Tuesday, January 22, 2008


A baby dressed in a devil's costume, a werewolf flagging down a taxi, employees puffing cigarettes near the ATM, and girls buying apples from a corner vendor. I witnessed those details from a New York taxi window as I rode from the Henry Holt office to my hotel on Halloween afternoon in 2003.

The next night, I ate sweet breads in a vinaigrette and foie gras with Linda Sue Park at La Luncheonette in Chelsea.

How do I have such a remarkable memory? I don't. But I always have a tiny notebook with me. Miscellaneous snippets fill its pages--sensory details of places I happen to be, meals I've eaten, grocery lists, addresses, quotes from Pam Conrad and Flannery O'Connor, book titles, webs of presentations I'm scheduled for or scenes I want to include in a book. Some pages simply showcase a list of words I love.

While researching in Pensacola, a few years ago, I took my tiny notebook to the beach. After settling on top of a picnic table, I wrote my observations--dark hooded seagulls resting on posts, weather forecasts coming from a motorcycle's radio, tanners gathering up their towels. That moment would never be the same, but I could return to it again. All I had to do was open my notebook.

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