Theme in Fiction: How do you take it?

My characters are beverage drinkers. From Clark Gabrin with his "fine decantation of valuable stimulants and nutrients" designed to taste like an Earl Grey to the national Vardin beverage, sluscheta; to Shelley Huntington's addiction to all things coffee, tea and coffee seems to show up all over in my fiction.

Myself, I am a bit of a tea connoisseur. The family cupboard has always been stuffed to the brim with assorted teas, mostly supplemental or Celestial Seasonings, and my father's pantry contained even more exotic varieties, including coffee alternatives, such as Roma and Pero. When I opened up shop in my own pantry, I included hefty doses of tea for both healing and flavor. An introduction to a local tea room owner led me to fall in love with rooibos as well. So, when my characters began showing personality through their choice of beverage, not only did it not really take me by surprise, but it made for a delightful round table of who likes what and what that says about them.

I have a friend, the beautiful lithiumlaughter, who likes to ask her characters, "How do you take it?" I like to ask them, "What do you take?"

When I first made forays into science fiction, the default seemed to be coffee. It is only as I branch out into international reading of such fine work as Aliette de Bodard's, M.C.A. Hogarth's, and others that I realized my characters were not reflecting their own cultures and interests—and not even mine! They were reflecting a common trend in science fiction to Americanize all futuristic common drinks to alcohol and coffee.

Good lord, why?

Slowly, letting my characters out of their hidey-holes began to pay off. I find telling details in the way they interact with this one theme:

A large, rough hand reached out from behind the paper to tap on the tabletop in front of him uncertainly until he finally bumped with a clatter into the miniscule saucer he had placed there to hold his equally miniscule teacup, which held his daily draught of energizing tea, an intensely concentrated, drink-at-your-own-risk concoction only Clark was brave enough to try.

“I’m sure the rising price of Elysium glass doesn’t call for another sip of that poison,” Will Danninger commented wryly.

Clark lowered his paper and peered over the top of his glasses at his friend and former schoolmate. Unlike Clark, Will preferred water and plain old coffee to anything else that had been invented since, a fairly sure sign of his American breeding. Clark came from the European states and preferred tea. His “unholy brew,” as dorm mother Sarah Winston was prone to call it, had been lovingly and meticulously tweaked until Clark finally deemed it equivalent in flavor to an Earl Grey.

“It is not poison,” he settled for intoning seriously. “This is a fine decantation of valuable stimulants and nutrients.”

— Clark Gabrin and Will Danninger from City of Glass

He keeps her plied with tea and crumpets—"I'd think you were an English gentleman," she teased—and shakes his head at her obvious enthusiasm.

"Indeed, you have a thing for computers."

"Shahsh, you," she chides, waving a wire in his direction before lovingly melding it back into the material.

— John Henry and Rhiannon de Alyón from "Gone Hunting"

Now Tony was a morning java person, having been converted at last to imbibing a single cup before he reverted to his normal tea-drinking ways, but Shelley. She was a pot-per-day, heavy drinker of the stuff, and she always eyed and sniffed his brew suspiciously before relieving him of every last drop. So he wasn't surprised by her cautious examination, peering over the brim and sniffing tentatively, while pouring herself a mug.

— Tony Stephens and Shelly Huntington from Modern Theology

Every time I think I've learned everything there is to know about the fictive lives of characters and how to portray them, my beta orders me to look harder, dig deeper, and layers of fine, telling, little details start glimmering between the lines and words like this are scrawled across a page.

To be honest, I think they say more about the character than my profiles do. Here's to tea. And whatever else you happen to drink.


Tea of the Week
Dark Roast by Maté Factor

I was introduced to yerba maté at a young age, before it became a household name. At the time, the only easily available kind was Royale, put out by Wisdom of the Ancients. Good stuff, but as I grew up, I found myself drawn to a darker brew, Guayakí original with nothing in it. Since then, I've gone to Guayakí's bottled teas for refreshment, an occasional Honest Tea Sublime Mate, and brewing from herb for the supplemental value. I thought I'd exhausted the tea for the sake of tea-ness from maté. Then I met this baby.

Dark Roast is a blend of all my favorite ingredients (less rooibos and plus barley): roasted yerba, fresh yerba, roasted chicory, roasted barley, and roasted carob, and it. is. good. I have been wholly converted to this rich, dark-flavored tea. Brews up quickly with a few good stirs and blends well with milk when I'm feeling luxurious. Highly recommended.

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