Monday, September 19, 2011

I'm Vegan - I don't do Cheesy.

I like to write - and read - stuff that is emotional. Stories that reach down into my core and pull up something real. It can be sad, funny, tragic - it doesn't matter. I just love it when a book I'm reading makes me stop reading and say, "Well, damn."

Just a few: Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Looking for Alaska, Catch, Sweethearts, The Absolute Value of -1, How to Say Goodbye in Robot.

These killed me, in that good way - the way that makes you feel alive. And, largely, it's what I'm trying to do when I write: give the reader (and myself) something genuine. Something real. And for a long time, it was nearly impossible. I was afraid to put what I really thought down on paper. I was afraid of going there - wherever that might be. I was afraid of making people angry. Of hurting their feelings. I was afraid of making a certain kind of joke and I was even more afraid of not making a joke. Because being real - being me, for everybody to see - will probably always feel uncomfortable.

And now I'm writing a book that isn't very funny at all. Yes, it has it's moments - but mostly it's kind of a sad book about a brother and a sister. And as I re-read pages, as I start to tinker a little bit, I'm worried that it's gone beyond feeling and into a place nobody wants to find themselves. Cheesy. Melodramatic. Worthy of a Dashboard Confessional song. You know.

And then I remembered something from graduate school - an essay first. And then I found the book it was in, still sitting on my shelf. And I read it once again. It dealt with irony and writing and religion. And it ends this way:

But as for [David Foster Wallace's] notion of who the next literary rebels might be, I'm banking on his being right. The scandalous move right now is to have hope, to look out at the world in love in order to discover it anew in whatever way you can, in whatever form you can....risking all the while cheese, corn, schmaltz. The scandalous and radical move right now is to infuse our post-ironic age with hope, and with love, risking, as it always and ever should be, your own heart. - Bret Lott, The Best Spiritual Writing of 2002 

And maybe it is sentimental to write with such hope, even if the book is ultimately sad. But I like the idea of writing with a chance of being cheesy. I like the (possibly cheesy) idea of risking my heart in my work. Because, hopefully, the reward becomes the sort of book I love to read.


  1. You know that I am going to say to explore it. I would assume that it is easier to go back and rein it in later, if the book really calls for that sort of action.

    Maybe you've found your "dare to be great situation". If I'm not borrowing too much from Lloyd in Say Anything (Bring on the CHEESE!) LOL

  2. Oh my I can relate. I have one crit partner that I ask "just write cheese please" in the margins.

  3. Fiction needs the melodrama. It's just part of the deal and when it's done right it's breathtaking.

    If you haven't read THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie - give it a go. It made me say, well damn, a bunch of times.

  4. KM's suggestion is one of the best books ever written for teens. What else ya got, KM?

  5. Just read EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS by A.S. King. It's one hell of a read! And I liked KING DORK by Frank Portman too.