• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

You’ve heard the expression, “no tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” What do you make of it? I kind of hate it. But you know I’m a feelings fascist. On the other hand I know it to be true. I have cried while writing shit down. I guess the question is: does that make it good. Just because you can stir yourself, will the reader be stirred. Does “authentic emotion” produce great writing. Or “true” writing. All of these quotation marks are a little sickening. What am I trying to say? If I make myself laugh, will I make the reader laugh? If I fall asleep at my computer? If I eat green eggs and ham? How do you really create feeling in the reader, by having the feelings yourself or manipulating language to be evocative?


LAST CALL to WIN a FREE copy of SAVAGE GIRL. Who is your favorite monster in literature. Author Jean Zimmerman will select her top three picks at the end of the week. 

31 Responses

  1. Medea, I think, in the Greek Theseus myth.

    She did terrible things for the man she loved (including killing her own brother and tricking a King’s daughters into killing their father) and arguably worst things after he left her (including killing her own children).

  2. Worst monster in literature? Grendel in Beowulf. I still think about that thing sometimes and I’m not a monster dweller.

  3. Two weeks ago I cried while reading an essay in my writing group. I’m the only girl in the group, so when I choked out the last page it was downright humiliating. Until our resident 90 yr old — who had hurt his neck doing yoga and wanted to talk about tantric sex and UFOs — told me he remembers crying while reading a story that wasn’t even sad.

    Therefore, I lived.

    Scariest monster: Dracula. Yet I wanted to be Mina …

  4. Such a good question, Betsy. I’m on the side of making myself laugh, cry – or think – first, and then manipulating the language later (and there’s plenty of manipulating). Good news: got my pub date, July 8th! Very excited and just had a chapter accepted by a good online mag to coincide with the pub date! Now remember, you promised me the first dance at my book party, but I’m not sure I’ll still be alive by then.

  5. Years ago I read something by Theodore Roethke which reminds me of your question—” the notion of emptiness generates passion.” Impermanence, frailty and loss well described does it every time.

    As for monsters is there a colder one than Humbert Humbert?

  6. I’d rather mind my own feelings and let the Reader enjoy theirs without my prodding or spectating, if I can help it. Such intimacy calls for a Grand Canyon of space within it.

    Monster (speaking of manipulation): Gilbert Osmond in Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Or, Madame Merle. Still gives me the horrors 40 some-odd years after first reading it.

  7. No. Just because I’m so damn emotional doesn’t mean my readers are. Just because I cry, doesn’t mean my readers will cry, and just because I laugh doesn’t mean my readers will laugh. I have to try it out on a few choice candidates for there candor, and if I get lucky a… gut reaction. Sometimes I just have to kill those “little darlings.”

  8. Oh yeah… Jack Torrance scares the crap out of me. He’s everywhere.

  9. I’m selecting manipulated language: even though that descriptive gives me the creeps, which was the point, correct?

    “Favorite” monster: The Walking Dude/Randall Flagg

  10. “How do you really create feeling in the reader, by having the feelings yourself or manipulating language to be evocative?”

    You can’t “create” feeling in the reader. You can tap into what’s already there, unleash it, manipulate it even. You write with a certain schizophrenia, as it were, feeling everything and nothing, writing as both the seducer and the seduced. You weep like a jilted virgin and you show yourself the door. Do it once and you’re a cad. Do it three times and you’re a writer.

    and now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for

    don’t cry for me, argentina
    you took my islands
    i sank your cruiser
    shot down your air force
    captured your army
    you were defeated

  11. My scariest monster in literature, by far, is Humbert Humbert in Lolita. What could be scarier than the mental confusion created from sympathizing with such character? In my opinion, that is literary genius.

  12. Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Her threat to Billy Bibbet (Your mother will be so disappointed…) after he loses his virginity (and his stutter) is something I’ll never forgive her for.
    Ultimately, nothing in literature compares to the true monsters of the world, the Hitlers, Idi Amins, Dick Cheneys, Pinochets and numerous other bastards, pricks and iridescently hued scumbags who never seem to wind up at the wrong end of a gun soon enough.

  13. Is it your feelings or manipulating language?
    I’ve written pieces that I know will move the reader because I am not only the writer, I am the reader. I write a newspaper column that must have heart and humor or it’s a no go.

    If I write about my 84 year old mother, an empty husk of a woman, adrift in loneliness and confusion after the loss of my father, (they were married 62 years), the universal understanding of loss is key. If I mention that as a teenager she was raped and hospitalized with a nervous breakdown, and that a few years later she married my father after knowing him only eighteen days, readers get what a special guy he was and why her loss was so great. The trick is to not be overly sentimental or the reader, (rightfully knows), even though what I wrote is true, they are being emotionally manipulated.

