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Author Archive: "Michelle Wildgen"

The First Glimmer

Word of Gourmet folding is last week's news, I know, but I came home today from a reading in Chicago to find my new issue here and it just reminded me of the whole depressing thing. If S.I. Newhouse had asked me, I would have told him to lose Bon Appétit and keep Gourmet , but I must admit to a little nostalgia for Bon Appétit. One of the first times I became interested in cooking and food was thanks to an old pile of Bon Appétit issues at a friend's house. One of them contained a recipe for pasta with shitakes, saffron, butter, scallion, and crab. It sounds very '80s now, but then again it was the '80s. I was about fifteen at this point. I remember the photo of it, which caught my eye — the ivory and mahogany mushroom slices, the bright green rings of scallion, the golden tangle of noodles and soft white shreds of crab — but mostly what grabbed me was that I did not have the slightest idea how it would taste. I didn't know how to cook, but I decided ...


A Few Initial and Not-Comprehensive Meditations on Group Novels

I am a sucker for a book about a group. What reminded me of this was Joanna Smith Rakoff's A Fortunate Age, her homage to Mary McCarthy's endlessly re-readable...


Me and Norma

Does anyone remember Norma Klein? I go around asking people this pretty often and no one ever seems to. I think her best-known book for kids was Mom, the Wolf Man, and Me, but I was usually less into her books for younger readers and more into her YA. I was deeply into her YA novels.

I just did a little searching and was delighted to see that Lizzie Skurnick over at Jezebel's Fine Lines column — a column I live and die for — also appreciates some NK, but she is largely a lost writer these days. Yet in the '70s, Norma Klein was well known. Mostly for her YA books, but she also wrote for adults, though I have to say I don't think her sensibility translated very well. She was not unlike Judy Blume writing for older kids, about kids with less conventional families and with fewer of Blume's maddening ellipses in the dialogue. The thing about Norma Klein for me was that her world was so distant ...


On Disturbing Books

At the book festival the other day, a panelist told a story about someone (I can't recall who but I think he later became a comics artist) who as a child got a hold of some underground comic, maybe an old R. Crumb or something similarly subversive and sexual, and he was so disturbed by the comic that he couldn't think of anything to do but bury it .

Everyone had a good laugh about it, because everyone knows that feeling of being drawn to a book, to a picture, of being desperate to know just what the hell is going on in it, and then feeling so strange and repulsed and implicated by your involvement in it that you just need to disavow it — bury it, hide it, cover it. I think that as kids, we have these kinds of involvements more with sexual content than violent content, unless it's violent sexual content, but I'm guessing.

Anyway, midway through my own laughter at this story, I shut up and remembered something. My freshman year in high school, word went out that a girl named Tisha had ...


On Poultry and Book Festivals

Woo hoo, back on the Powell's blog! Last time I did this, I was still in New York, in Yonkers for the cheap rent and cheap shots it so easily afforded me. Since then I've moved back to Madison, Wisconsin. Part of the reason I'm fond of this city, aside from the farmers markets and the sheer ease and beauty of being here, is that Madison likes a festival: early each spring the Wisconsin Film Festival gets us out of the house just at the moment when we can all actually see our sanity, shrunk into something like a tiny mouse curled into a ball, bouncing heedlessly off a cliff. And in the fall, we get the book festival, just as we are trying to distract ourselves from the oncoming winter — this year, this distraction has focused on a lot of predictions of dicey provenance that this winter will be mild. Something to do with a farmer's almanac, which to my knowledge no one has ever actually read but each fall we all insist that someone has read and is telling us we will be just ...


Stupid Movie Night

It's Friday morning in August a few days after massive flooding crippled the subways, and the shame of New York's transportation system is on display at the NY Times for all to see (compared to other cities' in-car screens and email downloads, the MTA provides its station masters with boards and lots of dry erase markers. I'm not kidding). But that's not what I'm thinking about this morning.

I'm thinking about Road House.

