So many quotes flooded through the rooms and hallways of AWP last weekend in Minneapolis and I wanted to share a few here. Enjoy!
Also, see my previous post, What to Read from AWP Writers.
The Writing Process
“Inspiration comes in the middle of hard work.”
“What I write will always fall short of the ideal in my head. To write anyway, knowing that, is my greatest struggle.”
“We are always translating ourselves–from thoughts to words.” -Pablo Medina
“Sometimes you are writing to learn how to write.”
“Finding a good ending is writing your way out of the story.” -Tom Hazuka
Incorporating research/science into writing
“You’re going to make mistakes but there is a point where you get to say this is fiction, this world only exists between these two covers.”
“Your reader will be convinced more quickly than you think. They want to believe you know what you’re talking about. A few specific details generally do more than a chapter of scientific detail.”
“What is true is not always factual.”
“Its more important to write the truth than to write the facts.”
“By writing fiction, I hope to reach a wider audience than if I wrote nonfiction.”
“If I do too much research, it will kill the story.”
“Fake it as much as you can because you’re going to cut most of it anyway.”
“You’re trying to get to a deeper truth, a metaphorical truth.”
“Poems can encircle mystery in a way prose can not.” -Ted Kooser
This is something everyone in this audience has seen.” -Ted Kooser talking about his poet “Splitting an Order”
“What is true now, may not be true in the future. I’d be happy to tell you the truth if I knew what the truth was.” -Connie Wanek
“We always hear readers wanting more. They want to know more, more, more, so telling a story with less is courageous.” -Larry Smith, founder of Smith Magazine, known for its 6-word stories
“The 100-word story gives you a great feeling of completion.” -Grant Faulkner
“Flash fiction is about the spaces around the story.” -Grant Faulkner
“Trust the reader to fill in the backstory and the ending.”
Publishing quotes from editors of literary journals
“I really don’t know what I’m looking for until I see it.”
“I like to publish a mix of established and emerging writers.”
“Finding the right fiction is like hitting a moving target.”
“I can like nearly anything.”
“Silence perpetuates mystery in fiction.” (Think Hills like white elephants)
“An MFA is a prerequisite to teach, but it is not a guarantee.”
“Take your manuscripts as far as you possibly can and have reasons to back up your craft choices before you send it to publishers/agents.”
**I tried to give credit to the mouths of these quotes as often as I could but please forgive me for the many I had to leave blank. I also tried to get the exact wording, but I certainly fell short.
During the two days I spent at the AWP conference (the largest writing conference in the US) last weekend, I compiled a list of titles that we’re either being promoted or suggested by presenters. Just a fun list, most of these titles I have not read so if they are terrible, don’t blame me. haha!
Short Stories and Flash Fiction
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway (short story)
Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville
Fissures by Grant Faulkner (a book of 100 100-word stories)
Hard Time by Courtney Watson (100-word story found here)
Splitting an Order by Ted Kooser
The News by Jeffrey Brown
Boarded Windows by Dylan Hicks
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Death and the Good Life by Richard Hugo
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer Prize winner)
The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby
The Lighthouse by Virgina Wolff
Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison (Harper Collins book with a really catchy cover!)
I read a lot of novels. Almost all fiction. I don’t think reading John Brandon’s short story collection, Further Joy, can really be considered spreading my wings but it was certainly a change of pace. Most of my short story reading is done when I’m waiting for a new book at the library and I pick them out of my “best of” anthologies. Reading Brandon’s collection cover to cover without interruption was a enjoyable, new experience! If you love reading but novel after novel is starting to feel stale, pick up a book of short stories!
Brandon doesn’t try to fool you. He lays out the characters intentions from the start; he does not cover up their past or paint a perfect picture of the future. He introduces his reader to a solid character, giving all necessary information, and then walks through a period of transition in their lives and leaves the ending up to the reader.
Brandon’s mix of action vs. description sets an example every writer should study. He mixes a single descriptive sentence in a paragraph of action (and vice versa) to great effect.
Individual Stories from Further Joy:
By far my favorite story in the collection! The Picnickers follows a middle-aged woman and her friend’s teenage son as they spend a day together. The story explores the constraints of adulthood as they are directly compared to the freedom of youth. The unlikely characters find out that through their many differences, shared emotions overcome everything else.
