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Scott Lax Blog

PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER AS A TODDLER

photo by Lydia
Lately Finn's been jumping on my lap when I get home and writing: a series of loops and swirls and lines that I've no doubt will someday surpass mine.

Listening and Writing

Sooner or later, everybody goes to Rick's
People learn most of what they know in the first few years of life. Part of the reason for that is that babies watch everything; but they also listen. They soak it all in; it forms much of how they think about the world and how they approach their lives. Hence language; hence logic; hence sensibility; hence writing.

As writers, we need to listen: not just to what's being said, but to the cadences of speech; to the inflections of stress or excitement or satisfaction; to ambient sounds and to beautiful sounds and to harsh sounds.

One of the problems writers have with fiction is when all or most of the characters sound the same. No one sounds the same... not really. Babies pick up on inflections and attitudes before they understand language. So should writers. Those underlying aspects of speech are referred to as subtext: that which is going on underneath the text, or in this case, speech.

Here's our little man, Finn, at Rick's Cafe...listening.  Read More 
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Writing and Baseball

Ready for the first pitch....
"Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go..."

-- Marianne Moore (American poet, 1887-1972), "Baseball and Writing"

What Does Becoming a First-Time Father Have to Do With Writing?

I'll let you know in late December or early January. Let's just say that Lydia and I anticipate something far more wondrous than any book.

Should Writers Have a Sense of Justice?

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, at some point you'll face the question of whether you should have a sense of justice about the world in which you write.

Since you possibly come here for advice I'll give it: Yes, you should.

Twain, Dickens, Toni Morrison, Milan Kundera, Ernest Gaines... they and many others have a sense of justice in their writing. You can tell a great story and still have a moral center -- even if the story is raw and violent. You can tell it through poetry; through children's, middle grade or young adult fiction; through essay and nonfiction; through short story or novel. Whether from a religious or secular point of view, that's your business. Even if you're simply out to entertain, at the heart of your work there should be conviction...in something. (Even existentialism.)

The world isn't always a pretty place. Writers should have the courage to speak out and up against injustice, in whatever form they choose. And if you are serious about writing with heart and conviction, you'll need courage.  Read More 

How Reading Can Make You Thinner and Healthier: Or, The Emperor's New Clothes are Filled with Fat, Salt and Sugar

The blogosphere, like the country, is saturated with fat. And there’s an odd paradox happening, as well. It goes something like this:

Some sophisticated writers, bloggers, hipsters, etc., are doing two conflicting things: they’re bemoaning (correctly) the widening girth of a McDonald's culture, they’re watching, and are horrified by (understandably), “Food Inc.,” and they’re ripping on (also correctly) processed foods. At the same time, though, they’re promoting and extolling the virtues of excessive salt, refined sugars, and lots and lots of fat by turning the restaurant scene into a new kind of rock show, with chefs as rock stars. At its worst, it’s a kind of in-your-face-I’ll-eat-what-I-want mentality, a rebelliousness against a baby boomer movement that unfortunately became known as “health food.” Those words, “health food,” have become the disco balls of the culinary world. So let’s banish them. Goodbye “health food,” and hello “good food.”

Months ago, because of the ridiculous fetishizing of bacon, of all things, and the retro-swooning over sugar bombs like cupcakes, I made a joke on this blog about a bacon-wrapped cupcake, which, at the time, didn’t exist. Little did I know that one of the rages in Cleveland, and I suppose, elsewhere, would become…a bacon milkshake.

This monstrosity was created by an old friendly acquaintance of mine. He’s a great guy, and recognized as one of America’s finest and most successful chefs. But, I mean… a bacon milkshake? Organic or not, it’s an arterial nightmare.

And that’s one, small example. I don’t want to take on other friends who write about the wonders of dining out and eating large, because dining out is one of life’s nice things, and there are wonderful restaurants, and Cleveland is becoming a respected food town. But I do want to make a counter-point to certain trends.

Food is out of control in much of America, partly because people simply don’t understand what’s happening to their bodies after food enters their mouths. I’m one who responds to words, but the 2006 book, YOU: ON A DIET, by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., is a book I resisted until this year. I’m terribly glad I bought it and read it, though.

As corny as the writing is, and as obvious as much of it may be to many of you, it’s nonetheless a very important book. Because for someone like me, someone who, out of stress or hurry or stupidity, packed on pounds now and again, and here and there over the decades – someone like me needed to read about what that food actually does to the human system…scientifically. It’s not written pseudo-scientifically or faddishly. It’s science. It’s about molecules, and enzymes, and our hearts and our livers and our arteries and our brains and things we don’t really want to think about when it comes to food.