We all have to turn away from the deeply depressing world for a little while. Sometimes it's an hour with the befuddled but fierce contestants of America's Next Top Model, on whom the demands of dignity and grammar sit so lightly. But after a few rounds of bad TV, there comes a time when you have to jump head first into the breech. Which I'm pretty sure is how I came to watching a double-billing of Zardoz and Patrick Swayze's 1989 honky-tonk splatterfest last week.

First, a note on Zardoz. I hadn't heard of this 1974 sci-fi epic until my friends in the band the iOs played the trailer for me: Maybe it's unsporting ...


The Thursday Pleasure Blog on Food and Sex

Greetings, citizens! Now that we're closing in on sweet sweet Friday, I think a little pleasure is in order, so let's talk books with food and sex. With these particular tools, writers and readers have such strong inclinations in one direction or another — sometimes I suggest a writer try a sex scene for a certain story and they either light up or instinctively shake their heads. Once I exchanged novel drafts with a colleague and we returned to each other a week later, me saying, "I think it's overusing landscape a little," and him saying, "I think it's overusing food a little." In the end, he kept his landscape, and I kept my food.

For those of you who write, I suggest challenging whatever your inclination may be — if you always cut to the bedroom scene, stay in the living room. If you have a character remaining a little opaque to you, toss them in bed with someone. It may not make the final story, but you may find it extraordinarily helpful to know them in this way. Plus, a good sex scene that doesn't fall back on cliché is not an easy ...


The Mystery Tour

You're Not YouI know it's tedious to talk about the weather, but if there is a more disgusting soup to swim through than August 100-percent humidity in the New York area, I have not encountered it.

So yesterday I was talking about how mystery novels have ever so slightly taken over my personal reading life. I know I am not the only literary writer who reads mysteries, but I will note that every time I admit it among other writers, a faint glaze of pity and stillness overtakes their faces. Well, I don't care. Plenty of would-be literary writers could learn from the plot and drive of a mystery, or detective novel, or thriller (all different genres and all laid out in Carolyn Wheat's very useful How to Write Killer Fiction). Susanna Moore and Jane Smiley even wrote their own mystery novels (In the Cut and Duplicate Keys, respectively), and you know they did it well because when the killer was revealed in each I felt a genuine chill up my spine.

I have a number of

...


Mutterings from the Other Side of the Desk

I mentioned in my last post that I've worked as an editor for the past several years, currently as a senior editor at Tin House literary magazine and an editor at Tin House Books. There was a time when I thought the people on that side of the desk — those who read my work, who generally said no but sometimes said yes — were probably a certain order of tweedy, well-read gods: decisive, opinionated, absolute in their rightness, their chic offices awash with coffee and bon mots. I pictured them forever harried but deeply satisfied with their duty to squash me and others like me.

The coffee part, it must be said, is absolutely true.

But the rest came in for some revision. For one thing, I don't think I ever appreciated how subjective the response to the work can be. Above a certain level, that is — below that, when we're talking about writing that is not remotely publishable, writing that makes you want to cry or stab at your own jugular just a little with the point of your pen, that's the easy part. You say no thank you, disinfect your ...


The Maiden Blog

I don't want to overexcite anyone, but you're here at the dawn of a new era — my very first blog. I know. Contain yourselves.

I'm forever behind the trends, which is part of why I've never set up a blog of my own. My sophomore year in college, a class was supposed to include reading postings from Chiapas on the World Wide Web (we were still calling it that) and I was so intimidated by this that I debated dropping the class. I also recently heard myself say, as if from a great distance, "I don't get the point of Facebook. I can just call someone." In actuality I was not wearing a little tweed hat with a feather and leaning on a gnarled cane, but I was in spirit.

So anyway, here I've leapt into waters unknown to me but charted by millions of thirteen year olds before me, and I'm feeling rather proud. I'll do my best not to let it degenerate into one of those personal yet not at all juicy diaries ("I saw Bob the other day. He looked great. I also ate some eggs") or lists of products I'd like to ...


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