Novelist Eileen Charbonneau releases primer for beginners and tempts tasters with Plum Duff recipe

Elements of the Novel
with Eileen Charbonneau
It’s a privilege to welcome historical novelist Eileen Charbonneau to The Cookery. Not only does Eileen move the writing world with her historical fiction, she’s written a new book for beginners to set them on course with novel writing. Eileen is sharing a preview of “Elements of the Novel . . . A Primer for Beginners,” and she may also come clean with the benefits of incorporating culinary aphrodisiacs into the writing process. Eileen, welcome!
Eileen: Thank you, Mary Ann.  I am so happy to be here at The Cookery!
Q: We shy away from mug shots here at The Cookery. As one who develops so many intriguing characters for the page, will you briefly describe yourself, or you as your favorite character?
A:  I am a life omnivore! Love tasting everything from food to intriguing people, places and adventures. Being an American is great for this: the world lives here along with all cultures, creeds, choices . . . and desserts!
Q: You serve up some sound advice about food and drink and how it relates to taking care of yourself in “Elements.” Beginners may not realize where this fits into the big writing picture. Can you share your own recipe for taking care when it comes to eating well?
A:  Writing itself is a sedentary act, there’s no way around that . . . writers need to plant their rears in a chair to DO it. So I think it’s so important when not “in the act” to eat well and not too much, and to avoid all drugs including tobacco and too much alcohol. And of course to move, whether it’s dance, a favorite sport, or exercise routine of choice. Eating well for me has been preferring fresh to prepared, frozen, canned or processed food, and way more vegetables and fruits than meat. And spare the fat (oh fat, that great conductor of flavor!), sugars and salt. And something well known here at The Cookery is important to me . . . trying the great cuisines of world cultural traditions.
Q: Without revealing all your secrets, tell us about the novel writing process and how you view it as simple but not easy.
A:  Writing is cumulative–the more you do it the better you get, but you must DO it, and re-do it . . . that to me is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls. Novels are long form writing with many threads to pull together and weave through the whole. So rewriting concentrating on elements:  characterization, setting, plot, transitions, dialogue, point of view, etc. , is for me what it takes to produce a compelling plot with vivid characters, well told. Readers have given us that most precious gift—their attention, and deserve no less.
Q: How do beginners get trapped in the research process when approaching that first historical novel?
A:  Oh, that can happen easily! After all, this is the world a writer is going to inhabit for the months of the writing process, so she wants to get it right, and accurate. But when you’re reading books that dispute whether Thomas Jefferson preferred planting peas or beans in the garden at Monticello, it might be time to start the danged book! Novelists are not historians, and we need to see history through the sensibilities of our fictional characters and plot.
Q: You talk about the importance of drafts in your book. What can beginners learn from your three-draft process?
A: Beginners can learn the essentials of expression (get the story out), communication (get the story out with the reader in mind), to polish (make that story sing!).
Q: Eileen, you have the gift of delivering bad news with a gentle touch. But when it comes to writers who “love draft one,” you offer little comfort to writers in this camp. How can beginners avoid the Draft One camp?
A:  By revision. Draft One is for writers’ eyes only . . . it comes out before the elements have been mastered. I know some novelists rewrite in their heads, so their first written drafts are much better than mine, but mastering the elements means working them through drafts, whatever the method. Novelist J.T. Bushnell explains, “In a first draft, I can’t consider the consequences of every narrative decision because there are simply too many decisions to make.”
Q: About dialogue . . . You’ve mastered the art of creating convincing dialogue with historical and romance writing, and helped many aspiring writers in your writing and editing workshops. What forces can help the writer illuminate a character?
A:  The living breathing heart of a novel lies within its characters. Characters are constructed (physically and psychologically), revealed (through their thoughts, their dialogue and dialogue about them), their setting, and how they interact with the plot and other characters.
Q: The Cookery loves a tempting dessert when it’s worth the calories, but our happy ending is often the meal in itself. You use the dessert analogy with epilogues. What’s a beginner to do with the decision to use or not to use the epilogue?
A:  Epilogues are used for dramatic effect,  to learn more about the “how” of the happy-ever-after (in Romance novels…oh, very dessert like!), or the results in the aftermath of a disaster (when things don’t turn out so well).  They can be crafty ways that novelists pull you into the next of a series of books, like that perfect ending of the meal makes you want to accept another invitation to dine at that friend’s house!
Q: Where can we find your books, Eileen?
A:  I’m happy to report that one of my publishers, Macmillan, has just brought out six of my novels in e-book format, which can be ordered while in your favorite independent bookseller, chain, or from bn.com for Nook and Amazon for the Kindle.  ELEMENTS OF THE NOVEL is published by New Street Communications, can be ordered from them, your bookseller or online in trade-sized paperback or as an e-book kindle edition.
Q: Are you offering any summer 2012 workshops?
A:  Yes! We’ll be covering the Elements of Characterization and Setting in this year’s Elements of the Novel Seminar on July 14th from  9AM–4 PM at the Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, New York.  You can find out more at my website eileencharbonneau.googlepages.com or from Merrittbooks.com.  Novelists at every stage of the process are welcome!
Mary  Ann: Eileen, thank you for joining us at The Cookery, and as always, for reaching out to other writers across all genres and platforms.
Eileen: It’s been my great pleasure spending time at The Cookery.  Thank you for your interest!
Read, write, and try Eileen’s recipe for plum duff!
The Randolph Legacy Plum Duff
In the early 19th century, midshipman Ethan Randolph serves 10 years on a British ship as an American prisoner of war, dreaming of how wonderful the Plum Duff on his American ship used to taste! Here’s the recipe.
2 cups flour (1/2 cup of it oatmeal, if you’d like)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup raisins, ground or chopped (kitchen scissors work in a pinch)
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon zest
  1. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Add the melted shortening.
  2. Add raisins, sugar, lemon zest and water to the flour/shortening mixture. Knead into a dough. (If too dry, add a little more water; if too wet, add a little more flour.)  Form into 1-1/2 inch balls.

Now, here’s where the sailors of the 19th century would drop the balls into boiling water, cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for four hours.

But what you’re going to do is:
3.  Pop them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Serve warm with hot jam, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, or whipped cream.
Yield:  8-10 dumplings
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4 responses to “Novelist Eileen Charbonneau releases primer for beginners and tempts tasters with Plum Duff recipe

  1. Mary Ann–this is sooo great! It’s delicious, to be more exact. What a good way to mix these various ingredients of creativity and taste in the marvelous kettle that simmers endlessly in your kitchen. Thanks for sharing this tidbit from The Cookery. This was one instance where more than one chef improved the broth!!! Brava!

  2. There’s always a place at the table for you here at The Cookery, Bob. You’re at the head of the table along with Eileen as champions of writing and encouraging the word!

  3. eileencharbonneau

    Thanks for dropping by, Bob. The interview looks GREAT, Mary Ann! A quick note…I’ve just signed on to do an ELEMENTS OF THE NOVEL panel with Jean Zimmerman and Carol Goodman at this year’s Millbrook Book Festival on June 16! All are welcome to this chock-full, free all day event!

  4. I’ll share the word on what promises to be a terrific panel, Eileen. Great to have you at The Cookery and to welcome you back home to New York!

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