The "Kitchen Sink" Novel by Amber Royer
by Blake Kimzey
A month ago
The “Kitchen Sink” Novel by Amber Royer
Where do you get your ideas? How do you know which of your ideas to pursue? What should I write about?!
As a writing instructor, I get these questions all the time. The one I can’t answer is the last one: what should you write about? I can’t tell you what you SHOULD be writing, and I think it is limiting to try to do so. We are artists, and the impetus for creating has to come from inside us. Whether or not an idea is popular. Whether or not someone else thinks you are the right “voice” to tell your story. Whether you think you should be writing something more serious or more important. If there’s a story that keeps whispering to you to write it – dude, write it. Own it.
But let’s consider the other questions.
Where do You Get Your Ideas?
Ideas are everywhere. I started posting visual writing prompts on my Instagram feed to illustrate this. The most popular posts are the ones where I take pics of interesting staircases and doorways and caption it, “Where does this staircase/doorway lead?” This forces the viewer to exercise their imagination. Look at these two pics. Sure, this doorway really goes to the bathrooms in a coffee shop, and that staircase is how you get to trendy overpriced purses at an antique shop/ boutique. But where could they lead?
A lot of people have asked where I got the idea for the Chocoverse. Honestly, there’s a lot of different influences that went into it. After all, we’re talking about a book that’s been comped in reviews and at cons to Jane the Virgin in Space, a Chocolate Covered Dune, a futuristic thriller meets the Hitchhiker’s Guide, a bar bet premise that somehow has thoughtful underpinnings and flat out Willy Wonka. People ask why . . . why chocolate? Why Spanglish? Here’s a few answers:
Why Chocolate? -- I had been doing of presentations for my local herb society, and they wanted me and Jake to do something cool and new for their summer conference. Somebody at the planning meeting mentioned chocolate, and we ran with it for the summer demo, and did a recipe pamphlet pairing herbs and chocolate. Around the same time, I met a couple of craft chocolate makers at the Dallas Chocolate Festival, and then did a couple of cruise lectures, and on one trip visited a cacao plantation and interviewed the family of farmers for an article. Shortly after that NaNoWriMo happened, and I needed a story idea.
Why Space Opera? – I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, but it always seemed too simplistic to me that Earth made contact with the Vulcans, and then suddenly they’re at the center of things running Star Fleet. I wanted to look at what might really happen at First Contact, especially if it involved cultural misunderstanding. I wrote an Earth that became a defensive outsider in the Galaxy.
Why Soap Opera? – I love things that are a bit romantic and cheesy. And I love characters that protag with their hearts. As I learned more about the cinematic traditions underlying telenovelas, I was intrigued by the idea of a formula in which a heroine turned her weaknesses into strengths and protagged through love and a moral code. I decided to lean into the cheesy, and play with the soap opera tropes the same way I was playing with the science fiction tropes: as fan send-ups. Brill may be an alien, but he’s started watching novelas to learn Spanish, and he knows he’s supposed to be the comic relief.
Why Cooking? – I adore cooking shows. There’s so much to learn about people, and culture and the world from food and how it is prepared. I cannot overstate the influence Anthony Bourdain had on me, and on this series. When you get to the end of Book 3, you’ll see how Bourdain ties in with what Bo decides to do with her future.
Why Spanglish? – You can’t really talk about chocolate without talking about Mexico, which many consider to be the birthplace of cacao. I’m from Texas, and Mexican culture is just a fact in Dallas. I didn’t originally set out to write in Spanglish. It came out of the development of the character and the story. I have a number of friends who are bilingual, and before this book came out, they would speak English to me, then turn to their mom or whoever and speak in Spanish. Now that they have read the books, they are challenging me more to speak to them in Spanish and we are having discussions abut where certain phrases come from and more natural ways to say things on a level I would never have imagined. Muy chido, no?
Why the Color Changing Eyes? – There’s so much in science fiction right now where the characters sparkle/fly/are made of rubber/are genetically mixed with lizards for purely decorative reasons – just to give them the cool factor. I wanted to riff on that and add to the conversation: whatever gifts you give a character may be cool, but there’s going to be drawbacks. So if your eyes change color for a reason, it’s going to be tied to your culture’s body language – and make it difficult to lie. Which becomes a huge thing in the series.
