It’s another beautiful Friday, which means it’s time to pull a fresh book out of the pantry for review. It also means we introduce a new chef into the kitchen as we eat their meal. This week, we talk to Norbert Monfort, the cook behind The Last Gathering!
Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
My name is Norbert Monfort and I’m a happily married father of three, who happens to enjoy trying to put together a good story, um meal, for others.
Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
Fortunately, most of my work is outside the literary kitchen or I’d be living on the streets! I have always enjoyed the IT (computer support) field and have managed to make a pretty good living at it for many years. Aside from writing, I mostly enjoy spending time with my family, reading and watching an occasional sports event. It may not sound exciting, but life with three kids carries its own built-in excitement.
What is your latest dish to be served up?
My latest dish is “Lost Time”, which is intended to be the first in a series and was published last year. It’s a sci-fi short story that explores the idea of time passing without you being able to experience it.
Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
Unfortunately, this Chef has a tendency to ruin his meals along the way :). I have only felt that two of my meals were worth consuming by anyone and thus those are the only ones published.
What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
As with most Chef’s, the taste of wonderful food (i.e. great books/stories) inspired me to try creating those experiences for others.
Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
While I don’t think I would ever limit myself, I mostly tend to write a combination of Science Fiction, Magical Realism and Mystery. These are the genres that I enjoy reading, similar to a Chef who likes to cook what he enjoys to eat.
Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
My style is very much “to the point”. Having a mathematical and engineering background, I tend to focus on the main point of a scene and not so much on building the mood. I find this to be a plus and a negative. While I enjoy getting to the point when I read, if there’s a lack of mood building, this can keep the reader from being fully captivated by the story. Thus, it’s a balance that I continue to struggle with.
Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
Of course. I grew up reading older Science Fiction short stories and still enjoy them today. Isaac Asimov, Phillip K Dick, Timothy Zahn and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, I know that Sherlock Holmes is not Science Fiction) were among my favorites.
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
I find that writing in the first person is easier. The scenes flow more fluidly and there’s no ambiguity about whose feelings I should be focusing on. However, I also find that writing in the first person limits your ability to delve into the other characters and explore more complex story lines where one character is not always the focus. Thus, I tend to write short stories in the first person, but more complex lengthier novels in the third person.
Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
As mentioned above, I’m certainly a sparse describer (very little seasoning with the meat) and often to an extreme. Although I don’t particularly enjoy reading overly descriptive narratives, I must admit that I envy the writers that are able to pull it off well. I have grown to believe that this ability to describe a scene in such a way that all your senses feel aroused and your imagination has been completely enveloped is an innate gift and one that I do not personally possess.
Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
I enjoy them all if done well as I believe you can learn from any struggle. However, I’m particularly keen of the “person vs. self” protagonist approach because I find that if you can overcome your own prejudices, insecurities and resentments, the rest of life will fall into place regardless of the situation thrown at you.
What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
I strongly believe that you need both well balanced to have a truly great recipe. If your story has a fantastic plot, but your characters are not engaging or interesting, then your reader will not care about the outcome. If you have fascinating characters, that will retain your audience’s attention in the short run, but eventually something of substance needs to occur to make the story worth reading.
We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
I try to create a sense of the unusual right from the beginning to hook the reader into wanting to understand what has happened. I’ve learned that combining this with some interesting character developments up front provides your best bet at garnering early interest. Of course, this is only last a few pages and then the story needs to continue to retain that attention.
The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
I’m definitely a cake person, although I have no idea how to relate that to a metaphor about writing. 🙂
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
If you truly like to write, then make the time to write. There may not be an audience for what you’re writing, but that’s OK. Every time you write, you improve your craft and develop new ways of describing situations, people and the glorious world around us. If you feel that you have finally written something of note, then publish it yourself. If you are in it for the money, then be prepared to be disappointed. You should only write because you enjoy to do so and if you make some money along the way, that’s just gravy on top.