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Sunday, July 31, 2011


SHE CAN’T COOK by Cara Marsi

“She can’t cook.”
“She can’t cook?”
“No, but oh, my, what a wife.”
The above is from one of my favorite movies, “Christmas in Connecticut,” 1945, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan (one of my personal favorite hunky actors). In the story Stanwyck plays a writer who pens a recipe column for a woman’s magazine. The hook is that she can’t cook and gets all her recipes from a good friend, a chef.
What does this have to do with writing? You’ve all heard the old adage, “write what you know.” Clearly, the Barbara Stanwyck character didn’t know how to cook. But she knew someone who did and his expertise helped her to write a successful and realistic column. She may not have known how to cook, but her recipes were true.
With good research a writer can write on a variety of subjects, even those for which she has no firsthand knowledge. I agree, to a point. But I believe that to write compelling stories a writer has to “write what you know,” or at least “write what you know something about.”
For instance, the first book I wrote was set on a ranch in Wyoming. I’ve never been on a ranch and the only time I was in Wyoming was when our train passed through Cheyenne and Laramie on its way to California when I was thirteen. In the book my heroine is an interior decorator. I know nothing, absolutely nothing, about decorating. Come to my house and I’ll prove it. My hero in that story is an American Indian polo pony trainer. Is there even such a person? I’d been to one polo game in my life. I did a little research on Wyoming and polo ponies, but not enough to make anything ring true. Is it any wonder that book never sold?
I resisted writing what I knew because what I knew was boring. I was a corporate drone and cubicle dweller in quiet, boring Wilmington, Delaware. No excitement there. A ranch in Wyoming filled with delicious cowboys and spirited horses was much more exotic, at least to me. It never crossed my mind that someone living in rural Idaho might find Wilmington a little bit exotic.
I finally bit the bullet and gave into the inevitable. My second book was set in Wilmington. I know Wilmington, boring as it is. My heroine is a caterer. I’m not much of a cook, but at least my family doesn’t starve. And I can open a jar of pasta sauce faster than I can tell you how to train polo ponies. My caterer story became my first published book, “A Catered Affair,” from Avalon. I wrote about a place I know, about food, which we all know and love, and I tapped into old feelings--how I felt as a teen when the guy I worshipped insulted me in front of the whole class. My hero and heroine reconnect and are given a second chance to make things right. The story was cathartic for me too. I was able to let go of an old hurt.
My first published short story, “Chef’s Choice,” from the March 2009 issue of New Love Stories magazine, is about two chefs. As I stated before, I’m no gourmet cook, but I like food. This story, set in a place I know—-the Philadelphia suburbs--also deals with two people reconnecting after years apart. Since that story I’ve gone onto publish eleven more short stories, mostly in the confession magazines. Each one of my short stories is set in either Philadelphia, Wilmington, the Jersey Shore or the Delaware beaches. All places I know.
My second published book, “Logan’s Redemption,” a romantic suspense originally from The Wild Rose Press, is set in the corporate offices of a large Philadelphia company. I grew up in the corporate world. And I know Philadelphia. Like the others, this is also a reunion story. “Logan’s Redemption” is now available for 99 cents from Kindle, Nook and Smashwords.
Do you see a theme here? Not only have I written about places I know, but I used a very real universal desire—-to go back and right old wrongs.
What about those authors who make up their own worlds for paranormal fiction? These authors know their worlds as well as if they lived in them. They see every building, every tree, every inhabitant, in their minds, and sometimes on storyboards. But each fictional world contains a little of the real world, a little of what the author already knows. And the best authors give their characters, whether beings from a distant planet, or small-town neighbors, real hopes and fears and dreams.
My romantic suspense novella, “Murder, Mi Amore,” available now from The Wild Rose Press, is set in Rome, Italy. I used what I learned on a 2006 trip to Italy and incorporated it into this book. Every setting in “Murder, Mi Amore” is authentic. Again, the inner conflicts that drive my heroine and hero are universal regardless of where the story is set.
So what’s my point? With thorough research, a writer can write on any subject. But research can only take you so far. There has to be truth in your story. The feelings must be real, the setting should come to life because you, as the writer, know the setting, even if you’ve made up a fictional town or country or planet. Know what you’re writing about and your readers will buy into your story.
A famous chef once advised that cooks must always put a part of themselves into everything they cook. The same for stories. Put a part of yourself into everything you write.
Maybe someday, readers will say about me, “She can’t cook, but oh, my, what a writer.”
Read about my books and short stories at:
Buy links:

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Watch the video for Murder, Mi Amore


Jillian said...

I love that movie. So awesome. Your books sounds great, too

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Jillian. It's great to meet someone else who loves "Christmas in Connecticut."

The Happy Booker said...

I agree with you that "research can only take you so far" The best authors puts a bit of themselves into everything they write and those end up being the best books. A well researched book may work for fact-checking, but a book that the author was emotionally invested in is more likely to touch my heart and those are the ones I love.

Donna Smith
ahappybooker at gmail dot com

katsrus said...

I haven't see that movie. Sounds really good. Your book sound wonderful.
Sue B

Judy said...

I haven't seen that movie either. It does sound good though. Your book sounds like a great read.


Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, everyone, for posting. Look for Christmas in Connecticut to play on TCM near Christmas. I've got the DVD, of course, so I can watch anytime I want.

Sarita said...

I love that movie!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. When a writer sets a book in a place they know well it shows.

User1123 AT comcast DOT net

books4me said...

It makes a lot of sense to write what you know and add in some research at times.

books4me67 at

shiderly77 said...

Those covers look divine! I admit I am a cover slut.. in that I often will take a second look at a book if I am taken in by the cover. *Guilty*

Robin said...

Great post! I want to read your stories!

Robin D
robindpdx (at) yahoo (dot) com

JohnF said...

Great movie, for those who haven't seen it...and good luck with the book!

Na said...

I haven't seen the movie "Christmas in Connecticut" but I want to check it out now. I think writers should write what they love whether they know it or not. It could be more challenging if they don't have any knowledge but that's where research, imagination comes in. The result may be a wonderful book.