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Last night, Aimee Bender read to a crowd of nearly 100 people at Elliott Bay Book Company. She read two short passages from her new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (a highlight from the reading: Somone remarks that a woman with long, luxurious hair resembles "a mermaid with legs") and opened the floor to audience questions.

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Like many fiction readings, many of the questions came from (I assume) aspiring writers, who were interested almost exclusively in Bender's process. Unlike many fiction readings, Bender was willing and eager to answer those questions. One question had to do with the first line of a short story: "Steven returned from the war without lips." Bender admitted that she spends two hours of every day writing, but she doesn't write in a linear fashion, working on whatever she's interested in at the moment. Sometimes, she just writes first sentences. She says she'll write "Seven or eight first lines that go nowhere," and then she'll write something that draws her attention: "Which war? What happened to his lips? How does his wife feel about him having no lips?"

As with the best readings, Bender mentioned a few books that she loves: Titles she mentioned were Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, True Notebooks by Mark Salzman, and The Phantom Tollbooth. The latter was a book she loved as a child for its fantastic elements. When she was young, she had a kind of countdown in her head: When she became an adult, she thought, she would no longer read fantasy at all: "All I thought I would do is read The Great Gatsby" over and over again. Realizing that she didn't have to write realistically was a transcendental moment for her. Bender writes intuitively: She's tried and failed to use outlines. Her process, she says, comes down to one statement: "I believe that sentence." When she can truthfully say that, she starts on the next one.