I signed up for a fiction writing class this semester. It’s actually more like a writing workshop, where students bring in a piece of short fiction for everyone else to take home, read and make comments on, then bring back to the next week’s class for a group critique.
What’s most interesting about the process is that, after a few opening comments, the writer is summarily done away with, “killed” as it were, in order to get the most out of the critique process.
I enjoy this: after about a bajillion years in art school, suffering through crits where the artist would either become sulky, belligerent or just wouldn’t shut the fuck up, this is a great way to get the most out of the process, for everyone involved.
Of course, I have no idea when I’ll be able to bring something of mine in. It’s not that I’m afraid I’ll get all sulky, belligerent or won’t stop thinking about things I’d like to say, albeit in a corpse-like way. It’s more that I’m worried that, once I put something down on paper, I’ll discover I’m actually terrible, complete and utter shit, not even fit for Harlequin prefab plotline bodice ripper WalMart tosh, and all the fantasies I’ve perpetuated in my addled mind of being the next literary icon will go down the drain.
No books on the shelves bearing my name. No book tour entertaining the three people who have read my book. (After all of you, of course: as my friends you’re required to at least skim the first chapter and read the end so you can pretend when I crash on your couch at my literary stop in your town you’ve devoured every word, in addition to searching for the parts that are actually written about you, albeit with different names and such.)
And no time on Oprah’s couch, the saddest part of all! Think about it, sitting across from the richest woman in the solar system, pouring out my heart and maybe even misting up a few times, milking the “I am woman watch me bear my soul for ratings! Yeah!” quotient with the skill of a dairy queen:
“The details and situations in your book are so compelling, and really, none of us could really imagine living such an existence. Tell me, how did you create these characters?”
“Well, Oprah, every one of my characters embodies a little piece of me, and honestly, I’ve lived through most of what I’ve written, the good, the bad and, worst of all, the ugly,” I’ll reply as the soothing light softly illuminates my face (thanks to the fifteen inches of foundation they’ve caked on me so I look less like the ghostly pale phantom I really am) as a small tear begins to trickle down my cheek. I’ll look embarrassed to be so open with so many millions of people, and the camera will hold long enough for me to look down and dab my eyes with a tissue. Books will begin to fly off the shelf and into peoples’ hot little hands of their own volition…
“I can’t believe it! It’s pure brilliance, and that you were willing to share that with the reader. It’s truly some of the best writing I’ve encountered. Truly cuts to the heart of pain and joy as few have seen it on the page…” Amazon.com will sell out in minutes…
“It’s all my life; my past…”
“Really? The emotionally crippled alcoholic who broke her heart? The bi-polar poet who kept promising to kill himself if she left him? The head quarterback???”
“All true… er… well, okay, not the last one…”
“Truly amazing! We can only thank you for sharing your tumultuous journey with us!” The Pulitzer people will call….
“And I thank you, Oprah, for making me filthy rich!”
Seriously, though, it’s not like I haven’t got plenty of source material to draw from. After all, I’m rapidly sliding closer and closer to the grave (yeah, I’m still stressing over turning 35 — shaddup!), I’ve had an interesting life, I think…
Not everyone can say they literally grew up in an airplane, with a hangar out their kitchen window, getting woken up in the middle of the night to fly some part or other to Pennsylvania, Ohio, wherever, while my mother worked the midnight shift at the hospital.
My brother and I would trudge across the runway, climb up the steps into the prop-jet, blankets, books, toys and teddy bears in hand, and settle down to sleep, read or just stare out the windows, bracing ourselves and our belongings during takeoff so we wouldn’t slide off the leather chairs. (When your dad’s the pilot, you don’t have to fasten your seat belts.)
Many people have never been out of the country; I can call two countries my own. I haven’t traveled anywhere near as much as I’d like to, but some days when I wake up I can’t remember — smelling the damp cold — if I’m in London, San Francisco or the Adirondacks. (Which isn’t nearly as bad as the days I can’t remember, when crossing the street, which direction the traffic’s supposed to be coming from!)
But, at the same time, while it all seems like it might be entertaining, does anyone really care?
I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s simply a matter of putting it down, allowing my peers to ceremoniously kill me for half an hour, and going home to do it again. Because, it ain’t about the money … if I were interested in that I would never have gone to art school!!!