One of the Andaman locations in my new novel.

Ross Island, India circa 1936, another setting in the new novel.

Reflections on a life among words

OUT TAKES ...bits and pieces of story, research, and process

Alluring Words

September 25, 2009

Tags: language, india, arundhati roy


I recently heard the novelist Arundhati Roy declare that she collects shopping bags full of words. I think, in my case, it would be more accurate to say, I collect words by the dumpsterful.

Initially, of course, we’re both talking about the impulse to gather language. Words wink and tempt us, beckon from the sidelines and far reaches of the brain, from billboards and snatches of overheard conversation, from the echoes of memory. Use me! Take me! Play with me! Keep me! Words are like neglected pets hungering for a home. They want us to want them, and though they may prove challenging, we cannot resist.

That, of course, is just the beginning. We thrill to the adventure of the pursuit, the satisfaction of possession… but then what? For no single word, however alluring, can sustain our interest for long. We need to amass and order them into stories if they are to have any meaning at all.
Which is why I say I gather dumpsters rather than shopping bags full of words each day. Iridescent words, pitch-perfect phrases, whole pyrotechnic passages may seduce me, but if they don't advance some underlying idea, they are of no more lasting use than sparks filling darkness on the Fourth of July. I may love them to pieces but, regretfully, I must dump them.

Only those that not only stand out but have character and the ability to work and play well with others... only these words are of true use to me. My mind these days is in India, where my next book is to take place, and so I’m thinking that the true magnetism of language can no more be captured in one idealized phrase than India's pathos can be capsulated in a single shot of the Taj Mahal or a single note of Ravi Shankar's sitar or even -- though this is closer -- a single cry from a baby girl abandoned on a temple altar. The most enticing words are those that do not stop with themselves but that open the way to others, better yet, that open fifteen, twenty, thirty ways. Even if the original word must ultimately be sacrificed, its effect endures and the ideas it has generated resonate long after it is gone.

This is the allure of words and why, by means of both shopping bags and dumpsters, the hunt goes on.

below for more about Aimee's books & work.

Anthologies of fiction and nonfiction that Aimee has edited or contributed to.
a suspenseful novel of rescue and redemption set in Central Asia at the start of the Cold War, featuring two unforgettable heroines whose fates are irrevocably intertwined.
The unforgettable tale of star-crossed love that spans four decades and two continents.
A young photographer wrestles with her repressed past and identity as an Amerasian in New York's Chinatown. Now back in print after more than a decade, FACE is Aimee's first novel.
Work on Eating Disorders
While there are numerous memoirs available chronicling individual women’s struggles with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, this is the first book to bring together many people’s stories to create a complete and candid picture of the recovery process. Aimee Liu has skillfully brought together firsthand accounts of recovery to create a realistic roadmap for the journey. This book also includes informational sidebars, written by professionals in the field, on topics including treatment options, choosing the right therapist, the pros and cons of medication, how parents and spouses can help, and much more.
How do anorexia and bulimia impact life AFTER recovery? GAINING is one of the first books about eating disorders to connect the latest scientific insights to the personal truth of life before, during, and especially after anorexia and bulimia.
America's first memoir of anorexia, and one of the earliest books about eating disorders, originally published in 1979
Craft & Criticism
Resources and suggestions for students and fellow writers
Aimee's latest book reviews