LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Yearly Archives: 2016
I’ve been working on this novel for three+ years, and during that time, whenever anyone would ask me what it was about, my answer was always, “An art heist in Paris. It’s a backwards whodunit.” I’d go on to explain that the book opens with a character stealing a painting, and his storyline works backwards through the novel, going through each painting he stole and why, while another, parallel storyline, about his former colleague and the gallery assistant at his friend’s wife’s gallery (still with me?), takes place present day and moved forwards. Usually there are hand motions involved; I’d literally point my hands in opposite directions to drive home the plot. But it always bothered me that my novel isn’t actually a whodunit, even it if unfurls backwards; we know whodunit the moment the book opens (spoiler: Dubois!). If anything, it’s a whydunit, but that’s not really right either.
So a few weeks ago, I chanced a google of “backwards whodunit” and lo and behold, there’s actually a literary term for precisely this genre of book: “howcatchem.” And as the name suggests, rather than a mystery around who, howcatchems focus on the how. (If only I’d known sooner! I could’ve saved myself all of the gesturing!) Howcatchems are also known as “Inverted Detective Stories,” and usually start with a murder, and are followed by an investigation playing out to piece together the crime. Other crimes (say, for example, stealing 14 paintings from the Paris Sotheby’s over two years) fall into the subgenre of “Capers.” According to Wikipedia:
The caper story is a subgenre of crime fiction. The typical caper story involves one or more crimes (especially thefts, swindles, or occasionally kidnappings) perpetrated by the main characters in full view of the reader. The actions of police or detectives attempting to prevent or solve the crimes may also be chronicled, but are not the main focus of the story. The caper story is distinguished from the straight crime story by elements of humor, adventure, or unusual cleverness or audacity.”
Et voila. That’s my novel to the letter. (Swindles!)
The only problem, of course, is that I cannot bring myself to say with a straight face, “I am writing a caper!” I don’t have an old-timey tweed cap and I don’t use a typewriter. Nor do I particularly like the term ‘howcatchem’; perhaps because it’s not as frequently used as “whodunit,” it sounds less like an actual word and more like a try-hard portmanteau one must pronounce with a southern accent. Backwards whodunit it is.
PS. Want to hear something weird? I’ve already started outlining what my next novel will be, and it follows the same story structure. Apparently I have a thing for capers.
PPS. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t be working on or even thinking about my second novel until this one is finished. Fear not, that day is coming very, very soon. (eep!)
September 22, 2016 / life / dog /
On a rainy Saturday two years ago (two!!) Jamal and I said “I do” in front of 85 of our closest family and friends. It’s been a grand two years. We celebrated with an indulgent, over-the-top brunch on Sunday like we did last year (and hopefully like we will next year and the year after, if for no other reason than the insane chocolate fountain). This last year went by in a flash; the first year felt longer than the second, which may be attributed to the rut we were both stuck in last year (I changed careers about three different times, oy). Jamal is in Baltimore for the week, because of course he is. He hopped on a train right after we ate, but after two years of marriage and six years of being together, this doesn’t even faze me. Besides, I start my new role as an intern in the Fine Arts Department at an auction house today! In terms of distractions, I think that’s a good one. (More details to come, kiddos!)
Happy anniversary, Jamal! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Thank you for making marriage so much fun.
I took Fitz out for a walk after dinner on Tuesday night, and was stopped in my tracks the moment we closed the door behind us. The sky was a bright yellow, with giant tufts of thick clouds in shades of pale pink and orange. Fitz wasn’t as impressed, and kept sassing me whenever I paused to look up at the sky and marvel (apparently peeing was more important). We came back inside and I quickly grabbed my camera and ran back to the corner to snap a few photos. In those short 10 minutes, the colors had changed and brightened and become more saturated and, somehow, more beautiful. I haven’t seen a sky like this since Paris in early summer; I had lunch with my dad’s friend John last week and we both agreed the cloud formations and sunset colors, like virtually everything else, are far more gorgeous in Paris. Well, I think this was Philadelphia’s way of proving us wrong.
