Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the things that stick

A long time ago when I was thirteen and pudgy, I watched the movie City Slickers and realized that we weren't supposed to eat innocent baby cows named Norman. From then on, my diet revolved around white pasta with butter.

I know. It's ridiculous. But it was 1992, so stick with me.

Anyway, my friend's mother taught me that the best way to know if your pasta was cooked correctly was to throw some at the wall. So every night, while cooking my pasta, I would take a big handful and chuck it at the wall. Nowadays, as a mother myself, all I can think about is how annoying this process must have been for my mom, having pasta starch sliding down her wall like slug trails. But at the time, I dutifully threw 1000 calories of oily pasta against the wall each night until something stuck.

I think that's how I know writing is good.

Something sticks with me.

Because I read a lot. I read mainly books published by the Big Six publishing houses. But I also read indie published books, self-published books, and the works of friends and other members of my writing group. I read blogs and websites and magazines. I read so much that it's like throwing pasta at the wall, and only the special things stick.

Last night in my writing group, there were only five people-- a small group. And everyone there was one of my favorite writers. I looked around the table, thinking about how I would always remember the angry parrot, the pig in the yellow t-shirt, the boy whose mother made him act out famous works of literature, and the granny with the gun.

It happens in blogs, too. After reading the blog of a high school friend, the name Denis will forever haunt me. It's amazing, how a short, unedited story or blog entry written on the spot in twenty minutes can contain a twist or a character or a turn of phrase that's magical, that we'll think about years from now. I read the classics, but some of them don't stick with me half so well as short stories from my monthly writing group.

I think it's easy for us to forget that something doesn't have to be written by an MFA-wielding, bestselling novelist to stick with us. That everyone has that magic inside, some insight or phrase or seed of a character that strikes a chord. That's what I'm looking for, when I'm reading or writing or daydreaming for the next book. Out of all the starchy pasta I'm expected to digest, I want something to stick on the wall.

That's one of my biggest goals, as a writer. I want something, even if it's just a vampire rabbit, to stick with the reader.

The funny thing is that I learned, years later, that throwing pasta at the wall doesn't indicate a damn thing. I also learned that pasta with butter does not a healthy vegetarian diet make. But you know what really stuck with me, all those years?

A character.

Norman, from City Slickers. To this day, I've never eaten veal.

And I never will.



Tessa said...

Hi There,

I visited your blog, and It made me smile. The spaghetti story, the floating hedgedog and the pacman chips :-) You'll be in my favorites and I'll visit you more oten for sure!

Thankx for sharing your thoughts and making me smile :-)

xx Tessa (the Netherlands)

delilah, the unruly helpmeet said...

Thanks, Tessa! <3

Anonymous said...

Remember when I told you that you are one of my heroes? Still true, if you were curious.
- carrie

Jon Plsek said...

WOO HOO! Wait, does that mean Norman the cow is sticky? Because that's kinda gross.