notes in the margins: the interior of a short story


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much one gives. How one can reveal themselves, in measured degrees, in the words they write, the photos the post and the things they choose to share. While much of my writing is personal in this space, I’m extraordinarily guarded. The stories are demonstrably vague, friends are blurred in the pictures — I need it to be this way because part of my world needs to be preserved, protected, and wholly mine. And yet… I struggle with this even amidst the tacit rules I’ve set for myself (e.g. don’t talk about relationships, don’t give the innards of your professional life, don’t get too deep into politics, etc, etc). I tend to be loud online about the things that matter, but I give you a peripheral view rather than painting a whole picture.

But there’s something real in those innards. Of a body turned inside out, exposed. There is some real truth in that worth sharing. There’s truth in the struggle, the unknown and the uncertain. And after attending a panel last night, where I had the privilege of listening to extraordinary food bloggers, editors and businesswomen, did I think of a notion of notes in margins.

On the panel, Faith of The Ktchn offered how much more fascinating it would be for writers to review recipes instead of simply adapting them. Amanda Hesser talked about the thousands of recipes she’d received from readers of The New York Times, and how her readers had made the paper’s recipes their own. Scribbling notes in the margins, as such. I thought about that on my way home, and I was thinking about how interesting it might be to share some of that with you. To bring you the process I go through to write a story — what I read and how I plot out the stories, create images and characters. To bring you the innards of making that pretty salad come to life (the shopping, the cutting, the decoding of the recipe). I’m thinking that all that interior might be worthwhile to share with you.

I’m wondering if you feel the same? Whether it’s the stories I create or the meals I cook, I’d like to show you the interior.

Lately, I’ve been working on a series of stories about two families affected by an affair. On the surface, the rub is adultery, mental illness, but after thinking about these characters I realized I’m writing about hurt — intentional, unintentional, mental and physical, and the domino effect of a hurt, namely, the people who get hurt on the way to the end, those on the periphery, etc. And suddenly the stakes got higher and the stories became interesting in a way they hadn’t been before. I spend hours, literally HOURS, on unpacking images, and in order for me to write five pages I have to immerse myself in art, literature, music to get me there. So as I truck along, I thought it might be helpful to have you take a look at what’s going on in my head.


Mario Sorrenti’s Draw Blood for Proof for the art and the name. I plan on ripping off this title (or a derivative of it) for a story. It’s raw, visceral, and I like it. | Nick Flynn’s The Re-enactments in understanding fluid novel structures | Goethe’s Faust in using poetry and imagery to ferret out our basest selves — helping me with Jonah, one of my characters | Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs in helping me shape the exterior and interior selves and write rage on the page. Read her great interview here on how she manages this balancing act. | Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem on how to make the small extraordinary and the meaning of white space and repetition | Peter Buchanan-Smith’s singular vision for keeping focus | Radiohead’s Pyramid Song, on repeat. I tend to write to music. Silence freaks me out and too much noise freaks me out, and a song allows me to go under, get deep. And I love this haunting song because it’s the antithesis of what I’m working on. Or so I think. Or, perhaps, it simply allows me to slip deeper into the dark, allows my mind to go places where I’m frightened for it to go to create the characters and words I need to create. | The Shining. I’ve been watching this film since I was five, but the use of mirrors and inversions and repetitions and time manipulation is allowing me to see this movie in a way I hadn’t been, and now it’s even more frightening. My story doesn’t seem time as something that is chronological, rather, it’s a nuisance that must be tended to like a garden. | Photos of the actor, Kyle Gallner, as I think of Jonah as him. It helps to get a picture in your head of the character and he is Jonah. | Interview’s Winona Ryder interview for some reason made me think about her hair, and hair is an odd component to my stories. {don’t ask} | and on it goes…

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