Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Behind the Scenes at Noshland

I wrote a new short story on Hevria -- well, okay, half a short story -- but I have the whole thing in my head, and I'm, like, 98% sure that I'm going to post the other half in 2 weeks. Or next week, if Elad lets me.

And I'm kind of overbrimming with behind-the-scenes stuff to tell you about it.

Last Night at Noshland

BY   JULY 5, 2016  STORY
Zvi needs to leave Crown Heights behind, and he is leaving it behind, but every step he takes brings him a new wash of sadness, the nostalgia sinking deeper into his brain and skin and his nose, even though he hasn’t even left yet.

And Now, the Commentary Track.

  • The genesis of the story: I love one-night (or one-day) stories, like American Graffiti and Superbad and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I like giving my stories time limits in general, like how Goldbergs had to end at the end of the summer and this memoir I'm working on goes from Halloween to Thanksgiving. That gives me a ruler to pace everything. Having a single night is even better. It's like a puzzle where every single thing that happens has to fit.
  • Yes, the name of the shop in the story is based on the dear, wonderful Nosh World, zichrono l'vrocho (the characters and even the store itself are as complete fabrications as anything can be), but another major influence in the title and the story is the book Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan. It's about a Red Lobster that's shutting down, and there's a snowstorm coming, and workers keep not showing up for their shift, and it's really sad and beautiful -- and specifically, the way it was taught to me by my professor Alexi Zentner, who has a new book out this week that I'm not sure I'm allowed to say is really by him.
  • I'm doing this sort of as a challenge to myself: both to finish something, and to put it in front of people. I've been in kind of a sad place lately. My last novel is in limbo and the new one I'm writing is taking forever, and I keep starting stories and then not finishing them. So I'm trying to vanquish my writing anxiety with performance anxiety. I've put up the first half! Now I have to finish the damn thing.
  • I just also want there to be more fiction on Hevria! And more stories about Hasidim that aren't about how pathetic we are or people running away or what a horrible place the community is. Not that this is exactly a happy story (nothing I'm gonna write right now is going to be that), but I really do like Zvi, the main character, and I hope other people will too.
  • I was working on the last part of the story this morning and I realized with a shock of horror, there's almost no chocolate. Sure, I mention ice cream once or twice, but it is in no way true-to-life to write about a snack shop in Crown Heights and exclude chocolate. There's a paragraph in the second part about a girl who buys a bag of tortilla chips, and it would make way more sense for her character to be eating chocolate, but it makes way more sense for me as a person to think of someone eating nachos:

    And she buys a 50-cent pack of chips, of Golden Fluff tortilla strips, a brand whose name has always puzzled him (no gold? no fluff?) but whose taste is undeniably solid, that perfect balance of spicy and tangy and sweet, that he once read the Japanese call umami, a harmony of flavor, the perfect culinary addiction of which he was the purveyor. He loved the boldness of Tsivia Singer’s pre-party indulgence, and the vision of her walking down the street with the umami tang on her breath, neither of which he would ever taste.

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