Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Flashback post: The reality of a grilled cheese sandwich



I wrote this a few years ago, but it was shared today on the Cookbook Love Facebook page. The topic aligns with a recent post by Jessica Faust (Bookends Literary Agency) about the need to properly attend to details in writing, so I thought I'd post it again.
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I've got a beef this morning. A writing beef.

I'm reading a book, the last in a pile of three that I began and then threw to the side. I may have to ditch this one as well if it doesn't cut it out.

This time it's a problem with details. The author seems to just make things up without bothering to see if they actually make sense. One of the characters is a baker, and so there are frequent references to baking processes. But the author isn't particularly concerned if they are correct. Here are a few examples.

In one case, the baker can't be interrupted because she is kneading. A few minutes later she comes out saying that she finished the tarts.

PROBLEM: There is no kneading required when making tarts. They use pastry crust.

Later on, an assistant complains that there is something wrong with the buttercream frosting she made. The baker tastes it and proclaims that the egg whites were bad.

PROBLEM: There are no egg whites in buttercream. Or yellows for that matter.

Another detail violation happens in a bathtub. The protagonist is soaking and enjoying a plastic water tumbler of Chardonnay while musing about her terrible life, and then describes a loofah getting snagged on her leg stubble.

PROBLEM: Stubble wouldn't snag.

Perhaps if you had very course, very curly, very long leg hair there might be a Velcro effect. But stubble? Stubble sticks straight out. It's not snaggish. It won't run a pair of pantyhose let alone slow down a sponge.

Why, why, why, oh why?

Are cooking references really such a selling point that it doesn't matter if they make sense? Is there such a rush to go to press that editors don't pay attention to what they are reading? Was this story the second piece in a two-book deal with a very short deadline?

I'm trying to figure it out, hopefully so I can learn by negative example. Perhaps this is similar to what artists try to teach; to draw what we actually see rather than what we think we see. This author is writing what she thinks leg loofahing is about, without actually getting in the tub and testing it. Or even imagining through recollection. It's like the story is running merrily along and she captures it, thinking leg hair might be amusing, so down it goes and in it remains.

On the plus side, I guess I have learned something. While writing details, I need to really be in the scene. If I describe making a grilled cheese sandwich I need to actually walk through the process, at least mentally. The butter has to be spread. The cheese has to be unwrapped. I'll need to remember how the toasty bread lifts up like butterfly wings and the melting orange oozes over the edges if I cut it too soon and too hot.

I've learned that I need to really live the darned sandwich experience rather than assume I know what it is and say something nonsensical.

I guess I won't throw the book across the room. I'll continue reading, and see what else I can glean.

And now, I'm ready for lunch.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Shroud is Ready


I'm continuing to process my grief through poetry. Here's this week's entry.

The Shroud is Ready
by Suzanne DeWitt Hall
10/23/19


The clacking bones called us
“That Bunch”
when we audaciously planted
an orgy of produce
then invaded their sacred space
to feed the hungry
doing things ways
they hadn’t been done
and making the bones very
very
uncomfortable.

That Bunch helped our pastor pack
his office this week
filling boxes with books
family photos
worn collars
a virgin baptismal stole
a diploma from Princeton
note-scrawled legal pads chronicling his call
to the sepulcher which came to reject it.

Some of the bones clacked through while we packed
making sure he’d be out by the deadline
chattering a demand
that keys be returned
that locks be changed
in case That Bunch decided to stage
a final feast
without permission.

We finished loading boxes
into vehicles
and stopped in the sanctuary
which had been draped
to protect it from debris
when roofers banged new shingles
into place
everything shrouded
as if someone had died
their house prepared
for vacancy.

A fitting place
for bones to molder
and ghosts to multiply
as the living are borne away
by the winds of grace
to continue feeding a world
desperate for love.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Rictus Victory

Old black and white line drawing of Dancing skeletons, called 'Dance of Death'

Rictus Victory
by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

Our church voted yesterday
to accept the resignation
of its young pastor
a gay firebrand
irritant bringer of “others”
inadequately obsequious
to the spirits of those
who’d come before.

The back pews clapped
When the vote announced
it was finished.
Skeletal hands clacking
smiles stretching wide
in rictus victory.

His time in that stone sepulcher is over
and he is gone
as are we; the queer couple
the musician dad
the single black mother and her three kids
the Moms Demand Action rep
the planter of a community garden
the tireless doer of deeds who kept the place running
the “others.”

The bones in the back pews clapped
as we wept for lost hope
for the broken world
for the pastor
for ourselves.

The bones clapped
for next Sunday
when they will hobble in
to find us gone
and they will dance
their skeletal dances
unaware
that the skin of their hands
is a mirage.

Happy to be alone
to chatter and clatter
their death dance
as the dust gathers
and the doors clang shut
leaving them to join the ghosts
who wait
and shriek
that they have won.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Dead Cicada Season

Cicada against black background. Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Dead Cicada Season
by Suzanne DeWitt Hall
9/24/19

It’s dead cicada season
the time when winged corpses
litter the ground
still enfleshed
as if ready
to fly and serve
the function for which they were created
to sing in the twilight
battling darkness
to buzz and hum
with life
a calling
reminder
that summer has ended
and winter approaches
when growth and hope
are buried
frozen
waiting
for spring.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Make Church Great Again

Tattered white tennis shoe with soul coming off on red-clay dirt.