Why the Mystery/Thriller Elements? – I love both these genres. When I first imagined the project many NaNo’s ago, I was describing it to people as a culinary mystery in space. Space pirates, assassins, bounty hunters – you’re going to find it all in my Netflix history.
Why the Obsession with Social Media? – I think social media is changing the way people behave in real life. It can be dark and scary on-line, with people being bullied into closing accounts, and just about everything is now fodder for reality TV. If there’s anything I’m criticizing in these books, it’s the way people make snap decisions via social media about people they’ve never met, the way fickle opinion seems to turn into statement of fact, the way it seems like there’s nothing people will look away from as long as the camera is still rolling.
Why the alien Love Interest? – I wanted to write about overcoming cultural misunderstanding, and I wanted to include a culture that had no ties to anything real-world, so that when Bo was mystified by why Krom do things certain ways, my audience would be too.
Why Humor? – Because I tried writing serious stuff, and I wasn’t that good at it.
So you can see, this wasn’t just one idea that I was picking up and running with. Although I could have done. And there would have been no shame in just picking the one element that stood out in my mind and focused in on say, writing a love story between a contestant and a judge on a cooking competition show.
Instead, the Chocoverse books are what I like to call “kitchen sink” books. They contain a ton of different things I think are cool, wanted to talk about, or wanted to learn more about. Not all of these ideas would seem to fit together at first, and sometimes you can come up with a mix of influences that just falls flat, or has too many elements that don’t come together. But I think I managed to make something truly cohesive with the Chocoverse.
Say you want to write your own kitchen sink book.
Where do you start? I’m a big fan of lists. I came up with enough stuff for my lists that they’ve been grouped into several possible projects, in addition to what I pulled for the Chocoverse. To make your base lists:
-- Go through your recent reads and your Netflix/Hulu/Whatever history. Look for trends and genres that you gravitate to. Write down each genre and what you like about it.
-- Think about tropes you like in other books you’ve read. Write down your favorites. Personally, I’m drawn to found family, bad boy heroes, shocking plot twists, and love stories – no matter what the genre.
-- Think about hobbies and occupations you have/would love to try. Write down whatever appeals to you.
-- Think about places you have visited or would like to go. If you were inventing a world, what would it be like? Write down whatever sparks in your imagination.
-- What do you like to speak to others about? What dominates your conversations? What keeps you up at night with worry, or blows you away with wonder? What do you wish you could change about your life or your world? Write it all down.
-- Think about people who have been important to you, or who have been a nemesis in your life. Do you wish you could understand why person x broke your heart, and person y stomped on everyone to get to the top of the business ladder? List it all out.
Then review your lists side by side. Start trying to make correlations and see how things could fit together to make a more complex idea. It doesn’t have to all go in. If you wrote down under hobbies and occupations neurosurgeon – professional snowboarder – glassblowing – fire dancer, that’s probably too much to file under one character. But you could wind up with a beach read romance about a neurosurgeon who joins a spa staff where there’s a client who’s a professional snowboarder and an enrichment instructor who’s teaching glassblowing. Then just scratch off fire dancer, or find a different way to work it in.
Got the ideas flowing? Good! Try lining up your ideas in different ways. And have fun writing them!
Amber Royer is the author of the high-energy comic space opera Chocoverse Trilogy. Book 3, Fake Chocolate, was just released April 14. Binge the whole trilogy, starting with a dose of Free Chocolate now!
Already caught up? Here’s the synopsis for Fake Chocolate: When disease ravages Earth's cacao plantations, Bo Benitez returns home to help with the media spin to hide that chocolate is in danger of being lost forever. HGB has come up with a new product - one which doesn't appease the cocoa-addicted murderous, shark-toothed aliens threatening to invade the planet. Someone has to smooth things out. Just when Bo starts to make headway, someone tries to kidnap her. While trying to avoid more would-be-kidnappers, Bo finds out that HGB is developing a cure for withdrawal from the Invincible Heart. Will she let her need to be physically whole again tie her to HGB and its enigmatic CEO? When she gets a key piece of evidence that would unravel secrets from three different planets, she has tough choices to make about the future of her world and its place in the galaxy.