Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Strange Fruit II

A dear friend of ours sent over a great big lovely bag of star fruit and pomelos; he grows many exotic delights in his backyard and it's always a treat to see what he's produced this year. My daughter loves star fruit, and has already eaten about half of the first gift, so our friend sent over another bag for her. I promised to make a fresh starfruit tart for her, but I'm wondering if there will be any left by the time I do my baking for the week.

A pomelo is usually called the grandfather of the grapefruit, and is so much tastier than its hybrid offspring that I feel sorry for people who settle for the acid/bitter stuff they sell in the supermarkets. It's not very pretty, though; it looks like a mutant lime (pomelos can grow to be the size of basketballs) and has a very thick rind. If you don't first remove the membranes around the fruit, you'll get a whole mouthful of bitterness.

As we snack on the homegrown goodies, I keep looking at the bowl of beautiful, perfect red delicious apples I have on the kitchen table. They're a gorgeous ruby red, polished to a glow, and now no one wants them (I bought them before our friend sent over his goodies.) They don't make very good baking apples, but I can probably use them for applesauce, dry them into chips, or something along those lines.

Juggling all this fruit made me think about writing, of course -- everything is about writing. Stories are the fruit of our labors, and naturally we want to set out a great big bowl of what we plant and grow and nurture and harvest, and watched it get gobbled up. But what sort of fruit do we put in the bowl, and who's going to want it?

Certainly some of the most popular books I've read out there are just as pretty and polished and perfect as the daintiest of red delicious apples. Not very original or surprising, but definitely dependable and decorative. Then there are those other stories, the ones that seem on the outside to be as humble and homely as a pomelo. On the surface, they can't hold a candle to those apples.

If offered a choice, most people would dump the pomelo in the trash without even trying it, and stick with the lovely, uniform apple, which will taste as they expect: inoffensively sweet, bland, and exactly like the last apple they bought at the store. That, I'm afraid, is human nature.

Not everyone is a same-old same-old apple-lover, thank heavens, or some of us would definitely be out of work. Fortunately for us there are people who want something that surprises them, something they can't always find at every market. They may not know what to call it, or even what they're hoping to taste, but they're not afraid to experiment and try new things. As they do, they develop an appreciation for the unexpected, and while they can always pick up one of those perfect apples, in time I believe they find it doesn't satisfy them anymore.

As writers, we're expected to try to cultivate perfect story apples to be mass marketed in every store around the country, when what we really want to do is grow pomelos in the backyard and give them as gifts to friends.

As storytellers and professionals, should the fruit of our labors fill the bowl, or the bag? Are we only capable of producing one or the other? Or can we grow both? What do you guys think?


  1. Those shiny-shiny apples make me suspicious. That sheen can't be natural.

    I think I'm pretty cautious in my book-buying, as I hate to find I've wasted my money. To experiment, I probably need to go to the library more often :). That said, when a reader tells me that my story didn't go the way they expected, I can be found jumping up and down with glee.

    Make of that what you will!

  2. My sense is that the publishing industry thinks it wants everyone to write the red delicious book. Easy to package (They're all the same size, fit better into the crate), easy to sell to the supermarket (everyone knows what they are and what they taste like), attractive to the eye of the consumer (oohh, shiny).

    But, the books that break out are often the pomelos, the odd book that wasn't like every other book on the shelf.

    Me? I never buy red delicious apples. I know they're pretty in the bowl on my counter, but they are always disappointing in the mouth. And living in apple country, I get cortlands, jonathans, gala, braeburn, pippin, etc. :) But my odds on favorites? The little hard green apples that grow in my neighbor's front yard.

    In a book store, I also pass by the 'red delicious' generic stories.

    I hope I can write the pomelo stories and that apple lovers and readers will want to crack open the rind.


  3. I think we are capable of producing both kinds of fruit, but many of us are afraid to try something different. If we try something other than the "perfect story apple" will everyone laugh at our efforts? On the other hand if "the perfect story apple" isn't what we usually write will we be accused of selling out for attempting that kind of story?

