The Peanut Butter Writer

Finding My Place at the Literary Table

Not long ago in an interview for a newspaper profile about my website, a reporter asked me the following question:  "How would you describe your writing?”  Resisting the urge to quip, "I use cursive unless I’m in a hurry – then I have a tendency to scrawl”, I elected instead to sort of stare off in the distance pensively (the way I once saw Grace Kelly do in a movie) while I wracked my brain for something profound to say.  At first I just drew my customary total blank, but then suddenly the answer came to me and I blurted out, "Like a peanut butter sandwich!”

Not surprisingly, she gave me a look that said "Come again?” (Or it might have said, "Have you gone nuts?”)  Either way, obviously some clarification was needed – and because you’re probably wondering what I meant by that rather odd choice of words as well, let me explain it to you the way I did to her.

You see, I love to eat, and I love to cook, so naturally one of my favorite pastimes is watching the Food Network and then tackling some of those elaborate recipes in my own kitchen.  And it doesn’t stop there.  I love to travel too, so when my husband and I are visiting a new place, especially in a foreign country, the thing we enjoy most is trying out new restaurants and sampling all the exotic dishes on the menu.  But what I’ve discovered is that I can only sustain an appetite for all of those weird culinary delicacies for so long before my stomach and my taste buds cry out, "Enough!  I can’t bear another bite of this rich, spicy, bizarre food.   Give me something simple!”  And when that happens, nothing on earth sounds better, or tastes better than a plain old peanut butter sandwich!

What all of that has to do with my answer to the reporter’s question is this: I’ve been a freelance writer for a long time, and have even enjoyed seeing my work in some national publications.  But a few years ago I began to notice a change in what editors were looking for.  Suddenly everything that was published was being described with the same litany of words:  "raw, edgy, gritty, provocative, or (my favorite) unflinching.”  Well, I’m sorry, but I do flinch.  I flinch a lot.  What’s more, I wince – especially at foul language.  It’s not in my nature to be edgy or gritty.  And thanks to my southern Christian upbringing, I don’t think I could be provocative if I wanted to (which I don’t.)  But more than just being uncomfortable with objectionable material, I found I was increasingly out of step with a market that had developed an insatiable appetite for dark inner conflict and deep psychological turmoil.  Where once the storyline was "Boy meets girl/Girl shuns boy/Girl chokes on a chicken bone/Boy saves girl/Girl marries boy”, now it was "Girl relives painful past over…and over… and over…then marries her own stepfather who is a werewolf.”

I just didn’t get it.  Nevertheless for a while I seriously tried to give them what I thought they wanted, but of course I failed miserably because that’s just not who I am.  (It’s sort of like when John Wayne was cast as a singing cowboy in "Riders of Destiny”.  The result was downright painful to watch.)

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this floundering on the writing side, I found myself equally frustrated because I couldn’t even find anything appealing to read.  Every trip to the bookstore was the same.  I had my choice from an endless smorgasbord of thick, heavy trauma and drama, topped off with a glop of sappy-sweet stuff for dessert – when what I really hungered for was something light and witty and fun.  In other words, all I wanted was the literary version of a nice, plain peanut-butter sandwich.

And then it hit me:  If I can’t find it, I’ll just write it!  I mean, surely I’m not alone here.  Nobody can live on a constant diet of intense internal tumult and chaos.  Everybody reaches a saturation point and needs a break from ‘raw, edgy, gritty, provocative, and unflinching’.  In other words, sooner or later everybody just gets a hankering for something simple.   It was at that very moment that I knew I had found my niche.

So go ahead and gorge yourself on the heavy stuff all you want.  But when you’ve had your fill of it and find yourself in the mood to read a nice, plain peanut butter sandwich, you’ll know just who to come to.

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