Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cheese for Writers

Charlotte Firbank-King

There are hundreds of varieties of cheese, each made in different ways, just like stories are written in various ways. Then, within each “genre” of a particular cheese, there are even more differences. For example, one could have cream cheese with chives, garlic, or chili. In addition, cheeses require different conditions or times in which to mature to the point of being delicious.

All “real” cheeses are made from milk—just like all stories are made from words. Some cheeses, like ricotta or cream cheese, are easy and quick to make with milk and whatever you have in the kitchen—yet they still need sterile conditions. Ricotta also needs just the right temperature and length of heating time and the addition of lemon juice in order for curds to form. It also needs a dash of salt and then has to drain for the right amount of time with the correct type of cheese cloth to be perfect.

A short story or poem is like ricotta cheese. It also needs sterile conditions (a clear mind), the right temperature (creativity) to form the curd (idea). Then it requires the correct cheese cloth (editing) to drain out all the whey (typos, adjectives, etc.) until it tastes (story flows and sounds) delicious.

Hard cheeses like cheddar or parmesan, or softer ones like blue cheese or brie, are like full-length novels. They need more time, care, and attention to mature. They need special cultures (research). Airborne cultures (incorrect research info) must be kept out by means of perfect, protected conditions (researching the researched source). Every step in making these cheeses is meticulously executed (attention to every word and sentence). Temperature, humidity, and turning are all undertaken diligently (edited and re-edited—many times). The cheeses are monitored to avoid contamination (too much contradictory advice or negative feedback). When the cheese is mature, a cheese expert, an affineur (editor), tastes and tests the cheese (story) to check if it’s perfect. Sometimes the cheese must mature longer (needs additional edits).

Throughout the ages, caves were used to ripen cheese. The temperature and humidity in a cave is constant and therefore perfect for specific cheeses.

What conditions do writers need for their brand of cheese (story)? Well, they need a cheese cave then, don’t they? A place set aside for them in which to write. Roald Dahl used a shed at the bottom of his garden for peace and quiet. What caves do other writers like?

Let’s have some fun and see if you recognize what cheese/genre your stories fall under.

Blue cheese writer: horror stories. If horror is all one writes, then this writer must stay away from other cheeses (genres) because the culture used for blue cheese is very powerful and attacks other cheeses. Don’t get me wrong—I love blue cheese. But what sort of cave (environment) does the blue-cheese writer prefer? Maybe they need to surround themselves with dark creepy forests or a place covered in cobwebs. Perhaps they fill their “cave” with eerie music.

The brie writer: romance stories. This cheese (genre) can be oozy and even cheesy (pun intended). Generally, brie (romance) can be made (written) fairly quickly and doesn’t need long to mature, but conditions must be perfect. What cave does this writer need? Maybe a romantic setting with plenty of roses and jasmine, along with romantic lyrics permeating the air.

The ricotta cheese writer: short stories and poems as mentioned above. So what sort of cave do they need? A coffee shop or any busy place with plenty of material moving about, or perhaps peace and quiet.

Mature cheddar cheese writer: historical, mystery, or suspense novels. Like cheddar, there are many pitfalls and mistakes that can be made in the complexity of this cheese (genre). The culture (research) has to be meticulous. The maturation period takes longer (more editing) to ensure the tastes (plot sequences) are correct and flow.

But in the end, all writers, despite their genre, have different needs. Some like a no-people, peace and quiet environment. Others combine the no-people thing with music or even a television—they don’t require conversation. There are those who can work in the living room surrounded by noisy dogs, kids, and a chatty spouse, plus the television and music. Hats off to them.

The point is, a writer’s refuge has to be like a cheese cave. We need a spot where the conditions are just right. The important thing is to find the right cave for your cheese (genre) to mature (write) in.

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