A few months ago following an interview with Doug Fabrizio on his NPR RadioWest program, someone asked me how I write. I had just finished A Thousand Voices: a Memoir, which had been the subject of the interview.
“How do I write?” I repeated. “Just barely.” I got the long silence I deserved and I tried again, telling her I’d skip the early stages, which are mysterious and certainly undefinable. “When I have produced a stretch of writing,” I said, “I take it to my chicken coop and read it to my hens.”
“You’re not serious?” she said.
“That’s the point—not too,” I told her, which is very good ground for a writer who is looking at the finish line.
Doug had asked the most interesting question of all in our discussion. It was posed in his inimitable, amusing way. “When did you know A Thousand Voices was finished? You said it was under your bed—was it really under your bed? Did you just take it out and work on it for a stretch and then there was a moment when you knew it was finished?” We were both laughing at the picture that came to mind, and I told him it was under my bed and yes, I’d take it out and work on it, and there did come a moment when I knew it was just as it needed to be.
I went on to tell him about deploying the chickens, pointing out that I’d had them before they were trendy or I wouldn’t mention it. More laughter; Doug is wonderful to laugh with. I went on to describe how I’d take a few pages out to the chicken coop—one friend calls it the chicken palace—there wasn’t much deprivation for any of us. I’d read what I’d written to my three chickens. If they could keep a straight face, I’d continue. Believe me you know when a chicken is taking you straight. If I could not myself keep a straight face, I’d go back to work.
I did think further about what transpires between the chickens and me. I somehow know a passage is good if it sounds smooth and mellow and natural in that soft environment. I know it is memorable if the chickens make their wonderful Koo kakoo krii kakoo sound. It would mesmerize me, calm me and I could hear it. That was my final audience before I turned it over, I told Doug.
On the drive home from the interview, I thought of E. B. White and the concept of chickens as editors. Will they ever call me a silly hen? I remembered E. B. White saying hens are not silly; they are alarmists. That was a certain measure for me: were the chickens alarmed?
KUER, RadioWest with Doug Fabrizio (9/19/12)