The other day I tried a new recipe — Pollo Oaxaca, from Allrecipes.com — and as I did so, I had some thoughts about writing. (Writers can relate almost anything to writing. But it was my co-author who explained how a lime pie is like a short story.)
Although I’d decided to try this recipe, I still had misgivings. For one thing, it was green. Tomatillos, cilantro, and jalapeños, put through a food processor with some garlic and onion and lime juice, are never going to be any other color. And green food is always an iffy proposition, even for an audience that will happily eat pasta with pesto (known around the house as “green slime sauce”, because, well, it is) and spinach lasagna and pork stew with green chiles. For another, it was spicy — and again, even when you’re playing for an audience that likes things rather more spicy than otherwise, there’s no telling whether or not a particular combination is going to please.
It didn’t help that I’d had a recent experiment with a recipe for curry meet with a distinct lack of enthusiasm from all parties, including me. (I’ve more or less decided that Indian food goes into the category of “things I will pay somebody else to cook for me.”) There’s nothing like a recent lackluster effort to put one off of the idea of making another experiment.
Writing is the same way. It’s tempting to keep the same list of known reliable dishes in regular rotation. You know how to make them, your audience likes them, you tend to have most of the ingredients right there in the pantry, it’s all good. Sometimes, though, you want to expand your range a bit — you want to do the writer’s equivalent of trying out a new regional cuisine, or some new ingredients, or a new kitchen technique. Maybe you’ve always written romance, and you want to write a gritty, noir-tinged mystery for a change. Or maybe you write hard science fiction, and you want to add a romantic relationship to all the rivets and equations. Or maybe you want to try something risky with narrative voice or chronological order or point of view.
And you’re scared. Because maybe your audience will devour it with glad cries of great joy, and demand that you add this one to the regular list. But maybe they’ll taste it, and eat just enough to be polite (if you’re lucky and their mamas raised them right), and say that they’re sure you must have worked hard on it but they really don’t think it’s a keeper. And there’s nothing you can say to that, because if they don’t like it, they don’t like it, and you don’t get points for effort in this game.
But the thing is, you have to try new things. Otherwise, you’ll end up cooking the same dozen or so meals over and over again, and eventually your audience will get bored, and so will you.
(Oh. Yes. That chicken recipe I linked to up above . . . it was declared a keeper.)