  4. Ooooh. I've been railing about monoculture in agriculture and the results (bland food, bad strategy; anybody remember why every town in America has an Elm street with no Elm trees on it?) but I hadn't connected it to monoculture in entertainment.

    I want to grow pomelos in the backyard. But I think there's a market for something different that tastes better, too. I think a lot of people settle for bland apples because they don't know heirloom varieties exist and have never tasted them.

  5. As a reader, I've noticed I keep the "pomelos and starfruit" and tend to pass on the shiny "apples" to others. Who then pass 'em on again to their friends. Those "apples" sure get around.

    But don't let real apples go to waste. Slice them up and aprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Makes them very very tasty.

  6. Anonymous10:53 AM

    As a reader, I'd like both.

    As a writer, I'd like to do both.

    And now I want to try a pomelo

  7. Anonymous11:13 AM

    Well, do what some musicians here in South Africa have done: start out by giving the people what they demand (red apples) to get established...and once you have the hang of growing the apples and have a steady market for them, branch out into the pomelo market. After all...SOMEBODY has to advertise the pomelos and who better than an established apple farmer? It's a counter-intuitive concept, but it works. Look no further than mucisian Sarah Brightman, if you want an international example. She held the #1 spot in BOTH the dance AND classical the same time. Now she's branching out into Metal. She started out doing A.L. Webber. :P If a writer has the versatility and will to do both pomelos and apples...then why not?

  8. Anonymous11:49 AM

    I could never choose what to write, really. To be honest, I would probably have written massmarket bestsellers instead of horror-ish-stories with vegetarian vampires or soul-filled-chocolates in them.

    But you can't make a rosehip-bush bear apples.

    As for not letting apples go awaste - If I ever get any that start to get dry or boring, I grate them, together with carrots and onions and boil everything in chicken stock. When it is finished (after some 20 minutes), I add some Pakistani curry spice and mix everything smooth. Best Soup Ever.

  9. I struggled with my reply here. It's a very personal subject with me.

    I find that the apples are generally happier, and more successful. After all, they have a better production to customer ratio - a huge portion of the populace routinely picks up a bag of apples, after all - and if you get an apple with a soft spot on it, it's okay, there are a gazillion other apples to pick from. Apples are safe, most everyone likes them in some fashion or another, and no one looks at an apple funny when they sit there in all their appliciousness. An apple knows what to do and where it fits in the grand scheme. After all, it's an apple.

    The pomelo, starfruit, uglifruit, or any other 'odd' fruit is constantly dealing with suspicious glances, whispers, and outright scorn. How dare they not come in a 3lb bag or be great for making pies? The apples don't know what to think of them, and neither do consumers; they don't fit well in a fruit dish or the chill tray in the fridge, or even in the palm of the hand. They usually take a little work to enjoy - are consumers put off by anything tougher than peeling a bland banana? - but the payoffs, once achieved, are worth it. Usually.

    But the seasonal, specialty fruits never sell particularly well, and while they might have some dedicated fans, they'll never have the market share the apples do. Oh, sure, there might be some breakout recipe that requires kiwis so everyone's trying them for a short burst, or pomegranates might have a rabid cult following, but apples are consistent, steady, and dependable. Someone's always buying apples, that's why they get so much shelf space. And why so many specialty fruits are only found at farmer's markets and roadside stands. Many odd fruits are moody, depressed, and struggling. The world wants them to be apples, but they're just not, no matter how much they want to be. Expecting them to think, act, and otherwise be like an apple is cruel, and often debilitating. It's also cruel to force an apple into pretending it's a pomegranate. Sure, they're red and round, but the similarity pretty much stops there. Folks will find out they've been lied to, and they won't be happy.

    I think that the other side of the fruit aisle always looks like a better place to be. The apples long for the exotic danger of the unknown, and the pomelo's long to be accepted and popular. But once they've landed on a shelf as a particular type of fruit, it's damn hard to get consumers, or other fruits, to think of them as anything but what they are. And even if they wanted to, really wanted to, an apple could never turn into a palmelo. Their shiny red skin would burst from the strain. In the same vein, a pomelo could never condense and conform into the apple's tidy shape, it'd whither and rot.

