The first time I cooked for a family gathering I forgot to wash the collard greens.
Hold on to that vicarious feeling of mortified embarrassment. That crunchy, sandy, is-that-a-slug-I-see? feeling. Yeah…set that to the side. You’re going to need it later.
Craft Corner: Worldbuilding
Rituals are activities or events performed in sequence according to some tradition or societal culture. You’ve probably seen one or participated in one within the last couple of days. Church service. Family blessings. Weddings. Funerals. Whether it’s a large ceremony or a personal custom, rituals can be found everywhere, and they can be the centerpiece of many cultures in the past, present and future.
When I’m looking at creating a world different then the one in which we currently reside, I sometimes start with the rituals of the society. In many ways, those rituals will define the culture, the people, and eventually the characters I’m trying to develop. Thinking of the most important ritual in a culture—or, to be even more specific, in a character’s life—gives me a foundation on which to build a world for the reader. What does the society value? Does my main character value it as well? Are they impacted by it?
For example, a society that values a scarce resource might develop rituals that would be performed before said resource’s collection. Something reverent that highlights its importance, or something joyous to celebrate its abundance.
Something to think about, isn’t it?
Books That Helped Me:
This section of the Craft Corner is where I list the books I read that helped me and continue to help me grow as a writer. I’m a sucker for craft books, so I’m looking forward to updating this section often.
Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale is a book I’m always picking up and thumbing through, and that’s because I’m always looking for new ways to play with sentences and prose. As someone who grew up code-switching, using the dialect I'm comfortable with is important to me, so I don’t always follow all the rules and conventions Constance describes, and as with all craft books, everything isn’t necessarily going to apply to your writing—you pick and choose what works best for you and the story.
I’m on the move again! You can check out my upcoming schedule in full here, but check out these events of note:
February 14th-16th — Boskone
Dad-isms… Stories That Shaped Me
Everyone talked about them. Anytime there was a potluck, everyone always asked my father to bring his collard greens.
“Is Baba gonna bring some greens?” they’d ask me, or my mother, or each other. Even the community kids looked forward to it, including the ones that wouldn’t even consider using a green crayon, that’s how much they hated vegetables. Somehow, Pops had discovered the great unifier—a batch of his slow-simmered collard greens.
But before you could cook, before the seasoning and the simmering and the smells got to pooling beneath your nostrils and calling to your soul, the greens had to be washed.
This was serious.
Washing collard greens could be an all morning affair. Each leaf was separated from the stalk, rinsed in a sink that had been thoroughly cleaned and then filled with icy cold water, and then gently and almost apologetically ripped and ripped again. One at a time, no rushing, just a gentle bath and exfoliation.
When I was younger and was forced to watch and learn, I thought to myself, c’mon, there’s gotta be a faster way of doing this. I’m gonna be a scientist. We improve processes. And so when it was my turn to help, I tried different things. Elaborate pasta strainer and colander setups. Scissors to separate leaf from stalk at an impressive pace.
So, remember that feeling of unenviable embarrassment from the beginning of this newsletter? Dust it off and hold it close. Because the greens I served my extended family, when it was finally my turn to represent for the Mbalias, they weren’t Baba’s Greens. I’d ignored the process, the art, the ritual of preparing the dish, and it showed….when I served them…and everyone ate dirt.
What better way to end this newsletter than to do it with a giveaway! One lucky subscriber will receive a signed copy of TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY. But that’s not it. Teachers and educators, if you’ve subscribed, another lucky winner will receive a free Skype visit! Both lucky winners will be chosen at the end of the month. Good luck!
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