One of the delights of doing final edits on The Most Dangerous Game (Beyond holy crap, it's actually coming out! This is a real thing!) is reading the back and forth between my two editors:
This past week I've been having one of those dream-like moments where it feels like a word is everywhere. I've been reading a bunch of food magazines (Lucky Peach, Food & Wine--side note, the name of Food and Wine is so funny to me. Whenever I think about it, I picture a group of people who can't choose some much fancier name. And finally someone just says f it, let's just call it what it's about) and recently learned what the word terroir means.
At least with wine, it's the confluence of weather, soil, care that gives a wine its distinctiveness.
This morning I was reading more of Authority and terroir came up again. This time it was in discussion of Area X. I know the books have been out for two years now and I guess I don't need to be that cautious, but to be very brief and as not spoilery as possible: Area X is a mysterious, liminal area. It is and isn't explainable. By mysterious circumstances, it appeared. People explore it. Etc.
Beyond the thrill of seeing the word terroir again, it made me think about how good of a word it is to describe two different concepts in fiction. One, which I think I might write a craft essay about, is character and creating one that feels rich and vivid. The other thing is I think it's an excellent way to talk to an undergraduate writer about cliches.
At least when I was teaching undergrads, there were always students who felt super wary or even afraid of writing cliches. Sometimes it would lead to writer's block. Sometimes it would end up leading to trying so hard to be original that their stories were incomprehensible as a whole because so many techniques were stuffed into the pages. I think having a student-writer create a sense of their writing terroir (their influences, their favorite styles, their hometown, an image that they can't shake, something else because I'm just thinking while typing, something that feels like it could be a writing cliche that they've actually experienced), might help to work against that.
Also, I've finally started reading The Southern Reach Trilogy and have been too unsettled to fall asleep at my usual time twice this week. It's been great!
I'm currently reading Amie Barrodale's collection, You Are Having A Good Time. Last night before bed, I read the story "Catholic." It's one of those infuriating, wonderful stories where to describe what actually happens--a young woman who feels very lost and has issues with substances falls in love with a rock band drummer. They have a connection that is simultaneously very slight and staticy, but also one that is profound because they're in love with the possibility of each other--would make very few people think, MUST READ.
One of the things I love (and it comes up in a few other stories in her collection) is that for a certain type of person, the way attraction and desire is communicated is through writing letters and e-mails and texts describing the things she's seen and experienced. Some of the appeal is definitely because Barrodale does this very well. Here's one of the ones I loved:
"I wrote him back, describing my shoes, which I had gotten free at work. I said I'd asked my coworker about them, and he'd become grave, looked me in the eye, and said, 'They're cool'."
I like the unextrarordinariness of that moment. I like that it captures someone trying to give a potential loved one a glimpse into her head. I like how much can be revealed about a character by how she tries to express herself, her life, to someone she might want. I like how Barrodale refuses to over write. I think it keeps the romance on the action being performed rather than being placed on the image being described.
What I also like is it reminds me of when I was first falling in love with my husband. We were friends for a longish time and there was a night where something changed between us. Nothing physical happened. I was with someone else. Nothing romantic was explicitly said. But something did happen. We can both point to that night where things changed between us. And that kicked off a summer that we spent despite sometimes being across the hall from each other, often being four and a half blocks from each other, seeing each other often between work and sharing a friend group, writing each other e-mails. Sometimes they were just jokes or asking about what was going on. But they were sometimes in that same mode: I want to tell you about this moment because I want you to be a part of it, even though you weren't there.
Things I am thinking a lot about right now:
- I just finished a draft of a textbook chapter that compares and contrasts image-based flash versus character-driven flash. What I've learned is that sometimes it's hard to turn off that small voice that feels like asking: are you sure you're smart enough to write a textbook chapter?
- Answer to that question: yes, yes I am. I just feel bad that I even have to ask that question.
- Mixed drinks. Last week I made a gin and soda with cucumber soda. I feel like there should be a savory element added to it to make it even better. (Salt something? Pepper something?) But I can't figure out what I would actually do.
- The opening to Eric Andre's New Year's Eve spooktacular where he comes in and just go nuts. He throws himself on the desk, takes a trombone and throws it, breaks a Target style bookcase. And his band just keeps playing. The crowd stares at him blankly.
