Anatomy of an Uncustomary Writer
What’s the oddest thing you own?
Possibly, the bag of my dog’s baby teeth, which, being a sentimental person, I worked very hard to procure. Puppies tend to swallow their teeth if you don’t get to them fast enough, or they fall out around the house and are swept up and lost later. You have to monitor your dog and wiggle the loose teeth out yourself. Which is what I did. Which wasn’t as easy as it sounds. That said, I don’t know if that really is the oddest thing in my house…
Any writing rituals?
Not typically, but I think I do best when I’m either surrounded in noise or completely alone. If there are enough distractions, I can block them all out. The only exception to this is a classroom-type setting where I should be focusing on one person discussing a subject that I really need to be paying attention to. Without fail, some of my best high school and college writing came from my math, science, and history classes. Inspiration chose those times to show up…and of course, inspiration is far more interesting than numbers, equations, and dates, so why would I bother fighting it?
What substance (prescribed, illegal or from the freezer section) most inspires your writing?
I like food, but I haven’t found a writing food that works for me. I need my hands to be as free as possible; forks interrupt, as do sticky digits, so finger foods are out, too. I have learned that drinking anything warm while I’m cold or cool when I’m hot is most helpful; I find extreme temperatures to be distracting.
What’s the biggest advantage of your greatest disadvantage?
I forget all of my prepared arguments when I’m face-to-face with someone who’s upset me. On my own, in my head, I am utterly ruthless, but when I’m given the chance to unleash my well-considered indignation on my offenders, all I can do is smile and tell them not to worry about it. While this aggravates me, I’d say the good side of it is that people generally find me an agreeable person and I don’t have many enemies (that I’m aware of).
Which language do you wish you could speak to ask what question to whom?
I can never find the right questions, so it wouldn’t matter. I could be anywhere in time, anywhere on the planet, speaking in any language to the world’s greatest revolutionaries and all I would be able to do is ask them where they like to go for lunch. And then I’m sure we’d have a fantastic lunch because revolutionaries probably know all the best spots. I just hope they’d be able to carry the conversation.
Describe your relationship with inspiration.
It is like a cat: it rubs against me, pesters me, and yowls at me while I’m showering, driving, cooking, or otherwise busy. When I finally make time for it, it turns its nose up at me, and I’m left with fingers twitching trying to recall exactly how the words felt.
The formula for the perfect day is:
I would rather have an accomplished day than a lazy day. If I can feel proud of myself at the end of the day for anything—letters written, a story finished, a room spotless, a mystery solved, an uncomfortable phone call out of the way—I can sleep better. Besides that, waking up before the rest of the household, giving me time for a quiet cup of coffee and about an hour to clear my head and write some, is a rare gift that adds to any day. Time spent with my family when we’re all in simultaneous perfect moods is even better; it doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing together as long as we’re enjoying each other.
Anatomy of the Book
Do you prefer…
…chapter titles or chapter numbers? Titles are dangerous and can give things away; numbers are emotionless. It’s a tough call.
…short stories, a series, or a collection of poems? Short stories, when well done, are telling works of art. The writer has such a small canvas to work on, and there are so many ideas, challenges, and curiosities held in the human mind. The words the writer chooses reveal what’s most important to him (or her) at that time, whether it’s a truth about humanity, war, or childhood. Whether intended or not, a writer’s basest character comes to light in just a few pages. My favorite short stories are something like a jack-in-the-box. I wind and wind and wind, I hear the music, the anticipation builds inside of me, I know that somehow, by the end, everything will connect: the box, the handle, the music, the drawings along the side…and when the little man finally bursts free from the box, I jump in surprise as everything suddenly makes sense. Of course poems and books can do this, too, but with complete books and series, the writer is given more room to play with and can work in multiple important themes. And poems can just as easily mean nothing, or merely be a chance to play with words or a single emotion. You can’t always tell with poems; they’re unpredictable, and are often largely left up to interpretation.
…footnotes, maps or indices? I usually like maps. I don’t remember liking footnotes unless C.S. Lewis was writing them, but maybe I haven’t been reading the right footnotes. I forget about indices almost all of the time.
…hardcover, softcover or digital cover? Hardcovers are easiest for me to read while I’m eating and drinking. I can get them to stay open pretty well, which lets me multitask. They were wonderful in the first month or so of motherhood when I would stay in bed and nurse my son much of the day. I could sit cross-legged with him in my lap and keep the book open with my leg or foot. Softcovers aren’t good for that, though if it isn’t too long of a book, a softcover is good for one-handed reading. The trouble with that is that it hurts your hands after a while. Despite the occasional disadvantages of an actual book, I could never read a digital book. To me, that would be like having a robot for a friend. My relationship with books is tactile and physical. I want to hold them, touch them, feel the weight of them, admire the ink on the page. A robot may say the right things and even look real, but in the end, I would know I was touching something soulless.
Anatomy of the Reading List
What does your reading list look like? Is it a pile of books, a list of titles or a mental medley of thoughts?
My reading list is everything. It is mental notes too quickly lost, post-its tucked into a calendar, notebook paper torn and folded and washed in my pockets, texts I ask my sisters to send me, and titles scribbled in beside Eggs, Milk, Flour, Remember To Go To The Library, and POST OFFICE. As such, I forget what I’m looking for until I’m standing in the midst of a store or library and one of my many titles tackles me.
Which book do you feel obligated to read next?
1984, since it followed me home from the library, reminding me that I haven’t read it since I was ignoring geometry back in high school and vainly reminiscing how I had found it was so important then. It’s sitting on my kitchen table, daring me to walk by again.
Which do you actually wish you were reading right now?
The Princess Bride, probably. The book is everything everyone loves about the movie multiplied. There are so many fantastic scenes and so much titillating banter that didn’t make it into the film. It has been a cozy favorite for a long time.
Uncustomary Book Reviews Written by Alice Mayer: Here’s the list.