    Actually I would like to write funnier stuff, and I think I could, but my editor feels that when writing about the daily triumphs and frustrations of being a woman teetering on the edge of old age, certain terms are out; whether to hyphenate fuckity-fuck and shit-head becomes a dilemma anyway. Humor is manipulation too. But it makes you feel good, if only for a moment.

    The common nature of experience, playing on people’s fears, dreams and doubts allows us all to be emotionally manipulated via words. Speech writers do it best.

    BTW I will stick with my earlier bad guy Hannibal Lecter. WTF are fava beans anyway?

  14. Every word is a decision, an executive decision at that, as who else but me is the CEO of my own output? Every single (I know, redundant) word is a deliberate construct chosen for its overtones of meaning, innuendo, sound effect, impact, etc. T.S. Eliot told us that words strain, crack, and sometimes break. Of course writing is manipulation (cringe). But aren’t we aspiring to create the human condition, universal, personal, real? Why not call that something loftier: art.

  15. I couldn’t really say who my “favorite” monster in literature is any more than I could say my “favorite” anything. It’s all kind of based on hormones and what kind of day I’m having, isn’t it? Whether I’m in a melancholy mood or feeling vulnerable or angry or… A monster that I just met last week on vacation was Professor Sardie, in Alice Hoffman’s THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS. He followed me around from beach to beach on St. Maarten. God, he he was horrible and creepy and I hated him. It was fantastic. But then there’s always Voldemort. I kind of love Voldemort. Is that a cop out though? Too popular? Doesn’t everyone love Voldemort? I know! How about EVERYONE in Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM? Mr. Wednesday in Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS? Or the fucking Cat in THE CAT IN THE HAT? Those are some of the monsters who are bubbling to the surface today.

  16. i don’t know, i don’t know, i don’t know.

    i cry all the freakin’ time. i used to cry a lot, but now i’m in my 40s and cry even more. i cried reading your title because its the song i used to sing to my daughter whenever i brushed her hair as a little girl. (she always cried, saying i was “pulling it too hard” – now she’s old enough to brush her own hair and rarely lets me do it anymore.)

    Favorite monster in literature? Snow white’s mom always comes across to me as wonderfully complex, and a bit misunderstood.

  17. How do you really create feeling in the reader, by having the feelings yourself or manipulating language to be evocative?

    We each have our own trigger points. From horrible events to animal abuse, from sad beginnings to happy endings…, it’s possible to tap into reader emotions by hitting that sweet spot. If we intend for it to be emotional in whatever way, I think it’s easier(at least for me) if I’m empathetic, if I’ve experienced something similar to what I’m writing about. But, if I”m writing about something I’ve never experienced, there’s definitely manipulation. And a lot of praying.

  18. I write fiction. I lie about story.

    I lie about emotions, too.

    Sometimes I lie about them in my prose.

  19. If you cry when you write, your writing may or may not suck. I don’t cry very often while writing, so when I do, I think about it hard.

    But when you nail that one emotion or that one fact that could drive you to tears, that inhabits that inevitable raw tender place, then, as you say, game on.

  20. I don’t believe it’s possible for a writer to create or manipulate feelings in a reader. We may like to think we possess that kind of power, but we don’t.

    The reader brings her own private emotional history to a book. Something may resonate with the reader that the writer never even intended. That’s why I’m a novelist. I make it all up as I go along. It’s more fun that way.

  21. “How do you create feeling in a reader?” I have no idea. Sincerely. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received as a writer was from an editor at an indie publishing house that considered one of my novels. He said my writing evoked strong, visceral emotional reactions from him, that his heart actually pounded and raced while reading. Why did he react in such a way? My manipulative words? Maybe, but I’ve never considered myself good at manipulation. (And I’ve tried.) I think so much depends on the state of mind of the reader at the time of reading. Or the reader’s own personal experiences that allows them to connect with something in the story – things well outside of the control of the writer. Maybe I like to think that because it takes the pressure off of me.

    My favorite monster… probably Heathcliff. He’s such a twisted fuck and someone I’m sure I’d hate in real life but there’s something so intoxicatingly toxic about that wicked little sociopath, something disturbingly romantic about the way his unhealthy obsession devoured him whole (and all the poor souls close to him).

  22. The heart of all evil is surely the terrifying IT in Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time.

  23. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

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