this bodes very well for your book! Fingers crossed for the submission success! (And thanks for the yummy looking recipe – I’m not much of a baker, but you had me at “chocolate chips.”) 🙂

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  5. I agree with you. I think the saying “write what you know” is a good place to start for new writers or someone who is a bit blocked, but maybe as we grow as writers we can branch out and create even better stories. P.S. I’m bad at baking. 🙂

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  6. Lovely point you make: the opposite of “write what you know” is daring to write what you don’t. Author Joe Wallace (DIAMOND RUBY) once wrote an interesting essay about daring to write in the voice of a teenage girl in the 1920s — and, earlier, trying to write from the POV of a blind man, and being told essentially, Who are you to think you can do that?

    It’s fascinating, but that’s precisely what writing fiction is all about. Daring to invent your interpretation of a world, experienced by someone you are not.

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  7. Amy,

    What a wonderful post. And I completely agree – I love having my characters doing things I personally don’t do.

    Here’s to a wonderful New Year filled with Kamish bread, alligator pickles and publishing contracts. 🙂

    Orly

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