My kids tend to amaze me on a regular basis. The funniest thing about parenthood is the realization that they are their own people. You can’t teach them how to be what they are. You guide, or try to. You teach, sometimes scold, often laugh... but you don’t really make them what they are – they are what they are... not because of or in spite of their parents, but because it’s who they’re meant to be.
There are a million ways to relate this, from infancy with all three of my kids, but maybe a good example is their taste in food. I cook on a pretty regular basis, and since they’re growing up here, all three of them are eating the food that I like to prepare... but they have their own taste. I get this. I, myself, was a picky eater as a kid and I still am... I was actually a weird eater – I loved broccoli and fish – hated chicken and steak and barely tolerated hamburgers until I was a teenager and learned the beauty of the greasy dive... but that is another story.
My daughter has very adult taste and always has – ever since she started on solid food. Her favorite meal at three years old was Steak and Fettuccini Alfredo – I started making Fettuccini as a side dish in the first place because I hate steak (sorry, Travis), so I just eat the pasta and salad. She loves steak. Loves shrimp and fish. (okay, maybe she has expensive taste)... but, get ready for it – she’s not partial to gravy. I should explain, when I say ‘gravy’ I mean my homemade sauce with meatballs. It’s good, it’s my favorite, again, it’s good. She doesn’t particularly like pasta. She eats the meatballs and just enough mostaccolli so I don’t yell at her.
My oldest son has kid taste. He loves hotdogs and pizza. He hates pretty much any vegetable except raw carrots – he won’t touch them if they’re cooked. He won’t eat hamburgers, or meatballs, but he devours pasta. He’s even kid-like in treats – he loves suckers and any kind of flavored sugary candy but doesn’t so much like chocolate – the other two looooove it.
Littlest guy is a riot. He eats everything. With gusto. He loves steak, hamburger, hotdogs and pizza. Loves pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings, and asks for it often. Adores meatballs and the pasta. And will eat any kind of treat you put in front of him. Whatever I’m serving, he’ll find something he likes.
We had pasta this week. My gravy takes about five hours to make, so I don’t make it every Sunday – maybe twice a month. When I do, all three of my kids are happy. None of them makes the dreaded gag face upon learning the menu for that day. But the three of them are starting to notice each others’ preferences in food. Commenting on how oldest son won’t eat steak so I substitute chicken nuggets, or how oldest daughter leaves half her pasta.
This week, my daughter was looking around at the plates during dinner, and here’s how the conversation went:
Daughter: (pointing at oldest son’s plate) Wow, you’re the only one who never eats the meatballs. How can you not like meat balls?
Littlest guy: He just doesn’t like meat (shrugging his shoulders, his eyes got all wide and then he crossed them, as if too say, “craaaaazy!”)
Oldest son: I like meat.... just not in ball form.
Okay, I liked the line. I think I laughed for five minutes – he’s 8, it was a pretty good reason as far as I could see...
And then I started thinking about that statement and their tastes in general, and writing. We talk so much about writing being subjective, about the voice or style not resonating with some readers or others, and it’s kind of the same thing. All of the ingredients sound right – I just don’t like the way you presented it.
So often, agents and editors will request manuscripts because the ingredients sound right. They like the genre, like the story line, but then they get their eyes on the full and realize that they don’t love it enough to fight for it. And they shouldn’t take it on if they don’t believe in it – but how do you know?
This post isn’t meant to be rhetorical – I think this is a question every writer has to answer for themselves, because we’re all going to face rejection, have and will again. What I’m wondering is how do you, personally, know whether the meat is there, but the reader just doesn’t like it in ball form.. or loaf form, whatever’s clever?
What’s your criteria for being able to determine when the problem is your writing and when it’s just a miss on that particular audience? That’s it in a nutshell. So far, for me, I’m uncertain. Maybe that’s the standard of life for most writers, or at least the great unwashed. I’d like to say, I missed here or fell flat there – or even, hey, I didn’t hit the right desk yet... but I’m not sure. My answer so far is time. Time to let it cool. Time to forget enough of my phrasing and technique so that when I re-read I can really see all of the rhythm and meter of my prose and see what, if anything, I’m missing...
How about you? How do you know you’re using enough spice and not burning the sauce? How do you know that your cooking is awesome, even if a few guests abstain?