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AUG
02

Imagination

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I was talking the other day with my six-year-old nephew about a humorous card I had mailed to his house--one that featured a cat poop joke--and told him that Clementine (my cat) had liked it, too. There was a pause, followed by a thoughtful question. "When you say Clementine liked it, you don't actually mean that you know if she liked it, right?" I assured him that, no, I didn't actually know what she thought, but that I sometimes like to imagine the kinds of things that a cat might think or like. "I don't imagine very much," replied my nephew. "I'm just not that kind of person," he continued, and further explained that this is why he prefers reading books with facts in them.

Now, you'll never convince me that any six-year-old kid out there has no imagination. And I've seen this particular kid use imagination all the time--in the games he invents or the silly words he makes up. But I get what he's saying, I respect it, and, more than that, I respect that even at such a young age he recognizes this in himself. He just prefers reality. And thinking about things as they really are.

I'm a non-fiction girl myself, in that most novels leave me feeling mildly frustrated, wholly unbettered, and filled with a desperate sensation of just-let-me-read-about-something-that-really-happened. I had always planned on writing fiction, but that's not the way my mind works. Fiction is clearly the ticket in the publishing world. And if I could think up a futuristic trilogy involving an oddly-named, kick-ass heroine, I'd probably be a lot more profitable as an author than I am now. Or at least have the chance to be. I suppose in many ways I feel like my nephew in this regard, in that I don't have much of an imagination when it comes to writing. I'm just not that kind of person. Luckily there are those who are, and luckily there is still space for everyman memoirists like me. Granted, there's a lot less space for everyman memoirists, but I'll take those odds. And who knows. Maybe one day you'll see that I've broken through with a series involving a vampire going off to 7 years of vampire school (Batty Cotter?). But doubtful. I really, really am just not that kind of person.

SEP
05

Stranger than Fiction...and Funnier, too

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, one who I grew up with back in Oregon, and she was telling me about the book she's writing. It's about her life, and as she was telling me about some of the events that will be included in the book, I was shocked. Truth is stranger than fiction, everybody knows that--or at least everyone should--and I actually found myself at one point asking her, "He really did that??" when she told me about one of the scenes from the book. I honestly couldn't believe it, to which she quipped that it would not be possible to make this stuff up.

That's why I love real life. It's why I love reading about real life. And I know I say it all the time, but I just love memoirs for that reason. It's so satisfying knowing that what you're reading about really happened. And I think the potential for grand emotions is heightened. Real life has the potential to be more heartbreaking, more inspiring, more joyful, more hilarious, and certainly more unexpected than anything we can make up. That's probably why I'm sixty pages into a new novel right now (I know! I know! What am I doing reading fiction?) and can't seem to get into it but was in stitches when my friend read me the opening pages of her hilarious memoir. Life is just funnier. Now, back to this novel. Groan. (Watch, it will turn around any second and become the best thing I've ever read and I'll be eating crow for days. Which, incidentally, would also be pretty funny.)

FEB
13

Where I Was When I Fell in Love with Writing

I was on the toilet, if you must know. It was the early nineties, I was probably ten or eleven years old, and the magazine keeping me company at that moment was a Redbook with Meg Ryan on the cover. Where these magazines came from, I really had no idea, as my mother would never subscribe to Redbook. I'd never known her to subscribe to anything except things like Better Homes and Gardens and Country Woman. And who wants to read that in the bathroom?

The cover article was all about Meg's new baby, and I remember being intrigued by her saying that it's "just a science project until suddenly there's a person," although I had no idea what she meant. But even such details as a new celebrity mom (complete with pictures of her leaving the hospital via wheelchair) couldn't hold my interest the way the featured short story in the back of the magazine did. A story called "Second Thoughts," it told of a pregnant woman who's man had left her, and her heartbreak had led her to take up a new hobby. The story had me from the first line. "After Zane left, I started to bake." The woman's pregnancy leaves her unable to consume very much sugar, but she bakes anyway, keeping her uneaten creations out on the back porch once she runs out of room in the fridge.

I had read books before, so I'm not sure what it was about this story that struck me in particular, but I was amazed at how perfectly I could picture the whole thing. The woman, her porch covered with cakes and eclairs, her fridge boasting pictures of some of her favorite creations of all time. And all this from a story only a few pages long. It hadn't really occurred to me that writing even a relatively simple story could accomplish all this.

The woman spends the whole story wishing Zane would come back, of course, but what blew my ten-year-old mind was that at the end of the story when he finally does, she makes a game-time decision that she doesn't want him. She's gained enough confidence and perspective on her own to realize that she's better off without him. And as a woman, a romantic, a person who has at one point wished more than anything that the loser boy I'd been dating would come crawling back to me, let me tell you that there is nothing more empowering and freeing in this world than what the woman in this story did. An alarmingly powerful lesson for a child to take away from a short piece of Redbook fiction, wouldn't you say?

I had always enjoyed words, but reading that story was when I realized both the ability stories have to immediately create imagery in our heads and the level of depth and meaning that can be conveyed through words, no matter how lowly or unofficial the source. Even with this piece of magazine fiction, I can assure you that the closing lines--where the woman sends Zane packing in his pickup truck and then finally indulges in one of the cupcakes sitting on her porch--had me cheering. From my bathroom.

JAN
09

The Nonfiction Writer's Wish

I'm just about 2/3 done with my second book. Which feels like progress. And it is. But I'm finding this last 1/3 to be much harder to write than the first 1/3. And while my first book was chronological, this one is not, so it's more challenging to make sure I'm pulling in everything. Finalizing order is a whole different topic, but I won't worry about that until all the content is written. Or maybe that's my problem. That I don't at this point even know the order of things. Either way, the thing I keep saying to myself is this: I wish I could write fiction. Fiction is the ticket. Fiction is so the ticket. But try as I might, my brain doesn't think that way. Dammit.

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