The Differing Views
A guaranteed eyebrow-raiser, The Differing Views is a new look at a character study. Beginning in despair, the main character slowly takes control of his life once seven living brains appear in his spare bedroom. There’s not a lot of action, but this story will surely stick with me.
A great story of a man who is on the edge of disaster and continues to lean over the edge when he should be back peddling. The first story in the collection, The Favorite sets a reliable mood for the rest of the collection.
This title story stands out. With no main character, no named characters, and no clear plot line, Further Joy explores the complicated relationships of fathers and daughters. The story contains secrets, daydreams, desires, hopefulness, and uncertainty.
True to the title, most of the stories in Further Joy end at a moment of hopefulness with bliss peaking over the horizon. I enjoy the open endings. I enjoy the concise writing and I enjoy the attraction of the main characters to oddball outsiders. 4 star review!
The AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference begins TODAY in Minneapolis!! The build-up has been unreal here in the Twin Cities and I feel very lucky to be attending the conference Friday and Saturday.
Check back in the following weeks for recaps of the best panels, readings, and events I attend during the conference.
Here is a great piece of dialogue from Kirsten Kaschock’s Sleight, one of the most creative books I’ve ever read.
Even when Marvel started going terribly wrong–soon after Gil’s death–she would only say, “Your brother is not of the usual stuff, Byrne. He can’t be held up to the usual mirrors.” And when Byrne asked, “Mom, what other mirrors are there?” she’d answered, “Oh–glass at night, and tinfoil. And some people are. They’re walking knives–you can see yourself in them, but you’re cut up.”
Gilead is a fictional autobiography of a small-town reverend named John Ames. When John finds out his heart is failing, he begins to write a “never-ending letter” to his 7-year-old son, hoping to pass along stories he may not get the chance to tell. John has lived his entire life in Gilead, Iowa and has dedicated his life to the church.
Gilead’s plot jumps around as often as an old man’s thoughts, as it should, but because of this loose structure the story holds little curiosity and even less suspense.
My main impression of this book is that it demands attention. Every page, every sentence, even every word at times seem to hold multiple layers of meaning. I found myself re-reading paragraphs because they would strike me as a truth that needs to be understood. Like poetry. The lack of chapters and minimal page breaks also reinforces a slow reading pace.
Lack of emotion, Lack of purpose
John Ames is writing this letter to his son, who will have very few memories of him without it. The gesture is romantic but this “letter” read more like a journal to me. John focuses his writings on his random thoughts, memories of his childhood, and the current events of his life. Had he been writing for the sole purpose of giving his son memories, I think the story should have focused more on their life together, the stories that John cherishes of his son, and the love and hope he has for his son. The story of how he met and fell in love with his wife is present and relevant, but most of the stories seem to me to be of very little interest to a boy trying to get to know his dead father.
The story of Jack Boughton, for example, dominates the second half of the book. I like Jack’s story because it added suspense, depth, and meaning to the novel. But I don’t buy the connection of why John would want his son to know this story. John says he is sharing Jack’s story because he “may never hear a good word about him”, but the reasoning feels to me like an editor saw the disconnect and encouraged the author to add in a reason why John’s son would care.
Knowing he would die and never have the chance to show his son how much he cared for him, the “letter” was quite unemotional. Not only because he didn’t fear death or the afterlife, but because I don’t remember him telling his son he loves him even one time. I don’t recall any father-son stories or even ramblings about how much he loved him. I don’t think its realistic for a “letter” of this nature to not contain a desperate, depressed feeling.
Although this novel is highly regarded, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, I didn’t enjoy it much. The focus was misplaced and the plot was too whimsical for my liking. I choose this book because it was on the list of Modern Books Our Kids Will Read in School, but if I was a teacher, this book would not be on my syllabus.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. It delves into explaining the flawed truth of humanity, defying cultural biases, and portraying an inside view of a significant world change. And Hosseini does it all in beautiful prose!
The Kite Runner is in a category all its own and well deserves its spot on the list of Modern Books Our Kids Will Be Taught in School that I blogged about recently. Its a list I plan to read in full.
Summary of The Kite Runner
Amir and Hassan were the greatest friends either would ever know but society placed a wedge between them. Hassan was a Hazara, a discriminated class of Afghan, and the son of Amir’s family servant. The two friends grew up under the same roof, played the same games, and loved the same books but because Hassan was a Hazara, he was not allowed to go to school with Amir or sleep in the family’s extravagant house. Hassan and his father slept in a one-room hut in the yard. While Amir learned to read and write at school, Hassan cooked his best friend’s breakfast and made his bed.
The boys’ friendship ends harshly and with tragic heartbreak but their story does not end there. True childhood friendships stay close to heart one’s entire lives.
As the Taliban take over the Afghanistan government, destroy his hometown, and crash into the Twin Towers, Amir escapes the evil rule of Afghanistan and moves to the US. The Kite Runner is a story of Afghan culture before and after it made American headlines. It will open readers’ eyes to that culture but even more so, it will open your eyes to the immense connection of friendship and family and the emotions will tear you apart as surely as they tear apart the characters of The Kite Runner.
The Flawed Truth of Humanity
The range of emotions and the depth at which they are explored is incomparable. Love and guilt. Shame and fear. Pride, joy and love. Desire. Hate.
Perhaps a man can only be considered a “great men” if he is a successful secret keeper. Why? Because everyone is flawed. Every human being holds the entire range of human emotion, including hate, envy, jealousy, selfishness.
Point of View and Tone
Amir tells the story in first person. The mass of the story is told in past tense but the very end jumps to present tense. The switch worked well for me.
The emotion that was so strong in this novel had a lot to do with the tone of regret Amir told the story in. From the very first sentence, the reader feels the regret of his childhood. Watching young Amir act cruelly, knowing how much he regrets it later in life, makes my heart ache even weeks after turning the last page.
Afghanistan’s Discrimination and American’s Stereotypes
The characters in The Kite Runner keep immense secrets and make life-altetering sacrifices in order to keep their name “honorable” by going along with the cultural discrimination of Hazaras. As hard as we try to be fair to all genders, races, religions, ect. in America, we struggle. And because we are so drawn up in our own struggle for equality, we overlook the downright racism and discrimination that is going on all over the world.
This novel opened my eyes to a culture and a religion that is stereotyped more than any other in America.
The Kite Runner is relevant in world news, in politics, and in the struggles of Americans’ daily life. Published in 2003, this book couldn’t have been released at a more relevant time. It reflects a time in American history from the point of view of someone emotionally, physically, and culturally close to the change while still keeping a “neutral” stance on the political aspect. The book does not verbally abuse the Taliban, it simply shows their evil nature. It does not go in depth about the effects of 911, but it reminds readers there are innocent people on both sides of this war.
The Kite Runner is a heart-felt story written in beautifully-crafted prose but the reason it makes the list of Modern Books Our Kids Will Be Taught in School is because of its political and cultural reflection of 21st century American history.
5 stars!!! An extended timeline packed with action. Characters too real to let go. Emotions too deep not to shed a tear. Cultural and political relevance during a testing time in history. Simply stated, The Kite Runner is not a book you will easily forget.
Happy World Poetry Day!!!
Here are few articles to browse while celebrating!!
Pay with a poem: cafes around the world to exchange coffee for poetry from The Guardian
Short history of World Poetry Day from Poets.org
My Favorite Poet: Ted Kooser
Flash fiction demands creativity from the writer and the reader. The beginning is never the beginning and the end is never the end. Speculations must be made.
In China, flash fiction is sometimes referred to as a “smoke long” suggesting the story can be completed before the reader finishes their cigarette.
Modern novelists Amelia Gray and Lindsay Hunter got their starts writing flash fiction. (See Huffington Post’s 12 Super Short Stories You Can Read in a Flash)
Although Ernest Hemingway often gets credit for the first six-word novel, this has never been validated and similiar super short stories do predate him. His six-word novel reads as: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” See more at QuoteInvestigator.com.
Twitter has become another medium for flash fiction. As it only allows 140 characters, its the perfect outlet to hold you to your limit. See @VeryShortStory, @arjunbasu, @twitterfiction and so many more!
My Flash Fiction History:
I was first introduced to flash fiction in my high school writing class when the teacher assigned everyone to write a story that was exactly 100 words long. Once written, we held a bracket-style tournament to crown the best 100-word story.
See my previous blog for a writing prompt and an example of my own 100-word story.
A few places to get your Flash Fiction Fix:
Smith Magazine (known for its 6-word stories)