Cooking, eating, bathing, and dressing; touchstones in my writing

I noticed recently (while working on the audio versions of the books) that Sophia contains all the main touchstones I’ve found I add to many (not quite all) my novels, going back all the way to Forlorn. Namely, my main characters will have a scene where they cook something, a scene where they eat something (usually what they cooked), a scene where they bathe, and a scene where they get dressed.

The most obvious in Never Let the Right One Go, part of the mirrored-activities-to-draw-comparisons between Sophia and Emily, was shopping for clothes and getting dressed. Emily is a shop-a-holic, and buying and wearing fashionable clothing is a major part of her social life (and her identity, before meeting Nicholas). Sophia, upon moving out, decides to buy a whole new wardrobe. Sophia later goes on several dates and pays particular attention to her wardrobe; one of her dates even takes her shopping for clothes, and buys her a complete outfit. Sophia ends up meeting a world-class fashion designer and having clothes custom made for her childlike body.

Going back to my older works, in Lost and Not Found, the main character’s first attempt at writing a novel contains a long description of a superhero designing his own costume – and at the end of the book there’s a chapter-long section where he and Tinkerbell are going through a magical closet full of clothes trying to decide what to wear. In the Untrue Tales… series there are several getting-dressed scenes, including Hannah’s unfortunate rushed morning before her accident, and Trevor in the locker room before his first dodgeball match. Melvin helps dress his children before they leave the safety of their homes to go face the zombies in Cheating, Death.

Of course, the most obvious are in Lost and Not Found, and specifically in the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut, where perhaps fully half of the narrative is concerned with these four touchstones. (Warning: SPOILERS ahead) After the main character whisks Tink away from Never-never land, and after they finally arrive at Haven, their first morning is first full of cooking, then of eating, then of bathing (in a magical bubble bath), and then of getting dressed, before heading out to visit a museum. (Trevor and Toni visit a museum in Untrue Tales… Book Four, as well, and there’s a museum visit in Worth 1k — Volume 2.) (Update: I’ve just remembered (10 hrs after posting this) that Sophia visits a museum, too! After going to the opera, Sophia’s date takes her on a private tour of a sort of history museum. She really gets all of them, doesn’t she?)

I like that order, as it’s a very natural one, but I don’t stick religiously to it, adding these relatively-mundane scenes in wherever they belong along the way. The main character of Lost and Not Found also spends some time cooking at the beginning of the book, while waiting for the day he can begin writing a novel. Lance, one of the major characters of Forget What You Can’t Remember, becomes a chef and opens his own restaurant – giving Paul and Job one of the only opportunities for anyone to eat in the entire book, and not until the penultimate chapter – then he gets an entire short story, ‘Self-Serve’ to himself and his restaurant in More Lost Memories, where the unique/unusual nature of his cooking, and of the eating of it, is given more room to breathe.

In Never Let the Right One Go, Emily doesn’t do any cooking. Alternatively, gourmet cooking is one of Sophia’s hobbies/passions. Early in the book, she cooks meals for her family (though she does not partake), and after she moves out she has more opportunities to prepare food for other people. Putting together a tray and fruit and cheese for her suitor is a big highlight of one of Sophia’s many frustrating dates, for example. Sophia’s relationship with food isn’t a perfect one, though, which I’ll cover below, as I address scenes of eating:

In another story from More Lost Memories (a story later re-integrated into the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut), ‘Happy Anniversary’, the main character from Lost and Not Found and Tink, on their wedding anniversary, go out for an exquisite meal at one of Skythia’s top restaurants. There are quite a few poems in Worth 1k — Volume 2 about eating (and its harmful/wonderful effects), just as there were poems in Worth 1k — Volume 1 about finding and eating food on the road. I won’t attempt to get into all the different meals (some described in nauseating detail) Trevor and his companions experience during the course of the Untrue Tales… series; they are numerous and sometimes unusual. Then there are the zombies in Forget What You Can’t Remember and in Cheating, Death, which are always going around eating people and/or brains.

In Never Let the Right One Go, Emily hardly eats at all (which is in keeping with her character) – I think the only times she’s described as eating are a few pieces of cut-up fruit the morning she arrives in Washington, D.C. for the big protest rally, a Frappuccino on the closest thing to a real date she ever has with Nicholas, and a single bite of popcorn on her terrible date with Austin. Sophia, on the other hand, spends half the book concerned with eating and not eating. As a vampire, she’s capable of eating human food but not capable of absorbing nutrition from it; anything she swallows merely passes through her body and exits undigested. Unfortunately, her super-senses turn that into a disgusting proposition, and by the time the book starts, Sophia knows better than to actually swallow any of the food she cooks. She loves cooking, loves food, loves the aromas and flavors, but can’t swallow anything but blood. The amount and frequency of Sophia’s blood consumption are thoroughly detailed throughout her story, along with the long periods of fasting she goes through, burning with hunger, so she’ll be able to donate her organs safely.

Bathing I cover a little less (though the magic bubble bath in Forlorn was, as I said, chapter-length in its detail), but I still see it as a touchstone. Real people bathe. We can identify with it, with how showering or taking a bath makes us feel. How nice it is to be fresh and refreshed and clean – or how desperately we feel the need to bathe after going through something particularly (even just emotionally) grueling. I don’t think Emily bathes at all in the text, but Sophia takes at least one shower, and right after a scene which may make you want to take a shower, too. I won’t give any more away.

I knew, going in, that Sophia was my favorite of the two novels, but I didn’t realize that I’d subconsciously include all these touchstones in one book and leave them almost entirely out of the other. Looking forward, I don’t expect to include any of these touchstones in my next four books… and I also don’t expect them to rank among my favorites.

Have you read my books? What scenes have I failed to mention? Did you remember Mary showering in ‘Pay Attention -A Zombie Story-‘, and how it marked a major turning point for her, as a character? What about the particular food eaten in ‘They Stole God’ and the trouble its eating caused?

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