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Diary
By Kellnerin (Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 09:17:31 AM EST) (all tags)
Historically speaking, I've never written in any detail about food. Or about sex. So I'm as shocked as anyone by how my WFC4 story turned out.

Mont Blanc postmortem within.



SO, WFC4: SEX. As johnny said in a comment attached to his excellent piece on the subject, which wasn't submitted to the WFC, "[writing] about sex [is] too hard to do well, and the pitfalls of doing it poorly are so many and deep. And obvious." With which I heartily agree.

Now, to be fair our host 2 plus 3 equals 5 anticipated this. In the official challenge post it says, "What am I looking for? Stories about the aftermath of sex, the meaning of sex, what the desire for sex makes us do. About how to talk about sex, or not. About not having sex." So I have to thank the champion of WFC3 for framing the challenge this way. I felt that last time I ended up reaching too much for the theme, rather than telling the story, so this time I hoped to just touch on some of these ideas, kind of go at them sideways, and see how it turned out.

I also had another agenda, which was: I had noticed that plain text files were losing ground to HTML (and increasingly fancier HTML at that) over the course of the WFCs. I'm as much a part of this trend as anyone, going from text to relatively plain HTML to largely unnecessary CSS (that in the end failed to disguise the weaknesses of the story). So I wanted to tell a story that worked with a minimum of formatting, primarily to show my support for .txt, and also because I often seem to work better the more pressure is applied, however (or perhaps especially) arbitrary it may be.

When you look at all the above criteria, it seems obvious in retrospect that this would lead to chestnut pr0n.

Well, OK, let me back up a bit.

As I also said elsewhere, I think that there is a natural, if not totally unoriginal, connection between food and sex. I stole the premise of "Mont Blanc" from the book I was reading when the WFC opened. Julie and Julia is a memoir by Julie Powell about her crazy (and successful) attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking during the course of one year. In that book, there is a tangential anecdote not directly related to the Project, containing this passage:

(Yes, it is a royal pain in the neck. But there is something intensely erotic in making elaborate, nearly impossible food for someone you'd like to have sex with.)

(In my experience.)

Elsewhere, she explains how at one time or another she had collected all manner of obscure kitchen gadgets, but that as a result of a series of New York City apartment moves, the only one of these she has kept is a potato ricer. As I was reading a description of her putting something-or-other through a ricer, I had a flash something like my narrator's in front of a display of chestnuts, only instead of "There is only one thing I know to do with chestnuts," it came into my head by way of "There is only one thing I know of that uses a potato ricer."

The recipe isn't nearly as involved as the one Julie Powell was referring to in the above quote, but have you ever shelled chestnuts? It is a royal pain in the neck. The version in the story is adapted from one I found on the 'net, though as far as I can recall it is similar to the one I'm familiar with (which, yes, is currently in my mother's recipe drawer. No, I do not make this dish every year.) Felicia is the name of a family friend (who died when I was very young and barely knew her), and McWilliams was Julia Child's maiden name, for all you foodies out there. I liked that the recipe bypasses the whole painful process of arriving at "1 lb. chestnuts, shelled and peeled" -- it really is (to steal a phrase from Julie quoting Julia) simplicity itself to make once you've got the first ingredient listed. Also, playing with a ricer (the cooking implement not the tricked-out car) is fun.

By contrast, even after I had the general idea and most of the elements, I found the writing of the story to be far from simplicity itself. I think I wrote and threw away almost as much as there remains in the posted version. (Fewer than 1250 words and some of you still guessed it was me? Damn ...) I started on a few tangents that were going nowhere good -- more stuff involving the narrator's brother (distraction), more of the general family ritual that first Christmas (we get it already, less is more), and this whole bit about how the dessert is named after the mountain, Mont Blanc, "the white mountain," which is also called Monte Bianco (there's a dispute between France and Italy about whose mountain it actually is), and how in fact there are Italian versions of the dish named after its Italian name, though a lot of them involve chocolate which just seems like a travesty to me (er ... the narrator) and aren't you glad I left that out?