    Fruits are what they are, and it takes all kinds to make a good fruit salad.

    I'm just glad no one here's iceberg lettuce.

  10. Anonymous12:34 PM

    As one who is still trying to "learn" fiction, I find my story is very apple-like. I think writers actually strive for pommellos. At least, I'm hoping with more writing, I'll find a pommello or star fruit someday. :)

  11. Anonymous3:43 PM

    You know, my iceberg lettuce tasted awfully good around my barbecued asian chicken stir-fry last night, while I watched the inaugural balls.

    Personally, I sometimes find myself trying to grow a red delicious apple, to do what Keita suggested, and end up with an out of control pomelo. Can't teach an old, exotic dog new tricks, I guess.

    How's that for mixing a few metaphors?

  12. Lynn, I have been mulling over all day, and I mean ALL day, about apples and pomelos. I had to divert my eyes and walk really fast past the produce aisle at the store just a bit ago. I did stop at the book section but all I could see were those danged apples and pomelos in front of my eyes. I would label them in my mind. I couldn't help but notice how many of the best sellers ended up on my apple list. Most of these are authors I refuse to buy anymore because it's the same book, different cover (sometimes) situation going on and I would be better off just rereading one and save myself the money.
    However, I am guilty of buying up the less expensive little red apples mainly because I do know what to expect and to just tide me over til the release date of one of my pomelo producing authors. So in a way, the apples do serve their purpose. And from the writers point of view, until the pomelo is ripe, so to speak, don't the apples give a little boost to the wallet?
    I can remember the first time I ever saw (and bought, couldn't resist) a pomelo. It was so foreign and unlike anything I was used to. It was ambrosia to the senses. The size and weight of it, the smell that probably zapped me with enough vitamin C to cure the common cold that season. Then the surprise of finding what the heck was inside. It did take me quite a bit to figure out if I liked it or not. I did, just so you know. And that is exactly the way it was for me when I first read Alex and Michaels story. That turned out to be the first pomelo I read by you. Like I said in my post this morning, I keep my pomelos, but the apples I don't even want to hang around long enough to gather dust.

    GOOD NIGHT! and if I dream about fruit tonight, Lynn, so help me....

  13. You know...I look at that picture and all I can think of is that agents want the apples, not for their uniform nature, but specifically for their size. I write the pomelo size.

    However, I do notice that it's a market thing as well. Some genres are more open to the varieties while others are tied tighter to the specifics. You've successfully blurred the line on vampire romance, so there are writers who manage.

    As a reader, I choose from the library at random to try people out, and from the book store because I already know what to expect. Now most of the people I choose are pomelos, so I'm not a great sampler, but I do enjoy my red apples a time or two, especially when I'm brain dead.

    Actually, I was talking to my hubby the other day and he said when he was brain dead he tended to reread old favorites where I'll choose a Harlequin :).

  14. And I thought it was just about the fruit. COmbining thoughts about the PIG and the poor people using lipstick I have started buying the value apples. They are not all round and do have brown bits on the skin but they taste delicious. So sometimes a plain old brown apple may hold a scrumptious secret inside.
    As for books when deciding whether I should conitnue my idea of writing I looked at the back of the books in the supermarkets, that is before I found your books. Anyway even now I have found your stories and similar mine still does not completely fit. When searching for possible publishers they ask is it fantasy, romance, sci fi, etc. And my answer is yes and no. I think I am writing an Ugli Fruit. We shall see. On this note may I apologise for spamming your email. It has been bothering me that I did that. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway and I am sorry. It was the combination of watching Twilight at the cinema and then coming home and reading Evermore that did it. Edward Cullen (dont know the actors name) does not resemble Byrne but my crazy mind went all hormonal. Thanks for the great reads. I promise I have calmed down now.


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