I want to take a quick second to talk about fatherhood in the Twilight series (you can file that one under: Sentences I’m Sure We’ve All Uttered at One Point or Another). Charlie Swan is easily the worst father in American literature. He is absent for chapters upon chapters, then arrives in Bella’s thoughts as an impediment to action, or an excuse for her to leave one setting or another; on top of all her supernatural anxieties, you would not believe how much time 18-year-old Bella Swan spends thinking about preparing and serving her father dinner. He has a weird, unpredictable temper. He never seems to leave the couch. AND THEN THIS HAPPENED:
"What’s wrong with her?" Charlie wondered.
"She thinks she broke her hand," I heard Jacob tell him. […]
"How did she do that?" As my father, I thought Charlie ought to sound a bit less amused and more concerned.
Jacob laughed. “She hit me.”
Charlie laughed, too, and I scowled […]
"Why did she hit you?"
"Because I kissed her," Jacob said, unashamed.
"Good for you, kid," Charlie congratulated him.
Meyer’s description of this kiss seems to be going for “romance novel sexy!” but I found it hard not to read it a little closer to “how girls get raped in real life!” Bella says no. Bella tries to pull away, but Jacob’s werewolf hand “[grips] tight around the back of my neck, making escape impossible.” Bella tries to push away his face and Jacob becomes “aggravated” and forces her mouth open. Bella plays dead until it’s over: “Acting on instinct, I let my hands drop to my side, and shut down.” Bella punches the guy that just forced himself on her. And then her police officer father laughs at her. We, the audience, are invited to laugh along—the broken hand becomes additional evidence of Bella’s clumsiness, instead of a souvenir from that time she tried to defend herself from unwanted sexual contact.
Only Edward Cullen—the guy that snuck into her room and watched her sleep—cuts through everybody else’s rape apologia to talk some sense: “You might want to wait for her to say [that she wants to be kissed], rather than trust your interpretation of body language…” And thus I stay steadfastly on Team Edward, or as I like to call it, Team Moderately-Less-Rapey.
Is The Corrections a better novel than The Twilight Saga: Eclipse? Absolutely.
Do I find myself slogging through the last thirty pages of The Corrections, wishing that instead I was hanging with my undead and emotionally abusive crew in Forks, Washington? Absolutely.
There is no love in The Corrections. Why did Jonathan Franzen think it would be a good idea to write 566 pages about characters he dislikes intensely? Do you know that Stephenie Meyer used to (possibly still does) visit Twilight chat rooms and gush with readers over how dreamy Edward Cullen is? Can you imagine Jonathan Franzen in a The Corrections chat room? “LOL I knowwww, wasn’t Chip so brave when he had sex with a couch?!?” I don’t know. I don’t know.
What I’m saying is, I’d like to read a book that makes me happy sometime in the near future.
“Vendela Vida, Dave Eggers’s wife, is one of the talentless favored ones…Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Safran Foer’s wife, is another of the favored mediocrities.”—
I am taking time out of my day in order to call Anis Shivani the worst, even though I feel quite sure that he makes a calculated effort to be the worst. I don’t necessarily disagree with most of what he’s saying about the New York Times Book Review; I just wish he wasn’t such a horrible jerk about it. At his jerkiest, in my opinion, he makes a point to identify and subtly undermine Vendela Vida and Nicole Krauss as Wives of Authors—it isn’t enough to classify them as “bad” writers (which maybe they are! I’ve only read The History of Love, which I had no great love for); Anis Shivani feels that it is necessary to point out that they are married to (implied) good writers (who happen to be men, no big deal).
Anis Shivani also agreed to be interviewed for Hot Metal Bridge's most recent issue, and then never answered any e-mails ever again.
In conclusion, though I’m sure it gives him nothing but satisfaction: Anis Shivani, you are the worst.
Oy. I’m re-reading J. Franz’s The Corrections for class, and I don’t even want to talk about some of the things I underlined and wrote “So good!” next to when I read it for the first time at the age of 18. Suffice to say, at the age of 18 I was under the impression that being an American in the 21st century was an extremely difficult thing.
“Now, for some of you it doesn’t matter. You were born rich, and you’re going to stay rich. But here’s my advice to the rest of you: take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs. And take them down.”—Herman Blume
Walk into a Panera Bread at the same time as a gaggle of six or seven freshman girls. You will know they are freshmen by their faces—the dumb, open faces of babies. Follow them haltingly to the counter, where they express their displeasure with the slow service by rolling their eyes, stomping their Uggs. They will order salads. They will wait for each of their friends to be served, taking violent bites out of baguettes, clumped loosely and inconveniently around the counter, slouching under the weight of their bags and their feelings. You will suddenly realize that you—despite the six years you have on them, the perfect distance from which to judge—are standing close enough and similarly enough to them that you could, with your own dumb open baby face, be mistaken for one of them. You will stand up straight.
