In our Writing Lessons series, writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Rhonda White, a soon-t0-be graduate of Converse College’s low-residency MFA program. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor
Writing is a solitary process, and that may be why some of us join an MFA program to begin with—to make connections with other writers. To find community. But here’s the perfect flaw of an MFA program: it reaches an end.
From my first residency, I knew I would enjoy the program, but I also saw, in the eyes of the graduating students, that it would end too quickly—that the important relationships I built along the way would come to an abrupt end if I didn’t make a concerted effort to prolong them. I didn’t want to see in my own reflection the panic of loneliness I saw in those students’ eyes on their last day of class, so I went to work to keep that from happening.
RAVIOLI AI QUATTRO FORMAGGI
Tuscan Kitchen: Salem, New Hampshire
Courtesy: Tuscan Group
Delicate pasta pillows
with hand dipped ricotta
Light brown butter pan sauce,
In the amount of time it took my waiter to return with my glass of sparking Prosecco andthe complementary bread basket, I had happened upon a perfect little poem.
While eating those delicate pasta pillows in brown butter pan sauce, I considered the art of the restaurant menu, remembering more than a few occasions where I’d been stymied over what to order simply because one dish after another was so delectably described.
I surely wasn’t the first to dwell on the connection between the well-written menu and the well-made meal, but perhaps I could be the first to break new poetic ground by reconfiguring menus into gastronomic verse. I’d be the next M.F.K. Fisher of the eating ode! I’d be the new Calvin Trillin of the culinary couplet! Plus all those meals out would suddenly be tax deductible—a necessary work expense! Continue reading
Last week I brought my eleven-month-old baby girl to the Family Center, a small, slightly hippy-ish gathering place for kids and parents. My wife and I had been there briefly the week before to check it out, but this would be our daughter’s first time there to play and interact with the other little ones, and it was just her and me this time.
The woman who runs the place was standing behind the counter of a kind of makeshift coffee bar.
“Hello,” she said casually.
“How’s Mommy today?” Continue reading
In our Roundups segment, we’re looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. We explore posts from our archives as well as other top literary magazines and websites, centered on a certain theme to help you jump-start your week.
In honor of Father’s Day we bring you thoughts and considerations from the literary world on fathers: their influence on writers, some famous literary father-son duos, best/worst fathers, and Atticus (no need to say more):
- Joshua Howes writes on the inspiration of his father for his short story “Run” from our Winter 2011-2012 issue.
- James Crews talks about his poem “My Father in the Rustling Trees” from our Winter 2012-2013 issue.
- David Thacker used his experience as a first time father to compose his poem “Haloed Flotsam,” featured in our Winter 2012-2013 issue.
- Check out our Ploughshares Solo “The Elegant Solution” that Jim Tilley wrote about his mathematician father.
- Dani Shapiro writes about her grandfather’s life and influence on her essay “Evil Tongue,” featured in our Fall 2012 issue.
The Why of Things
Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop
Simon & Schuster, June 2013
I can’t decide whether to be furious with Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop’s new novel, The Why of Things, or to admire it. In some ways, it’s one of the most frustrating, unsatisfying books I’ve read this year—one giant red herring from start to finish, weaving you back and forth from possibility to guess to suspicion to almost-climax, and rarely giving you the resolutions you’re sure are coming. The book’s central mystery—a family arrives at their Cape Ann summerhouse to find a pick-up truck, dead driver and all, freshly driven into the quarry out back—seems perpetually in a state of being solved, the answers always just slightly out of grasp.
And yet: the story is also totally engrossing from start to finish. Winthrop’s scene building is captivating, her characterization intricately layered, and her ability to build tension both preternatural and Hitchcockian—the suspense accumulating so subtly that you don’t notice you’re getting wound up ‘til you put the book down to take a break and suddenly your teeth are clenched.
Have I written about longing here yet? (I’m sure I have.) Every story is supposed to be stuffed to the gills with an aching desire, something pulling a character through the narrative whether they want it to or not. In a good story, longing is a taut tether that a character can neither slacken nor cut, and because they cannot wrench themselves free, neither can we.
In Juliet Escoria’s second-person story “The Other Kind of Magic,” posted in Vol. 1 Brooklyn’s Sunday Stories, the main character certainly is full of longing, but for what she doesn’t know. She’s an adjunct at a local college, but she works as a coat check girl in Manhattan to cover the rest of her bills because she “make[s] more in a night at this job than [she does] at [her] real job.” She’s in a relationship with a man she describes to another character as smart, funny, and talented, yet she lusts after her boss, a man named Tim who we know is bad news, and pursues an affair with him anyway.
To summarize it on the page like this—to reduce what she wants to sex and intimacy with a too-old-for-her club manager—flattens both the character and the story. But Escoria is able to make what should be commonplace and lurid into a deeper exploration of why the character can’t love herself enough to be good to others or to herself—or to ask, What do I want to get out of life? Continue reading
What to do when, as a writer, you’re ready to move on from a world you’ve created, but your fan base is not? L. Frank Baum, the originator of the Oz world and all its charming characters, had exactly that experience.
It goes like this. Beginning in 1900, he put out, roughly, a book a year in the series: The Wonder Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz and The Emerald City of Oz. In 1910, with what he saw as the final book in the series, Baum had the oh-so-good witch Glinda turn Oz invisible, cutting it off from the rest of the world. As the Oz Historian, Baum no longer had access to the world his readers demanded. He was (he now assumed) free to pursue other ideas.
But the “loving tyrants”—his term of endearment for his young readers—had other plans. The new story series he pitched didn’t sell half as well as his Oz worlds.
In our Writing Lessons series, writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Erin Somers, a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire. Erin is also the editor-in-chief of Barnstorm Literary Journal, and her other writing has appeared on The Rumpus, The Millions, and elsewhere. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor
Here’s a potential title for a country song: “I Learned About Heartbreak at Writing School.” Maybe there’s a whole untapped genre of music out there with major hit potential among nearsighted editors’ assistants and those that actually use their library cards. “Iowa Said No And My Dog Ran Away.” “Freshman Comp Blues.” “50thForm-Email Rejection (Standing in Line at Rite Aid).”