Grilled cheese. This is how I impress people and make friends. It’s also, apparently, the centerpiece of the most boring scene ever written.
A couple years ago, a family friend mentioned that she lived next door to this big-shot book agent. He specialized in fantasy and sci fi. He had four other houses. The books he represented got turned into movies starring Tom Cruise.
(I’d be OK with this being a character from a book I wrote. source)
“You’re writing a book– right, Kate?” the family friend asked.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” I said. Or something to that effect.
She put me in touch with him. He offered to read my manuscript. I died of fear and joy and then fear again. And then joy. This is it, I thought. This is my big break. Kate, girl, this is the best thing that will ever happen to you.
I was not exactly putting all of my eggs in one basket. I had just started grad school. Just moved to NYC. And it was more about offering up my entire soul than anything to do with eggs, I think.
I sent him the book I’d worked on in college. It was the story of a dangerously powerful young woman named Sanla who is attending an all-girls boarding school at the edge of an enormous jungle, when suddenly she is selected by the Master Mage– the most powerful man in the world– a mysteriously blind, surprisingly young man with long curly black hair, to become his apprentice. But Sanla has the wrong kind of magic. She is a dark mage. And dark magic has long ago been outlawed. It is the magic of dirt and instinct and poverty. The ruling class practices a magic based on memorization, and words, and levels. Could it be that the Master Mage is experimenting with the dark? Could it be that the world is about to change, because of one little orphan girl?
The agent read my manuscript and he wrote back. He wrote three long paragraphs. Let me summarize:
“You’re a good writer, but this book is so friggin’ boring I can’t even believe it. NOTHING HAPPENS. They talk a lot. They eat a lot. And the food sounds good. But there’s no action. Maybe if you wrote a different book, it’d be better.”
(what my book was. source)
(what it should’ve been. source)
“No problem!” I wrote back, swallowing my pride. In one week, I wrote about 80 pages. It was a new book. This one was about a girl named Raphaela with unusual abilities who is starting college at a university that looks a lot like Columbia. She has been admitted to a special program called LINK, for a mysterious group of students who all have certain strange talents. The program is run by a maverick young professor who is blind and handsome. It seems that the co-chairs of the philosophy department are stealing people’s free will, and only LINK can stop them…Raphaela is about to learn who she really is…But first…grilled cheese!
(I wanted to show what she ate– which was a lot of Oreos and some very creative grilled cheeses.)
The famous agent read my 80 new pages. Which was really very nice of him, in retrospect. He wrote back. This email was even longer, which I knew immediately was terrible news.
In summary: “This has no shape. It didn’t go anywhere. It’s boring. Like, so boring I almost fell asleep. No one would ever find it interesting. And what’s with all the food? But you’re good with words. In ten years, I expect to see you published as an author. But for now, write short pieces and make a name for yourself. You’re not ready.”
In slow motion, I fell back onto my bed. It was not a real-sized bed, because I was living in the tiniest apartment ever. It was also broken. You had to know where to fall, or the whole thing might collapse. Go ahead, collapse, I thought. I cried for what felt like hours, possibly years. I couldn’t write books. All I’d ever wanted to do was write books. I was bad at the thing I loved most. I was despicable. Also, I wanted to kill the agent. A lot. How could I kill him? How could I know which one of his five houses he would be in? It was going to take a lot of planning.
This guy who liked me was coming over just then. I’d forgotten about him. He knocked and I let him in and then went back to bed.
“Whoa, whoa…” he said. “What happened here?” He was holding his guitar. We were supposed to jam.
“Um,” I said. “My life is over. I can’t hang out.”
To his credit, he proceeded to recite the entire text of “The Lorax” from memory, in an effort to calm me down. It did help a little.
And then life, inevitably, went on. I was bitter and I threw myself into my thesis research. I grinned an empty, cynical grin when people mentioned books. I swore a lot. Wore all black. Chain smoked. Packed a lot of heat, in case I ran into the agent. Kidding. But I really wouldn’t go into book stores for the longest time.
(sometimes I really want to be her when I grow up. source)
And then, a little over a year later, I started blogging, which was the first creative writing I’d done since the rejection. God, I love to write, I thought. Why the hell did I stop?
And then, recently, I read those 80 pages aloud to Bear. The ones about the girl named Raphaela and the college that looked like Columbia. They were good! The writing was funny and clever and sweet. I liked Raphaela. I could totally identify. I think she was even homeschooled, like me. Funny.
We got to the scene where she’s making a grilled cheese for like three pages.
Bear said, “I’m not trying to be mean, I really like this book, but this is a really boring scene.”
“But it’s so delicious!” I said.
“Yeah, but you’re listing like every single ingredient.”
“But they’re all important!”
“Yeah, but we don’t need to know everything that’s in her refrigerator.”
“But it says so much about her, as a character!”
OK, it was boring. It was super boring. It was a scene about making a grilled cheese.
But you know what? It sounded like an amazing grilled cheese. And I am proud of that. Maybe I don’t know how to write an action-packed scene, but I know how to make a grilled cheese.
Here’s my current favorite:
Sourdough bread, sliced thick, slather with butter. Cook in pan over low/med heat, with fresh mozzarella slices, sprinkled goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, and bacon. After it’s crispy on both sides and the cheese is gooey, remove and pry open. Put a sauce made from mayo, stone-ground mustard, and Frank’s hot sauce on one side, and scoops of avocado and arugula on top of the tomatoes. Close the bread, slice the sandwich in half– serve. You will be loved forever. Maybe not as an author, but as an impressive grilled cheeser.
In fact, maybe I’ll make one right now.
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Unroast: Today I love the way I look in stripes. Check it out!
(I’m having a taking pictures of myself kind of week. What am I, fourteen? Nope. Just love to look at myself. )
P.S. Check out the awesome thing that is happening with a blue coat. This is all ETDC reader Melanie. She is awesome.