When writing my stories, I like to use examples of real things, the realistic elements that add verisimilitude which help readers suspend their disbelief. Such things include recipes that I may or may not have actually tried. In my latest book, Russian Revival, leading male character Ciro tells our heroine, Evelina, about ginger water.
I first came across ginger water as a mention in the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In one of the later volumes, Wilder mentioned her mother making ginger water for their hardworking father, as guzzling plain water could lead to stomach aches. In Russian Revival, our hardworking heroine chugs water throughout the day. (Hard, physical labor demands the body rehydrate the moisture lost through sweat.) She prefers lemon-infused water.
Lemon water has several well known benefits:
Moderation, of course, is key. Drinking too much lemon water may lead to the following health problems:
Ginger water, like lemon water, contains antioxidants which help to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, chlorine, and selenium. Ginger has been found to reduce inflammation and ease allergies. It's said to ease nausea and aid digestion and balance blood sugar.
So, how do you make ginger water? It's simple. One recipe I found calls for two tablespoons of thinly sliced fresh ginger or grated fresh ginger and four cups of water. Put the ginger in the water and boil for ten to twenty minutes. If you want, add honey to sweeten the tea.
As with lemon water, moderation is key. Too much ginger—more than four grams daily—can lead to heartburn, gas, and stomach aches.
Here's the excerpt from Russian Revival:
He watched without comment. She stashed the two unopened plastic bottles of Gatorade in the refrigerator for use the next day. Then she emptied her thermos and discarded the mushy remains of the day’s lemon wedges.
“Try ginger,” he suggested.
“Ginger?” She squirted a tiny bit of dish detergent into the thermos.
“Do you have any ginger root?”
“No.” She scrubbed the thermos.
“Slice up some ginger root and use it instead of lemon,” he said. “It will prevent bellyaches and give you some variety in your water.”
“Steep half a teaspoon of grated ginger in boiling water for ten minutes. It’s full of antioxidants and helps control cholesterol and prevent diabetes.”
Pausing in her chore, Abigail ran a critical eye over his trim figure displayed to perfection in the tailored suit he wore and scoffed, “Like you have to worry.”
“My mama swore by ginger water,” he said with a Gallic shrug.
Pre-order your copy of Russian Revival on Amazon.
The positivity trap
More than once, I've advised authors to have their books professionally edited if only to reduce the number of scathing reviews from readers who take offense at poorly edited content. After all, the argument goes, isn't it better to have one person be critically candid with you in private than endure the general public posting harsh criticisms in public?
Reviewers tend to be more candid than than our social networks. They have no relationship with the author to maintain beyond the purchase of the book. They don't necessarily care about the author's delicate sensibilities or feelings, while one's social network of friends, family, and fans just might.
The social network usually works well for building confidence, even when it's only meant to be encouraging. Post a picture, and you'll receive comments of "beautiful" or "great" or other compliments. No one will post a comment telling you what's wrong with the picture, that it's not beautiful or great, that, in fact, it's awful. Even when you post a link to something and ask for feedback, comments posted for public viewing usually trend toward the positive even when praise isn't merited.
This is what I call the positivity trap. We do not receive the critical feedback we need to improve. The positivity trap lulls us into thinking that we're doing everything the way it should be done, that there's little to no room for improvement. The unwarranted praise gives us a false sense of accomplishment or expertise.
The positivity trap results in a general downgrading of expectations. This is antithetical to the concept of continuous improvement, the idea that there's always more to learn and one's skills can always be improved.
This does not call for false modesty.
I liken this to treating adults like young children. When a young child brings home a crayon drawing, we praise him for his effort and post the picture on the wall or refrigerator in proud display. We do this to encourage the child to persevere, to keep working at this new, developing skill. We do not equate the drawing with a museum-worthy masterpiece.
As adults, we should have the resilience not to fall apart when we receive honest criticsm. It's fine to acknowledge the sting, but it's smart to realize that the critic has a valid point (or several valid points) regarding the quality of our work. That criticism enables us to see the flaws in our work and make the effort to rectify them which then improves our skill. We all like compliments, but compliments do little or no good when they're not merited.
We don't necessarily want to hurt others' feelings, but sometimes an effort deserves no fulsome praise beyond the encouragement of a "good try." Criticism further helps when it's specific, delivering details that inspire focused, remedial action. Vague criticism of the "I didn't like it" kind is useless, because the person whose work is being criticized doesn't know why the critic dislikes the work or what to fix.
We need details.
Criticism need not be sandwiched between compliments to make it palatable, but it should be specific and focus on the work, not the person who created that work. By keeping criticism objective rather than personal, the maker (or "artist" if you prefer) understands that the flaws reside in the work and not in the person. A fair critic does not say an author is a reprehensible person if the book's flaws make it less than worthy of the critic's appreciation. Objectivity is a key point of helpful (or constructive) criticism.
Details are helpful with compliments, too. While every author gets those warm, fuzzy feelings when told "I liked your book," details as to which aspects the reader particularly appreciated help the author know what he or she is doing well so they can be repeated in future books.
The admonition to be kind fails when that kindness is not true. Candid criticism need not be cruel.
Learning as I go
Even with over 30 years of experience in professional writing and editing, I don't know everything. There's an enormous amount of knowledge I've simply forgotten over the decades or have yet to learn. Some of those things I am learning (or relearning) involve what I can and cannot do and what I should and should not do.
Case in point: Two people recently hired me to edit their manuscripts. Both manuscripts were written for young (i.e., preschool) children and both were written in verse.
Let's just say that I am not a poet.
I've written poetry, doggerel to be honest. I've read it, too. When I was a child, my mother bought me a book of poetry, Piping Down the Valleys Wild. I loved that book. I've also read more "serious" poetry such as Homer's Odyssey and Milton's Paradise Lost. I disliked Paradise Lost. I've enjoyed the poems of Tennyson, Burns, and Carew. Some day I intend to read Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgramage.
So, I'm not unfamiliar with poetry.
That doesn't mean I'm an expert by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do know that poetry is supposed to be pleasing to ear and tongue. It's supposed to have an even meter (beat or rhythm). It's supposed to convey layers of meaning with eloquent brevity. It is not always supposed to rhyme, but let's face it, we like poetry when it rhymes.
Writing poetry is difficult. It's a lot like writing children's literature in its demands for pleasing language, appropriate word choice, and brevity to convey both clarity and the layers of meaning that make reading children's literature a pleasure for the adults reading it to their children. Norman Bridwell (e.g., Clifford the Big Red Dog) and Stan and Jan Berenstain (e.g., Berenstain Bears) accomplish that with a seemingly effortless skill that I envy. Bears in the Night is the best example I can think of that demonstrates the simple, rhythmic language so skillfully used it could be poetry.
English oftentimes doesn't quite rhyme, so writing rhyming poetry in English gets tricky. English, however, lends itself pretty well to iambic pentameter, which enables it to adapt readily to the sonnet format favored by Shakespeare.
The gist is that I'm not the best editor for anything written in verse, and I failed to inquire before taking on the projects as to whether the manuscripts were written in verse. I should have.
On the other hand, yes, the authors could have volunteered to inform me that their manuscripts were written in verse. Also, both requested proofreading, but wanted much more than proofreading, which is entirely another topic related to management of expectations and knowing the difference between proofreading and editing. (They got a bit more than proofreading, because I just couldn't not comment on the flaws that needed to be fixed.)
Anyway, lesson learned. I'll stick to prose.