At the party, Ellen counts a dozen zombies in half-assed costumes, a shredded T-shirt, a smear of fake blood. When she moves, she sweeps her cape dramatically and it feels good. There is dance music and liquor bottles on the kitchen counter and clear plastic cups. Not a shred of food, just booze. She picks up a cup and sees a fat black spider in the bottom and screams.
‘It’s fake, silly.’ Ursula plucks the spider from the cup and nests it in Ellen’s hair. In the driveway, Ellen zipped the girl into the Statue of Liberty costume she’s wearing. At first, she wanted to be a slutty witch, but Ellen talked her into the Statue of Liberty—the tallest iron structure ever built! How could she resist?
The girl vanishes into the party with her fake torch. The song changes. Bodies clump together in the living room. Ellen watches them stomp and thrash. A zombie sucks on a ballerina’s neck.
Novels remind us that the hard questions matter, they always have, and that we can’t ignore them just because we’re comfortable, well-fed, sheltered, and secure. Maybe those same comforts, which give us time and leisure enough to read novels in the first place, are the very reason why we need them so badly. A great novel is always felt as a kind of gift, and here’s the strange thing: these gifts are heartbreaks we wouldn’t suffer, tears we wouldn’t shed, agonies we wouldn’t undergo, if we simply left the books alone and did something else with our time.
'Did you know an elephant has as many neurons as a human brain?' she says. 'Did you know that they have nerves in their toenails that help them understand sound?'
‘I didn’t know,’ Ellen says.
But then, other people’s relationships are always mysterious. A relationship is a closed world, and it’s impossible to see clearly into the interior from the outside. St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Only the singer hears it and the one to whom he sings. Only the external details are clearly visible: once there was a young and passionate poet who fell in love with a married man, and the affair inspired a magnificent work.
Ask any writer about the rules he’s heard throughout the years, and he will be able to recite a litany as deeply embedded as the Lord’s Prayer. Show, don’t tell. Write what you know. The first sentence is key. The last sentence is key. All writing is rewriting. No adverbs. No one aside from you finds your dreams interesting. You should never write in the second person.
The most indelible writing exercise I was ever taught was to copy, either by typing or by hand, a favorite piece of prose.
Killing off your characters is never an easy feat. At The New York Times, thriller writer Alex Berenson discusses his reservations on killing the hero of his spy series. “John Wells has markedly enriched my life — an impressive feat for a man who doesn’t exist.” The eighth installment, The Counterfeit Agent, just came out.
Ultimately,Ugrešić‘s most dire forecast is for the writer: “As a specific human species, the majority of writers are facing extinction. Whether writers fall into the critically endangered group like Sumatran orangutans, the endangered group like Malaysian tigers, the vulnerable group like African elephants, the near threatened group together with the jaguar, or in the least concern group with the giraffe — let’s leave that to the experts.” At least the writers might take solace that they’re not alone?