September 1, 2016 / art / photo /
I’ve used Clinique for more than half my life. For my 13th birthday, my mom handed me the Clinique 3-Step system and said, “Here, use this.” I didn’t need instructions on the how-to, I’d been watching her to use the set twice a day, every day, for my entire life (she still does, and she doesn’t look even close to her real age). Over the years, I’ve modified the routine to fit my finicky, hypersensitive, pale skin, tweaking the products as needed –my dermatologist recommended Cetaphil cleanser instead of Clinique’s Step 1 face soap, I’ve swapped in an oil-free lotion and added a night cream, and I use an spf20 moisturizer in the mornings, all from Clinique– but the one product that I’ve never wavered on was Step 2: Clarifying Toner. I’ve described it before as being nail polish remover for your pores. It’s a sharp, tingly liquid you soak a cotton ball with and swipe over your face after washing & drying, before using your lotion, and it cleans out pores and removes any traces of residue or leftover makeup or dead skin. I love it. I don’t, however, love the packaging. Purple and green? A little much.
Enter these amber glass apothecary bottles. At $9 for a set of two on Amazon, I figured I could inject a little bit of subdued, French-pharmacy style to my bathroom. And who wouldn’t like to look at one less label while you’re getting ready? They’re a substantial weight but not heavy, and they are easy to hold without feeling like I’ll drop them (I was worried about glass). The amber color protects against UV sun damage, so the liquid inside will stay stable longer. The mouth opening is larger than the Clinique bottle, meaning I get more product on my cotton round in one pass. And they’re pretty.
I realize it’s silly to complain about labels when I store my q-tips in a Diptyque candle jar, but whatever. There are a million empty glass bottles on Amazon in different sizes and colors (cobalt! frosted!) and with different tops. It’s making me want to transfer all of my products over to nicer packaging, even my lip balms.
August 26, 2016 / fashion / vanity /
The Île Saint-Louis, that quaint little jewel box of an island, still retains some of the ancient, original charm of old Paris before Haussmann bulldozed his way through: smaller, shorter stone buildings, narrow streets where there were once fields for grazing cattle (and, of course, Berthillon and Le Saint Régis). Whenever I picture living on this thin strip of land on the Seine, my mind immediately conjures up images of apartments with dark wood beams running across the length of the ceiling, burnt sienna tile floors, rough, cave-like walls leading along the passageways to the tiny courtyards. Entirely lovely, more authentic, even, but different than the classically Parisian Paris apartments, with their herringbone floors and decorative moldings, and large rooms.
So imagine my surprise when I found the listing for this apartment. “But, but, but! That’s simply too big to be an apartment on the Île Saint-Louis!” (The listing agent seems to agree, as they’ve listed the ceiling height as being 55ft. Pretty sure they meant 15?) And indeed, the wood-paneled bedroom, the black & white patterned floor, and the gorgeous stairwell are, to my mind, something out of a grand Haussmann building on the other side of the river, which makes them all the more spectacular here in this apartment. I know that there is no “perfect place” to write, but I have a feeling I would write like the wind at that desk with the view of the Seine out the window.
Do you think I’ll ever have ceilings high enough to warrant such extravagantly long curtains? Oh, but to dream!
Price Upon Request, bien sûr, but based on Sotheby’s search listings it’s somewhere around $3m.
August 23, 2016 / design /
I am so sorry for the continued, lengthy lapses between posts here. Whenever I think about the heyday of this blog (and blogging in general, it seems) a few years ago, I am awe-struck that I was able to somehow churn out 3-5 posts per week while working full-time. How? These days, I am writing like the wind, it just isn’t here. I’m making progress on my novel, every day, but I still feel guilty when I neglect this blog for weeks at a time. I do have things to share with you! I am still reading your blogs, too! I promise to be better at blogging. Maybe not as good as I used to be (seriously, where was I getting all that free time?!), but better. I miss you, kiddos.
I brewed the last of my Rouge Métis tea this morning. That tea I bring home with me from Paris that, with one sip, brings me right back to my terrace on Cité Veron, writing in the mornings. There was just enough in the tin for one last cup, and I stood there at the counter shaking the last of the dregs into a tea filter, trying not to read into the fact that I ran out of my comforting morning ritual on today, of all days.
The death of someone you love is a nightmare, and not just because coping with it or learning to live with it and live without them is scary. Proceeding with life after a death has all the hallmarks of a bad dream: the eerie nonsense where everything seems like real life but is off just slightly, strange lurches of time, impending fear, wanting to run but finding your legs can’t move.
It’s easier for me to write about losing him in the abstract. I cry less this way.
