August 11th was a huge day in my life. I was at Think Coffee on Fourth Avenue. I had just finished, at age 27, my very first novel. I told the barista, who gave me a high five. This was nice of him, given that this probably happens at said coffee shop way more often than we'd like to think.
I had been working on it for two-and-a-half years, showing it to no one, periodically reading it aloud to only two people—my partner and my ex. The book was a story about the Baba Yaga, the witch from Ukrainian folklore. I first encountered her as a child in Neil [...]
I’d been in Paris less than twelve hours, arriving for a job interview, when I was invited to my first French dinner party. The job I wanted was at a Parisian advertising agency. My would-be boss, Pierre, said after the meeting that he had an older sister, Paulette, who’d invited me for dinner. Very charitable of her, I thought, but did she know I barely spoke French? I spent the afternoon drinking, worrying in a café on the Champs-Elysées—springtime in Paris, many happy lovers walking by, and I wished on them all gonorrhea. That night, Pierre and I took a cab to the 2nd arrondissement, and rode upstairs in a [...]
Paul Newman’s egg-gorging feat in Cool Hand Luke certainly inspires wonder (along with a tinge of disgust). And yet each time I watch the film, I struggle with a nagging question raised by that stomach-swelling exploit: Which came first, our appetite, or our drive for competitive eating? Owing to the glut of cooking competitions, food trucks racing across town serving up sliders and duck-fat tots, foodies one-upping each other on Instagram and restaurants aggressively advertising their farm-to-table bona fides (as brilliantly satirized on "Portlandia"), food culture feels increasingly competitive in the broader, non-Kobayashi sense.
As the battles unfold to perform more impressive culinary feats, whether inhaling hot dogs [...]
I tried uniformly applying a variety of “systems” — note cards, wall-sized outlines, all kinds of things. Color-coding and cross-referencing may or may not have been involved. I may or may not own a triple hole-punch. Ultimately, though, I felt I was spending more time playing reporter/writer than being reporter/writer—the systems search, I realized, was a form of procrastination. Here’s what I do now, and it’s very basic: Bring the scraps back to the nest, arrange them chronologically, develop a timeline that shows everything more clearly, and then build out from there, hewing to that backbone yet following each thread to its known end. That’s just an organizing principle, [...]
I'm torn on advice. Sometimes you're given some and it matters right there on the spot. Then there's the advice that sits alongside pathetic life-as-lit, lit-as-life devices—think fantasies of watching your own funeral or accurately narrating your life as it unfolds. This is the kind of advice that, either in the moment or as memory, arrives perfectly formed and quotable, a single well-turned line that turns your life into a teaching tool for all humanity. And then there's the advice that slips by unnoticed at the time, that you cull meaning from only in retrospect, out of metaphysical necessity. How did I get here, anyway? Someone must have told me [...]
As National Novel Writing Month slogs on, the next in our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.
Do you remember the episode of "The Simpsons" where Marge scores the fake Chanel suit? She looks incredible in it, straight-up incredible, and then this rich bitch she went to high school with spots her and briefly ushers her into Springfield high society? Anyway, she has only the one fake Chanel suit, so she has to transform it into culottes and an evening gown, etc. in order to keep the illusion afloat, but ultimately she stays true to herself because of Homer and [...]