I wrote the chestnut peeling bit about half a dozen times, ditto the section about the books and recipes. Actually, I think I took more than one shot at almost every part of it. It seems that one of the problems with my WFC entries is that my endings end up weakly connected/cheesy/tacked on/overdone and I did consider this time whether my ending was any or possibly even all of these things. However I wanted to hit that final note, to draw the line from the narrator's mother to her down through to the next generation. And maybe I was reaching just a tiny bit to get Aaron one last scene. I'll defend the inclusion of something like the ending, though by that point my editing reserves were running low and I think the execution leaves something to be desired. Which is a bad show on my part, considering how often I go on about how endings make or break a story.

By the time I submitted it I had spent so much time on the thing that I really couldn't evaluate it in any way. I was satisfied that it at least wasn't plumbing the greatest depths of suck (by the way, ever since johnny accused me of writing pr0n, everything I write seems a little dirty) but that was all. I'm gratified by all the comments and the votes.

In closing I'd like to suggest, if you have some time and patience, that you try making the dessert. The way I do it actually uses a ring mold, with the whipped cream (beaten by hand for extra masochism, and, uh ... damn you, johnny) in the center, so maybe it's more of a Volcano Blanc, but the principle's the same, and it tastes just as good. Don't smoosh all the little chestnut worms that come out of the ricer.

Also, I recommend Julie Powell's book. It grew out of the blog she wrote during the Project so it has a very witty, informal style, and it's about the power of doing something crazy and living to tell the tale; the importance of good friends and loved ones and even Internet strangers to keep you going; French food (of course); and, to be honest, not all that much sex (just so you don't accuse me of false advertising). It's a bit girly, but so am I sometimes.

< WFC4 postmortem, Grocery List edition | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
Unexpected Result | 23 comments (23 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Congrats! by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #1 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 09:59:11 AM EST
I must admit that it is frustrating to think that we'll have to wait until the end of November to see what theme you're gonna cook up (lame-o pun intended, and I'm suitably ashamed of it, but just couldn't stop myself).

not just me in the kitchen by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 03:25:00 PM EST
To carry out the metaphor, persimmon should be bringing the ingredients. I don't doubt that she's a better cook than I am, too.

But thanks; I can only hope that our collaboration is as successful as the famed CRwMtix operation that was WFC2.

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl

[ Parent ]
Well done! Brava! by johnny (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 12:38:42 PM EST
As you noted, I have earlier given my observations about the sensual & other imagery in this Mont Blanc story, which I quite enjoyed.  Perhaps I was a little unfair in saying your story was (among other good things) pr0n, but you know I meant that in the most complimentary way. 

It would have been perhaps more genteel to say that you have written "erotica," which some wag (me) once defined as "porn of which you yourself personally approve".  (Another way of defining erotica is "sexy stories with a little subtlety & which don't hit you over the head like some stupid Penthouse Letter or one of johnny's K the TA diaries.")

It's fun to learn that your story was inspired by "Jules and Julia".  I read good portions of that blog & loved it even though I'm not a gourmand or  gourmet.  And now you've reminded me of a book that I had meant to get for Dear Wife for Christmas last year and forgot. I'll get it for her this year! I say, that is capital!

Whether you meant to do so or not, much of Mont Blanc is in verse. It just scans well.  There's that aforementioned iambic pentameter, and when you look at lines like "desert belongs entirely to me and it is always creme caramel" from a scansion point of view, you just have to laugh. There's more than one way to hit the reader over the head is all I'm saying, but some ways are more clever than others.

In other words I think the story is a tease, and a tease done well is very sexy, especially if it's performed by a modest person (like your narrator) in a nonsexual setting.

When James Bond and $Bondgirl trade double-entendres, it's high camp. There isn't a dimwit in the world who doesn't catch their meaning, and the metajoke is that this alleged ultra-sophisticate, Mr. James Bond, is about as suave as your average eight-grade boy on the make.

