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'10 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
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Cooking up a Storey

by Donna George Storey

Getting to Know You:
Character Profiles, Star-Gazing Shortcuts
and Quick Culinary Getaways


Cooking up a Storey by Donna George Storey Sweet May has arrived, and I’m still plugging away at the background preparation for my second novel. I must admit the prospect of reporting my progress here at “Cooking Up a Storey” has kept me more focused on the project than I’d probably otherwise be, not unlike one of those features in women’s magazines where the volunteer dieter is weighed in every month so that millions will know if she’s raided the cookie jar.  So here’s to public humiliation as an effective form of writer’s motivation!

I also wanted to report back on a topic I discussed last month [Plotting and Planning]: the usefulness of a novel outline.  Guess what?  When I shared my detailed outline with my writing partner, this alone enabled her to see a weakness in the middle section of the novel, which, we decided, could be solved by downgrading a character from major to minor status.  The change immediately felt right.  So rather than writing out the section first and then cutting my precious prose later, I can save time up front by revising that section now, when it’s merely a matter of ideas and a few brief sentences.  Not to say I’d slavishly follow the entire plan suggested by Karen S. Wiesner in her First Draft in 30 Days: a novel writer’s system for building a complete and cohesive manuscript, but I definitely have a greater appreciation for the wisdom of advance planning.

With these benefits in mind, I decided my next task would be to develop profiles of each of my main characters.  I already have a general idea of who they are and what they’ll do, but I’m sensing that I will have an easier time with the actual writing if I fill in the rough sketches with some finer detail now.  On the other hand, I know from the experience of writing my first novel that once I hit my stride, the characters are going to take over the story and start telling me who they are.  So I don’t intend to spend too much time on an overly constrictive back story either.

Almost every “how to write a novel” book I have on my shelf has a chapter about character development which involves a list of brainstorming questions ranging from where and when s/he was born to how s/he dresses, where s/he works, his or her fears and favorite ways to relax.  Some of the books have pages and pages of lists.  While this might be helpful to some, at least as inspiration, I found it overwhelming, as if I had to answer each question for every character, when many of the questions wouldn’t be at all relevant. 

Then I picked up one of my very favorite “how to write a novel” books, a secondhand first edition of The Weekend Novelist: A Dynamic, 52-Week Program to Help You Produce a Novel One Weekend at a Time by Robert J. Ray. Ray’s weekend program calls for efficiency, and indeed his month of character development calls for the right amount of detail for me.  Of course we must always start with the basics—age, background, appearance, employment, emotional makeup and motives for his/her actions in the novel.  Ray also suggests you make a chronology of key dates in the character’s life from birth to the novel present.  From this chronology, he suggests you choose a turning point in the character’s life that has the greatest impact on the novel and explore this fully as back story notes.

I’ve decided to give this method a try, but with my own twist.  I like to sit down with my character and have a nice long chat—letting him do most of the talking of course, but note some common experiences and attitudes and well as places where we differ considerably.  I’ll also let her know the general plot outline and ask if she has any thoughts on how she would respond to such an experience.

This time around, I’m also experimenting with a new way of conceiving my characters that might strike some as silly, but that is proving to be both economical and fertile for honing in on the erotic sensibility of each character.  On a whim, I pulled out my very tattered copy of How to Seduce Any Man in the Zodiac by Robin MacNaughton, a resource from my college days that was much consulted by my roommates and me.  Fortunately, it’s proving far more useful for creating my fictional lovers than it ever was for understanding the real ones of yore!

Each zodiac sign is described under the following headings with some brief examples of MacNaughton’s expert observations:

What He’s Like:  Mr. Aries is ardent and enthusiastic, impulsive and aggressive.

What He Thinks He Wants: Mr. Taurus wants sensuality, security and to be seduced.

What He Needs:  Mr. Gemini needs constant challenges that vary from mind games to serious mental endeavors.

What He Fears:  Mr. Cancer fears he won’t be able to establish security and that when he has it, he may lose it.

His Attitude Towards Women, Love and Sex: Mr. Leo is a natural flirt, a classic romantic and a snob with a weakness for women who improve his self-image through association.

His Good Points:  Mr. Libra is romantic, sensitive, witty, charming and appreciative of the opposing point of view.  (I can personally attest that this is true.)

His Bad Points:  Mr. Scorpio can be possessive, jealous, sadistic and downright dishonest.

How to Get His Attention:  Mr. Sagittarius wants a woman to be like an adventure where there’s a lot of chase.

How To Keep It:  Make Mr. Capricorn feel admired, appreciated, respected and desired—don’t question his authority or his demands.  (Who doesn’t want this?  And yes, I’m a Capricorn).

Realistic Expectations:  Mr. Aquarius is a match for a woman who is titillated by a progressive intellect and has a lot of interests of her own. And not to leave out Mr. Pisces, his mysterious, elusive personality means this is a relationship you should put on a cost-benefit ratio.

Although this is not radically different from the lists provided by the other “how to” books, the focus on romantic relationships and sexual styles speaks directly to the needs of an erotic narrative.  (For writers on a budget—and aren’t we all?--any astrology reference from your local library will probably work as well). My original concept of each character leads me to a particular sign, and then I use MacNaughton’s profile to fill in more of the details as needed.  I also consulted astrology expert and erotica writer Neve Black for some suggestions for appropriate signs for my characters—no reason you can’t brainstorm with friends and writing buddies as well!  Again the point is not to be slavish to this view of personality types, but to be open to new possibilities and get inspiration. I don’t intend to make the zodiac sign explicit in any way (although if it works for your story, that’s fine), just use it as a foundation for development.  Indeed sometimes I mix and match qualities of different signs if that works better for the purposes of my story. I’m also finding these questions helpful for the female characters, who want, need, fear and have good and bad points as much as any man in the zodiac!

