Archive for January, 2011

Thought Bubble

Cathy Day’s post The Millions : The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis got me thinking today. In it she argues we are not having a renaissance of the short story. It is simply that MFA programs focus on short stories rather than novels mainly because it is a more manageable form for both teacher and student. Thus, writing programs produce students who are wary of writing novels.

Since graduating from an MFA program, I’ve often wished I had learned more about structuring a longer body of work. Although I did learn a lot about writing in general at my university (which was in Australia, so I’m not sure how well it correlates to the American MFA experience) including theory classes and broad-brush exposure to multiple genres ( scriptwriting, short story, poetry, YA) it would have helped to have a class that addressed the novel or memoir.

So, the hard work of learning how to structure a long piece fell to me. My self-directed course in writing memoir has included reading the greats: Mary Karr, both Wolff brothers, Dave Eggers, Jeannette Walls and some other up-and-comers including Laura Munson and Kelly Corrigan. I also troll countless blogs looking for advice (or is this simply procrastination). Ironically, one of the most helpful posts was a speech given by a YA literary agent, Cheryl Klein. Her thoughts on Harry Potter helped enormously. Finally, I read books on the craft of writing memoir. Currently, ‘The Art of Time in Memoir’ by Sven Birkerts sits on my bedside table. Two years ago this book wouldn’t have made much sense to me. Now it has me running to my manuscript to add elements of Birkert’s strategies.

Recently, I signed up for the Monster Memoir Workshop with Rachel Howard at The Grotto in San Francisco so that I can have my 100 or so pages critiqued by a small group of writers. I’m hoping to get advice regarding the overall message of my book, the characters I’ve developed and the balance between showing readers Australia and letting them into my life. I’ll let you know how I go…

So, I agree with Cathy Day that a place needs to be made in MFA programs for students who would like to write longer pieces. However, I’m not sure anyone has the time. Teachers are too busy teaching and writing short stories because they don’t have enough time for their own novels! Or, could this just be another stage in the looooooong process of learning to write? Perhaps I would have been overwhelmed with lectures about BIG novels. Maybe the overview I received was just right. What do you think?

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First, sorry for my prolonged absence. I had teacher’s luncheons to cook, book fairs to manage, cookies to bake and presents to prepare. We spent a rainy, Snuggi-wrapped first Christmas here in Northern California enjoying our new books and xBox. We all enjoyed getting to know our area better visiting Muir Woods, Mount Diablo, Sausalito and the Academy of Sciences. Tim and I celebrated our 16th anniversary on New Year’s Eve watching ‘The King’s Speech’ (excellent) and dining at a french bistro. Tomorrow it is back to reality. Today is my warm-up.

Did any of you make New Year’s resolutions? I’m not a big fan. Too much pressure for this list-completing personality. So, instead I’m going to think about how to live more mindfully this year. Thanks to Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent for her inspiration.

Believe in myself

Believe in my family

Take time for the important things

Go to yoga class, it works

This is a work-in-progress. I’ll add to it as I go. I’ve signed up for the “Monster Memoir Manuscript Workshop” with Rachel Howard at The Grotto in San Francisco. Please oh please let it help me finish my book! I’m checking out a new writing group next week. More on that later. I will continue my volunteer work at a literary project in the Mission and at Raising a Reader just down the street here in Palo Alto. Oh, and I’d like to spend time with my children. At ages 10, 12 and 14 (how I love the even years) they are actually a lot of fun!

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