Lemons, fig cake and setting

by survivorscribe

When life sends you lemons (and figs) via the U.S. Postal Service, make lemonade and fig cake. Okay, so life didn’t really send the lemons and figs. My parents sent them. They sent them all the way from their home in California where lemon and fig trees produce so quickly they can’t eat or use the fruit fast enough. I’ve enjoyed the gifted bounty. I have made delicious fresh-squeezed lemonade and an out of this world fig cake that I found a recipe for at a blog called Lemons and Anchovies. With a name like that the recipes have to be good. This one was probably the best thing I’ve baked from scratch ever.

None of this has anything to do with the Midwest Writers Workshop, except to say that my time there was a nice gift in what has turned out to be a stressful, quickly dissolving summer. As I mentioned in my previous post, I learned so much. I think today’s nugget will focus on what I learned in D.E. (Dan) Johnson’s workshop classes. I attended two. For those who don’t know Dan, he writes historical mysteries set in Detroit in the early 20th century. I have not read his books. I intend to even though I’m not one to really read mystery. I’m compelled by the glimpse I had of his writing and by his writing knowledge. He knows his stuff.

Fig Cake made with figs from my mom and dad’s backyard in California.

His workshop on setting was an elaboration on the writing mantra “show, don’t tell.” That description doesn’t really do it justice, because he dove deeply into what that really means and how that really works to bring a narrative to life. I think the most valuable piece of advice I walked away with was his technique for making sure he’s using enough of every sense. He goes through his manuscripts with five different highlighters each representing one of the five senses. This gives him a visual diagram of how often he’s using these to bring out setting. I haven’t tried it yet, but it has made me much more aware of where I’m using all the senses in my work.

So, now that I am thinking of the senses, time to go let the golden, soft fig cake melt in my mouth, so I can taste the hints of sweet cream, olive oil and butter as the smell of baked fig wafts about my head. I won’t forget to wash it down with the sweet and tangy fresh lemonade.

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