But when your narrator says "The first time Aaron tasted my Mont Blanc was Christmas at my parent's house", the reader (or at least I) really cannot be sure whether, in addition to the obvious literal meaning, we're also supposed to be reading (slightly paraphrased to make clear what I'm trying to say): "The first time Aaron tasted (i.e. enjoyed) my blond (or virgin?)Mount of Venus, it was a joyous, almost magical experience, like when I was a child at my parents' house, running downstairs at six AM to find, by the light reflected off the snow in the yard outside, that Santa had indeed visited us while I was abed, and not only had be brought me everything I had asked for, but other marvels wonderful besides, marvels which I could not have contemplated before experiencing --and he had even left candy canes and icicles on the tree. . ."

And so too with all the other sensual allusions throughout the story. To me, anyway, the net effect is elusive and sensual and charming.  Had you been any more explicit you would have landed in James Bond territory, which is fine for James Bond movies, but hardly any other circumstance.

As you saw in my story, I tried to avoid the James Bond effect by being clinically explicit. That approach has its pluses and minuses also, but hey, you won the WFC, not me, so I think we'll scotch that avenue for here and now.

Now let's see what you guys propose for the next WFC.  And on that off-topic private subject of which we're talking: please do not despair.  Soon, really. Soon. I promise.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)

johnny, johnny by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 03:51:22 PM EST
You're going to have to cut this out. I blush, I blush. I did take "pr0n" in the best way, but only because it's you.

Julie's book is good; I have not read the blog (it's still around, though she hasn't posted on it in a while, so to go back to it now seems like looking for the Geist of a Zeit that has already passed). The book, I think, covers some of the same territory but also with some benefit of hindsight. As I said, it's interesting, and it's not really about food. Had you bought it in hardcover last year, you'd have had the one with the better subtitle: "365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen" -- but the book is the same in paperback. Get it this year.

To say that my story is full of trochees and dactyls, though, sounds to me like the bourgeois gentilhomme discovering that he's been speaking prose all his life. It was not intended, but most of the things I've done best (in writing) were unintentional. Maybe I'm finally getting this rhythm thing down.

Do you know, I did cut a sneaking-down-the-stairs-at-six-AM-on-Christmas-morning passage because, as you just demonstrated, it goes without saying, and I have nothing new to say about it.

In re: the other thing, I wait patiently, and we will get you to enter one of these WFCs one day ...

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl

[ Parent ]
Congratulations by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #3 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 01:51:38 PM EST
For whatever reason, I was willing to wear this particular sentimental ending.

Good luck picking a theme. Maybe you could make it about household appliances. Damn, I need to iron a shirt.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

yay! by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 03:53:15 PM EST
I passed the Scrymarch sentimentality test.

I am already too inclined to obsess about inanimate objects. Don't tempt me. See also my reply to CRwM.

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl

[ Parent ]
I feel I owe you an apology by persimmon (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 02:45:09 PM EST
For my own obtuseness. I pretty much panned your entry (and everything else) in my review of all entries, and that was because I didn't understand it.

Also because I'm an asshole.

But as a kitchen junkie myself, I really did like the cooking descriptions and the woven-in family history. I just didn't parse it well as a story.
-----
"Nature is such a fucking plagarist."

no apology owed by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 03:59:28 PM EST
It's the writer's job to make the story understandable. Especially if the subject is "Sex," I think it's only fair not to make the reader work too hard. I knew that, by not actually having sex in the story, I'd run the risk of having it received with indifference (at best) -- see my self-review.

I didn't object to anything in your review at all. I'm glad the two parts you called out worked for you, because as I mentioned above, I worked hardest on those passages. I knew I had ending issues. I, for one, find it refreshing when someone's brutally honest, even if I'm one of the targets :)

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl

[ Parent ]
This was one of my two favorite stories. by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #6 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 03:46:37 PM EST
The passing down of family traditions resonated with me, as I said, and the hopeful ending didn't seem to me overdone or out of nowhere. It felt like you didn't make it up - you just wrote it down, and beautifully so.

Like I said in persimmon's diary, though, I'm quite nervous about what the next WFC shall bring.
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inspiritation: the effect of irritating someone so much it inspires them to do something about it. --BuggEye

muahaha by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 04:32:26 PM EST
C'mon, after being tortured by my prompts weekly, I expect you to be able to nail whatever comes next ... though persimmon is probably scarier than me.

