Friday, November 26, 2010

Eating a Novel

The turkey is reduced to leftovers, the pies will be finished by noon today, and we will immediately pull Christmas decorations from the dark hole under the stairs. One major holiday down, one to go. And this week it seems to me that holiday meals and manuscript critiques have much in common. Certain stock ingredients are called for, but the side dishes and the seasoning vary from one cook/author to another. The novel needs characters, setting and plot, the way a holiday table needs a turkey and stuffing and green-bean casserole. But is the setting as speculative as apple stuffing--an unimaginable reality for some--or as familiar as contemporary white-bread-and-sage America? What tastes like Heavenly Hash to some tastes like tripe to others, and they each take a seat at the table during the dreaded but necessary manuscript critique, where Fred picks the onions out of every chapter, Marla demands more sweetness in the plot, and Aunt Sally sniffs the setting like a hound in search of contraband.

The kitchen counter and the writing desk are awash in revisions and dripped gravy, exhaustion looms, and the dog throws up in the dining room just as pie is served. There sits the cook, hoping each guest gets something tasty and no one gets salmonella, hoping that as they close the book and sigh, they are full and waiting for the next feast from the same table.

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