Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saundra Mitchell

A screenwriter and author, Saundra Mitchell penned the screenplays for the Fresh Films and Girls in the Director's Chair short film series. Her short story "Ready to Wear" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her first feature film, Revenge Ends, debuted on the festival circuit in 2008. Shadowed Summer, her debut novel, was released by Delacorte Press earlier this year.

Late last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm forever reading, constantly reading, collecting words and phrases from just about anywhere. I love quiescently frozen dairy treats and effective anticaries dentifrices. I love finding out that the emphasis in duodenum is on the DE not the DU, and that quay is key and quinoa is keenwah and that if you drink pop and stand on line, you're probably from New York.

But I have to be reminded that words are tools. Beyond their resonance and etymology, they have a purpose. That's why I'm enjoying Jon Skovron's Struts & Frets right now. Books about musicians are guaranteed to have lyrics, but the narrative voice in this novel is earnest, honest and straightforward.

It's a coming-of-age novel about a teen boy who wants nothing more than to make music, caught up in the decline of his grandfather's growing dementia- it's about human nature. It's about making art. And it's about being decent in a world that just isn't.

And every word works. Unlike dense, packed-page novels where the words are stacked nine-deep and you might figure out what they mean if you diagram (although the stacking itself is gloriously lush), the words in Struts & Frets work. It means something when the characters hurl insults. It means something when these characters make promises. It means something with the main character has revelations- small and great.

And it means a lot to read a book about a boy that isn't peppered with every lewd thought he has- not because I object to lewd thoughts. I just object to fiction that assumes that a boy has no inner life.

So I'm forever reading; collecting words and phrases because that's my obsession- but sometimes I stop to collect stories. Struts & Frets is one of those stories to remind me that the real weight of language is in the way it works.
Visit Saundra Mitchell's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue