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Original Essays

Why I Write about Models

by Matthue Roth
  1. Candy in Action: A Novel
    $1.75 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    Candy Resnick is just the girl next door — if the girl next door happens to be a college freshman and part-time model with a wicked sense of humor. But when she finds herself pursued by a relentless stalker, Candy fights back with the only weapons at her disposal: her natural wit and her stiletto heels! Candy in Action is a hilarious novel with a serious message about the lonely side of being popular and the importance of standing your ground.
  2. Never Mind the Goldbergs "Roth provides readers with an irreverent, insider look into two cultures and a portrait of a character trying to define herself in these very different environments." School Library Journal
It started as a dare.

The girl I went out with was friendly, funny, flirty — and all of this was confusing to me. I was a punk-rock kid on my better days, elegantly styled in unkempt hair and an artfully ripped t-shirt held together by a bare minimum of strands that kept it (barely) from coming loose from my shoulders, revealing something both embarrassing and dangerous, like my belly — but, more often, I was just a geek. She was popular, beautiful, successful — traditionally pretty, I mean, but actually beautiful, too. Except for the one random friend we had in common, there was no reason we should rightfully be talking to each other.

Except, of course, that we were.

What was weird was that we got along. Even weirder, we had similar things to say. Not about everything, but about a lot of things, including comic books (Madman, Hellboy, and all the X-Men spinoffs — the more melodramatic, the better), television (Veronica Mars), and food (vegan, lots of courses, served together and eaten separately). We weren't in lurve — we were barely in like — but we were intrigued by each other. We were interested.

And before we had the chance to question it ourselves — no, really, us? — she was sexually assaulted.

÷ ÷ ÷

At the time, I was a touring poet. I was spending a lot of my days alone. Writing, rehearsing, traveling. It's a dark place after you've been assaulted, violated, hospitalized. The position of her friends and me was, to be sure, less traumatic and victimized and singularly evil. But it was still impossible to shake the feeling that we were somehow involved. That I, by liking the same person that a rapist liked, was somehow exacerbating the problem. You start to torture yourself. You couldn't have done anything to prevent it (but maybe you could've). You can't say anything to make it feel better (but maybe, maybe, if you said the right word). It's a logical impossibility — but, now more than ever, you want to believe in the impossible.

I started fantasizing. She was so witty and resourceful and unexpectedly smart — smart in the ways I never expected her to be. She was cultured and polite and ladylike in the ways expected of her by society, but she was a total brain, too. She knew Italian and jazz violin. Why didn't she have something else in her secret arsenal to foil her attacker? Why didn't she know kung-fu?

That's how Candy in Action started. It was a fantasy, pure and simple. If it was an episode of Star Trek, it would've been one of those parallel universe ones where the world mirrors our own, except for one thing — in this case, that every person on every street corner knows several different forms of martial art.

I actually have a sort of background in karate. Let me assure you: it's not a far stretch to assume a working-class white kid in a multiracial neighborhood in the '80s knows a thing or two about aikido or jujitsu. What's more, my partner in yeshiva, Haggai, was only interested in two things in the universe — Iaido, the ancient art of Japanese swordsmanship, and the Babylonian Talmud. We'd spend three hours learning a few lines of Talmud, then we'd sneak away and watch a Bruce Lee movie. Throughout it, Haggai would be pointing out each dropkick or strangle hold, telling me just which master of school Bruce Lee had appropriated it from.

Writing about it, though, was a whole different discipline, a world removed from anything I'd written before. When you're writing adventure or science fiction or teen angst, it's no big problem to only give out certain details or skip over unnecessary scenes. A character's stuck? Just throw in something fun to distract them, or drop them in a new love triangle or alien abduction.

On the other hand, writing a fight scene, every motion and every limb of each person involved is important. If Candy jumps from a second-story window and lands with a hand on each of two hired goons' shoulders, she can't do a drop-kick without some serious repositioning. And on a macro level, when you're juggling every plot thread — evil masterminds, international conspiracies, the dark-horse boyfriend — you can't just pull the I'll-worry-about-it-later card. Everything is dependent on everything else. As a reader, you won't notice 90 percent of the finer points — at least we, the authors of the world, hope you don't; you're supposed to just enjoy the ride — but, as a writer, it's enough to drive oneself to obsessiveness. As though being an author wasn't obsessive enough on its own.

Weeks passed. The friend(? girl? person?)'s condition improved, and eventually she was removed from medical care. Things were still strange, but we expected that.

Meanwhile, the Candy in my head took on proportions of her own, became an entirely separate person. I'd never compared the two in my head before — they were both models, both smartasses, and both had crazy stalkers — but that was the end to the similarities. I had even changed the details of the assault to a less descriptive "attack" — my first book, Never Mind the Goldbergs, had been published by Scholastic, so I had some idea of how to write for more general audiences. Plus, somewhat egotistically, I wanted Candy to be read by everyone. Even in places where the idea of a book about rape isn't exactly embraced, they could see my novel for what it was — a book about a girl who gets threatened and then, literally and metaphorically, kicks ass.

÷ ÷ ÷

It ended up not working between us — isn't that what's supposed to happen? We create these images of the people we'd like to know better, build them up in our minds to be both better and worse than the real thing. Every gesture is meaningful, every moment loaded with the emo cranked up to 11. Every break-up comes with explosions. And real life never turns out that way.

But me and Candy, we're doing fine. I can remember every page of our shared history in hindsight, and I don't regret a thing. Sometimes I like to open to the San Francisco chapter and remember the subterfuge we had together in the fortune-cookie factory, or that chase scene in the Old City in Prague. I know it may seem odd to share with other people our intimate secrets of a rambunctious action-adventure novel — but there you go. It happened. I can't take it back.

÷ ÷ ÷

Matthue Roth is a novelist, performance poet, and student of the medieval commentators on the Babylonian Talmud, and he has been a baker, a barista, a translator, and a kosher inspector. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. spacer

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