The Amazing Rapunzle Finelli Hangs by Her Hair

Anthony Schneider

McSweeney's, Fall 2004

 

Here's what Amanda liked: stories that grab you and take you for a ride, characters you want to know better, or think you know but you're wrong, language that is precise and fresh (but not writers who "masturbate with language"). She mystified students by scribbling in the margins of their stories things like "yeah, I do that," "oooh, gross" or "I like this — it's strange." She told them: "Write like your life depended on it." She focused on basics: What is the story you're telling? Whose story is it? Where does it take place? But most of all, she exhorted writers to probe: "Write until you write about what makes you uncomfortable."

Amanda was the harshest critic of her own work and everyone else's best editor and ally. Those of us she read or line-edited were, to use a phrase she liked, lucky fish. She could bore a hole through a sentence, knock the stuffing out of an idea. She could find the nerve you were pussyfooting around and ask you why you were scared of it. She could talk about it until three in the morning, feed you tea and ginger snaps and just enough resolve, then make you laugh about it all. She could say, "know that I like it," or "this is good," and when she did you knew you had done something worthy. Yes, the girl who penned email subject lines like "you smoke crack with your bottom" could speak the truth, quietly, calmly, with a smile and a hand on your knee, and you just knew it was oracular guidance.

I have some of her journals. Amanda, the writer, to herself: "WRITE, motherfucker." And: "I'm doing a lot of sitting and staring." She asked herself the tough questions, kicked her own ass when she didn't write, even nagged: "Back to work, lady. Come on."

Hail to the Amanda Davis Highwire Award. And welcome Jessica Anthony. Congratulations on being a writer Amanda would call the real thing. Now write like your life depended on it. Back to work, lady.