Lunch Date: Szechuan sandwiches and joining the community

(Once in a while, Paul takes a new book to lunch and gives it a half an hour or so to grab his attention. Lunch Date is his judgment on that speed-dating experience, but today, Martin decided it was time to jump in.)

Who's your date today? The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & the Writing Life by Lori A. May.

Where’d you go? Country Dough, in the Pike Place Market.

What’d you eat? No. 1: Szechuan Flatbread with pork ($5.00) and a flavored tea: Green tea base with honey flavoring ($3.95).

How was the food? So good. This was my third time at Country Dough, and it won't be my last. The sandwich is served on a grilled flatbread that is somewhere between a cracker and a pita. It's split open and filled with a melange of meat (or tofu) and vegetables. The sandwich is spicy, but not too hot, sweet and sour and absolutely delicious. The kind of savory lingering seasoning you crave more of. The crack of the bread, and the feel as your teeth sink in, shows how much attention they pay to getting the experience just right every time. The tea is also nice. It's iced, cold and refreshing, with a nice honey musk, but not overly sweet.

What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:

Writing may be a solitary profession, but it is also one that relies on a strong sense of community. The Write Crowd offers practical tips and examples of how writers of all genres and experience levels contribute to the sustainability of the literary community, the success of others, and to their own well-rounded writing life. Through interviews and examples of established writers and community members, readers are encouraged to immerse themselves fully in the literary world and the community-at-large by engaging with literary journals, reading series and public workshops, advocacy and education programs, and more.

In contemporary publishing, the writer is expected to contribute outside of her own writing projects. Editors and publishers hope to see their writers active in the community, and the public benefits from a more personal interaction with authors. Yet the writer must balance time and resources between deadlines, day jobs, and other commitments. The Write Crowd demonstrates how writers may engage with peers and readers, and have a positive effect on the greater community, without sacrificing writing time.

Is there a representative quote? From the chapter The Writer and the Writing Life: "Being an active member of the community offers rewards big and small. Most common ins the feeling of camaraderie and the sense that we are learning more about the fields of writing and publishing. We learn from example. We learn from others. And, sometimes in witnessing another's writing life, we are better able to determine what we ourselves want to accomplish with our craft as we more clearly understand the opportunities available to us."

Will you two end up in bed together? Probably not, but not because I didn't like the book. In fact, I love writing advice books. I have a sizable collection of them. Some have offered great guidance to me, and some are downright hilarious and wrong-headed. Most are serviceable, but completely dependent on the writer in a similar fashion the therapist is to the lightbulb in this joke:

Q: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Only one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change.

When reading the first few chapters of The Write Crowd, I found myself nodding along, and more than just agreeing with May, recalling back to some of the conversations Paul and I had when we were deciding to start this site.

We both believe literary community is important, and that writers and readers (who are more often than not writers themselves) coming together to create and engage with writing is important.

But May is writing more to young writers who may not realize the importance of community. This is a book obviously geared towards the college writing course market. It's not, like Bird by Bird, or Writing Down the Bones, or (my personal fave) Walter Mosley's This Year You Write Your Novel, a book where inspiration is the goal. It's a practical guide, with asides and points from writers, and a methodical argument built over chapters. Methodical and practical are good words for it.

It's arguing for membership in a club I'm already a dues paying member of. To you, who may not be, I say: give it a try. Or, even better, make an effort to go to at least one reading a month for the next year, and talk to the folks you see at each stop. You'll build a community just like May is advocating. Then, gift the book to your reclusive nephew who read too much Bukowski and is sure the world will recognize his genius so long as he stays holed up in his room torturing himself.