I’ve started and stopped this post countless times this week, barely making it through a single line before the tears would suffocate me and I’d have to retreat into a ball and let the grief run its course. It’s never done though, grief. After ten years, you’d think it would have relented, moved on, faded to a manageable degree, like an old bruise or the last vestiges of a summer tan at the end of September. Instead, my grief has become Grief, a capitalized, all-consuming thing that floats at the periphery of my vision, never letting me forget it’s there. Lurking, waiting until I see an old photo or hear a laugh that’s too similar or get too close to this day or his birthday or mine. Grief acts a lot like a migraine, leaving me feeling as exhausted and drained but with an ache in my chest instead of my head. What else can it want from me, I think, each time I’m swallowed whole by it.
I’ve gotten by okay, for the most part. I can function in society, I can get out of bed, I have a happy marriage, a solid relationships with others. But my dad’s death has seeped into my bones and shaped who I’ve become in last ten years in a way nothing else could or will. It’s also given me a stupidly optimistic outlook on life, in a way: whatever happens, nothing will ever be as bad as losing my dad.
I don’t want this to sound like I am unhappy all of the time. I’m not. But my day-to-day is tinged with an almost manic happiness, as if my brain is saying, “I’m so happy, look how happy I can be, I am fiiiiine.” I’ve always been an introvert, since I was a very small child, preferring my own company to that of anyone else’s, but it’s gotten more extreme in the last 10 years. There’s a line in my novel about one of the more seemingly resilient characters: “Even when he was down he was up.” I am literally the exact opposite. Even when I am up, I am down. Being alone now means I don’t have to be on for anyone. I don’t have to be up.
I am not blaming my dad for any of this. Thanks to a lot (a lot) of therapy, I’ve moved past the feelings of anger and abandonment and blame. If anything, still having this hulking amount of sadness a decade later is comforting. It’s directly proportionate to how much he meant to me, the kind of man he was, how ideal our relationship was. But that just means I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life. Because while it feels simultaneously like it’s only been a week and also twenty years since I last held his hand, saw him thumb his mustache while he was deep in thought, there is no way 10 years is long enough to have shaken this Grief from my system yet.
Today is my last day of work before I become a full-time, stay-at-home writer. I quit two weeks ago because I have been fighting internally for months, maybe even since the day I got back from Paris in 2014, between my urge to have an income and my need to just write. There’s a certain unmissable symbolism in today being my last day, and when my boss and I hammered out the specifics, it took me a moment to realize why August 5th sounded heavy. It never registers immediately.
I cannot wait to finish this novel. I will finish this novel this year if it kills me, and when I am done I will write “For CJG” on the dedication page. Because this one is for him.
I found another, full tin of tea in the back of the cabinet.
I love you, Daddy. I miss you every day.
August 5, 2016 / life / dog /
My “To Read” pile…
(It’s only gotten more out of hand, and every book I’ve read has been replaced by at least two more.)
I’ve never been interested in subscription boxes. Paying $10 or $15 or even $30 per month (or week!) for a few makeup samples, or prepared meals, or clothes, or even treats for Fitz, who has the fun habit of throwing things up on the regular, seemed like a waste of money. My friend Herbie turned me on to Graze snack boxes when we worked together, but I would end up eating all four snack packs the same day the box arrived, thus defeating the very purpose and name of the thing (I have never been one for portion control). My sister-in-law gifted us a week of Blue Apron dinners, which were surprisingly delicious, the pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step photo instructions appealing to someone with as little kitchen aptitude as I have. But after our free trial I wasn’t about to spend $60 on three dinners every week. I have such sensitive skin and such a carefully honed skincare routine that Birchbox always seemed like too much of a wildcard. But I get the overall appeal of subscription boxes; we live in an increasingly digital world, where it’s easy to have everything delivered, especially surprise boxes of goodies chosen by someone else. Who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail? As someone who does the majority of her shopping online, trust me, I should be a subscription box company’s target audience. But none of them ever made me think, “I have to have that.”
“Is there anything more satisfying than to keep abreast of the best new books of our time as they appear? In reading them, in enjoying them, in talking with others about them, we feel our day taking shape.”
And then I discovered, through a Facebook ad no less, Book of the Month. Originally founded in 1926, the once-upon-a-time mail order subscription service started by a copywriter and a publisher has been modernized and rebranded for the internet age, and includes monthly selections chosen by a panel of judges (other writers, a celebrity guest-judge). Five new choices are released the 1st of every month (today!) and you get a few days to make your selection before the (branded, of course) hardcover of your choice is mailed directly to your door. You can add an additional book for an extra fee, and the subscription length runs either one, three, or 12 months. If none of the titles in a particular month float your boat, you can skip that month.