I'm glad you liked the story :)

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl

[ Parent ]
good gravy, why does everyone think I'm so scary? by persimmon (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 04:42:02 PM EST
I'm ill-tempered and overly harsh. It's different!
-----
"Nature is such a fucking plagarist."
[ Parent ]
Uh, you only scare me a little, really. by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #15 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 04:43:29 PM EST
/me backs away slowly ;-)
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inspiritation: the effect of irritating someone so much it inspires them to do something about it. --BuggEye
[ Parent ]
I dunno by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #17 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 04:56:00 PM EST
toxicfur is well-acquainted with the kinds of writing prompts I give, so I feel she can make an accurate threat assessment based on that. I happen to think my prompts are not too too evil, so her fear must come from knowing you're involved; tox knows you better than I do, so I'm taking her word for it for now.

Fear is a powerful weapon in the hands of a writing prompt giver! Revel in it!

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl

[ Parent ]
Congrats!!! by muchagecko (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 03:55:36 PM EST
Perseverance pays off.

Excellent story.

The only people to get even with are those that have helped you.

thanks by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 04:34:49 PM EST
I enter these things just for the fun of having an excuse to write a story, and hopefully have a couple people read it. If people enjoy it, that's just a bonus -- I'm happy you did :)

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl
[ Parent ]
It was good by 2 plus 3 equals 5 (2.00 / 0) #11 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 04:23:20 PM EST
I liked what it didn't say about Beef Wellington and her parents' sex life.  I liked the whole idea that at Aaron's first bite of the stuff his brain says: "I have to marry a woman who can make that."

The pregnancy wasn't necessary.  We got the idea that they were having sex, but it did add that next generation thing, so okay.

-- Do the math.

the ending by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #16 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 04:51:47 PM EST
Fair enough. It's walking the line, and maybe I could have finessed it a bit better so that it lands more firmly on the "works" side, but maybe it's always going to be an individual thing. Endings can be a real bitch kitty.

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl
[ Parent ]
This was by ana (2.00 / 0) #18 Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 05:57:20 PM EST
one of my favorites of the bunch, even before I (somewhat obstusely) figured out who must have written it. The interplay of food and sensuality was fun. And I like the whole idea of chestnut pr0n.

Regular, or decaf abomination? --Kellnerin

I'm curious ... by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #19 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 05:09:23 AM EST
what made you think I was the one who wrote it? Or was it johnny's "Hey! Everyone! I think Kellnerin wrote this!" comment? I tried to channel a bit of the ana-touch for the subject (the "finished that sentence ... without using too many more words" comes to mind) so I am glad you approved :)

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure I remember now. by ana (2.00 / 0) #20 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 05:16:59 AM EST
Partly, I think, it was the unusual formatting. Though it would fit in our recipe file ;-)

Also, I think, kind of something like what D said (quoted in your comments about my story)... a light-brush hinting at the emotions that lie beneath that's kind of typically Kellnerian or something.

Regular, or decaf abomination? --Kellnerin

[ Parent ]
formatting by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #22 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 07:25:16 AM EST
Hmmm, I remember now I did think that might give me away, but I couldn't resist. Sort of the fancy-formatted version of aggressively rejecting HTML markup. Little things amuse me sometimes ... actually, quite often :)

Do let me know if you ever try the recipe (though I haven't road-tested this version). I'll go halves on a ricer with you if you don't already have one ...

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl

[ Parent ]
Now now by johnny (2.00 / 0) #21 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 06:44:51 AM EST
Did I mention you by name? No, I don't think so.  What I said was, if I recall, "I think we all can guess who wrote this one," or similar. Or else I'm guilty as charged, I forget.  Oh well, back to day job.  See yz-all later.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)
[ Parent ]
true, true by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #23 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 07:28:54 AM EST
You did not name names, but wrote it in such a way (especially with the follow-up comment), that it seemed to be glaringly obvious to anyone familiar with our respective posting histories who was meant, but maybe that is just because I am familiar with said history, and also it was obvious to me who wrote it.

--
"If we build it, will they come, and what will they do when they get here?" -- iGrrrl
[ Parent ]
Unexpected Result | 23 comments (23 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback