Sorry I’ve been quiet lately. I’ve been knuckling down on edits for my novel before it finally goes into copyediting. This is my panic mode, the last chance I have to make substantial changes to a piece. I’m both eager to let the book go and terrified, same as always.
So maybe it’s a good thing that I’m taking a couple of days away from that intensity to get to John Tyler Community College next week, where I’ll be part of their 20th Literary Festival this week
I have a soft spot in my heart for college writing, mostly because it was during my college years that I really started to consider writing as a serious pursuit. I had always enjoyed it, but it was Professor Judith Summerfield at Queens College in New York who really started me thinking that a passion could in fact become a career.
Unfortunately, it would be 20 years before I had the courage to actually take the plunge to write a novel for young people, but I remember so well how much I loved going to her class, the relief I felt when I’d sink into one of her assignments. All these years later, I am still so grateful that I was one of her students.
Maybe that’s why I’m so excited about teaching two short story workshops as part of my time at JTCC. It comes at a perfect time because the form is fresh in my mind. I don’t know why, but in the past year, short stories have been back on my radar.
It started when I wrote a piece for Macmillan’s Spanish-language Maravillas textbook series. It’s called “Fitting Day,” and it will be part of their new grade six edition. (It’s translated to Spanish by the lovely Teresa Mlawer.) In it, I look at girls, grouchy seamstress grandmothers, and baseball.
I have another piece for Penguin’s Been There, Done That thematic anthology series (edited by Mike Winchell). Each book features middle grade and YA authors writing both in personal essay and then in short story form. I’m in book two, School Dazed. (The name says it all, right?) I finally got to try my hand at comedy, people, and I’m pretty happy with the result. Christmas time. Pantihose. My cheap mother. A Chia Pet. Yep, I made it work.
And finally, in June I’ll be honored to turn in a manuscript for a story to be included in Stories for All of Us (edited by Ellen Oh), a Crown anthology honoring the late Walter Dean Myers. I’m especially happy for this one because its purpose is to celebrate diverse authors writing today. I haven’t even begun to draft, but it’s percolating.
All to say, I’ve been writing short stories again. Here’s comes this festival out of the blue. This can’t be an accident.
If you would have asked me in college what kind of writing I wanted to do, I would NEVER have said novels and picture books for children.
I would have said short stories for adults. Serious stories… what I considered literature with a capital L. Well, I don’t know how well chia pets would fit into that model, but I do know this: Then and now, I’m fascinated by how short stories suggest such a large and layered world in just a few short pages. Whether for adults or children, it’s the same wonderful mixture of economy and impact. And from a teaching perspective, I think short fiction is the perfect way to help a student writer cut her teeth on craft. You can work out pacing, tension, character and all the rest if you have to wrestle a story to the ground. Why suffer through a four hundred page novel project when you can learn the same in thirty pages or less?
If you’re free, you can come to my reading on Tuesday night, 7 PM. Otherwise, I’ll let you know how it goes!
John Tyler Community College Literary Festival February 24, 2015 through March 4, 2015. Schedule here.