At Work

At Work
If you wanna be a writer you gotta be a reader.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What's In A Name?

No, this is not about your novel's title (though titles are fun to talk about–let's do that soon).  Rather, I've renamed my blog.

"Write Right" always nagged at me, because it suggests there's one way. One correct way, that is, to write.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  So let's use IN THE WRITE.  Because that's what this blog really wants to do–get you inside the conversation about writing and the writing life.

For example, and real topic of this post: once you publish a novel or two, you start to get invitations to come and say something about it. Let's call this your Public Life as a Writer.

Invitations to speak span a range from small book clubs in living rooms to keynoting a library convention or giving a commencement address (if you've generated some serious attention) .  But most will fall somewhere in the middle.  Like my visit yesterday to Winona State University in southeastern Minnesota.

I met an afternoon Intro to Creative Writing class, with about twenty-five students and their lively, pony-tailed English professor, Dr. James Armstrong. A school visit is only as good as the students' preparation, and Jim had them ready.  They'd read all the short stories in my SWEET LAND collection, and were packing with "three questions" each.  I didn't get to all of the questions, but many, and we had a good class.  One of the students, a guy, lingered afterward, and said he hadn't expected to like some of my "farm stories," because he had no background in any way in terms of farming. However, he said I had made some of the stories "living things" that kept him reading. "Living things!"  How cool is that as a descriptor of what we authors should aspire to with everything piece we write!  I thought it was a deeply insightful comment about literature and writing, and told him so.

Then, later in the afternoon I did an on-campus reading for about fifty folks, students and community members.  The time (5 p.m) was a bit awkward, as people's biorhythms late in the day are on the wane (I know mine are). And that matter itself–the time of your gig– is yet another part of your challenge as a performing writer: you've got to consider the needs of your audience.  I've developed a habit of picking 2-3 reading options, then, upon seeing the audience in their seats, making a choice at the last minute.  It's a bit risky, but I've made it work.

In this case, I read two shorter pieces, one older, one new.  The older piece was my short story, "Dispersal," about a very sad farm auction. In it there's an auctioneer, and his voice affords me the opportunity to mimic his "crying of the lot" (riffing here on a Thomas Pynchon title), and punch up my reading.

 I talked a little between selections; excused, as promised, students who saw me earlier in class (they were dragging); came down off the podium to make the reading more of conversation; then tried to finish strong once again at the mic. I wrapped up by reading my introduction to a new anthology, TAKING AIM: GUNS IN AMERICA (HarperCollins).  It's controversial piece (things with guns have to get way worse before they will get better).  But remember: as a writer your first job is to get people's attention. After that it's to push them to think–about their lives, their ideas, their values.  If you can do that, you've had a successful reading.

You have fulfilled that tricky, complicated, public side of being an author.  Ideally you've made it look easy, left some good ideas and energy in your wake, and returned home ever more committed to the writing life.

P.S. Here's a link to that guns anthology.  Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Dean Myers, and more top authors.

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