Thursday, November 26, 2009

Short Story Class in Taos with Pam Houston and Fenton

I was fortunate last July to take a short story class with Pam Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness, Waltzing the Cat, Sight Hound) and her Irish wolfhound Fenton. One of the class assignments was "write a story based on a list." I decided to create a story based on a chronological list of events in the life of a troubled writer who makes all the mistakes that writers can make but somehow parlays a fourth grade essay into a successful conclusion.

And here it is...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Life in Publishing: A Fictional Autobiography

Fourth Grade: Essay, “What American Freedom Means to Me,” receives award and my picture appears in the local newspaper. Family is proud. Writing future looks great.

Ninth Grade: Write deep serious novel about young people in peril. Future as writer appears rosy.

Eleventh Grade: Draft play about 35 troubled young people who speak cryptically to make a point. Give it to fellow member of Methodist Youth Fellowship for review. Four days later, the manuscript is returned; reader and former friend does not understand it. Give up writing.

Freshman, College: Fall in love with troubled poet with coffee addiction; take up poetry writing. Poems appear in magazine edited by troubled poet. Evasive when mother requests copies. Future is guarded.

Sophomore, College, First Semester: Request for “What American Freedom Means to Me” to appear in patriotic anthology. Mother sells 37 advance copies. Writing career back on track.

Sophomore, College, Second Semester: Break up with poet after his coffee addiction spirals out of control and I discover poet “editing” freshman English major. Switch back to playwriting.

Junior, College, First Semester: Return to rewriting discarded play; cut back characters from 35 to 20 and try to revise most cryptic dialogue. Switch major to finance as a fallback.

Junior, College, Second Semester: “What American Freedom Means to Me” essay pulled from anthology when “obscene and incendiary” published poems discovered by anthology editors. Commit to fiction by resurrecting novel about young people in peril with plan to rewrite it for romance market during summer break. Put aside play for later revision.

Senior: Concentrate on finishing degree; will focus on writing after graduation.

Twenty-one: Take job in accounting department of auto parts store chain. Vow to use experience as material for writing.

Twenty-five: Receive last of 60 rejections of romance novel; two rejection letters not photocopies mention (1) the short (130 page) length and (2) the puzzling relationship between the two main characters. Give up writing.

Twenty-six: Eureka! Article on Cancun drinking games published in local alternative weekly. Return to revision of play. Consider pursuing nonfiction again.

Twenty-seven: Marry manager of auto parts store. Quit job to write full time.

Thirty: Complete 175,000 word novel. Give to husband to read. Husband does not understand it, but after finishing only the first 500 pages.

Thirty-one: Enroll in cooking school.

Thirty-five: Drop out of cooking school to focus full-time on writing. Publish several articles for auto parts industry publication. Marriage deteriorates due to lack of common interests.

Thirty-seven: Single again; go to work as barista in coffee shop of chain bookstore. Use cooking skills, proximity to literature, and discount for purchase of Writers’ Market to launch new life. Suffer for art.

Thirty-eight: Former poet lover perishes in haiku accident. Grieve by returning to poetry. Begin relationship with follower of Chuck Palahniuk.

Thirty-nine: End relationship with follower of Chuck Palahniuk before acting on homicidal fantasies fueled by eleven months of his repeating lines from Fight Club. Write up experience; essay is published in Lady Biker Magazine. Abandon fiction and poetry for career in free-lance magazine writing.

Forty: Start job as a mortgage broker.

Forty-five: Play is finally finished. Local suburban theater group stages play with local actors in multiple roles. Play closes after one night.

Forty-eight: Fortunes change: rake in profits before sub-prime market collapses. Marry wealthy natural gas distributor. “What American Freedom Means to Me” published in Chicken Soup for the Patriotic Soul.

Fifty: Start new novel / memoir / cookbook while living in house with view of wind farm. Live happily ever after.

The Quote in the Title

All right, so the quote in the title is a tad gruesome. But if you're a writer, this well-known quote captures the head-banging frustration behind writing (or maybe more the struggle of getting published) and the head-swimming elation of the process of putting words to paper. And my sister gave me a t-shirt for Christmas with this written on it.