Make Church Great Again
by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

A voice we heard
at church, a month ago
reported scandal:
the pastor only had time
for the poor
the black
the gay.
A white woman
with white hair
spoke her white truth
with indignation
and sorrow.
The church she knew had changed;
its glorious past
no longer a shining present.
She wanted back
her club of privilege
that place where respect was properly assigned.

Her voice became a chorus
men spitting their rage
telling decades-old stories
of heroic contribution
of fallen places of honor.
The crowd screamed their demand;
the head of the offending pastor
a return to the attention they deserved.
Clamoring to make church great again
white again
straight again
theirs again.

I heard a different voice
last night
while working in the church kitchen
finalizing a meal we would serve for free
to struggling families
to the homeless
to the lonely
to the addicted.

My wife and I began this feeding
our queer audacity recognizing
that hunger comes in many forms
including the congregation’s need to serve.
But few participate.
The souls who come to be fed
are fuel for their rage.
They weren’t there when the voice spoke last night.

“What size do you wear?” he said.
A young black man;
our guest, Leland,
from the assisted living facility across the street.
“What size do you wear?”

He spoke to a ginger-haired guy
who sleeps beneath the stars .
and has no address
no phone
no way for possible employers to reach him.
who said he hates when it rains
because of his shoes
walked into tatters
the souls nearly disconnected.

“What size do you wear?”
Leland asked,
and hearing the answer
took off his shoes
gleaming white and stylish
and gave them to him
then walked barefoot
across the street
to get an older pair for himself.

The young man left later
belly full of home-cooked food
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in hand
shining new shoes on his feet
to walk miles in the dark
so he could sleep behind Walmart.

This is what church looks like.
Not the screaming white faces
demanding their due
because queer women
and black men
and a gay pastor
make them yearn for the days
when they didn’t feel uncomfortable.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Scandal of Messy Abundance

Picture of twin branches of a paw paw tree, with hand-shaped leaves against a blue sky. Photo by Lynn Greyling (publicdomainpictures.net)

The Scandal of Messy Abundance
by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

Our cemetery guide explained
that the shining white obelisks
dwindling into the sky
signify our journey toward God.
When doing it right
we disappear at the very tip
when stone ends
and God begins.

He drove on,
slowing our bus disguised as a trolley
to show us
a fruit-heavy paw paw tree
then stopping so we could glean.

A friend from our war-torn church
named Phil
led the way, and I followed.

Phil planted a garden
in our church yard
beneath a spire
which signifies our journey toward God.

It's messy, that garden
with zinnias and bursting tomatoes
dying cucumber vines
and sprawling overgrown greens
which may be weeds
or sweet potatoes
or the most gorgeous fall blooms
waiting to surprise us
if we resist the urge
to tame the tumult.

The murmurers inside don't like it
overgrown and frowzy
too full of life and chaos
too free with invitation
for people who are not them
to come
to pluck
to be filled.

Phil led the way
toward the paw paw steeple
which signifies a tree's journey toward God.
I followed, bending to step beneath
low branches
fruit scattered on the ground
in messy abundance
some overripe and rotting
some eaten by those who were not invited
     those who dared forage on sacred ground
     dared stare up at edifices of stone
     dared taste the sweetness growing there
without permission.

We gathered the fruit which
had not yet grown soft and brown
had not been ravaged
by the hungry teeth of rodents
of vermin
of other.

We gathered until our hands were full
and then boarded the trolley
which wasn't.

We handed the fruit
to whoever wanted a taste
of what grows so close to death
the sweetness side by side
with sorrow
our journey toward God not up
into the sky
but in the fecund earth
and the faces of the people
reaching to taste.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Literature Which Isn't

Photos of flowing white mushrooms at night, with multiple fluttering mushrooms amid trees, by mage by Игорь Левченко from https://pixabay.com

I've decided to start a new spiritual practice, of writing a poem each work day on any topic which demands attention. They may not be uber polished and glossy, but they will exist as a kind of journal.

Here's the first.

Literature Which Isn't

At night we listen to meditations
designed to lull us into forgetting
to drift us somewhere else;
a hummingbird garden
a tree house by an ocean
a secret bookstore.

The voices are soothing
assured
softly instructing our breath
taking control of our thoughts
directing us
toward sleep.

An editor would say
where is the action?
Why is there no conflict?
Tell us more about the main character!

In this night space
There is only detail:
the repetitive green of leaves
the shimmer of water
the breathing in to a count of four.

My beloved's night mind battles
the troubles of the world
and so we listen
to literature which isn't.
Effective, despite
so she is free
to rest.

All it takes
for my breathing to grow rhythmic
and my mind to drift into gray
is to curl into the warmth
of her back.
knowing she is awake
watching over me.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

So many platforms, so little time to write


I'm super lucky that my wife does the vast majority of my social media work, because I have a lot of writing projects in assorted genres, and if I were to try to keep up there'd be no time to write.

Meanwhile, this website, my author page, has been rather neglected. Given my recent focus on devotionals, I've included a screen shot to the Where True Love Is website above, because the blog there tends to have more frequent updates.

I'll try to be better in this space, particularly as things move forward with the novel I'm pitching. Stay tuned on that, but it the meantime, head on over to Where True Love Is.