Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I'm talking about the kind you write, not the kind you serve.

Unless, of course, someone is serving you sentences.


I am reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them. I seldom read writing books, but today, I decided I wanted to look and see what was out there. I wanted to somehow stimulate my creativity—I wanted to fall in love with writing again, or at least remember why I used to write.

I've always loved stories. But I loved words, too. I loved sentences.

Prose talks about a young writer who went to dinner with his high-powered agent who asked him what he wanted to write about. The writer said "subject matter wasn't all that important to him. What he really cared about, what he wanted most of all was to write...really great sentences. The agent sighed. His eyelids fluttered. After a moment he said, 'Promise me that you will never, ever in your life say that to an American publisher.'"

Yes, it's this little secret so many of us writers have: We love sentences. Yet to be a good novelist, I believe you can't polish your sentences too much. One cannot stand out from the rest. Writing a novel is about creating a tapestry where all the threads weave together to become something beautiful. The threads aren't separate; they aren't one shinier than the next.

Still, I love sentences. I love words. I love economy and clarity. I want to learn to love again.

Sounds like the beginning of a romance novel, doesn't it?

A corny one. A bad one.

Just imagine heaving bosoms.

OK. Let's not.

Sitting in Powell's today, I started remembering all the books I had read. How they had changed my life—or at least my world view, my view of self, for a time. Even the books that bored me. I was an English major in college, got my Masters in American Lit. When I started reading modern and contemporary fiction, it was a revelation. I worshipped the words Ernest Hemingway hung his characters on, loved the sentences F. Scott Fitzgerald gave his characters, was in awe by the ennui Joan Didion could convey with punctuation. I loved it. I loved literature. I loved studying it. I knew where all the treasures were hidden. Eventually.

That was back when I had beginner's mind. When writing wasn't something I did to try and make a living.

Someday I will have a conversation about art and creativity and consumption and buying and selling. Not tonight though. I don't care about that tonight. Tonight I sit next to my sweetheart who is reading another book I bought today: The Art of Subtext. (My stories always have subtext; subtext is the clothing my sentences wear: Some people notice the clothes, some people don't, but they all still see the sentences.)

Today we stopped at the Tao of Tea before Powell's and grocery shopping. I put pen to paper like the old days and I started a story, a novel. It may never go any further. But I enjoyed the process. I enjoyed writing something about someone with no expectations of anyone liking it. I enjoyed bucking conventional wisdom (always start with a bang). I enjoyed being in the desert and watching what unfolded. Even if it was just like watching a bud about to bloom. Can you ever actually see that moment? And is it a moment? Moments. Or is it a process? Like putting down one word and then another and then another. Creating sentences that become threads that become...stories.


The sky was blue. Good luck blue. Beauty blue. Bird egg blue before it cracked open and faded. Blue like blue should be.

The sun was hot. That surprised Sara. The air was dry. Her skin was already tightening, and she had been there two minutes. She stood on a sidewalk next to her brown car, a sidewalk that eventually melted into the earth like white chocolate on either side of her.

A ghost-colored cat walked up to the car and looked at it. It sat on its haunches and watched the car. The car hissed slightly. "It's not alive," Sara said. The cat did not look at her. She shrugged.

She had been disappeared before.

Did. Not. Take it.


She squinted as she looked around. Tried to ignore her body's nauseating response to fear. Kafka could not have imagined a more institutional-looking group of buildings. Brown boxes. Uninteresting brown boxes with windows. With window.

Sara looked at the mountains riding the horizon in the distance. Low mountains. Old mountains. Bloody mountains slouching into or out of the desert, looking like the back of some giant iguana.

A car drove up. Shiny untrue blue. Dust billowed around it and Sara when it stopped. The cat walked over to Sara and rubbed her legs with its body.

"Nice to meet you," Sara said.

A man emerged from the car, draped in desert dust. He grinned when he saw her. The gold in his teeth caught the sun and blinded her.

"Wolf, you old dog," Sara said. It surprised her she could still pretend to be a regular person.

"You lost your hair," Sara said.

"You lost your life," he said.

"Fuck you," she said. Mildly. She pulled away from him and they looked at one another.

"I don't know about this, Sara," Wolf said. "This is nowhere villa and you don't belong nowhere."


Anonymous said...

Hi, Kim,
I love sentences too...I love the ones that make you stop when you're reading, but only if there are just a few...sprinkled here and there...like the gold thread in the tapestry and the rest are good too, but invisible.

I also love the Tao of Tea. It's always odd for me to read a blog and have someone mention a place that I can see because I've been there! Have you tried The Bay Leaf? It's a fairly new restaurant (all vegetarian), in that general area...on Holgate or maybe Division...Division, I think. Really good...

Thanks for your sentences. By the way, I rarely read writing books either, but someone gave me BIRD BY BIRD once and that was pretty interesting.

Kim Antieau said...

The Bay Leaf looks fabulous, Joelle! Unfortunately I can't eat there. I'm a gluten-free gal. ;-( Mario read Bird By Bird. I think he liked it and/or found it interesting, too.

Anonymous said...

My friend in Portland is gluten free too and knows of some great places. If you don't, but want to find some, email me and I'll ask her!

Kim Antieau said...

Sure, bring 'em on, might be something we missed!


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