When it comes to entertainment, especially when I’m not in the mood to read, write, or paint, nothing beats a good costume drama. It’s a good bet you’ve heard of Bridgerton, the popular Netflix series based on the book series by Julia Quinn. I read the books years ago, and Quinn is one of my favorite authors. Therefore, watching the series is a must for me, despite the liberties taken. I thoroughly enjoy the series in both visual and written formats and appreciate each version on its own.

Literature serves as a key resource for film makers. Other movies and series I’ve enjoyed and which were based on books include Game of Thrones; The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns; the Harry Potter series; Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasian; The Phantom of the Opera; the Longmire series; Father Brown, the Hercule Poirot series; Sherlock Holmes; and Spenser. There are a lot more. Rarely does the video presentation of a book inspire me to read the book, although having read the book inspires me to watch the show. Thus far in my life, only four series have had that effect: Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series; J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, and Louise Penney’s Three Pines series.

I don’t know if it means something that three of the four are mysteries. If so, it’s probably because I can’t plot a mystery, although I enjoy reading and watching them. Some of my favorite authors are famed for their mysteries: Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Lindsey Davis, Dick Francis. I can ghostwrite a mystery (and have done so) given the client’s plot outline, but to come up with one myself? Nope, not gonna happen.

I recently finished my latest costume drama obsession: The Cook of Castamar. As noted, it’s not often that something I watch makes me want to read the book; but when that happens, it becomes a driving compulsion. The Cook of Castamar by Fernando J. Muñez is a Spanish period drama set in the early 1700s. The Netflix series is filled with large scale and small scale dramas, intrigue, treachery, politics, period-specific manners and mores, murder, sumptuous costumes, love, friendship, passion, and more—everything that makes a truly wonderful story, except for humor. There really isn’t much humor in this story.

I don’t recommend books, movies, or television shows often, but this one get an enthusiastic two thumbs up, à la Siskel & Ebert. (By the way, the English version will be available from Amazon in January 2025, but you can pre-order a copy now.)

When I write a story, I hope to incorporate many of those aforementioned elements that combine to create a great story. For instance, not every story must have swashbuckling, but those that do need the other elements that complement it. For a great story, none of these elements stands alone. The layering of those elements adds depth and richness to the story. It deepens the reader’s engagement with the characters.

However, it’s a fine balance. Too much of any seasoning ruins the dish. While the seasonings may be applied with a liberal hand, too much of any one herb or spice overwhelms the other flavors and prevents a harmonious melding to create a palatable meal. And too little of a needed ingredient becomes obvious by its lack: something necessary is missing.

That’s an analogy Clara Belmonte, who is the fabled cook of fictional Castamar, would have appreciated.