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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hostess Envy

Amy Goldman Koss 

In my childhood, Hostess snack foods loomed as the symbol of freedom. Freedom from the cruel health food regimen and ethnic dietary peculiarities of my keepers. Freedom to eat and dance and flirt and wear loafers and be cute and silly and utterly American.
While I trudged the three blocks to Zeman's bakery for a loaf of salted and seeded rye wrapped in brown paper, I knew that happy, free girls were out there digging into plastic polka-dotted bags of Wonder Bread, selecting two perfect slices as soft as clouds. They would then roll the bread into white balls, or spread peanut butter and jelly on them. Even a single slice of baloney looked lovely and pure on Wonder Bread. These lucky girls didn't even need teeth! They could eat using only their tongues against the roofs of their mouths.
Rye bread required not only teeth, and jaws, but determination. Rye bread was no laughing matter.
Sometimes the hair-netted lady at Zeman's let me pick a treat from the cookie counter. I'd chose between prune and poppy-seed filling, contained in dough so dry it screamed for milk. Or sometimes, I'd opt for the round cookies with a small dab of red jelly in the center, which my dad called "bloody sores."
These pastries did not giggle or float or bounce or look like happy coconut breasts. They had no cream filling or anything else soft and silly. The desserts of my childhood were level-headed and serious. The worldview of Hostess fun food hadn't entered my parents' consciousness, let alone their diet. Frozen peas, and a few other time-saving Sputnik foods, made it through our front door. But Twinkies? Never.
The girls at school who had Wonder Bread sandwiches and Hostess cupcakes in their lunches were the very same girls who didn't have to wear heavy, clunking oxfords for their arch support. The TVs were on in their houses while they ate dinner, and they were allowed soda pop, pizza, potato chips and store-bought cake at their birthday parties. Their moms wore makeup and heels and nail polish, and their dads joked with us. And many of them got their hair cut by actual beauticians.
I envied every single thing about them, including that they didn't seem to realize what amazing lives they had. They were entirely casual about having not just the occasional Twinkie as a super treat after hours of pleading, while facing brain surgery or because a dog had died. All they had to do was help themselves from boxes kept in their own kitchen cupboards and replenished every week!
So what happened to all those happy Hostess Twinkie and Ding Dong girls? Didn't they grow and multiply, ensuring that ever more boxes of Ho Hos made it to shopping carts and kitchen cabinets? It doesn't seem possible that in the battle of prune filling versus fluffy cream, the prune won. But why else would Hostess Brands be closing 36 plants and threatening to fire 18,500 bakery employees? Or be talking about chopping up the company and selling the treats piecemeal, the Twinkie recipe here, the Wonder Bread recipe there?
As a child, I assumed that the moment I was a free adult, doing my own grocery shopping, with my own money, I'd fill my cart and home with Hostess everything. But somewhere along the line I forgot to do so. And now, given the possible liquidation of the company, I realize I've probably missed my chance.
The news talks of unions and strikes and fiscal mismanagement, but perhaps the problem was that I wasn't the only girl whose head was turned by more sophisticated pastries and possibilities. The Pepperidge Farm Milano, say, or even Trader Joe's lemon tart.
Nonetheless, the potential loss of the Hostess Brand makes me melancholy for the kind of adulthood I'd intended to grow into, and for the little girl whose dreams of a Wonder Bread future never came true.
xo Amy

Link to this piece in the LA Times Opinion Section OP-ED,0,4509489.story

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I can’t even consider myself to be waiting for news yet, because the manuscript just went out. If this were a rational woman, writing rationally about a realistic reality, she would know that no editors have even opened the file yet, or read my agent's pitch letter.

FACT: It is way too soon for any human, constrained by Earth's space-time-continuum to have even skimmed my book!

Yes, a rational writer would know how foolish it would be at this way-early-fetal-baby-point, to start jumping when the phone rings, knocking the fresh coffee onto the lap. 

She’d know how pointless it would be to obsessively re-check her e-mail every six and a half seconds, and yet. Wait. I’ll be right back.

Nope. Nothing yet.

But I cannot attend to the many, many chores neglected & postponed during those last, lingering pre-submission weeks because that would require moving several feet from the keyboard. Perhaps moving entirely out of view of the screen...worse, out of earshot of my incoming e-mail ping!

So, here I sit, embarrassed in front of myself, impatiently wishing away hours that I’ll never have again in this lifetime. Eagerly waiting to be older, wrinklier, stiffer of joints, closer to death. 

Alas, so much for be-here-now. So much for mental health, or rational behavior, or mind over emotion, or being even the tiniest bit able to Serenity Prayer myself outta here.

Have I learned anything from the past? From an entire adult life and long publishing career of waits?  HA! NEVER!
xo Amy

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Endings torment me.
There's not much we can do about reality, but for the record, I do not approve of real people dying mid-life leaving their story arc dangling unfinished. Nor do I approve preventable deaths that infuse grief with outrage. Or that mix grief with regret for the undone. Or worse, those that mix sorrow with guilt and shame over the un-doable. A clean sad is almost okay, but that's it, death-wise. 
To a lesser degree, I hate when relationships end with no tidy narration or honest reviewing of facts... When expectations fizzle, and events fall short of their promise... when love just wanders off... And yet, movie endings almost always enrage me for doing exactly what I hate real life for not doing: ending neatly.
Film/shmilm, I don't expect truth in movies. Much more important and infuriating to me is when the end of a NOVEL feel tacked on, unearned, bull-shitty, false. A stupid ending destroys the book backwards, as if the story is being sucked back in through its asshole to puke itself inside out.
But obviously, the book endings that torment me most often are the ones I need to write.
I have had more angry letters from readers for allowing evil to prevail in Poison Ivy than I’ve even had for using poopy language in Side Effects! (that's a lot) People want a happy ending. We want to believe in justice. 
Me too, I wanna! But we can't MAKE ourselves believe things just because we want to. And we can’t write what we don’t feel to be true.  
Isn't it dishonest to misrepresent human nature as we understand it? Isn't it a lie to tell our readers that everything happens for a reason, if we don't really think life works that way?  Or that bad people get their comeuppance? Or learn from their mistakes? Or even recognize mistakes as mistakes? Or that life is fair? Or that anyone profoundly changes? 
Writers who believe that, can write it, I suppose.
But I have not yet, in my 58 years of life seen anyone change in any deep way. Not really. I look at my two kids, both essentially the people they were from their first breaths. My life-long friends... fundamentally unchanged by all that life has heaved their way.  Sure, we all learn tricks of presentation, learn to serve ourselves with a garnish... but change the inside squishy stuff? Nah.
We in the story biz have certain responsibilities though, right? Responsibilities that often translate to Happily ever after or at least, Ah ha! I now see the error of my ways cliche’s. To avoid them is to cut into our own profits. More importantly: To avoid them may be to disappoint our readers who are counting on us to get our heroine safely to shore... To piss off the very kids we seek to entertain.
Sigh. Endings torment me. Living them, watching them, reading them, writing them. Perhaps all my novels and life experiences should end mid-sentence with: And then a Giant Monster appeared on the horizon! Oh no! A giant HUNGRY Mons--! 
xo Amy