Swimming in the Sea of Literary Writers: Reflections about 2013
Happy New Year!
It’s my first post for 2014! It’s also my last day of vacation. (BOO!)
Here are some of the highlights of 2013 for me:
1. Made it half way through my master’s degree. I need 9 classes and I have completed 5.
2. Got Margaret Atwood to sign my book.
3. Wrote more then I ever have in previous years.
4. Finally went to the dentist and ended up getting a root canal. (Please note — Do not put off going to the dentist. It is worth it to go regualarly.)
5. Kept one of my previous resolutions and lost 27lbs.
There are a few other moments, but those are the best. Even the root canal, which was expensive and painful, counts as a good one, because now I am pain free. No more chewing on the other side of my mouth.
I would like to talk a bit about the first point. Getting halfway to my master’s degree is exciting, but it is also draining too. Quite a few people I came into the program with graduated this sememster. They opted to take a faster track than myself and are now out the the wide world, master’s degree in hand. A few are even published. (I’ll put links to some of their work at the end.) I’m very happy for them and wish them well.
I wonder if they had any of the odd experiences I am having.
I’m speaking of those moments when you realize you are a speculative writer in a sea of literary writers. There are a handful of others in the program, that I have run into, but mostly we are the strange ones that stand out in the class. Not necessarily because we are the best writers, but usually because are stories aren’t like anyone elses. I remember an interview I read about Stephen Graham Jones. In it, he said that he wrote a story about a guy, who shot invisilble holes in the earth with his invisible gun. When it came time to workshop it, none of his classmates said anything. Finally the professor told the class they had to say something and one guy finally spoke up and said, “I don’t know man. This story was just really weird.”
Yep. That’s what it’s like. I should know. 2013 was my year of workshops. For three straight semesters, I submitted pieces and braved the criticism of my fellow students. Reactions ranged from flattering, to tough, but fair, to funny, and even the random WTF?. I am grateful to any thoughtful opinion, even if I didn’t feel it was right for the story. But I feel self-conscious that my stories aren’t the same. Sometimes it’s good. They are memorable and designed to be read multiple times. Other times, my stories feel like freaks. They look like strange, ill-formed things that stand out in a sea of perfection. Hear my inward grown when a really good fellow classmate signs up for the same critique day as me. I could almost hear the sighs as they read their story first and then my story and mutter, “Why can’t she just write something simple?”
I know some of this is in my head. In truth, I love my stories and accepted a long time ago that if I wanted to be a good writer I needed to look to Bradbury, Atwood, Bender, and Butler. Philip Roth and Ernest Hemingway just weren’t going to cut it. I suppose this is the price I pay. On the one side, my literary tendencies can come forth and play in the specualtive world. I get the criticism of those who read and write literary fiction and can analyze those moments. But the other side is that few of writers read speculative fiction, so when I write about virtual reality, or aliens, the newness can take centerstage. It helps that a few of us had that same class together and became used to my style, but still the oddness can be a hinderance.
I honestly don’t know if this is something that should change. I am sure I am gulity of it too. Since my workshop requirements are over, standard critiquing is over too. What 2014 will offer in my writing education? I can’t see yet. I’m sure it will be good, but now it is time for me to work on my own. Classes might now focus more on analyzing other writers and applying the techniques to my own. Hopefully this will deepen and improve my writing.
One of my resolutions for 2013 was to get published. It didn’t happen, but I will keep trying and maybe 2014 will be the year. I just have to keep submitting.
Here’s to 2014! Hope your year is full of wonderful moments and interesting stories!
Here are a few of my classmate’s websites —
Like beer? Like literature? Head on over to Oliver Grey’s site.
Kelly Ann Jacobson will have not one, but two books out this year! Check out her site to read excerpts and find links to her short stories and essays.
Want to read more about writer’s lives? Check out Mike Chin’s blog. He’s a born storyteller.