Sunday, October 08, 2006

Memoirs of a goose liver...

About 7 or 8 years ago I met Arthur Golden (bestselling author of 'Memoirs of a Geisha') for coffee. I was fortunate enough to have a contact through my dad who was the superintendent of the Brookline Public Schools at the time and Arthur had some kids in the school system. And he was gracious enough to meet with me to let me pick his brain about the writing life, etc. At the time, his book was already a major success.

After getting over my initial case of nervous shyness, I asked him the typical, green, upstart writer's questions about how he got his start, etc. His was a unique story in that he had been writing Geisha for about 7 years, getting rejections left and right, when he finally decided to go back and rewrite the WHOLE a woman's voice. Obviously, the result was well worth the effort. My favorite piece of advice came from this meeting.

He said:
"The manuscript will find its way."

I remember thinking that was such a beautiful, zen sentiment. As though somehow the manuscript had all of the power...not fate or timing, or fickle marketing ploys or trends, not networking or schmoozing...but the WORDS themselves would somehow lead the writer on the journey and not vice versa. You see, Arthur was an exception to the "It's who you know, not what you know" school of thought. He was SO well connected (his family practically owned the New York Times) that he believes it actually worked against him in many ways. He recounted one friend hinting that the publishing realm was filled with an elite snobbery that desperately shied away from any whiffs of nepotism at all costs.

When I met with him I was freshly stinging from the rejection of not getting into Boston University's Creative Writing Masters program which generally has 200+ applicants for 12 spots. Arthur himself had attended the program and been discouragingly told that he would "never be a writer". While I know it's important to create a community of fellow writers, I personally feel that on the whole it should be more nurturing than torturing. That said---honest, constructive feedback can help shape something mediocre into something special. We writers as a group can easily vacillate between self-loathing and pumped-up hubris. So, after hearing that Arthur had been decimated in that way I considered myself lucky not to have spent tens of thousands of dollars to be told I sucked and to give up the dream by some pretentious professor whose cynicism outweighed his ability to spot true talent.

But Arthur Golden was nothing like that. He was kind and approachable and very down to earth. At one point int he conversation, he randomly asked me if I'd ever eaten goose livers? I replied that I had not, trying diligently not to arrange my features into a 'Yuck, are you kidding me?" face...He then went on to say that pan-fried with a little garlic and olive oil they were a delicious treat. I told him I would give it a whirl sometime. All the while he was giving me the goose liver recipe I remember thinking...

"Here I am sitting with one of the world's most successful authors discussing goose freakin' bizarre is this?!"

So I promised to sample the Golden goose livers sometime and thanked him for his time and his words of encouragement to keep on writing and never give up, no matter what.

Unfortunately...even though I am adventurous and will try almost anything once...I still haven't quite gotten up the nerve to try his recipe out yet.

Perhaps the magic of the goose livers will dramatically improve my writing. Maybe these gourmet bird organs hold the true secrets I was trying to pry out of him....After all, when you take the biggest risks you get the biggest payoffs, right? It was a big risk for him to scrap 7 years of work and spend the next three rewriting and resubmitting his work to whomever might read it. It was a huge risk for him to write in a Japanese woman's voice...but it worked.

And at this point---I will try almost anything.

Goose livers? Who knew?


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