Up front guilty admission: I have a blog on my website
that I never blog on.
That being said, I am seriously bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about being this week's guest blogger for Powell's. It's a new day. And short of a natural disaster, so horrifically rife these days, and oft on the minds of we inhabitants of seismically active Portland, I will be regaling whomsoever cares to be regaled for the next five days. With pictures, too.
A few weeks ago, the paperback edition of my memoir, Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir, came out. (New and improved! Also with pictures!). For the vast majority of the world that has not read it, it's a somewhat irreverent account of my inbred, overfunded, and perpetually thirsty family. And, in a virtual repeat of last year's thrill at the publication of the hardcover, I'm an unlovely mottled blue from pinching myself.
The basis of my continuing disbelief stems from the fact that I was not trained as a writer, rather as a painter, and a chef. In fact, Dead End Gene Pool started its life as a cookbook.
In 1994 I moved from Greenwich Village to Portland, Oregon. Reason: a man, of course. I set up my painting studio in the North Coast Seed building down by the railroad tracks along the Willamette River and had every intention of becoming the next John James Audubon. However, I hadn't factored in potential environmental constraints on my well-being and productivity... like the shitty weather or the ex-wife from Hell, and my creativity curdled like cream strafed with lemon juice.
I was beyond miserable. And homesick.
Right up with all the things I missed about New York was the limitless food scene, Portland at the time not being quite up to the hyper speed it is today. I also mourned the restaurant I had given up — the chaos and urgency, and the unique satiation you get from feeding people you don't have to dine with. To combat my self-pity, I decided to write a cookbook based on my bistro and launched into researching and calibrating the recipes I had used, many of which had been culled from the abundant files left over from French chefs employed by my family for generations.
Research begets research. Which leads to many forks in the road, and, in my case, much anecdotal revision. Which was sadly abetted by the dropping like flies of my family Back East. Within the first two years of my transplantation to Portland, it was like a plague had set in. The scion of the family, my cousin, died abruptly first. Then, it was my grandmother — and the end of an era. Then it was my mother.
On the adopted home front, funerals became equally frequent. My husband's father succumbed, rather magnificently, to heart disease; but then, in turn, so did my husband's two closest friends — for sadder, darker reasons.
Over the two year course of these tragedies, my "cookbook" continued to build upon its mounting narrative trajectory, the title changing from Butter, Cream, Red Meat and Alcohol, to Dead End Gene Pool, the food diminishing in importance and my wacko family's history and eccentricities and misdoings taking precedence.
Then my husband and his three sons died in a plane crash on the Columbia River. Enough said. I didn't write anything for a couple of years. When I picked up the verbal threads again, I started laying down a full-blown memoir.
Dead End Gene Pool took 10 years to write. The book ended up being an expansion of the first third of my original manuscript, and, honestly, the reason it took me a decade to do it is, aside from having to live through all the real time stuff that was happening, and process it, and exhaustively and exhaustingly research all that earlier Vanderbilt and Twombly and Burden family history, well, as idiotic as it sounds, I had to teach myself how to write.
William Zinsser is GOD, and On Writing Well is the Bible.