Give Food Some Thought, by guest blogger Bharti Kirchner — and, in celebration of her latest book’s release, a writing contest!

Hello, campers –

As those of you who have been hanging out here at Author! Author! any length of time have probably surmised, there are few eventualities I enjoy more than when a deeply talented, hard-working writer gets a first book published — unless it’s when a magnificently gifted, ardently committed established author has a new book out. And if, as in the case of today’s guest blogger, it’s also a writer who has not only paid her dues in not one, not two, but three different book categories, but also takes the time to help aspiring writers learn the craft ropes, well, you’ll pardon me if I become downright giddy.

Why, you ask, hesitant to join me in cavorting around the nearest bonfire? Having grown up watching many, many authors that later became household names claw their way to public recognition, word by word and reading by reading, I must confess that I get a kick out of seeing good writers succeed. I also believe quite firmly that those of us that celebrate not only our own literary milestones, but those of our fellow writers, have an easier time keeping the faith over the course of that uphill climb.

And not merely because the road up the mountainside is notoriously windy and steep: it’s hardly a news flash that in the literary world, your garden-variety overnight sensation has often put in a decade or two of intensive toil before attaining public recognition. By cheering on our compatriots, we can reaffirm our sense that a difficult path is not an impossible one: good writing does indeed get published. We can also learn from those who have tread the byways before us how to navigate it — and, if the author in question is generous enough to share her experience and expertise, perhaps pick up a few tips to improve our writing as well.

That’s why I asked the perpetually wonderful Bharti Kirchner, author of five critically-acclaimed novels, four cookbooks, and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, to share her insights into writing today. She’s well worth attending to: in addition to being one heck of a conference speaker on craft (something surprisingly few writers’ conferences have been concentrating upon lately), Bharti is one of the Pacific Northwest’s great food writers, both in nonfiction and in fiction. Her Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries is one of my favorite food-related novels of all time; I would urge anyone seriously interested in learning how to handle comestibles on the page — not nearly so easy as it looks — to study it carefully.

Why? Well, Bharti’s a well-established master of sensual detail. Her characters do not experience food merely as a fleeting sensation dancing upon their taste buds: her narratives speak to the eyes, the ears, the skin, the nose, the psyche. Her characters experience life down to their viscera. Pastries is also a wonderfully evocative and accurate portrait of Seattle life, for those of you looking to learn something about establishing a sense of place.

Just of author — and writing — I like to celebrate here at Author! Author! in short. And to help all of you get in the habit of rejoicing that such authors have put in all of that hard work, I’m going to pop a metaphorical champagne cork over her new novel, Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery, by offering all of you something that could help move you along that uphill climb: the opportunity to generate some Eye-Catching Query Letter Candy.

That’s right, campers: it’s time for this year’s Author! Author! Awards for Expressive Excellence. This time around, we’re going to be concentrating on writing through all of the senses in a competition I like to call the Sensual Surfeit Literary Competition of 2012. This year, we’re accepting novel, memoir, and narrative nonfiction book excerpts in a quest to find the best previously-unpublished sense-oriented writing that’s not in a sex scene. And this time, instead of asking for just a first page, the entries will consist of an entire scene of 8 pages or less.

Why, yes, that is a bit of room to flex your descriptive muscles, now that you mention it. To make it even more interesting, the judges and I have decided to create more separate categories for different kinds of writing.

That’s not all, either. Because some of you asked so nicely last year, I’m not just going to announce the contest’s rules and deadline and leave you to it. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be using this literary competition as a springboard for wrapping up our ongoing discussion of craft in contest entries.

Yes, really: we’re going to be using this contest not only to help build up the writing chops to bring the senses to life on the page, but to learn how to wield those skills to maximum effect in contest entries and manuscript submissions.

You’ll find the rules at the end of this post. Yes, yes, I know: I usually list them at the top, and I shall surely devote an entire post to them down the line, but I think that what Bharti has to say will be so helpful to your initial brainstorming about what you would like to enter in this contest — which is going to call upon all of your creativity — that I am going to introduce her and her insights first.

Because Bharti is so delightfully prolific, I can do that in several ways. First, as always, I can show you the publisher’s blurb for her latest book:

A missing domestic-violence counselor. A wealthy and callous husband. A dangerous romance.

Kareena Sinha, an Indian-American domestic-violence counselor, disappears from her Seattle home. Her best friend, Mitra Basu, a young landscape designer, resolves to find her. Mitra’s search lands her into a web of life-threatening intrigue where she can’t be sure of Kareena’s safety or her own.

And, while we’re at it, let’s take a gander at some deservedly high praise for it:

“Mitra is gunpowder chutney to the mystery genre, her adventures a hot refreshing blast of sumptuous storytelling. Bharti Kirchner has once again conquered another literary field. Highly addictive.”

Skye Moody, author of the mystery THREE BAGS FULL: A SHEEP DETECTIVE STORY

“Tulip Season is an evocative taste of Seattle’s darker side.”

Cara Black, author of the mystery novel MURDER AT THE LANTERNE ROUGE

“A multi-layered mystery, Tulip Season is carefully crafted. Set against the backdrop of spring and its promise of new growth, the heat is on as master gardener, Mitra Basu, pulls out all the stops searching for her missing friend, Kareena, a domestic violence counselor who herself may have been abused. A sense of menace is palpable as Mitra puts together all the pieces that lead her to a bittersweet but welcome epiphany. Lovely and compelling!”

Curt Colbert, co-author of the upcoming mystery novel, DIAL ‘C’ FOR CHIHUAHUA

I could also, to give you a sense of her range, bring up my favorite of her cookbooks, The Bold Vegetarian, of which Publishers Weekly said:

Only a stoical (or very full) cook would not be tempted by the recipes here, which kick off with Carmelized Garlic from Spain, Pecan Mushroom Pate from France and Indian-Style Roasted Potatoes redolent of asafetida, mustard oil, cumin and mango powder. While Kirchner (The Healthy Cuisine of India; Indian Inspired) draws heavily on that subcontinent for inspiration, she includes recipes from China, Spain, France, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Korea, the Middle East and the U.S. She also melds recipes to come up with some truly appetizing new dishes, such as an Asian Pesto that combines the flavors of the Italian original with hints of the lime/peanut/garlic sauces of east Asian cooking. Kirchner is sparing in her use of fat, relying on cooking techniques, spices, flavored oils and judiciously combined textures to create good taste. Her gentle tours through international marketplaces, the extensive “vegetarian pantry” and the descriptions of recipes’ evolutions are likely to inspire readers’ inventiveness, although the more timid can rely on the generous helping of serving suggestions and listed substitutions.

And then I could, I suppose, answer the question that half of you have been shouting out there in the ether — how on earth does a writer move so easily between book categories? — by referring you to the excellentAuthornomics interview in which she talks about just these sorts of practicalities. Or, for those of you with a bit more time and a hankering to hear about craft, I could easily send you straight to a really interesting interview with Book Lust’s Nancy Pearl: