other people’s words i have worn like skin.

I was recently encouraged to tell my story as a writer in the form of lists. I made quite a few lists. Some I deleted fairly quickly and others are hiding under my pillow until I can understand them myself. These two, though, were pure joy in the collecting.  They are not exhaustive or perfect or even all that carefully curated, but they are a snapshot of things I believe in and love.They are the things that are true and beautiful in the way only the books you love can be true and beautiful.

From when I was young:

* “School. School was all wrong.”

“Meg realized that she was not completely materialized that she was light and not substance, and embracing her now would have been like trying to hug a sunbeam.”

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

* “There is nothing that cuts you down to size like coming to some strange and marvelous place where no one even stops to notice that you stare about you.”

Watership Down by Richard Addams

* “Franny was staring at the little blotch of sunshine with a special intensity, as if she were considering lying down in it.”

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

* “In fact what he was really looking for when he stared distractedly into the sky was any kind of flying saucer at all.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

* “As she spoke two vipers and two toads fell from her mouth.”

-“The Fairies” by Charles Perrault

* “And I’ll tell you another thing, Hulga,” he said, using the name as if he didn’t think much of it, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!’ and then the toast-colored hat disappeared down the hole and the girl was left, sitting on the straw in the dusty sunlight.”

-“Good Country People” by Flannery O’Conner

 

From recent years:

* “He tried for hours to recapture it, whispering words for it to say, going back to the closet time and again and into the drawers of her dressing table and into the kitchen, where he thought the pantry shelves and the racked plates and coffee cups would surely contain the ghost of her, but it was gone.”

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

* “Throughout the night a pulsing contingent of catfish, carp, grinnel, gar, sucker, alligators and even a few river-lost sand sharks disoriented by fresh water had followed the boat, swirling in the ooze. In the morning light, enormous orange crawfish with their pinchers

clicking rode the body, one arm of which trailing in the water was festooned with moccasins attached at the fang.”

Smonk or Widow Town: Being the Scabrous Adventures of E.O. Smonk & of the Whore Evangeline in Clark County, Alabama Early in the Last Century by Tom Franklin

* “Six blocks from the store was the precinct on Chartres, and he dawdled through the steamy morning, breathing a nimbus of horse droppings and cigarette butts sopping in the gutters and sewer gas crawling out of the storm drains.”

The Missing by Tim Geautreaux

* “The underbrush thinned as he went, the air hotter muggier, and suddenly the trees had thrown open their arms to a high white sky, a burst of glowing logs and schools of steaming toadstools and clouds of gnats, wet leaves sparkling like mirrors and spiderwebs’ glowing wires.”

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

* “If prose is to be as well written as poetry—the old modernist hope—novelist and readers must develop their own third ears. We have to read musically, testing the precision and rhythm of a sentence, listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words, attending to patterns, repetitions, echoes, deciding why one metaphor is successful and another is not, judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality.”

-How Fiction Works by James Wood

* “As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, wants to merge with that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking. A novelist’s omniscience soon enough becomes a kind of secret sharing: this is called “free indirect style” . . . the narrative seems to float away from the novelist and take on the properties of the character, who now seems to ‘own’ the words.”

How Fiction Works by James Wood

* “Underfoot was a thick carpet, rosy as the interior of a lung.”

Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates

* “So I return, knowing what I’ve learned. I come back, where life is slow dying, and I poach for stories. I poach because I want to recover the paths while there is still time, before the last logging trucks rumble through and the old, dark ways are at last forever hewn.”

Poachers by Tom Franklin

* “A doctor took pictures of my lungs. They were full of snow flurries.”

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

* “I feel the bird in my chest fold its wings, rest on the branches of my lungs, quiet. Without the cage of my hollowed chest, that bird would fly. But it stays.”

Theft by BK Loren

* “Perhaps I had found the story that we all look for in the pages of books and on the screens of movie theaters: it was a story in which the stars and I were protagonists.”

Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by Umberto Eco

by Leigh Camacho Rourks

Leigh Camacho Rourks is the managing editor for Rougarou, a journal of literature and arts out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she is pursuing her PhD. This year, her short story “Moon Trees” was awarded the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award and her story “Pinched Magnolias” received the Robert Watson Literary Review Prize in Fiction. Her work has appeared in a number of journals including Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Pank, and Greensboro Review.

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