Sex With Pilgrims: Historical Research, Writing Cycles, and Triple X-Rated Red Cabbage


Once a wasteland stretching between my two favorite holidays, poor November has become my favorite month in recent years. To my writer’s mind, the stark austerity of the denuded trees, the rich scarlet sunsets, and the apple-crisp chill in the air all serve as a subtly titillating foreplay to the all-out sensual debauchery of the year-end festivals to come.

And as erotica writers, isn’t our business creating subtly (and not-so-subtly) titillating foreplay to be followed by all-out debauchery?

November also brings to mind our honorary European forefathers, the Pilgrims. Once seen as sexless, god-fearing folk, later scholars revealed that early European-Americans indulged in such customs as bundling, where courting couples would share the same bed to test for compatibility, which doubtless included more than pillow talk. Thus our colonial forefathers and mothers might not deserve all the blame for the Puritanical streak that lingers in our culture today.

History is much on my mind these days because one part of my novel involves a trip back to the past. Until now, I’ve followed one school of thought that suggests you just start writing your novel, then do only the amount of research necessary to give your story authenticity in the second draft. This method helps you avoid the doctoral dissertation syndrome, where you spend years researching every last detail of a topic before you feel entitled to write—if, in fact, you have any interest or energy left over to finish the job. As I have no intention of writing a book suitable for publication by an academic press, I hoped to avoid this time sink. A fiction writer doesn’t need to be the world’s expert; a few lush factual details will suffice to bring a story to life.

This approach has worked well in terms of actually producing pages of a first draft, but now I find myself at a point where I do need to do some time traveling in order to move the story along. Part of me wants to continue to “fake it,” by which I mean write scenes that work with my outline, then go back and fix any anachronisms after I do carefully focused research based on my needs. As in, if I introduce a carriage ride, I can study up on horse-drawn transportation, but won’t need to bother at all if my characters decide to walk instead. However, that Inner Voice I keep talking about is starting to nag me again. Apparently she thinks I can find valuable inspiration in research that might help me write a more vibrant first draft.

I’ve decided to listen to her this time, too, making my second novel an exercise in (hopefully) positive split personalities! The challenge will be, of course, to do the research detour without losing forward momentum. If any readers out there have suggestions for me, please don’t hesitate to contact me. (I’ll post your suggestions on the ERWA blog for the benefit of other struggling novel researchers).

And, as my crafty Inner Voice alluringly whispers, the research itself can provide fresh details and reminders of the timelessness of human desire, erotic and otherwise, that will bring history to life. To return to the Pilgrims for a moment, I want to approach research as I would a night bundling with a brawny colonial lad: enjoy the experience for what it offers, but don’t feel the need to rush to the church the next morning. Besides, I’m feeling excited about this new phase of the project, and for erotica writers—or any writer for that matter—your excitement inevitably finds its way to the page and the reader.

This particular hurdle reminds me that writing a longer work, such as a novel, has its seasonal cycles. The “year” begins with a fear of starting a huge project, which gives way to a beginner’s elation at finally getting underway. However—this has happened with both of my novels and I’ve heard it’s extremely common—fifty or so pages in, many writers hit a rocky stretch where they begin to doubt the viability of their idea. Many novels are abandoned at this point. The very first novel I wrote suffered this fate, although I later revived it with plenty of hot sex to become Amorous Woman.

Indeed the writers who push through this block go on to report the next phase is like one long year-end holiday party: a passionate immersion in the novel such that it becomes your life and takes on its own momentum. Just as we might commemorate a rare moment of cooperation between Native Americans and Pilgrims over Brussels sprouts and pumpkin pie this month, the fact that no novelist is alone in riding the ups and downs of the cycle can be a positive reminder that we can survive famine to feast again, too. So at month’s end when you sit down to your Thanksgiving feast, raise your glass to novelist forefathers and mothers who have blazed the trail and shown you can finish, in spite of self-doubt and distraction.

Speaking of fall feasts, this month I wanted to share a recipe for a dish that is the essence of autumn: red cabbage braised in red wine. I like to call it “triple red cabbage” because of the addition of some red wine vinegar. I’ve tried many red cabbage recipes over the years, and this one has more spice and less sweetness—a more “adult” or X-rated flavor, if you will—than the traditional accompaniment to roast goose. Meat eaters can enjoy this with pork; vegetarians can make it a main dish with bread and cheese on the side thanks to the protein in the chestnuts. It’s delicious hot, but I’ve also lunched on the leftovers cold. In any case, the hearty flavor and heady touch of booze provide the perfect sustenance for a crisp afternoon of erotica writing.

Bon Appetit and Write On!

XXX Red Cabbage
Adapted from Eight Weeks to Optimum Health by Andrew Weil

1 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large red cabbage, cored & sliced 1/4″ thick
1 large Pippin or Granny Smith apple, diced
salt to taste (minimal is healthier)
1 Turkish bay leaf
1/4 t. ground cloves
1 1/2 cups dry red wine (the perfect use for Trader Joe’s bargain cooking reds)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
As much of a jar of peeled chestnuts as you like

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion and carrots and sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add the cabbage and apple and mix well, then add salt to taste, the garlic, the bay leaf, cloves, wine, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a low boil, cover and cook for about 1 hour. Remove bay leaf and correct seasoning. You may also add 1 cup of peeled chestnuts to cook in the braising liquid.

Donna George Storey
November 2010

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2010 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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