Studies have shown smell is the most evocative sense for remembering, just like it’s the most evocative sense for sex. I knew this before they proved it, though, and maybe so did you if you think about it. The smell of a place, of a person, of a time: it doesn’t really “take you back” or “throw you” into anything, which would be the trite things to say. It doesn’t. What it does, in my experience, is it suddenly, sneakily, altogether implicates you – it accuses, interpellates, decries you with the realization that you were a previous version of yourself once. It’s a sense so sharp and bare it grazes guilt, teases embarrassment. Oh.
The one valuable part of the Northwestern Summer Writers Conference I went to last year was a class on creative writing structure. The instructor brought to us forms and techniques from screenwriting, well-known building blocks of stories like Three-Act Structure, and The Hero’s Journey, which underlie great tales from Homer’s Odyssey to Pulp Fiction. Learning these structures was like the day someone finally tells you how sex works: you’ve seen all the parts before, and you’ve seen the results, but oh, so that’s how it works.
Since then, I’ve read my way through Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler and the essays of literary critics from Mythological / Jungian schools and Reader-Response schools and if you want to write stories, you should too.
A few months ago, I re-read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and again I was fascinated by how the way the story is written sucks you in and keeps you reading. Ender’s Game is a great book but it’s not a Great Book, and I don’t mean that in the snooty or academic sense: Slaughterhouse Five and Fahrenheit 451 are Great Books, and they have time travel and aliens and robot dogs, in different degrees. Continue reading →
In the somewhat small medium-town of Hammond’s Down, Utah (small being a modifier, and medium town being the noun), there had always been a default pita place, by the name of Mr. Pita, where everybody went – for pitas. Hammond’s Down was one of those unremarkable college towns whose college was neither a massive land grant institution nor a highly-respected intellectual cloister but rather just one of those places people go when they have to go to college, and so far and wide attention was far away from Hammond’s Down, and its levels of quality for things like cuisines – while not awful – were never pushed forward by competition or rigorous opinions.
The family that ran Mr. Pita did so because their parents had, and the kids that ran Mr. Pita were mostly in high school: the college-goers flooded Mr. Pita when they got hungry at night, especially on weekends and Thirsty Thursdays, but disappeared entirely from town during Christmastime, Spring Break, and all of Summer. Everything was middling, and kind of perfunctorily default, but it was right there, so pita-eaters came.
Roland Moller, the small and earnest son of German immigrants, grew up in Hammond’s Down but Continue reading →