“'There is a large American on the train,' said M. Bouc, pursuing his idea. 'A common-looking man with terrible clothes. He chews the gum, which I believe is not done in good circles. You know whom I mean?'”—Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
I made baked macaroni and cheese for an MFA potluck last night. I met some prospective students, explained to them what a great city Pittsburgh is for hermits. I think I came across very well. I took most of my own meal home and found today that it heats up nicely, but needs more salt.
I have successfully remembered every compliment I’ve been given over the last month. I have successfully forgotten any criticism.
My manuscript is currently an unrevised 106 pages. My manuscript committee currently consists of one individual, but he is the best individual.
The end of The Twilight Saga is in sight. The end of sentences like “For a teenager, you’re amazingly non-whiney” is in sight.
I have had stories rejected only twice in 2011, and I’m not too bothered by that. When I hit one hundred rejections, however, I plan to buy myself a bottle of champagne and write a drunken thoughtful screed about it on this here blog of mine.
“Low expectations are not a recipe for good self-care. You get sour; you drink too much wine; you stop reading because everything you read makes you even more sour; you go on diatribes against successful young writers in the kitchens at parties. You definitely are not working out. Eventually you wear a hole in one of the elbows of your bathrobe and instead of taking it off, you think, ‘That makes sense. It’s nice to have a little air circulating around. They should make all the bathrobes this way.’”—S.J. Culver, "On Expectations (And a Writer’s Lack of Shame)"
Additional Papers About "The Twilight Saga" I Feel As Though I Could, At This Point, Write:
"How White Is Too White in Twilight?: Trick Question; You Can Never Be Too White in Twilight.”
"When Edward Talks About His Dark Past Drinking Human Blood But Maintains That He Never Drank ‘The Blood of Innocents,’ There’s an Abortion Allusion Happening in There, Am I Right?"
"Does Anyone Else Find it Weird That Stephenie Meyer Had the Dream That Inspired Twilight Almost EXACTLY Two Weeks After Buffy the Vampire Slayer Went Off the Air?”
One which proves that Bella’s time in Forks, in particular her extensive interaction with mythological creatures, is riddled with Seasonal Affective Disorder-induced hallucinations (title suggestions welcome)
Smith was 29 when she recorded Horses. Joan Didion was 29 when she wrote her first novel. Tina Fey was 29 when she was named head writer of SNL. bell hooks was 29 when she published her first major work. Oprah had just turned 30 when she got her first local TV talk show.
There is a reason ‘boy genius’ rolls off the tongue more naturally than ‘girl genius.’ By the time most of us accept the fact that we have earned this label for ourselves, we are most decidedly no longer girls.
"I was still hoping for Plan A, but Edward was just so stubborn about leaving me human…"
I started reading New Moon on Friday, in a crepe shop. I have never been the kind of person who is uncomfortable eating meals alone, especially when I have a book with me. But on Friday, I was doing all sort of weird arm gymnastics to keep the cover of my book from being visible to any other patron of the crepe shop. Reader, I was embarrassed. And then I thought: These books have sold over one hundred million copies. It’s not like I will be the first person these crepe-eaters have ever seen reading New Moon. It’s more than probable that there are Twihards lurking among these murmuring crepe-eaters. What kind of person judges a person for reading the same books that everyone else reads? And that’s when I realized the person I was trying to hide New Moon from. It was myself.
Some thoughts through Chapter 5: this book is just immediately more engaging than its predecessor. It opens with an actual action sequence, an actual threat of danger from these actual vampires who are otherwise eye-rollingly innocuous. There’s even an interesting thematic undercurrent, for a book series whose themes are otherwise “Love” and “Rain”—at the start of the book, Bella has turned 18, older than Edward will ever be. She is going to keep aging, unless Plan A works out, and she’s wracked with anxiety about this. I’m interested in stories about mortal women in love with immortal men (ahem), in part because I can’t think of the story ever being told in the reverse. I keep changing in my head the genders of characters in books and stories and movies and television, wondering where is the female Doctor, the male Bella Swan, the female Shawn & Gus from Psych? Stephenie Meyer is not going to help me answer this question, probably, but at least she made me think about it.
“We live in a strange and terrible time for women. There are days, like today, where I think it has always been a strange and terrible time to be a woman.”—Just a tiny part of Roxane Gay’s excellent article that sums up exactly how I’ve been feeling about 2011.
Absolute shout-outs from Bill O’Driscoll to my beloved Katie Coyle, Travis Straub, Steve Gillies, Julie Draper, and Beth Steidle. How awesome are they?
(This is the moment that starts a literary revolution. Someday, a historian will point to this article and say, Here. It all started here.)
