too long, who cares… so I said to a pal last week when she pressed a long article about a celebrity bad boy and his bedroom peccadillos into my hands. Too long, who cares…. is also my thought on making these homemade twisty cinnamon rolls (though if someone wants to make them and share–yes please!). Is it blasphemy to say too long, who cares… about the million hour Hemingway documentary series? Honestly, another white guy? Full disclosure, I LOVE the Nick Adams Stories, and Moveable Feast, but do I need to know more? 🤷🏻♀️
Too long, who cares… is that what Adam Grant at the NYTs meant when he wrote that we’re all languishing? Another smarty responded that we aren’t languishing, we’re dormant. I’m just…meh. Like Bob Dylan here, who didn’t manage to learn the words to “We Are the World” and sort of hummed along. (Seriously, that link is worth a peek!)
Too long? Not short stories. I’m very excited to dive into Elizabeth McCracken’s newest collection, THE SOUVENIR MUSEUM. Here’s a little descriptive teaser:
In these stories, the mysterious bonds of family are tested, transformed, fractured, and fortified. A recent widower and his adult son ferry to a craggy Scottish island in search of puffins. An actress who plays a children’s game-show villainess ushers in the New Year with her deadbeat half-brother. A mother, pining for her children, feasts on loaves of challah to fill the void. A new couple navigates a tightrope walk toward love. And on a trip to a Texas water park with their son, two fathers each confront a personal fear.
I love McCracken’s sharp wit and squishy heart. And, even better news, McCracken’s collection is the May pick for the Merriam-Webster Book Club. If you can stand another zoom, there will be a conversation w/McCracken in late May. You can sign up here. If you’ve not read her work before (oh boy, are you in for a treat!) I highly recommend, AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION, and THUNDERSTRUCK.
Too long? Not poems. My friend, Kelli Russell Agodon, has a beautiful new collection, DIALOGUES WITH RISING TIDES, from Copper Canyon Press. Equal parts funny and true and heartbreaking. Go ahead, buy the book, put it by your bedside to indulge in one poem each night before sleep.
Here is a small taste:
To Help with Climate Change, We Buy Rechargeable Sex Toys
When the saleslady says, this one gets about forty-five minutes
before needing to be recharged, I joke, Forty-five minutes?
What is this, amateur hour? Somewhere in another city
a woman is making a sign for a protest that reads,
The earth is hotter than my imaginary girlfriend.
We’re doing our part in different ways like the people
who arrived in a Prius holding a pamphlet, The Eco-Friendly
Guide to Sex Toys—they bought the handblown dildo
created by a local artist. As I pick up
the feather tickler from the bargain bin, I think
of the decline of North American birds, three billion birds
missing and how each year fewer cliff swallows return
to our neighborhood. And as I hold the blue vibrator
I was told Oprah recommended (a detail I kind of doubt),
I’m reminded of a sky I saw when I was eight,
before the brown haze of smog turned the city
into a health concern, the wife of a superhero dying
of lung cancer at forty-four even though she never smoked,
the thin layer of ash we wonder about and then wipe off
our car windows before we drive home.
If Kelli’s work appeals to you, and I hope it does, please save the date, June 2nd, at 6:30 PDT, for One Page Wednesday. Kelli will read, and so can you! Check it out here.
Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.
Who Cares? Me! I care. I recently read a quote which was a jab to my heart…
“It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy. Nobody wants to read your shit.”
And I fear it’s true. But, here’s the thing, we can’t let that stop us from telling our stories. In a recent NYer interview John Swartzwelder (a writer for The Simpsons) says:
Nobody wants to read a book. You’ve got to catch their eye with something exciting in the first paragraph, while they’re in the process of throwing the book away. If it’s exciting enough, they’ll stop and read it. Then you’ve got to put something even more exciting in the second paragraph, to suck them in further. And so on. It’s exhausting for everybody, but it’s got to be done.
We just have to make the work so engaging that people keep reading. How? Well that’s the sixty-eight dollar question. Here’s some ideas:
- Characters readers care about
- Characters who yearn (we all understand yearning, yes?)
- Good, clear writing that keeps a reader on solid ground + curious
- Something meaningful happens
- Snappy dialog
- Solid settings
- SCENE (put the reader in the action)
I guarantee that you are good at some of the things on this list and others, well, maybe not. But we’ve got to keep going. Get the words on the page, let them sit, then come back the next day to alter, tighten, make it all more specific and vivid and true.
Here’s Swartzwelder again, speaking about the next move once the first draft is down:
It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way.
And, to get that draft down, here’s a prompt I hope inspires you:
- On 5 strips of paper jot down five specific locations.
- On 5 more strips of paper write emotions and antecedents (what caused the emotion).
- Finally, write on 5 more strips of paper an embellishment. Could be a sound, a texture the weather, some surprising detail.
- Pick one strip of paper from each pile and write for 10 minutes.
- An example:
- the dishwashing pit at a House of Pancakes
- angry character because the boss said she has to work on her birthday
- a wet kitten outside the window.
If you’re interested in working with me, I’ve got a number of one day craft workshops coming up. Topics will include how to write FULL AND FASCINATING CHARACTERS (June 5, 10:00 – 1:00), and, a conversation about conversations, writing DIALOG that truly earns its place on the page, coming July 17. Finally, I am really looking forward to teaching SIX (LOVE) STORIES IN SIX WEEKS (Thursday evenings, beginning July 8), that will be a playful, generative workshop, using stories from the collection, My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, as a launching point into pieces of our own.
Who cares… even if it isn’t the best for you, we all need a little sugar in our lives now and then, right? I do. I’m totally going to make this Strawberry Snack Cake. I love the way the recipe says to place the strawberries “shoulder to shoulder” as if they are a marching band!
I’ve also dug out this family fav meal: