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.