Friday, February 26, 2010

L'Esprit D'Escalier versus Kindness

Last week I spoke at the wonderful Washington bookstore, Politics & Prose, to an enthusiastic and attentive audience, about True Confections. After my talk and reading, which included the playing the jingle from the counterfeit 1960 commercial for Little Sammies (see, well into the q & a, a woman raised her hand, declared her enjoyment of the book, and then asked me, "How does the Ziplinsky family feel about the book? Have you heard from any of them?

I was a little stunned, and I asked her to clarify her question, which she restated firmly. Have I heard from members of the Ziplinsky family? What did they think of the novel? I talked about the very literal response to my previous novel, Triangle, which has led to numerous inquiries from scholars seeking the original documents I quote from throughout the novel (they're all fictional). I explained why this inspired me to create the website for the fictional candy company in this novel. And then I told her very carefully, with a smile, that the fictional characters in my novel, a work of fiction, these imaginary people who run an imaginary candy company, are, no doubt, very angry with me. And everyone laughed, but not, at this point, directly at my questioner.

The l'esprit d'escalier thought for that moment, which occurred to me an hour later when I was having dinner with old friends, was to go straight to the big laugh, and for a moment I wished I had responded to her question by saying, "Oh, bad subject! The Ziplinskys are totally furious, and they're suing me for huge damages. It's an utter nightmare. My attorney won't allow me to talk about it." If I had gone for that bigger laugh, which would have been at her expense, I like to think my esprit'descalier at dinner would have been one of regret that I hadn't been kinder.


  1. I can think of no better compliment than having a reader believe your characters are real enough to resent being written about!

  2. Success indeed! I have been meaning to note your pub date for your novel on my blog, Rhymes with Bacon, for some time. Today, I was spurred into action by the fabulously tasty review from NPR,to which I've linked in my post. Congrats!