The Distinction Between Reading and Writing


I have a story in the Two Cranes Press anthology about food called “Mallory’s Quick-Quick Seduction Cookies,” in which the protagonist, one disgraced celebrity chef named Roderick Mallory, is caught going through airport Customs with a baby foot in his luggage. He’s hauled off for an interrogation session with some mean men from Homeland Security, and he manages to wrangle his way out by baking cookies. It’s a little more involved in that, as there is a bit of hocus-pocus to this world, and Mallory’s means of escape is via the suggestive ingredient he’s put into his no-bake cookies (a little contagious magic). What’s got me ruminating this morning is that this story is always referred to (to me, at least) as the “baby foot” story and not the “cum cookies” story (which is how I normally reference it). I’ve always been a bit puzzled by this, and I think I’m starting to understand why.

The baby foot thing is horrible. It’s a terrible terrible thing to contemplate and, if I do, yeah, I get all squirrelly and want every pair of shears in the world to be melted down NOW so that no parent would ever have to consider . . . you know. But, in the context of the story, I am unmoved by this detail. Why? Because I wrote it. I wrote it as a throw-away hook that would provoke a visceral reaction in the reader. I can’t see the line without knowing why it was written. I know it is manipulative, and therefore I am immune to it.

[That’s not to say that I’ve always been that way with stuff I’ve written. When I killed Ring many years ago in a Christmas story, I cried for an hour after I finished the chapter. ]

But there is a level of emotional detachment that comes with writing. I wil sometime chuckle at very inappropriate moments in films because I see what the writer and director are doing, and their craft, if you will, strike me (as a writer) as being very effective. Because I know I’m being manipulated, I am immune to what it is trying to accomplish. I don’t see the horror, because I see the manner in which is being evoked. Stephen King said something in an interview a long time ago (and this is a paraphrase from woefully poor memory, mind you): “If an elevator needs to drop on Grandma for a scene to work, I’ll drop one on her with no qualms whatsoever.” It’s a variation on “Kill Your Darlings.”

This train of thought came about this morning as I was casting about for something to read. Every book I picked up felt flat and uninteresting because I wasn’t able to connect to anything as a Reader, just as a Writer. And, when looking at the page from a writing standpoint, you don’t really see what is happening. You’re too busy dissecting lines and phrases and paragraphs for how they work (or don’t work). You’re too busy wondering why the author chose THAT word instead of six others that come to mind. And, when part of you is the mood to read for pleasure, for fun, for sheer thill of being told a story, you enter this odd world of right-angle disconnects. You can’t engage because you’re too busy taking things apart. You’re too busy being an Emotionally-Challenged Manipulative Bastard.

I think I left my Sense of Wonder in the sock drawer this morning. It’s busy marvelling at the cotton texture, staring in awe at the way the elastic is uncoiling in some of the older pairs.