People, Places, and Other Things That Ruin My Writing

I’m at Starbucks, where I go to escape my caterwauling children and get some time to write. Every Saturday, every Sunday, the same seat in the corner near the electrical outlet unless I’ve had too rough a night with the baby and end up running late. Three Word documents open: the current draft, the previous draft, and something titled “What Happens Next” to keep me on track with the plot. Triple venti mocha today, nonfat with whipped cream. I always splurge when I have a star reward.

There’s a man next to me, one small table between us, typing and typing like he does every Sunday, the clicks coming quickly considering he’s missing several fingers on his left hand. He reminds me of someone from college and I probably look at him more than I should when the work pauses. He wears a blue windbreaker. A stack of books on his table, from a glance: a day planner, a notebook, a Bible. Continue reading “People, Places, and Other Things That Ruin My Writing”

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Me and Mrs. Jones

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On the dedication page of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding makes a point of thanking her mother for not being like Bridget’s. As a writer, that makes me chuckle. It feels like a defensive move, like she’s saying Please Mum don’t be angry she’s not like you even if she does talk just like you do and have your fashion sense, this isn’t what I really think of you…

That little snippet, which most readers probably pass over on their way to page one, really got me thinking about Mrs. Jones, especially because I’ve read Bridget Jones’s Diary at least once before and have seen the movie countless times (including once this week, to remind myself of the similarities and differences between movie and book). I love Gemma Jones’s portrayal in the movie, though naturally she and her story line are quite a bit simpler in the movie than they are in the book. In the book, Mrs. Jones’s plot arc reaches great heights of absurdity and involves a lot more sex and deception. A novel from her perspective would actually be hilarious, I think. But then, I’m always drawn to the less sympathetic characters in any fiction. And maybe it’s funnier when we have to fill in the blanks of what Mrs. Jones has been up to with her various lovers and her newfound TV celebrity and her incarceration for real estate fraud. Because, given the format of the diary as novel, we only get to see what Bridget thinks about anything, and we only get to know what she knows. I think that’s the magic of the format: unlike the movie, the real revelation of the novel is not (for me, anyway) that Mark Darcy has feelings for her or that she’s grown up in any way, but when she starts to hear what other people think of her. Their opinions of her are in stark contrast to what she thinks of herself, and it makes you wonder what it would be like to see her from the outside–a perspective that the movie later provides.

But back to Mrs. Jones. Continue reading “Me and Mrs. Jones”

He Calls it FOOD: A LOVE STORY. We Call it HOT DOG! DADDY!

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Every time I read a chapter, my kids demanded hot dogs for dinner.

By his own admission, Jim Gaffigan has an unhealthy relationship with food. I don’t just mean that his eating habits are unhealthy. Well–look at the cover of his book. Food is less a vital element of Jim’s survival. It’s more of a lover. This isn’t all that uncommon, especially among Americans–there are some statistics somewhere in the book about how many Americans consider their relationship with food unhealthy, though since it’s a book by a comedian I automatically assume they’re made up. Some people’s relationship with food is on-again, off-again. Some are ashamed of their partner and keep the relationship behind closed doors. Jim has a less typical problem with his paramour. He’s clearly completely in love, head over heels, even willing to forgive glaring character faults (e.g. vegetables) but he just can’t admit it. Not fully, anyway. Continue reading “He Calls it FOOD: A LOVE STORY. We Call it HOT DOG! DADDY!”

February Reading List

Here’s what I’m reading (and blogging about, should the Fates allow) in February, in case you want to read along:

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(Because you have to read a love story in honor of Valentine’s Day)

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(Re-reading this one, actually–a little nostalgia)

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(Always exciting to read something new by Michael Chabon. I’m a little behind the times–this came out in 2012–but it’s new to me.)

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(Pushed Carrie Fisher back until March, because it’s Black History Month and it seems like a good time to read this one–I hear it’s wonderful.)

What’s My Age Again? (and Other References that Prove I’m Old)

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Usually, when I write fiction, I try to avoid too much reference to pop culture. I don’t like to date my work and I don’t want readers to have to look anything up if they aren’t familiar. I also tend to avoid references to technology. But lately I’ve been writing a young adult novel featuring a character who is really into music and another who is a little computer-addicted. I’m loving these characters, but the technical side of it is making me feel so incredibly old. Every few paragraphs, I have to put a note in the margin to remind myself of something to fact check. For example:

Do people use iPods?

That iPod speaker thing–what is it called?

Is Taylor Swift still popular? Will she be in five years?

Are teenagers still on Facebook?

Do people play minesweeper?

and my personal favorite:

Justin Bieber??? Continue reading “What’s My Age Again? (and Other References that Prove I’m Old)”

The Elegance and the Rhapsody of Muriel Barbery

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I’ve been on a French kick lately–the language, the movies, the food, and the books. I’m not really familiar with a lot of French literature, but I am a fan of Muriel Barbery, whose The Elegance of the Hedgehog I devoured when it first came out in America, and whose Gourmet Rhapsody (actually her first book and something of a prequel to Hedgehog though it was the second to be released in the states) I enjoyed many years later. Over the last two weeks I’ve reread both of them and if possible, I’ve enjoyed them even more.

Gourmet Rhapsody is the story of a renowned food critic in his final days. The story swings back and forth between his perspective and those of the many people in his life, most of whom hate him, many of whom refuse to see him even in his dying moments. And for good reason: he admits that he has never loved his children and that the best moments of his life have all occurred away from his wife and family. He is not seeking companionship at the end, at least not in a traditional sense: he is seeking a flavor. A craving, some lingering idea of a food long forgotten, that he must have before he dies. His life unfolds for us in stories about eating. It’s touching, philosophical, and never devolves into food porn. Of course not–it’s French! And as every American knows, the French know best about food. Continue reading “The Elegance and the Rhapsody of Muriel Barbery”