Research Notes · 09/22/2017
Felt in the Jaw
Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Kristen N. Arnett writes about Felt in the Jaw from Split Lip Press.
why did you write that book, kristen: observational field notes
- There are so many things I want to write.
- I have nothing important to say.
- Research: how to say a thing that might not need saying.
- Research: how to know if something matters.
- Research: fiction.
- I don’t like to experience feelings. I’ll write characters who experience feelings so I don’t have to worry about actually experiencing them myself. Then they can feel something and I’ll understand what it’s like for them to have weird, overwhelming, uncomfortable feelings, but I won’t have to deal with it.
- If I write about the body, then I’ll understand my own body. I can write about people’s bodies. People who don’t know anything about their bodies, either. That will be a good way to understand my body better.
- I don’t know a lot about writing. It will be good for me to talk to people about writing because then I’ll hopefully get better at it. Read writing essays.
- Research: feelings, bodies, writing.
- Writing about feelings made me experience them. If possible, I understand less about my body than ever before. People talked to me about writing and they all had completely different things to say about it. I write about that. Get more confused. Write about it.
- How about Florida. I know about Florida.
- Research: Florida birds. Plants, weeds, flowers, moss. Strip malls. Suburban neighborhoods. Understand that the life cycle of a building in Orlando is the equivalent of rye grass: gone and forgotten after a few bountiful, beautiful weeks.
- My whole family lives in Florida. Maybe they know about it.
- Research: family.
- When I come to Sunday lunch, they tell stories about things that happened at church and say I should “write about that.” My mother recommends a book about a mystery-solving cat that she has not read.
- Complain about this on Twitter.
- I don’t understand what families are or why they exist or how I feel about them so I will write about that. If I write about families and home then I’ll understand what those things mean, even if it didn’t work when I tried that before.
- If possible, I know less about families and Florida and home than I did previously.
- I write about it some more. Just to see if it helps.
- How would you describe this story, Kristen? How about that one? What does your writing mean? If I ask you questions in an email/on the phone/in person at a party while you’re hitting on the host in a dark corner, drunk on cheap beer, can you tell me why you wrote the things you wrote about?
- Over the course of writing this book, I got divorced.
- Did writing this book make me get divorced.
- Maybe this book causes divorce.
- At an event, someone asks me why I write and I tell them it’s because I’m always asking questions and I’m never getting any answers from myself, so I’m posing the questions to a larger audience in the hopes someone else can tell me what anything means. That person tells me, “writing’s not about your problems, Kristen.”
- Story research: Conjoined twins. Spider bites. Types of spiders. How long can prescription medication last before it goes bad. Mildew problems. Home ownership. How to mow a yard. Types of Florida native grasses. Migratory patterns of birds. The Gingerbread Man. How to cook a chicken. Wikipedia pages on miscarriage, Twilight Zone episodes, YouTube beer commercials, MRI machines, glass blowing tutorials, lists of Top Twenty Christmas songs, Dunkin Donuts job applications, menstrual cups. What colors make what other colors when you mix those colors together.
- My wife never read any of my stories. Is that why we got divorced?
- That’s not why we got divorced.
- I like to look down on my fiction from a great height, so I’m putting distance between myself and the characters, like I am one of the birds I want to always write about, but really I am there in the middle of the story, examining a body again. Her body, his body, their bodies. What makes them break open. How a body hurts. What makes a body hurt.
- I try to research that. You need to be more specific, says WebMD.
- When people ask about my book I tell them it’s coming along. When people ask what my book is about I don’t know what to say the first hundred times. After the first hundred times, I tell them it’s about the “lesbian domestic in Central Florida settings.”
- What is the lesbian domestic, Kristen?
- Can I write a story where the relationship works. That is a question I ask myself. How do you write a story where the relationship works if you can’t understand the human body? If you can’t understand a brain? If you don’t know why people act any kind of way.
- Does a writer need a psychology degree.
- All the stories sit together in a jumble. When I copy/paste them different places in the document they seem to mean different things. If a story is pressed against another story, does it pick up the flavor, like a mushroom might?
- Research how much coffee a person can drink. Research how many calories from fat are in coffee creamer.
- If there is a process for writing I would describe it as vomiting up mysterious ingredients. Things I didn’t even know I ate.
- You write a lot about vomit, someone tells me.
- I like the body, I say, but maybe I just like puke.
- When I put all these stories together, in an order, in the book, it looks like someone else wrote it.
- Did you write this book, Kristen?
- Cry about the book.
- Write about that.
Kristen N. Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. Her work has been featured in North American Review, The Normal School, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Catapult, Tin House Flash Fridays/The Guardian, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction for “See also: A history of glassmaking,” which appears in this collection. Find her on twitter: @Kristen_Arnett.