I already know what bacon and milkshakes (much less bacon milkshakes) do to taste buds. They excite them; they gratify them, and our brains. Of course they do: because our systems have a built-in craving for salt and sugar and fat – these are the things we need to live, and our systems were adapted to store them as a defense against famine. But we’re not in a famine in the U.S. (Unfortunately, too many places in the world can't say that.) So too much of them – and a little goes a long, long way – can be deadly.

Yet when we get too much of these foods our bodies go into overdrive, and desperately try to process this excess. Enter metabolic syndrome. Which kills as surely as smoking, and sometimes more quickly.

I’m glad people are interested in cooking. I’m grateful to writers like my old friend Michael Ruhlman, who has inspired so many to cook at home. He, too, has done a service to eaters and readers.

But readers and eaters (I assume we're all both) should understand that moderation matters, and that we need to eat plants, and fruits, and healthy fats, like nuts and fish, and whole grains – all in larger quantities, and food that’s hard on our systems in much smaller quantities. Or no quantities.

When I started reading YOU: ON A DIET, my attitude toward food began to become more mindful – and more realistic. I’m dropping fat easily (and walking a lot, and working out, so as not to lose muscle), and plan on dropping a good deal more. (Including where you can't see it -- the subcutaneous kind). There’s nothing romantic about over-indulging. I see it everywhere; and I’ve been part of it. I want to be part of the solution now, not the problem. For me, reading was a key ingredient to nudging and changing my thinking: it helped me to understand the science behind food and what it does to us. I know…we all know these things already. But, for me, to read it…it helped. It made sense.

If you allow your taste buds to settle down and take a break from chemicals and refined sugar and loads of fat and salt, you might be surprised at how delicious certain foods can taste. Nuts, fruit, whole grains and vegetables, for example. Going a while without refined sugar or fat and salt bombs (hot dogs, bacon, cupcakes) turns an apple into the sweetest treat you can imagine, and a handful of nuts into a true pleasure.

As for the writing in YOU: ON A DIET…It’s not great literature. But that’s okay; it’s accessible to the layperson, but most important, for someone like me, the authors really explain how important, how medicinal, how vital healthy food is – and how damaging overly fatty, salty, sugary food can be. They’ve done a great service to those who read it. We need to reverse this societal trend. I’m reversing my own. No self-righteousness here: I’m in the same boat as many of you.

Now back to reading good fiction and literary nonfiction. And watching one of my new favorite shows with Lydia: “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” on ABC.

And when I get hungry while watching it, I reach for an apple or some almonds. Real food – one ingredient each- can taste great. Talk about your comfort food. Have you tried a single, fresh, juicy pear lately? Sometimes I stick I walnut or almond in each slice. It’s not boring – it’s delicious. Honest. I’ll take that over a bacon milkshake any day, and I can almost hear my arteries sigh in relief.

I don’t mean to offend my old compadres; I’m sure you’ll still have lines down the block at your restaurants. I’m likely yelling into the wind, but some Cleveland blogger has to say it: The emperor has no clothes; or rather, the emperor’s clothes are coated in fat, salt and sugar.

Have an apple, take a walk, read about how your body and food work together, and happy writing, happy eating, and happy health to you and yours.  Read More 

What Wine and Writing Have in Common

While I can't call myself a connoisseur, I suppose I can say I'm an oenophile - a lover of wine. The protagonist of my new novel is a connoisseur, though, a wine writer who travels from Paris to the South of France, then to Ohio, where he has a dark purpose that is against his nature. In any case, wine plays a significant role in my novel, as a metaphor and in and of itself.

Recently I tasted a French wine, after a few weeks of only tasting Australian, Italian, Chilean and American wines. It was a relief. Not because there aren't wondrous wines of the above-mentioned countries: all of them produce amazing wines, even in my writerly budget's range.

It's simply that, for me, in general, French wines allow their flavors to emerge and be interpreted. There is something I sense (and of course wine is utterly - or almost so - subjective) in many French wines. They emerge; they hint; they whisper. They are the most literary of wines... for me. (Not for everyone, certainly; and if we ever move to Northern California, I will, naturally, take this all back and ingratiate myself to the great vintners of California.)

All of my wine musings mean only this: What I like is for a wine, like a story, to emerge from the bottle or page. I don't want to be smashed (literally and figuratively) over the head with it. I don't want a "big, chewy fruit and sugar bomb" in a wine, or a James Patterson novel in a book. (Though I admire both in other ways - more power to them, both big wines and Patterson, Inc.)

When you write: allow your reader to figure some things out. Not everything, of course, but you don't need to over-explain. One of my teachers told me to "write for smart people." I don't think she meant I.Q. I think she meant to write for real readers - those who wish to think, not merely move their eyes across the page and demand to be entertained.

For me, with wine or words: complexity under the surface of ease of consumption is preferable. If only F. Scott Fitzgerald had stuck to moderate wine consumption and stayed away from the booze... how ironic, if you think about it… for he was the French wine of literature.  Read More