- The edits for Arcade Seventeen. My editor, Natalie, is so smart. She is also my favorite kind of editor, a poet. She has ideas for syntax and surprise that are exciting and interesting and make me think not just about the stories in a new way, but the way I wrote them.
- Race and writing. A lot of people have been discussing J.Franzen's latest interview where he talks briefly about race in writing. And I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was like yeah, I don't really want you to write a novel that you (emphasis on the you) think is explicitly about race. But at the same time, I agree with a lot of the writers (mostly of color) that have also commented that the majority of his novels are still on some level about race. He's very interested in white middle-class people and how middle-class whiteness is performed. I mean, that's The Corrections. (I'm not even going to get into the explicit race stuff in that book) In Freedom, the novel, at least as I remember it, encourages you to question whether Lalith's death is because of a car accident or an incident of racial violence. And I was thinking about how reflective that is in general about the way I've noticed a lot of very educated people react to race. They think race and racism is still the arena of people who do not identify as white. There's still an onus on many writers and artists of color to perform the injustices, the suffering, to perform a sense of otherness. And I think one way to change that mentality is to get people (and I think this applies to anyone who is writing realistic fiction, whether or not the character are racially identified in the text) to consider after the fact what they're saying about how people live, how they perceive life, etc. after the fact.
- How I felt about Ghostbusters. I am angry with myself because in a way this feels like letting the trolls win, but I actually didn't like it very much. I couldn't turn off the writer brain when it came to plot stuff. Some of the jokes were funny. Some of the special effects were gorgeous. But I mean on a basic level, here's one of the thoughts I couldn't shut off while watching this movie: why did we go through all that beginning nonsense with Zach Woods to find out he was just fine, with a little bit of stubble later in the movie? Just tell us he disappeared! It's a PG-13 movie, it's fine to have some stakes! And another! Why are there so many blank pages in that ghosts are real! book? Is it just so the villain--who really should have just gone to art school and started a catty anonymous blog to let out his frustrations--can show off his incredible art skills sometime in the future?
- House stuff.
- Chicken tikka masala potato chips.
This weekend at the Farmers' Market, I bought a big bag of watercress. I know that's kind of a C- sentence opening sentence unless you're a watercress fan, but relax. The first time I ever ate watercress was in a soup at The Earle in Ann Arbor. It turned me into an instant fan. In a soup, it feels like you're eating spring. It's like turning into a fawn or a rabbit and eating something green and fresh after a long winter of poking around roots and salt licks.
What I've never experienced before this weekend is eating watercress raw. I've always liked how some people call arugula, rocket. If I was the person in charge of giving vegetables cute nicknames, I would call watercress: face punch. It's bitter and peppery and it takes over every flavor. Face Punch. I've made salads with it this weekend and made potage au cresson for dinner last night.
One of the reasons I'm so excited about this is I've been really sick for the past few weeks. First I had an ear infection and then, probably picked up from the doctor's office while getting diagnosed with an ear infection, strep throat. I haven't been up to much of anything other than drinking a bunch of water and trying to sleep as much as I can.
Beyond being really down about being sick, the first experience I had with the doctor who checked out my ears was miserable. She was rude. And made assumptions about me that seemed fairly race based (she assumed I didn't have insurance and gave me a lecture about actually needing to take the medications she prescribed, instead of asking me if I had been swimming or using Q-Tips--and I am an idiot who uses Q-Tips in my ear and I have vowed to stop and not be such an idiot--asked me several times if I had an STD that I wasn't taking care of or if I was just ignoring my diabetes. I don't have diabetes.) while I was feeling miserable and wanting to feel better. Maybe she just wanted to feel like a real House MD and diagnose a mysterious illness. But it's hard not to think about it as something more when someone who has just met you refuses to believe you about your sexual history. And I left my appointment feeling deeply uncomfortable and weirded out and like I never wanted to go to a doctor again.
It's strange how easy it is to forget how a twenty minute encounter with someone else can be so unsettling, do so much damage. I feel like I was being overly dramatic re-reading that, but I think it's true. And I think a lot of people under-estimate how much they can hurt another person. Maybe it was just time away and processing that's helped take away some of the sting. Maybe I should start telling everyone I know that watercress has emotional healing powers.