Friday, June 26, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Let Me Eat Cake

Because I run into them at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, I can't denigrate certain Food Network chefs, those corner-cutting, time-saving folks whose recipes involve opening cans or boxes. But privately, I can look down on their techniques. For me to say, “I made this for you,” the recipe needs to be from scratch.

Well at the end of another long summer weekend – pool parties, birthday karaoke bashes until the wee hours, Father’s Day lunch – the specter of Monday loomed large. Who felt like cooking, let alone baking? But in the twenty or thirty minutes it took for the pizza man to drop off a piece of mushroom, onion, and extra-sauce sunshine, I managed to pop a German Chocolate Darn Good Cake from Anne Bryn's The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! in the oven.

This turned out to be the most moist, dense cake I’ve ever made, yet sour cream and vanilla pudding mix kept it from being too rich. The oo’s and aah’s of friends and co-workers the next day proved they didn’t care whether I’d taken another hour to parcel out sugar or melt chocolate or measure flour and baking soda and salt.

We dubbed it the best Monday ever. Thanks, Doctor.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

You Should Read Robert Anthony Siegel

Here's why:
“You see, my dear, there is nothing other than this turning, round and round again. Everything is connected to everything else, everything moves in a great wheel, and the emptiness in the center is God.”
pg 4

Or this observation on the creation of desires:
“How many men manage to leave their imprint upon humanity in this way - not on the outside, the way we look, but on our very natures, what we want? The inventor of ice cream managed it, as did the first horticulturalist to domesticate the tobacco plant. Gutenberg did it, and so did Moses - Moses with his tablets, inventor of the desire to be good. It was select company.”
pg 24

On why models are desperate:
“...the fault is with photography itself. Photographs are perfect things, and people are not. It’s maddening to have to live with that discrepancy, day in and day out.”
pg 154

On the atmosphere of a home library:

“...the silence was of a very particular kind, different from the rest of the house - the silence of arrested motion. It was as if those thousands of books were birds, and a signal would send them into flight.”
pg 192

If you haven't read All Will Be Revealed, give yourself a treat and buy it right away.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Contradiction

A friend responded to my last post thusly:

Do you write because you want recognition? Money? Fame? Or do you write because you are compelled to do so?

"If I care how others perceive my passions, they cease being passions and become affectations."

Write for the pleasure of writing, even though it is filled with frustration. As long as the compulsion (obsession, even) is greater than the frustration, write. When the frustration wins out, take a break until the compulsion grows.
Sound advice.

Two things. I didn't mean to imply frustration with writing. When a particular piece stops calling to me, I move to a different one. I'm confident the narrative will ask me back.

Second, I will keep pushing a cursor and scribbling in a Moleskine notebook whether anyone outside friends or family ever sees. This is true. It's also true that I have a raving desire for national recognition.

Neither statement alone describes what writing means to me, but you'll find the truest version of me in that contradiction.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why I'm Not Published

Unless you count this blog, which does say push-button publishing when I log in. Or the Moxxie column, my words printed by someone else and put out for all of Miami to see. To clarify what I think of when I think of a published writer, I don't have a nice advance from a publishing house or an acceptance letter from a magazine or a good answer when someone asks if I've written anything they might know; I'm missing the moment that says my discipline over the years hasn't just been masturbation.

I finished my first book ... three years ago. Like many first novels - and I've heard many stories like this watching author appearances at Books & Books over the years - it was unpublishable, an important exercise in focus and determination, a milestone for anyone whose ambition is to write a book, but nothing anyone should have been subjected to reading. Unfortunately, I did subject people to it. Friends, family, a sales rep at Harper Collins who promised to pass it along to the mighty Carl Lennertz. I was so excited to have finished something three hundred pages long, I wanted the world to know.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten Hemingway; "The first draft of anything is shit."

I couldn't rework "Skritch Skratch Man" into something readable, so I junked it. Started from a blank page. "Scratch the Dead Places" was a vast improvement, but still not what I wanted it to be. I sent it to an agent in NYC who liked my writing but not "Scratch," so I sent her my second book, "Ming."

Meanwhile, I had a breakthrough with "Scratch the Dead Places." I threw it out a second time, only I resisted going back to the source material. I started a third edition. The hundreds of pages before amounted to character research and plot outline.

The agent liked "Ming" and thought it would be suitable for a young adult audience. I wasn't thinking YA while writing it, but the finished product screamed YA. The only roadblock is the last fifteen pages, where the violence goes a bit far. I promised to edit and send her an update.

So here we are.

I have a finished YA second novel that has resonated with various readers whose opinions I respect. I toned down the last pages so slightly it might not even count, which is why I hesitate re-submitting it, but I have an agent who is interested. I have an outline for parts two and three of the triology and the first fifteen pages of a movie script which placed top twenty in Writer's Digest's 76th Writer's Competition out of 10,000 entries. Why am I not working this for all its worth? Throw a nice cover-letter on it, and you've got a ready-made package to send to agents and / or editors everywhere.

Instead, I do columns for imaginary publications. I write short stories I send to no one. I plod through "Scratch the Dead Places Redux," relishing the craft, patting myself on the back that I've finally found the right approach, gritting my teeth that I only have a couple hours each morning to tackle this beast.

Why do I reject myself before anyone else has a chance? Is it sucess I'm afraid of, or failure?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

You Should Read Amy Hempel

Here's why:
Sister has her eye on the fellow from the post office. When you buy a sheet of stamps from him, he rubs the gooey side of the sheet against his hair. He says that the oil from human hair will keep the stamps from sticking to one another in your purse. It’s a handy tip, and a gesture you want to remember when you go to lick a stamp.

The narrator of Tumble Home, speaking of her mother:
Two slips of the tongue: I said to Chatty, “In all important ways, I believe I am her evil,” instead of “equal.” And when Chatty voiced an opinion, I added, “I feel the shame.”

Or this:
The truth is, the beach is like excess weight. If we lost it, what would the excuse be then?
-Tonight is a Favor to Holly
I cherish quotes from books when they hit me right, when the language sings or the craft is sharp. Hempel's simple, brilliant elegance would require me to transpose entire stories.

If you care about reading at all, buy The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel immediately.