Many thanks to Jana, for allowing me to visit here at Milk and Cookies: Comfort Reading to tell you about my middle grade fantasy novel, Darkbeast. Due to the generosity of my publisher, Simon & Schuster, I will give away a copy of Darkbeast to one commenter chosen at random from all the comments made to this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight.
In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been magically bound to all her life. Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find a safe haven for herself and her companion.
Food is important in Darkbeast. From the feast that Keara's family plans to celebrate her sacrificing Caw, to the treats her darkbeast craves, to the stews cooked over the Travelers' outdoor fires, food figures into nearly every aspect of my fantasy novel. (And yes, I got quite hungry while I was writing some of those scenes!)
As in our very real world, food serves many purposes in Darkbeast. It is used in rituals. It brings people together at the end of long workdays. It restores their spirits in times of crisis.
Of course, Keara lives in an imaginary world, so much of the food she mentions is different from our own. I worked hard to make Keara's food familiar enough that we all know what it is, but different enough that we probably haven't actually tasted it. Have you eaten chestnut bread? Drunk whiteroot tea? But you probably have ideas of what those foods would taste like, right? Just their names convey a sense of their flavor.
In one important scene, though, I wanted to make sure that every Darkbeast reader would have a clear mental picture of exactly what Keara was experiencing. To that end, I gave her a special treat: toffee bread.
Sadly, I've never had toffee bread. I can imagine ways to bake it. I can splice together my experiences of caramel apples and cinnamon coffee cake, forming some sort of new whole. I can put the words down on the page:
"Steam rose up from the soft white clouds of baked dough. Nuggets of toffee melted through each half, fragrant with rich, sweetened butter. All three of us laughed, and I sank my teeth into the treasure. Sweet warmth flooded my mouth, and I closed my eyes in rapture."
Can you taste it now? Do you understand what the toffee bread means to Keara, how magical the sweet treat is? What foods do you enjoy in the real world that carry that same feeling? (Me? I'd have to say a hot gingersnap cookie, fresh from the oven, before the molasses and shortening have cooled enough to make the cookie snap!)
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Darkbeast is for sale in bricks-and-mortar and online bookstores, including: Amazon | B & N | Indiebound
Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat. Also, there were books. Lots and lots of books. Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C. In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads. Because there are still books. Lots and lots of books.