It is so very much earlier than I am ever awake and so I am having a wide range of reactions to this which I’m having trouble articulating. I’m very touched to have made it into the “exceeds expectations” column, but also, why/how is this book that we made being reviewed in a newspaper? If I had known this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have put in an author photo wherein I’m visibly drunk.
“14. Does your character have a particularly attractive scent that doesn’t come from their perfume or shampoo?”—I am taking the Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test on Stephenie Meyer’s behalf. (“‘It is partially your fault.’ His voice was wry. ‘If you didn’t smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered.’”)
One thing that reading Twilight on purpose is beginning to prove to me is how little stock readers must put into plot—not good plot, necessarily, just any plot at all. Twilight moves very slowly for a book about vampires, which is maybe the problem you run into when your main vampire characters are Good—the threat that one of them could at any moment rip Bella Swan’s throat open is instantly neutralized. So it’s been a lot of conversations and a lot of sitting in pastures, and a lot of funny, chaste descriptions about Bella’s clothes (like the “long, khaki-colored” skirt she wears to meet Edward’s parents, which her vampire boyfriend describes as “tempting”). Bella hasn’t even gone to school in over 100 pages! But lest ye think I’m dismissing the book for its, shall we say, lackadaisical pace, I want to state for the record that I’m not—I’m personally kind of bored, but clearly millions of readers weren’t. And it’s not like writers of “literary” fiction are masters of plot, either—they are often really terrible at it! This is probably where I should make some grand pronouncement like, “PLOT IS DEAD!” or “READERS PREFER EXCESSIVE DESCRIPTION OF VAMPIRE CHEEKBONES,” but I’m not ready to do that yet. Just thinking about things.
But anyway, around Chapter 19 is where the plot really begins to pick up. The Cullens’ vampire baseball game (really!) is interrupted by some Bad vampires, who are now after Bella (she of the “luscious”-smelling blood). Now we are getting somewhere! However, I’d like to note that in this chapter’s fourteen pages, Bella has been physically lifted from where she is standing and moved to a different place by vampires in six separate spots. This is like a contained metaphor for the book’s halting physical movement, as well as its pretty explicit depiction of female (lack of) agency, but it is also the first place where I really related to Twilight, because in high school I used to lie on the floor and ask people around me to carry me places, because I was lazy and also probably had extremely low blood sugar.
“So is a billion dollars cool? He ponders the question carefully. “No, it’s not,” he says. “It’s not cool. I think being a wealthy member of the establishment is the antithesis of cool. Being a countercultural revolutionary is cool. So to the extent that you’ve made a billion dollars, you’ve probably become uncool.”—
RE: Dudes, ladies:
Do you feel it's at all inappropriate to write from the other gender's perspective? I'm not sure I'd ever write something from inside a woman's head -- mostly because I think the basic pie chart of what occupies mental real estate is, in some sense, different (and in ways I don't understand or can't confidently quantify).
I don’t think it’s inherently inappropriate; I definitely think that it can be done inappropriately. I disagree about the pie chart of mental real estate—there are probably large and small differences on an individual level, but it’s hard for me to believe that what a man thinks about is so fundamentally different from what I think about that it’s impossible for me to capture it in a respectful way. I suspect that it’s harder for men to write women not because of our mysterious womanly wiles, but because the characters we read who are supposed to be gender-neutral, who are supposed to represent not male or female experience but human experience, are usually male. I’ve been writing this paragraph for a while now and I’m not sure anymore if it makes sense. Women are just people, is what I guess I’m saying.
It’s a few days old now, but Sonya Chung’s essay at The Millions about writing across gender is making me think about things, especially since I keep writing stories narrated by young men. For instance, I didn’t know that “Brokeback Mountain” was the first story Annie Proulx published under her own name, at the age of sixty-four:
The author’s first stories, twenty years ago, were all about hunting and fishing – “hook-and-bullet material” – written for a men’s-magazine editor who thought he couldn’t publish a contributor called Annie. He suggested “something like Joe or Zack, retrievers’ names,” the author recalls. The compromise was initials: E.A. Proulx. The “E” somehow stuck. (The author won the Pulitzer Prize as E. Annie Proulx.) The author is now sixty-four, and “Brokeback Mountain” is the first story published by just Annie.
Last night, most of the people in my workshop told me that they hadn’t realized my narrator was a 13-year-old boy until it was explicitly stated a few pages into the story. But is that because the voice was “feminine” or “not-masculine” (in quotes because ugh)? Or is it because my name was the one at the top of the page?
Related: I have never read any of the examples Chung gives of men successfully writing from the point of view of women, and I have trouble thinking of examples of my own (Frank Portman did a really good job in Andromeda Klein though). Suggestions?