The Writer Who Hated Descriptions

It was strange, she had to admit. To find herself in a profession that prided itself (or at least pretended to) on the most evocative, detailed of sentences in order to craft paragraphs that would, in turn, create the alternate universe of a novel. It required the use of words far-flung from the average person’s day-to-day usage. Perhaps this is how Lily Limoges (a nom de plume, clearly, and a studied one based on readers’ better recognition of an alliterative name) happened upon so many that she couldn’t stand, particularly those that began with the letter “p,” sounding the odious puh. What was worse, her editor, Jacques Tremonti (not a nom de plume), seemed to relish drawing out the “p” in every word he uttered. It got to the point that Lily would cancel meetings with him multiple times in a row, unable to endure the sense of dread that would build up within her as her ears braced for the sound of his voice. His incessant talk of puh-aypers and puh-olicies and puh-ress opportunities. It was enough to make Lily want to tie his lips together with a rubber band. But then, that would involve touching his maw, perpetually wet with spit. 

Lily felt like vomiting as she typed out this last description, reconsidering if she ought to base one of her main characters on Jacques. Yet it didn’t matter who she modeled her characters on, for everyone that orbited her–everyone in all of existence–was absolutely repugnant. Emanating the aura of dank merde that so often wafted up out of the sewers not in odeur alone, but in their entire comportment and manner of speech. She had no tolerance for the uncouthness that the average being so relished. Yet as a writer, it was her responsibility to detail such foulness in her narratives. She was starting to forget what had incited her to pursue this as a career in the first place. That is, until an impromptu visit to her mother’s house in New Haven as she preened about in front of her pool boy. Yes, Arlene was insistent upon having a pool despite the fact that her home already overlooked the body of water at Morris Cove, right next to the New Haven Yacht Club. But oh, how Arlene needed her privacy for swimming. Lily rolled her eyes. Sure. Or the woman lived to be gawked at, having just spent another 10K of her alimony payments on a “tit touch-up.”

Lily didn’t know what possessed her to drop in on her mother just because she was in town for the weekend to speak at a lecture as a favor to a friend at Yale. Yale, where she had been rejected. She ought to have thumbed her nose at the entire institution, but no, something felt vindicating about being “needed” by them now that she was a “star.” At least by publishing industry standards. She had managed to be deemed a more literary version of Suzanne Collins (a fellow Connecticut bitch) and Stephanie Meyer (yet another fellow Connecticut bitch). That meant she was “worthy” of being taught in Yale writing courses as a beacon of how to actually make money in writing. Which was always, of course, by churning out series that could be adapted into film or TV. And that was precisely what Lily told the scant number of students in the advanced literature course (mostly white women, quelle surprise–that was Connecticut’s specialty).

They seemed, somehow, unready to hear the overt reality of the path they’d chosen. As though rotely expecting that there was still an audience interested in Ulysses-type fare. There was not. Regardless, they had hoped their tuition would also pay the cost of being kept in the bubble of illusion for at least four years. Well, not so long as Lily was there to speak the truth to them. Something she could never do with her mother, which, she was realizing, had been why she turned to writing in the first place. It was the one place she could be candid. And part of that brutal candor stemmed from her knack for such redolent descriptions. Of the variety that sickened her, because every time she wrote, it was as though she was there. In the presence of that fetid person. The infernality of humans was in everything they did, and there was no way around Lily relating that in her work. 

At Arlene’s, who didn’t seem to care either way if Lily had informed her whether or not she was in town, her need to write her way into another world became so overpowering that she simply up and left for her former upstairs bedroom in the midst of Arlene prattling on about her Reginald’s (Lily’s father) latest flame. “She’s about three years old and dropped out of school when your father announced he would invest in her ‘unequivocally.’ Invest in her to do what, exactly? Why, become a–” It was here that Lily departed, fleeing for the space that had been her only sanctuary in her youth. The typewriter she had asked for when she was thirteen remained on the desk. It was surprising, indeed, that Arlene had seen fit to leave any trace of her only daughter in the house she had remodeled the second Reginald’s post-divorce allowance started rolling in. 

Sitting at her old desk again, Lily had the sensation of being both as alive and as dead as she’d ever been. As though she was being born anew, yet as an apparition. A phantasm her mother might try to get the maid to vacuum at every now and again. She proceeded to write this down, as it was all happening to her. The feeling of being completely detached from her body in her childhood home, a skill that would be useful to a character that needed to disappear long enough to investigate suspected criminals. So it was that she birthed the idea of a series about a tough-talking detective whose ultimate secret weapon could be brought out by the simple fact of living with her mother into adulthood. Thereby become spectral every time she entered the abode, so that she might leave it to spy on (and spook) evildoers.

The major problem would come in Book Two, when her mother tries to sell the house without realizing it is her daughter’s only hope of keeping Trentwood (the town they live in) crime-free. Of course, she can’t just outright tell her mother the truth, that would be too easy. Plus, Mrs. Melbourne would never understand. She was too practical, too literal-minded–just like the rest of humanity–to understand that mysticism exists in everything. That was what had initially propelled our heroine, Leticia, to want to leave the moment she turned eighteen… that is, until she found out that all of her magic was tied to the house. Or maybe her mother being in it. She couldn’t really say for certain. Lily would work out that kink later, in Book Three. Spoiler alert: it turns out Leticia just has dissociative identity disorder. 

