My notes from July 21, 1980
Bowles liked my story, said it was the best thing of mine he’d read so far—that’s the kind of compliment that’s so relative it’s difficult to decipher. Some gems from our discussion: “A complicated sentence often isn’t read completely because one goes on to escape it. Important things should not be put in complicated sentences therefore.” “Everything in a story should be justified on two points. Otherwise it shouldn’t be there. It’s important for things to have a definite reason for being included. No detail can be arbitrary.”
After he had gone over our stories and pointed out our typographical errors to us—he seems to have a moral principle against trying to influence us to do anything more substantive than use a dictionary—he told us stories about the past. He told us about his maid Sherifa who is reputed to have poisoned Jane. Jane had never had a health problem until she ran into Sherifa who gave her potions that induced a series of strokes. Bowles said her intention was to gain control of the Bowleses’ money so that she could help her sister who has 11 children. She thought of the Bowleses’ money and home as wasted because they were childless. Sherifa ended up talking Jane out of the house. Bowles showed us a picture of Sherifa—shrouded in black with a black veil and dark sunglasses, very sinister looking. But he told us that under her burnoose she wore Levis and she carried a switchblade in her pocket. When she worked for them she put a curse in the soil of their potted philodendron so that through the plant she could have power over them even when she wasn’t around. Bowles finally discovered the curse—a little bundle of hair, fingernails and blood wrapped up in a piece of cloth. He showed us an album of pictures of Jane, looking ripe and sexy early on, then later wearing a wig, emaciated, gripping her stomach.