Under Cover of a Linen Napkin

by Kellyann Zuzulo

See: Harlequin gets it.
I'll be researching love at the dinner table this Thanksgiving.  It's one of the primary reasons I consented to open my hearth and home to the cavalcade of two dozen relatives next week, despite the suddenly prevalent press of a new book deadline and a massive editing job coming due.  (The other reason is that I love the holidays, the ritual of meal preparation, the smell of wood charring in the fireplace and turkey skin crisping in the oven, and the subtle scents of cold air trapped in wool when scarves are unbillowed from arriving guests.)  But, really, I also plan on taking note of the emotions wafting across the china pattern.  Call me a mood mercenary.   But isn't that what all writers are.

I know that I love my husband and children.  Love them beyond words.  Problem is that when you're a writer, you need the words to describe just how far that love extends.  You may not be writing about the love one holds for one's own family.  You may be deciphering the complex conundrum of a duke enamored of a waif, or a mogul for a madam, or, in my case, a genie for a journalist, or, simply, a girl for a boy.  Regardless.  If you can't make it real, you won't be read.

Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell. Artistic inspiration
So, with an eye toward smooth gravy and emotional enlightenment, I'll be stirring both the giblets and the conversation toward those pithy little memory hors d'oeuvres that all families possess.   
Remember the time when....  What was the first thing you thought when you met....  What's your favorite thing about....

They may look at you funny, but I'll bet they'll answer, or at least joke.  Even in joking, you'll find emotions and reactions you can mine for future fictional scenarios.  As you look around the table into the eyes of each of your table mates, really look.  In fact, you should gaze (to use a favorite romance novel verb).  Trace a finger (another popular phrase).  Trace that finger over the linen table cloth, through the whipped cream of the coconut custard tart, across the hand of the oldest person at the table.  Feel the soft knobs, the strong fingers.  Don't linger, though.  That would be creepy.  Grandma or Great Aunt Jeanne, or whomever qualifies as the oldest, probably won't mind one bit.

Ultimately, what I'll be doing at Thanksgiving is just paying close attention to the family and friends who surround me.  Every good hostess should do that.  Every good writer should do that.  I'll also be paying close attention to me.  I know I usually get harried and frenetic right around carving time: Does everyone have a place to sit?  How do I keep the sides hot until I serve? Oh my God, the gravy is still lumpy!  What does that feel like?  How would I describe it in writing?  But it sorts itself out, and the steam under the apron soon shifts to warmth in my heart as I gaze at everyone giving thanks and digging in.  My heart flutters along with my stomach.  Time to eat.  Time to write.

~Kellyann Zuzulo


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