I’m squirrelled away in Bend, Oregon, at a self-made writing residency with my pal, the wonderful writer and fabulous retreat companion, Jennie Shortridge. When I collected her from the airport we went straight to the market to stock up on nourishment + wine. We’ve been writing for four days straight, making dinner together, reading our work aloud, helping each other out, and, this last goes way above and beyond, Jennie has even endured my faltering guitar playing. That, my dears, is a true friend.
Have I told you I’m writing a novel-in-stories? My book is about six women who meet monthly to cook together, to commiserate, and to support each other through trials of family: aging parents, ennui, teenaged children, ex-husbands, bad hook-ups, and sudden interest in drum circles. Marriages are tested, careers shift, affairs go wrong, and love happens. My story, “Children are Magic,” (which you can snag from One Story Mag for a mere $2.50!) is from the book. As I’m nearing a finished draft, I’m diving into other story cycles to study organizational logic, and to consider how to tighten the warp and woof. (It just made me so happy to use those terms!) Here are a few I think you might love:
Of course Olive Kitteridge, which commits neither to being stories nor a novel. I adore Elizabeth Strout’s work. She’s so deeply attuned to her characters, the complexity of their interior lives is a joy to read.
I also discovered very loosely linked stories, by Allison Lurie, a favorite writer of mine. She won the Pulitzer in 1985 for her novel, Foreign Affairs, a book I’ve reread multiple times and now, at the mere mention, want to run off and read again. Lurie has a delightful collection, Women and Ghosts, in which the filament connection between the stories is a flirtation with the supernatural.
Others to consider: Beggar Maid, by Alice Munro. The fantastic, beloved, Jesus’ Son, by Dennis Johnson, which if you haven’t read, I am so jealous that you get to read for the first time! Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich. The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler. Mrs. Bridge, by Evan S Connell, which is a novel in snippets. Many short story writers tell multiple stories about the same characters, or link work through geography. Consider the work of Mavis Gallant, Jennifer Egan, J.D. Salinger, Annie Proulx, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Bloom.
Are you as fascinated by writers’ habits and process as I am? I’m not going to lie, writing is hard, and when I read about writers’ strategies, I hope/dream/imagine I’m going to stumble across the secret sauce to make writing a breeze for me. Drink a green smoothie before hitting the desk? I’m in. Write longhand with Palomino Blackwing pencils? Sure, why not? Play backgammon on your phone and insist that you win three games in a row before you begin each writing session…maybe not.
Oh joy! An entire website dedicated to writing routines. A couple favorites: here, in which Neil Pasricha talks about sativa, giant font, and writing with his shirt off. And this one, in which Liana Maeby (how I wish that was my last name) reveals her preferred writing tool, an artists’ sketch book! Guess what, I use one too, with colored pens to entertain myself. Anything I can do to keep my butt in the chair is a bonus. The best part about perusing these interviews, and no shock here, there’s no secret sauce. Everyone is flying by the seat of their pants.
Slammed by taxes? Us too. We are undertaking some austerity measures around our house. I really don’t like split pea soup with measly ham morsels. So here’s some cheap eats that aren’t beans, beans, and more beans.
I love this idea from Jacques Pepin. Who would have thought to pan crisp a deviled egg? It may not be enough for dinner, but it looks like a perfect lunch. And what about this, from charming Deb Perlman? I mean, okay, I’m pretty good at accidentally stuck-pot rice, but this, with lentils and spices, looks delicious.
My husband comes from a long line of people who don’t believe a sandwich is dinner. (I personally believe that popcorn is dinner and a sandwich is a feast!) So imagine his dismay when I served this! Along with a salad of shaved zucchini with a little lemon, olive oil and salt. Add a bottle of something that won’t break the bank, binge on Catastrophe, or Queer Eye, or Better Things, or HBOs production of Olive Kitteridge and, hmm…austerity isn’t so bad. But/And, if you’re going to splurge, make these with the addition of toasted and chopped pecans.