On August 8, 1950 the first Whataburger restaurant opened in Corpus Christi, Texas. For those who have never enjoyed a Whataburger, that may not mean much but it's ranked on my personal list of the best hamburgers anywhere. Shake Shack, a chain with humble beginnings in Brooklyn, is at the top, followed by Whataburger with Five Guys in third place.
Harmon Dobson, the founder, created a burger so big it would take two hands to hold and in my opinion, he did just that. Although the menu has expanded over the years, the burgers remain the best, even for breakfast.
As delicious as burgers may be, what's it got to do with writing? Nothing - except it seemed like a great way to introduce the idea of food in fiction.
My characters eat and most of what they cook or serve are things I've cooked and served. If I want to include a dish I'm not familiar with, I will make it. I think food adds flavor to fiction, adding a layer of reality.
Although I don't dare to compare my work to that of Theodore Dreiser, author of An American Tragedy and Sister Carrie among others but Dreiser wrote about what he knew. When he wrote about a hotel or a restaurant, he had been there. An American pioneer of the naturalism literary movement, Dreiser also worked as a journalist.
Sister Carrie proved to be very controversial at the time it was published in 1900. Twenty-five years later, Dreiser published An American Tragedy, what most literary scholars and readers agree is his masterpiece. The novel parallels a true life crime, the murder of a young working woman by a would-be socialite who wanted her out of the way so he could pursue a rich and beautiful woman. Dreiser researched the crime that he based the novel on and the story resonates to this day. Readers either embrace it (I did) or hate it. There's no in between.
So what's the connection between a tasty Whataburger and Dreiser? Food. Dreiser wrote about what his characters ate as do I.
My characters live as much as a character can. Describing what they eat or wear or drink or the scenery they see provides a depth to a story, a backdrop against which the story is played.
I read many books and the ones with little description are my least favorite. I like to taste the meals, see the setting, inhale the smells and envision the outfits. I don't need to be bogged down with details, just enough to sketch a picture in my mind.
And now, Whataburger is planning on making a move into Missouri - mostly due to a certain Kansas Chiefs Quarterback's love of their burgers - and I'm ready. Like Mahomes, I'm a fan of their food. For now, I don't think it's in our area but maybe. I have my fingers crossed and appetite ready.
So that's what Whataburger has to do with it!
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the Community Editor of The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also an author.