Not long ago, while sharing some sushi rolls with my eldest daughter, I sliced one in half and consumed the bite.
“You can’t do that,” said the Daughter.
“Sure I can, ” says I.
“Mom…you’re already not using chopsticks, how weird do you want to be?”
I sighed and felt compelled to explain.
“But I like the smaller bites. They fit my mouth better, and besides, that way I get to enjoy every single ingredient’s flavor. And use more ginger. And it lasts twice as long.”
Satisfied with my complete and logical reply, I get the look that says I love you and all, but that’s just not how it’s done.
I guess I have approached my writing life the same way. I go at it in small chunks, clearly on a much smaller scale than is customary. Stephen King, an author whom I adore, (though I’ve not read one single book except his On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft,) comments below. I read these words first in 2001, and they haunt me still. (See Steve, you haunt me in spite of myself. I am a colossal sissy when it comes to the horror genre. Two or three times I have turned one guarded eye toward your movies, yanked in against my will. As I am now in my fifth decade, I may be able to toss my sissified trepidation aside and tippy-toe into your written world. But no promises.)
From On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft, while discussing novelists who only write a very limited number of books, the words of Stephen King:
On the other hand–the James Joyce hand–there is Harper Lee, who wrote only one book (the brilliant To Kill a Mockingbird). Any number of others, including James Agee, Malcolm Lowery, and Thomas Harris (so far), wrote under five. Which is okay, but I always wonder two things about these folks: how long did it take to write the books they did write, and what did they do the rest of their time? Knit afghans? Organize church bazaars? Deify plums? I’m probably being snotty here, but I am also, believe me, honestly curious. If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?
Well, Steve, since you asked, with the exception of deifying plums, yes, I was doing all of the above. I would not think of boring you or anyone else with a list of life’s humdrum activities. But since I began writing in 1996 to the present day, I am, without reservation, eating my storybook plate of sushi in two bites, maybe even three or more. My world is full of durable afghans, well-organized bazaars, and I chase people down to pick and haul the fruit from the trees in my yard. In my defense, I am at least a two-book wonder, and that may not entirely be the last of my creative contributions.
So I suppose along with my sushi, I am consuming my literary capabilities in small, tasty bites as well. And yes, that violation of protocol does render me weird in the eyes of many. But I am savoring each bite, and leaving on the plate what I mean to leave.
To each his own, screamed someone. Probably while bleeding…in one of Stephen King’s magnificent books.
Dorothy Hagan is the author of The Offshore Triumphs of Karla Jean, not one bit scary but clever and funny as hell. She has super-duper (thanks again, Steve) reviews on Amazon. Read them. She also published a companion novel, The Edge of the Grace Period, 2000, that folks spoke of in the same breath with Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, Mary Karr and Molly Ivins. Seriously. She’s not making that up.