Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Kitchen Caper

Today I was fifteen minutes late to the author event. But that's not to say that I didn't have fun.

It was taking place at the Harold Washington Library.

80 degrees today. Hot as hell.

Good thing the place was cool.

I got in, went to the lower floor, and entered a dark auditorium where everyone was seated (I'd say 40 people or so) and took a seat all the way in the back. I like sitting in the back. It gives me a wide perspective.

Monica Ali talked about how she felt that a kitchen was the perfect setting for her latest novel. "It's just a high tense environment but it also has potential for comedic occurrences."

From the flap:

Gabriel Lightfoot is an enterprising man from a northern England mill town, making good in London. As executive chef at the once-splendid Imperial Hotel, he is trying to run a tight kitchen. But his integrity, to say nothing of his sanity, is under constant challenge from the competing demands of an exuberant multinational staff, a gimlet-eyed hotel management, and business partners with whom he is secretly planning a move to a restaurant of his own. Despite the pressures, all his hard work looks set to pay off.

Until a worker is found dead in the kitchen's basement. It is a small death, a lonely death - but it is enough to disturb the tenuous balance of Gabe's life.

Elsewhere, Gabriel faces other complications. His father is dying of cancer, his girlfriend wants more from their relationship, and the restaurant manager appears to be running an illegal business under Gabe's nose. Enter Lena, an eerily attractive young woman with mysterious ties to the dead man. Under her spell, Gabe makes a decision, the consequences of which strip him naked and change the course of the life he knows - and the future he thought he wanted.

Readers and reviewers have been stunned by the breadth of humanity in Monica Ali's fiction. She is compared to Dickens and called one of three British novelists who are "the voice of a generation" by Time magazine. In the Kitchen is utterly contemporary yet has all the drama and heartbreak of a great nineteenth-century novel. Ali is sheer pleasure to read, a truly magnificent writer.

Monica Ali is the daughter of English and Bangladeshi parents. She attended oxford university. In the Kitchen is her third book. It's hard not to be amazed at her writing endeavors as she has said herself, "It was all a spot of luck. I was rather lucky."

One day, while raising two kids, she decided to write a novel which was only five chapters at the time. She showed it to her friend who happened to be doing an internship in a publishing house. Her friend passed it to someone and Voila! Instant book deal and contract before the novel was even finished! That book is called Brick Lane, a cultural diverse tapestry involving a character named Nazneen, who knows little English and whose wedding is prearranged. It asks the question, can we control our lives?

For an auditorium filled with people hanging on monica's every word, they were, as the interviewer said, an extremely shy bunch. Only two people got up to the microphone to ask questions.

I was the second.

"Do you get writer's block?" I asked.

"Sometimes, if what you're talking about is characters getting stuck. But I always feel I have something to say. There are nights, however, where I've stared at the screen for 9 hours and have only written ten words but it doesn't happen much. For a writer, you can't force preparation. It is either the time to write or it isn't."

She says that she loves writing dialogue and that, when her family is asleep, that is when she gets the most work done. She attributes her characters to actors and says she knows exactly how they are pictured and how they talk inside her head.

She is also well into writing her next book, all while she's doing this book tour.

Afterwards, I stepped up to have my book signed. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated. I think it was her accent.

"Are you a writer?" She asks as I come up to the table.

I can't help smiling a little. "Yeah. How'd you know?"

"Your question. You can always tell when there's a fellow writer in the room."

Well, I'll be damned.

I told her that I was at work on my third book but that it is also tough, that I get Writer's block more than I would like to.

She simply said, "Keep at it. Just keep at it."

Glad to say that I will.

"Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters." ~ Neil Gaiman


AmberInGlass said...

I get writers block more often than I'd like to admit also. I don't know why it is so hard sometimes. I'm really glad I found this whole blogging community. I was feeling pretty alone in the world before I did. It's nice to see that there are hundreds of us out there struggling. Thanks for taking the time to put up posts like this. It really helps.

Rob said...

I know.

One of the things they talked about was how some people have writer's block for years and sometimes even decades. Now that is scary. But I have found a solution that works eighty percent of the time: daydreaming. If you just sit, or are out walking, and you daydream, let your mind wander, ask yourself questions; it will take your stories in new directions.

Also, happy to know that in this day and age writers are not the recluses they used to be. Now each one is willing to give the other a helping hand. God bless the internet.