Writing in a Vacuum

Writing is an isolated business, at least for the writer. Once a book is sold it becomes a team effort of agents, editors, designers, printers, bookstores, and marketing teams. But before a writer gets to that lovely prospect, there are countless days of agonizing over every word, plot point, and character. Usually all alone.

I am one such person as that. While it is true my husband (also a writer) is hands-down my best go-to person for reading pages, giving critiques, and editing with me, it still is a rather lonely place. I know my husband loves my writing, but he did marry me, right? I know he wouldn’t bullshit me, but he is just one opinion.

The Algonquin Round Table — the ultimate writer’s group.

That is why a writer’s group is so important. You can get feedback from more than one person, and if you have a good writer’s group, that feedback is helpful. Ah, but not all writer’s groups are equal, are they?

For example, last year I heard of a group that met at a church on Saturday mornings. It was a drive but Kosta and I arrived on time and took seats in the meeting room. It was a very large group–near to twenty folks crowded around the tables. But as the first few members began reading their work I realized I was in the wrong place.

How did I know? Because my husband and I were nearly the only two folks who were not octogenarians writing about their husband’s cancer/Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not entirely true, but it did feel more like a therapy group for widows. They enjoyed what I read (at least they said they did) but I didn’t get any helpful criticism. How could I when I was only aloud to read one page?

For a serious writer it can be hard to find a group of like-minded folks who are working on projects for publication. I still haven’t found one, but I am always on the lookout for potential partners. But it seems that for now I am on my own. And that’s okay. I’ll just keep working hard and doing what I love. That, in the end, is what it’s all about anyway.

 

Sanibel Island Writers Conference – The Authors

I was so lucky that I got the opportunity to attend the conference this year. I signed up to volunteer so I could attend for free, and that was the most amazing thing. It was four days packed with creative energy, great speakers and teachers, and a lot of really cool people.

nathan-hillOver the course of the four days I got three books signed and met some wonderful authors. Nathan Hill, who wrote The Nix, taught a workshop called “X-Ray Writing,” which was genius. He was also funny, and nice and very personable when I approached him to sign my book. He lives in Naples and used to teach at FGCU, but now he’s a full time writer. He says it took him ten years to write The Nix, but what a book! You really need to read it.

rob-wilderThe second book I had signed was Nickel by Robert Wilder.  He’s from Santa Fe and the poor guy spent most of Thursday sitting on the tarmac at various airports. When I picked him up at around 6:30 that evening he’d been awake for hours and hours and probably wanted nothing more than to get some sleep. But he was great to talk to and really funny. Plus he presented an amazing workshop on YA Crossover fiction. I hope he had a better trip home. His book, Nickel, is a novel so funny I snorted coffee out of my nose. It also was honest, and real, and a great read.

steve-almondFinally, my last book I got signed at practically the last minute on Sunday. Some of my Boston librarian friends first made me aware of Steve Almond. They dragged me to a reading of his once in Cambridge, and the guy was so funny and such a good writer I’ve bought everything he’s written since. Three years ago I bought his book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life but I didn’t get to track him down to sign it. Since he comes to SIWC every year I knew I could corner him this time, and I did. He’s so sweet and a genuinely nice person.

But those were the books I got signed. I also got to meet Liza Wieland, Stephen Elliott, Joyce Maynard, Lynne Barrett, Jeff Thomson, Jim Daniels, Gina Frangello, and Thomas Swick. Everyone I met was gracious, warm, and interested in having a conversation about writing and creativity. I wish I could bask in the conference’s glow for weeks instead of just four short days.

I’ll write some more soon about the classes I attended. They were all really great and I learned so much from them. I am anxious to finish my first draft so I can go back and start editing with some of these ideas in mind.

 

 

Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher

dear-committee-members

Let me start with this: Dear Committee Members has the best flap copy ever:

“Finally, a novel that puts the ‘pissed’ back in epistolary.”

I hadn’t been aware it had ever been there.  Regardless, this book had me laughing out loud from beginning to end, and squirming at the places in between.

Jay Fitger (who shall be referred to hereafter as Mr. Crankypants) is a Creative Writing professor at a small Midwest college. He is middle-aged, burnt-out, and disillusioned. The English Department is (as per usual) getting the shaft when it comes to funding and office space while the Economics Department is feted royally. His star grad student’s brilliance is being ignored, and his love life is in shambles. Sadly, these last two are the direct result of Mr. Crankypants’ antisocial behavior. It isn’t a coincidence that a porcupine’s ass graces the cover of this book.

The familiarity of the subject matter is given a fresh look through it’s delivery–the entire thing is written in the format of letters of recommendation (LOR). Anyone who has spent time in higher education (whether as professor or student) is aware of the ubiquitous nature of the LOR. Julie wrote a sassy article about it for the Chronicle of Higher Education. In this article she demonstrates the declining usefulness of these letters, even pointing out that she has on more than one  occasion received and opened a LOR she herself had written.

Julie quite remarkably uses a series of LORs to give a view into the frustrations and absurdities of Mr. Crankypants’ life in academia. If it weren’t so funny it would be quite sad. Especially considering that most of the time (I suspect) LORs often go unread. They are a requirement for grad school and often first jobs, but the formulaic nature of such things leaves little room for creativity or imagination. At least that is what one would expect. Mr. Crankypants puts forth evidence to the contrary.

Julie Schumacher is a Creative Writing professor at the University of Minnesota. She was also my Creative Writing professor way back in 199-none-of-your-business. She dedicated this book to her students, which makes me feel a little better since I am 99% sure she wrote me a letter of recommendation once. Hence, all the squirming.

Now that I think about it, this whole review is an LOR of sorts, isn’t it?

Rock on, Julie!