I’m about to scan through a short story I’ve submitted ten places (actually the first chapter of my novel) and hope to find it still in a somewhat finished form. But. I just started reading In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard. Say it in chorus, now: NOT A GOOD IDEA!!! Why is it a bad idea? Jo Ann, maybe you know. Maybe some of my writer friends can stop me in the future? Please do me a favor. Next time I write that I’m going to read anything from Lorrie Moore, Jo Ann Beard, Anne Beattie, or Abigail Thomas, can you please throw a pie in my face?
I am cold, there’s no light. I’m rocking with a blanket, in the corner. There’s something I used to do with a flat screened giant in the corner of my office. Get it?
By now you know, In Zanesville has plunged me into Doubtville. Again, there’s Mike Myers lying on Madonna’s bed, bowing with both arms rising up and down, begging her, “Not worthy, not worthy.” I’ve heard others are calm in the face of brilliance, even, sigh, unimpressed. I wish I could be so unimpassioned. Sticks and stones may break my bones and words, in this case, do too. Jo Ann, do you know that you have broken my writing bones?
Let me back up. The novel, which I happen to like, about a Girl Named Richard, which is its title, is about an adolescent girl on an identity odyssey. I thought (silly me) that I’d pick up Mrs. Beard’s latest because it was similar content. Perhaps I could learn some plot twist secrets, some point of view “ins.” Nagga, as my husband likes to say when cutting me off from shopping at Marshalls, stopping at DQ on the way home from Home Depot, or watching Hitch for the eleventh time. These hints were not going to happen.
This is why. Look at this sentence. It’s on page 25. And I quote, “Over on my block, the semi-interesting people include a woman who comes outside and washers her dog’s face with a dishcloth every hour or so, and a widowed man who is so gigantic he needs a kitchen chair to get to his car, alternating between using it as a walker and sitting on it to rest.” This passage is infinitely descriptive, full of voice, clever, and goes so close to a street level view of the main character’s life, I can be holding her hand. Who thinks of taking inventory of their block? Who? Jo Ann Beard, beeatch.
Do you know how she could have written this? My block was poor. That’s what I read quite a bit. Sentences like this boring one are often published. Sorry to those of you out there who like it. I wish I did. Now I’m stuck. Do I keep reading, only to berate myself and believe that I’ll always be devoid of ideas that take inventory of “semi-interesting” people in my character’s neighborhood? How about the description of the hot kitchen, the AC dying a sad death and Richard (the man) in black leather pants, hung over? It’s just not as exciting to me. I’m going to have to find the part about it that makes it hot and describe it.
Here it is in its first draft: The doorbell gonged through his front foyer, the marble floor giving a feeling of some night coolness. He sniffed his underarms which already gave off onion and ducked into the front bathroom to rinse them. When he saw Richard hanging out on the front porch, arms crossed and examining his recycling bin for anything that vaguely resembled recycling, he rubbed his underarms with the hand towel as he opened the front door. It seemed like some of the hot air in his house was finally released.
First, I need to take out “it seemed.” Then I need to sit down in his house and write down impressions. I’ll grab some memories from my skinny friend Jeany with the green eyes. I loved going to her huge, winding-halled house to get lost and explore rooms in which we weren’t allowed.
I guess ultimately, I will keep reading this darn book, Jo Ann. It’s just going to be painful. I’m sure I’ll be at this again, very soon, extolling yet another passage. Until then, I gotta go sweat.