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Shanghai Noir



Are you a biter? Do you nibble on your nails, chew the inside of your mouth or, like me, love to chomp on the heel of your hand? What exactly do you get out of this experience other than strange looks?

"Biter" is the last story in You Know You Want This, the debut collection by Kristen Roupenian. "Biter" has virtually nothing to do with "Cat Person", the story that rocketed Kristen to fame. But, then again, maybe it does. This is a book about desires, broken boundaries, and power. Pretty much every story, including "Cat Person", is pretty skewed. Hence the title of my book review Fractured Fairy Tales.

In addition to providing me with fodder for my review, "Biter" triggered something else. It uses the word mouthfeel. Now, I know this is a foodie term and I hear it bandied about quite a bit among my foodie friends. But what exactly it means, I couldn't say. Until now that I've written this week's blog post: Mouthfeel.

It doesn't happen very often that a blog post and a book review dovetail so neatly. In fact, from where I sit, my life looks pretty chaotic. At this exact moment, I'm working on my novel, a long-form essay on millet, the editorial I'll be delivering on Sunday at VERSO, my introductory remarks for a panel discussion in The Hague, and a book review on the Chinese wall poetry found on Angel Island. Am I distracting myself with projects so that I can avoid writing my novel? It's quite possible. And yet I fear there is another reason for this creative cornucopia.

I have never functioned well without a deadline.  When I was a lawyer, I rarely did anything until I could feel the hot breath of my client breathing down my collar. Now that I'm a writer, there's no one out there (except maybe one or two die-hard fans) who are waiting to read my next novel. And so I have to create pressure for myself, squeeze my writing into the space of a tram ride or between stretching my bread dough.

It could also be that I need the synergy, however faint, of working on many projects at the same time. A writer friend recently noted that there's a lot of food in my work. In that sense, an essay about millet as it appears in the Chinese kitchen isn't all that far away from my novel, Peace Court, where food (making, eating, hoarding) plays a prominent role.

Or maybe I'm just procrastinating. So bite me.

p.s. You can come bite me in person this Sunday, April 14 at VERSO. I'll be on stage starting at 19.30 hrs. Spread the word!

Fever & Famine
Female Language
The Smell of Memory
Fun in the Dark
Homeward Bound

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