Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How an Idea Became a Story

            Fish Tales, an anthology of mystery stories from the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime, officially went on sale this week, following a week of ebook sales. I’m delighted to be one of the twenty-two authors.
The publication process spread over two years, including the writing, the evaluation, the editing, and the submissions to publishers. Wildside Press offered a contract last November, and now we have a book.
 As soon as the call for submissions went out, I knew immediately that I wanted to write a story spotlighting Caroline Woodlock, the protagonist in the novels I’m working on, and I had a plan. Then the call was amended. Each story had to include water, preferably water where fish would swim.
I was furious! To begin with, I thought the idea of a themed anthology was lame. Second, I thought the idea of using fish as the theme because our chapter of SinC is called the Guppies was even lamer. (For the uninitiated, let me explain that Guppy is short for Great Unpublished, a description that doesn’t fit many Guppies anymore.)
But I was wrong! I’ve read all the stories in the anthology, and they are a wonderful mix. Each author brings an original slant to the water/fish idea, and the central theme links the diverse stories. The back cover blurb tells the tale:
Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology, casts a wide net across the mystery genre, delivering thrills, chills, and gills. This water-themed collection features locked room puzzles, police procedurals, cozy characters and hardboiled detectives. With a pool of motivations ranging from greed and revenge to loyalty and justice, these stories will lure you with killer hooks and fishy characters.
Come on in, the water’s fine. But be careful or you might find yourself sleeping with the fishes!
My original story featured neither fish nor water. I had to develop a new plan. Caroline lives in Rome, and while a river runs through the city, the Tiber doesn’t immediately bring fish to mind. She writes about food, so I realized that she could be cooking fish. A body of water was more problematic. A pot of water boiling for the pasta just wouldn’t do.
And then I had one of those “lightbulb” moments. The Trevi Fountain gushes water in the heart of Rome, and its imagery of fish and the sea provided a way to symbolize the murderer’s character. Once I had these two elements, the story practically wrote itself.
Throughout the story, Caroline cooks a fish stew from Livorno called cacciucco. The recipe follows. Originally a peasant dish, cacciucco has made its way into fine restaurants around the world. The recipe can be daunting, but if you take things in stages, it isn’t overwhelming.
First, you need to make fish stock. You can make this ahead and store it in the freezer. Ask your fishmonger for fish scraps (the heads and bones left over from filleting fish); they’ll give them to you. Take these scraps home and put them in a pot with a white onion, a carrot, a rib of celery, some parsley stems and a little white wine. Cover with water, and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes. Cool and strain. Boil it down to concentrate flavors if it seems too watery. You can freeze it at this point, and I recommend it. It’s like having gold in the freezer.
You can speed up the actual cooking process by doing preps of all the ingredients a few hours ahead and storing them in the fridge.
The Recipe
2-3 pounds mixed fish—really get a mixture varied flavors. If you can get a squid or an eel, so much the better. And a few small octopuses are also nice. And choose inexpensive fish; this was a peasant dish. (My story tells the legend of the soup’s origin.)
½ pound of mussels, cleaned of their beards
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
½ cup finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium onion, (I prefer red)
1 medium carrot
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups canned tomato sauce
2 cups of fish stock
6 large shrimp
6 slices of rustic bread (Tuscan bread is unsalted)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and reserve.
Chop together the onion, carrot and two of the cloves of garlic.
Put the olive oil in a large pot, add the onion-carrot-garlic mixture, ¼ cup of parsley and the cayenne pepper. Cook over medium heat for about four minutes, until the vegetables begin to lose their color.
Pour in the wine and cook for a minute or two, then add the tomato sauce and the fish stock. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the fish, reserving the mussels and shrimp for later. Cook for about 20 minutes. Add the mussels and shrimp, and cook another 5-7 minutes until the shrimp has cooked through and the mussels have opened. Taste again for seasoning.
Chop the remaining garlic together with the remaining parsley. Place a slice of bread in each soup plate, ladle in the cacciucco, and sprinkle with the garlic-parsley mixture. Serves six.


Annette said...

Interesting, Patricia. In my case, I was stuck for a story idea UNTIL they announced the fish/water theme. At that point my opening line leaped into my head. Of course,the rest of the story didn't come as easily. ;-)

Patricia Winton said...

Isn't it interesting how the creative process works? Ideas are floating around in the air and how we grasp them is always different for each of us.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Love the story behind the story, Patricia! I'm waiting for the hard copy to read the stories -- maybe it will be warm enough for me to go sit by Flathead Lake, where my story is set!

Patricia Winton said...

I love your story. It will be a while before I see a hard copy, unfortunately. I'm going to talk with local bookstores next week.

Betsy Bitner said...

I started with the first line, which I'd heard somewhere and wanted to use, but had to think of a way to work in the water. Somehow I ended up with fly fishing - a subject I know nothing about.

Gigi Pandian said...

So excited to read your story, Patricia!

Patricia Winton said...

Betsy, one of the great things about writing is that you learn so many new things pursuing an idea.

Patricia Winton said...

Thanks, Gigi. I think yours is a winner! I've never tried to do a locked room story.

Supriya Savkoor said...

Patricia, I forgot to comment but I keep meaning to tell you, I loved this post! As Leslie said, I love the story behind the story. Can't wait to read this excellent anthology and read everyone's work!

MaxWriter said...

Wonderful story of how you were able to change to fit the theme. Yours was one of my favorite in the anthology, Patricia!
(I reviewed the anthology here, in case people missed this:

Patricia Winton said...

I saw your review. Thanks for your comment.