Secrets, Wordchefs and Insta-pies

Here’s a thought I loved from the children’s book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg:

Claudia doesn’t want adventure. She likes baths and feeling comfortable too much for that kind of thing. Secrets are the kind of adventure she needs. Secrets are safe, and they do much to make you different. On the inside where it counts.

When I think of keeping secrets, I often think of negative secrets dealing with hurt. But there are good secrets, too. There are secrets that are fun that people keep for the pure effervescence they bring.

The thrill of keeping a secret is why I never write down the ending when I’m planning a story. When I have a story idea, I jot it down to exorcise it out of my system while I’m working on my current project. If I return to the story premise and can’t remember the ending, it wasn’t that good. To tell the ending is to spoil the secret. I’d rather it well up in me so that I have a goofy grin on my face when I think about it.

A writer is one who creates a story like a set of courses for a dinner. It’s very exciting because there’s all the expectation of experimenting, recording, and perfecting the textures and flavors of every verbarian dish. As a reader, one enjoys being the guest rather than the chef. I think most readers become writers when they realize that writing the story can be just as pleasing to the literary palate as sitting down at another wordchef’s table. Perhaps more so because the one telling the story has the joy of inventing each scene to his/her own taste.

Imagine the meal: It begins with the summary appetizer: bold in flavor and promising better courses to come. The salad is the intro: pert, crisp. The plot opens like thick slices of a warm, crusty, herbed baguette. Perhaps the style has a nutty, quirky quality, like the cheese accompanying the bread, or perhaps it has a smooth, sophisticated approach, like roasted garlic truffle oil. The personalities of the characters are revealed in tantalizing spoonfuls, like the soup. Then the conflict, the entrée, is set before the reader. The drizzle of ambrosial sauce (like a simmering rivalry), the mouthwatering bursts of infused spices (perhaps the thrilling knowledge of an impending event in the story) make it evident the reader is now basking in the delicious splendor of the tale. The subplots bring variety and freshness, like a summer vegetable medley, and extend the anticipation. Now the turning point is expected, the dessert! The reader knows it will be accompanied by a tying up of all the loose ends, taking the form of a soothing beverage, like coffee (in my case you know I prefer tea).

What would you expect for dessert? Perhaps mousse or a crème brûlée? A delectable slice of Italian cream cake? What if a tube-like box labeled ‘apple pie’ was flopped down before the reader? What if the ending is like a microwaved, fast-food substitute?

A McDonald's apple pie.
Image via Wikipedia

There are stories like that.

It’s also how I feel about writing out my own story’s ending in the planning stage. Writing the skeleton outline of the conclusion looks like twice-warmed-over, faux-apple smoosh to me.

An ending is the result of the process. At its culmination it has to bloom naturally or it has the chance of becoming synthetic and lifeless. So, the end stays my secret. When I finally write it, I want it to contain the initial emotion of the final piece being fitted. Not that it won’t go through a gamut of rewrites, but the ending should be… saved for the end.

(Note to self: Never write while really hungry again.)

I Knew Watching “The Price is Right” Would Come In Handy

There’s this “Versatile Blogger” award. Have you heard of it? Last month, Sally from The Digital Bookshelf and Carrie from The Write Transition informed me of their kind nominations of my blog for this award. I want to give a hearty thanks for their time and efforts in considering me, but I’m perplexed. I write about writing. That has to be one of the most unversatile subjects known to blogging. Is there a Nonversatility Award? Just wondering. – No! I’m not wondering, not wondering at all. Forget I said that.

It’s my opinion that Versatile blog posts would go something this:

“I was contemplating Plato’s Meno while clipping my toenails this morning…”

“Today, the raindrops merging on the windowpane created an exact replica of Conan O’Brien’s hair logo. I think it’s a sign…”

“I create my own eucalyptus-guava scented candles and want to tell you how I make them in bulk…”

“I just found out I have gingivitis. Have you ever considered the analogies that can be drawn from this discovery? For one, unhealthy gums are a haven for germs and disease, kind of like unhealthy relationships…”

For more illustrations, peruse the WordPress blogs under the topic, ‘musings.’ They’re fun. Some posts even resemble therapy by proxy. Of course, I promptly leave my advice. I’m glad to share my words of wisdom. I have lots of words to share. The wisdom? Meh.