Then, after I’ve asked my characters “what’s your sign, baby?” and we have our heart-to-heart chat about life, I’m planning to nudge our erotic exploration one step further by taking each major character home to bed for the evening.  I’ll jot down notes—discreetly of course—about his or her preferences and quirks and get intimate with her/him in this important way before we venture on our longer erotic journey together. 

Speaking of sensual journeys, this month’s recipe for Japanese-style vegetable soup might indeed require a trip to an Asian grocery store for full enjoyment, unless your local supermarket has a well-stocked Asian food section.  Remember, however, that making and eating foreign recipes is an economical and delicious shortcut to international travel.  Our annual visit to a Russian bakery in San Francisco for their heavenly poppy seed rolls and rye bread is about as far as I’ll get to Moscow for quite some time, but with that first bite of earthy filling and soft, yeasty wrapping, I am transported around the world at least for one sweet moment.

This soup recipe, not coincidentally from a cookbook I also bought back in the mid-1980s, is heartier than the classic miso soup served with Japanese meals, but is well-suited to the Western table.  Some of the ingredients may be unfamiliar.  Burdock (gobo) is a long, whip-shaped vegetable with a brown, fuzzy skin that you’ll find in the Asian produce section (and might be an interesting variation on the usual implements for spanking aficionados).  It has a pleasant, nutty flavor and crunchy texture.  It’s also available already peeled and sliced in the freezer section of larger Asian groceries, but the recipe will not suffer if you leave it out entirely.  Long white radish (daikon) has a mildly sweet, juicy flesh and about two inches in diameter and up to eighteen inches long.  You might actually find this in an ordinary supermarket produce section, but a sweet young turnip will suffice as a replacement.  In any case, the flavor of this soup is pure Japan, and like all soups, it tastes even richer the next day.

And hopefully, under your careful and loving attention, the characters in your novel will develop new depths with time as well.

Bon Appetit!

Japanese-style Vegetable Soup
(Serves 6; adapted from Japanese Cooking for Health and Fitness by Kiyoko Konishi)

Miso Soup

4” piece of long white radish (daikon)
1 fresh burdock root or 1 package frozen, slivered burdock root (gobo)
2 carrots
1 bunch green onions
1 large potato
1 block medium or firm tofu
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms or 6 white mushrooms
2 teaspoons each sesame oil and vegetable or peanut oil
6 cups Japanese dashi stock or vegetable/chicken broth (see notes below)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
Optional condiment—Japanese seven-spice pepper (shichimi-togarashi)

If using fresh burdock root, scrape off the brown skin with the back of a knife, then shave diagonally into one-inch long, narrow thin strips as if you were sharpening a pencil.  Soak right away in water containing a splash of vinegar (rice vinegar if you have it) for 3 to 4 minutes to prevent discoloration, then drain and rinse off vinegar.

Peel and quarter the potato.  Cut each quarter into thin slices and soak in water for 2 to 3 minutes to prevent discoloration, then drain.

Peel and slice the long white radish and carrot into the same size pieces as the potato.  Cut the green onions crosswise into 1/2-inch lengths.  Press the tofu between two plates for ten minutes to drain excess moisture then cut into cubes.  Remove stems from the shiitake mushrooms and cut tops into fine strips.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot.  Add the radish, carrot, potato, and burdock root and sauté for 5 minutes.  Add the soup stock, salt and soy sauce and boil until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and tofu and boil 2 minutes more.  Put in the long green onion and turn off the heat right away.  Serve hot in bowls and sprinkle with Japanese seven-spice pepper, if desired.

Note on traditional fish-based dashi:  You can purchase traditional bonito stock bouillon crystals in the Asian foods section of many grocery stores or in Japanese grocery stores, but homemade stock is much superior.  To make this you need 4 1/4 cups water, a 4-inch piece of dried kelp (konbu) and 1 cup of bonito fish flakes (katsuoboshi).  Put 4 cups of cold water and the konbu into a pan and bring to a boil.  When the water first begins to boil, take out the konbu immediately.  Add 1/4 cup cold water to stop the boiling.  Add the katsuoboshi all at once.  When the water boils again, turn off the heat.  When the katsuoboshi has all sunk to the bottom, strain the soup through a cheesecloth or fine sieve.

Note on vegetarian Japanese broth:  Buddhist vegetarian cuisine has a long history in Japan and the stock of choice for soups is made only with konbu.  Place 6 cups water and three 4-inch piece of konbu in a saucepan and leave to soak for 2 to 3 hours.  Place the saucepan over medium heat.  Just before the water boils, remove the konbu and use stock as desired.

Donna George Storey
May-June 2010

If you have comments or questions about this column, please drop by Donna's blog or send an email to

Donna is Cooking up a Storey in ERWA 2010 Archive.

"Cooking up a Storey" © 2010 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written

About the Author:† Donna George Storey taught English in Japan and Japanese in the United States and has finally found the work of her dreams writing erotica. If you're really nice, she'll bake you a batch of her Venetian cookies, with layers of marzipan, jam and chocolate, that take a ridiculous amount of time to make and are (almost) better than sex. Her work has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies including Clean Sheets, Fishnet, Best American Erotica, Best Women's Erotica and Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica.
Her first novel, Amorous Woman-a semi-autobiographical tale of an American woman's love affair with Japan, Japanese food and lots of sexy men and women along the way-was published by Neon/Orion. It's currently available at Amazon and Amazon UK, and from her web site,
For more of her musings on sensual pleasure and creativity stop by her blog:  Sex, Food and Writing. You can also take a quick trip to Japan with Donna's provocative Amorous Woman book trailer at:

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