Even though this is right up my alley, I wouldn’t necessarily have signed up for Book of the Month unless I’d found a coupon code (I literally buy nothing full-price). A three-month subscription is $14.99/mo, but if you use the code READ50 you can save 50%, making it about $7.50 per book. Not a bad deal! I chose my first book this morning; when you sign up you select a few genres that interest you, and BoTM makes a suggested selection for you each month based on those interests. You can always change to another title, and it shows you what percentage of other subscribers choose each title. In my case, the suggested selection, “Siracusa” by Delia Ephron, was spot-on.
I am in the middle of two other books, so hopefully I finish those before my Book of the Month arrives next week. What are you guys reading these days?
This post was not sponsored or paid for in any way. I found the coupon code through a Facebook ad and was not compensated for sharing it here. Book of the Month did not contact me nor ask me to write this post. (Though if they wanted to, I’d take some free books!) All opinions expressed are my own.
August 1, 2016 / read / watch /
You have to write every day. You can’t always write well, and sometimes you can’t write at all, but if you’re not there at your desk trying, then you won’t succeed. Before then, I had thought of writing as something akin to divine inspiration. I would wait for the muse. Turns out you have to be dressed and ready for the muse or she will never come.
Jay McInerney on meeting Raymond Carver, as told to The Paris Review
July 29, 2016 / read / watch /
File this under: Greatest Invention Ever, cross-filed under: Thanks, France! (I’m running out of room in that latter filing cabinet, quelle surprise).
Two French bibliophiles, Quentin Pleplé and Christophe Sibieude, were buying snacks at a vending machine in 2013 when one of them postured (because really, this is literally what I fantasize most French men walk around discussing): “Wouldn’t it be better if these dispensed short stories instead?” A year later the pair had developed a prototype machine that did just that, and by October of 2015 they had their first public installation at the Tourist Information office in Grenoble. They’re called Short Edition, and they call themselves the Distributeur d’histoires courtes — the distributor of short stories. Their website says, “Notre ambition est de voir fleurir des Distributeurs un peu partout pour promouvoir la lecture – et l’écriture – et pour faire connaître nos auteurs.” (“Our ambition is to see blooming Distributors everywhere to promote reading – and writing – and to publicize our authors.”) The machines are tall cylinders with just a few buttons, marked with numbers corresponding to the length of time each story takes to read. If you have only one minute while waiting in line at a teller, press “1”, and a short strip of paper spits out of the machine. If you have a longer lunch break later on in the day, press “5”, and a slightly longer story prints out for you. And the best part is, they’re free.
The stories are randomly selected by the machine when you press a button, but have to have first made the cut and been chosen by readers on their website, though, oddly, the majority of the stories printed by the machines are written by authors who wish to remain anonymous. These have actually been perfect for me to practice my reading comprehension en Français. The best of the stories are published in traditional, physical book form, or as audiobooks, or e-books, and now, in the machines.
Why a machine that distributes literature? A 2013 poll by Institut français d’opinion publique (Ifop), “found that seventeen per cent of [France’s] population had written a manuscript of one kind or another, most of them unpublished.” Short Edition has been a free publishing platform for writers since 2011, and estimates they have 10,000 authors and a readership of around 150,000. In an interview with The New Yorker, Sibieude said:
The written word isn’t dead…Smartphones have blurred the limits between our professional life and our distractions. The paper format provides a break from omnipresent screens. People may not have reacted so strongly to our vending machines six years ago, when smartphones hadn’t become essential to all parts of our lives yet.
Men after my own heart!
I caught a segment on Short Edition on CBS Sunday Morning this weekend my first thought was that this was just too good to be true. My second thought was to figure out how quickly I could get to Grenoble. (My third thought was, “How well can I translate my own novel in French?”)
But maybe I don’t need to go as far as Grenoble after all. Director Francis Ford Copolla recently installed one in his café, Zeotrope, in San Francisco. I’ve never been to the city by the bay, and this might make the perfect excuse! You can rent the machines from Short Edition for €500/mo., which seems like a worthy investment. (I’m looking at you, Starbucks!).
July 12, 2016 / read / watch /