On the heels of the Versatile blogger nominations, I received another nomination for the 7×7 Link award from the generous jmmcdowell. Three lovely compliments in such a short amount of time! I feel embarrassed, considering this is my 14th post on WordPress.

At the same time I’m reminded of that kitchen hand towel chain-letter that is supposed to heap upon you terry piles of steaming coffee cup, chili pepper, and Italian bistro cheeriness. I fear an epidemic, widespread panic. I’d be biting my nails if I weren’t typing this. I’m going to go deep into the recesses of my memory to recall the words of Bob Barker. (Okay, so Drew Carey says it, too.) Friends, I think nominations may need to be spayed or neutered to control the award population. I’ll be sacrificial about the whole thing and deny myself the delight of decorating my blog’s side columns with additional, pretty award logos in hopes that it will appease those lofty award-inventors.

And I do appreciate the accolades! Truly… much more than my collection of fat, mustachioed Italian chefs, whose smiling faces I wipe my wet hands on.

Which Way Is Ever After?

by A. Ashkanani, flickr.com

It’s the mushy month. Love and all that… And I was thinking, ‘I should find a good love story to celebrate Valentine’s Day properly.’ Nyah, nothing with a sappy name this time. They bother me. I know there’s something wrong with a Gaskell’s North and South/Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fanatic who doesn’t devour those confectionary titles like a big goblet of dark chocolate mousse, but I have difficulty reading a book that’s embarrassing to name aloud. (“Oh, I’m reading, ‘Love’s Endless Flowing Tragic Quest of Angst,’ you?”) It reminds me of Gilbert’s down-to-earth remark to Anne Shirley about her flowery romances. He tells her, “Nobody talks like that in real life.”*

Still, I believe there’s nothing like a good love story, and romances aren’t necessarily good love stories. Take Tolkien’s Return of the King as an example. It wasn’t a romance, but the love stories are mint. The relationship dynamics are what intrigue me most, I guess. Whatever my current writing obsession, I find myself watching my protagonist develop, placing certain situations before him or her to see what the reaction will be. As a reader, I like book characters that give me the impression I’ve met them before. I’m the Bildungsroman sci-fantasy sort, add a side of love story.

Because of this, a tale about a woman who is thawed into falling in love with some non-confrontational, gorgeously handsome man, who waits all through the book for her to notice him, has no appeal. I think I prefer reading about a confrontational, ugly guy who goes through his own metamorphosis. (Have I been conditioned to correlate male attractiveness with spineless drooling? Hm…)

How about the male love interest who makes the heroine eat her words? Well, he ought to be gentlemanly about it when she does, of course. But I’m not completely a Taming of the Shrew fan because it lends itself to the opposite extreme, toward berating or abusing womankind.

Why do so many love stories belittle the intelligence of either gender to make the relationship work? I think the romance genre often finds its writers in difficulty over how to keep that balance. And what about original endings? Wedding bells ring, a thrilling account of what happened on the honeymoon, or hints of a baby’s arrival often conclude the tale. Jane Austen fared just fine leaving her characters to pledge their troth and… Here’s an epilogue. Cue the orchestra, roll the credits. What are some other ways to end a love story without being cliché? The only other endings I can think of are the ones where one, or both of them, dies. The Hunger Games (Spoiler! Spoiler!) used a tactic which I found both realistic and depressing. Kat just deals. She ends up with the one she loves best, but they are too scarred to really be happy. Call me an idealist, but I don’t find death and despondency very inspiring in a society where love comes and goes like a hobby and no one seems to know which direction to ride off and find ‘ever after,’ much less ‘happily.’

So, any book suggestions, or have I thrown out the lot?

*from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series