I don’t go to a lot of fancy restaurants. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Or meat and rice to be more precise.
If you’ve ever spent time in Hawaii — where I grew up — and had the local food, you’ve probably encountered plate lunches. A plate lunch is food at its most basic: meat, rice, macaroni salad. And if you go to the right places, like Rainbow Drive-In or Grace’s, the gastronomical experience is akin to athletic sex with the Girl Next Door.
Needless to say, I love plate lunches.
There are a number of fancy restaurants in Hawaii as well. Honolulu is big on Asian/European hybrid dishes, created by local cooking stars like Roy Yamaguchi.
Roy’s restaurant, which sits near the ocean in Hawaii Kai, serves exquisitely tailored meals that are the equivalent of, say, bedding that Exotic Movie Star you’ve always dreamed about — without the inevitable letdown.
But to my mind, Roy’s is an exception. Many of the other fancy restaurants in Honolulu try very hard to reach such heights but often fall flat. The atmosphere may be great, the service may even be top notch, but the meal itself leaves something to be desired.
What does any of this have to do with writing or publishing?
I recently read a novel that tried very hard to be a fancy restaurant. There were enough clever similes and tortured metaphors to choke a rhino, and it took three pages for the hero to walk across the room. The prose, while sometimes brilliant, was mostly borderline purple. As I read, all I could think was let’s get on with it! and finally ended up tossing the book aside.
There are writers who can pull this kind of thing off. Make their words sound like poetry and still manage to compel the reader forward, creating a meal that’s both exotic and satisfying.
But more often than not I prefer the meat and potatoes (or rice) served up by guys like Donald Westlake or John Sandford or Elmore Leonard, where the words never get in the way of the story. I have little tolerance for fancy prose. And just to prove to you that I’m not a complete ass, I’ll admit that this may well be my failing more than the writer’s.
I believe you can be clever without being pretentious. You can turn a beautiful phrase without calling so much attention to it that you might as well be wearing a sign that reads, AREN’T I BRILLIANT?
There is nothing fancy or clever about my prose. I always write from inside a character’s head, feeling and seeing only what he or she feels and sees, and speaking in a voice that reflects his or her attitude toward the world. This isn’t necessarily the correct way to write — there is no correct way, only what works. But it’s MY way.
So, barring a few exceptions, I think I’ll continue to avoid fancy restaurants and stick to plate lunches.
The Girl Next Door may not be as gorgeous as that Exotic Movie Star, but she rarely disappoints.
I realize, however, that not everyone shares this particular bias or sentiment or whatever you want to call it. So I’m curious to know:
What type of meal do you prefer?