Roughly three hours had gone by, with Lily pounding away at the typewriter. Arlene finally sent the maid up to ask if she was planning to stay for dinner, to which Lily replied tersely, “No.” 

On the train back to New York, a city she had come to despise more than any other, yet somehow kept her there just like every would-be writer well beneath her level, she thought about setting an appointment with Jacques to tell him about the new story. But then, after looking at the pages again, she questioned everything. If maybe it was pure drivel–the rantings of a woman who had been rendered temporarily insane by being in the presence of her so-called matriarch… 

***

Were it not for her success–for the fact that she was the very writer carrying that publishing house on her back–she might not have been able to get away with such effrontery. Just showing up to Jacques’ office like she owned the place. Yet Jacques seemed relieved to see her. “Well Lily Limoges, as I live and breathe, I never thought I would see the day when you’d come into my office.” Despite his name, Jacques was from Tennessee, not from France or Italy, but “of the descent,” many, many generations removed. It made no sense, but then, neither did anything about the world of publishing. 

“I have the first few chapters for a series I think you’re going to want to get to print right away.” 

He arched his brow at her. “Is that so? Because you still haven’t completed the edits I gave you for your last round of pages in the old series.” 

“Oh forget about that for a minute. Look at these pages and tell me what you think.” 

Jacques capitulated, putting his spectacles on to give the first few paragraphs a once-over. He was quick to appraise: “It’s interesting.” The death blow (non-)descriptor. He added, “But honestly, I think you need to just keep going with the Starla Silver series for awhile. We’re not really in the market for anything like this right now.” 

“How the fuck do you know that until you create the market, Jacques?” 

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, as though searching for the words to tell her something…delicately. “The truth is, Lily, you’re not exactly ‘killing it’ right now, and we just want to make sure we uphold our projections for what we originally thought we would sell of Starla Silver.

The latest installment in the series, Starla Strips in Portland, had apparently been “edgier” than her most loyal readers were expecting. What’s more, much of the negative feedback had spoken to, specifically, a lack of adequate description in comparison to Limoges’ previous novels. 

Lily chortled at him. He had to be fucking kidding. They all had to be fucking kidding. Just because she had slightly deviated from the blowhard David Foster Wallace style of lengthy, overly unnecessary “elucidations,” summarizing, in the end, nothing. Only serving to fill up space to make the page count “legitimate.” She had experimented a little in Starla Strips in Portland, sure, but not enough, she felt, to be classified as “deviating” to the point of affecting Polar Bear’s (the publishing house in question) sales. Jacques and his “team,” evidently had been seeing otherwise in the figures that were starting to come in. 

She swallowed Jacques’ shit. Taking the ironic criticism that she was a writer who hated descriptions and, at long last, this had led her to dispense with them almost entirely in her dialogue-centric work. This entire time, Lily had been living not only in the fantasy of her books, but her own self-perception. She walked along Fifth Avenue and all the way up to Central Park, where a number of overtly pretentious fucks were reading. She caught titles like Pride and Prejudice, Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird. What the fuck was this? High school? Didn’t people want to read anything that was actually new–vibrant. Something that spoke to the times they lived in? Maybe that was the problem. Nobody wanted to think about these times. Nor did any writer really want to describe them. And so we defer to the old, once again. 

***

The following fall, Lily had returned to her original incarnation: Brielle Corman. Banal Brielle from New Haven. She had, indeed, moved back into her mother’s place, taking a job at the yacht club as a server. She decided it would be better for her to live honestly than to keep compromising her artistic integrity for The Man to shill some third-rate schlock with her name (albeit fake) attached to it.

If she ever decided to emerge anew as a writer, it would be as Brielle. Brielle would say something honest and true, without need of superfluous descriptions. In the meantime, she found herself reporting to her customers on today’s latest specials (which they always ended up asking for in written form anyway), including, “a sumptuous truffle oil-marinated pork loin served on a bed of lightly simmered radicchio (cooked in a Bordeaux wine sauce), shakshuka featuring hand-picked basil leaves, crumbled feta and eggs freshly laid this morning on a farm just outside of town (but not so far that we can’t easily access it if you’re unsatisfied with the eggs’ freshness), butternut squash ravioli topped with sage and pine nuts–and just a hint of buttercream chardonnay (though I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone in AA), lamb chops drizzled with a honey-based sauce and seasoned with rosemary from the garden (where I frequently retreat to smoke my hashish–a natural act in a natural environment, after all) and, finally, the distinctive maltagliati–meaning, literally, “badly cut,” like the cloth I come from–pasta with summer vegetables and ricotta rounded out with an olive oil marinade.” 

Damned to describe for a living no matter what, it seemed. Ultimately, however, she was fired for being too “intricate” in her rundown of the menu items. Go figure.

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