One night friends sat in my living room talking about chocolate and addiction, and I admitted to loving chocolate but claimed I’m not addicted. My oldest son, long grown, went into my office and emerged with a handful of five or six chocolate bars. “No,” he said, “she’s not addicted. She just happened to have these in her top desk drawer.” At the time my favorite was Dagoba dark chocolate, usually the lavender blueberry bar with fifty percent cocoa. The high-powered seventy percent is too bitter for me. Today, I’ve moved on to Redstone’s chocolate with jalopeño and peanut bits, but it is milk chocolate and not as good for you.
Do you ever munch a bit of chocolate when you come to a dead spot in your writing? I admit I do that. It seems to help, so I set out to investigate why it works.
Most of us know the history of chocolate—from the cacao bean, the name taken from the Aztec xocatel (there are many spelling variations) which was a bitter drink made from the beans. The Aztecs prized it as a gift and considered it a source of spiritual wisdom. From those days on it was considered valuable, decadent, and divine.
Over time chocolate became associated with passion, romance, and love. Believed to be an aphrodisiac, it is considered one of the best ways to say, “I love you.” Thus its close association with St. Valentine’s Day. During most of the year, women purchase seventy-five percent of the chocolate in this country; as Valentine’s Day approaches, men purchase seventy-five percent, but, strangely, men don’t crave chocolate the way women do. Fifty percent of women say they’d choose chocolate over sex and sixty-eight percent admit to craving it. The first chocolate candies in the U.S. were produced by—you guessed it, Cadbury—in the 1860s. They were also the first to package it in a heart-shaped box with red satin.
But the importance of chocolate goes beyond its romantic aspects. Scientists have demonstrated that it prevents heart disease and cancer. Most important, this food, sometimes called the “feel good” food, is a mood elevator. Scientists are in disagreement here: some point out that chocolate can lead to obesity and stimulate migraine headaches, nervousness and irritability in some people; others claim that the mild stimulants in it—caffeine and other flavonoids and anti-oxidants—do indeed give us a lift. And some say chocolate improves our mood just because we like the way it tastes.
How does that affect us as writers? We can use chocolate strategically in plots to increase the romantic or emotional feel of a scene or we can let a character eat it and feel better. Grabbing a bite of chocolate in situations of stress might be a defining characteristic of a figure. Beyond that, chocolate gives most of us a boost in energy and enthusiasm. So if you’ve never grabbed a bit of dark chocolate when faced with writer’s block, try it next time. All things in moderation—a little bit of chocolate won’t make you obese.
Confession: I had eaten only two small pieces of chocolate since New Years—part of my portion control weight loss program. While writing this, I ate my third small piece of Lind’s orange chocolate. Just couldn’t resist that craving.
—-Judy has written fiction and nonfiction for adults and young adults. Her historical fiction titles feature such strong women as Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall, and Etta Place, of Hole in the Wall gang fame. Now she’s turned her attention to mystery. Her first cozy, Skeleton in a Dead Space, was published in September 2011 to good reviews. Due out in April 2012 is the next Kelly O’Connell Mystery, No Neighborhood for Old Women.
Retired as the director of a small academic press, Alter raised four children as a single parent and has seven grandchildren, with whom she spends as much time as possible. Judy lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with an Australian shepherd and a wild Bordoodle puppy named Sophie. Find her at http://www.judyalter.com or check her blogs: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com and http://potluckwithjudy.com.