Friday, June 10, 2005

A Two Turtle Day

We've been talking, off and on, here at the colony about the deleterious effects of MFA programs on writing, a conversation that has continued for me with other folks on-line. Mary, a resident, has been groanning over the pile of submissions to her university's literary magazine. Can't anyone tell a story, she said the other day, exasperated. Her words were echoed by another colleague who also edits a literary magazine in the midwest. All these careful little slice-of-life vignettes, about disfunctional families, that peter away without resolution -- that is the prototypical submission. I'm not too surprised. I recall when I was at UConn, the creative writing folk there sneered at the very idea of narrative (similar to how my current colleagues feel about anything that might be considered "genre"). If it wasn't poetry, it wasn't worth anything. So I treasured the night when I read a story (gasp!) at one of the readings and afterward poet Marilyn Nelson came up to me and told me I had inspired her to try to write narrative again.

It's a pity whenever writing gets too formulaic. I saw a great example of the nadir of that concept: a Chick tract (Scream). It's lying by the side of the road near the school, run over a few times and splayed like an asterisk now. I wonder if anyone's ever been converted by reading a Chick tract -- of course, already formulating in my mind is a story about someone who is. I'll have to make sure it also has something about a coldness of emotions in a suburban family if I want to get it into an MFA-type literary magazine.

I saw the first turtle when I took the forest path than runs parallel to the road, coming back down the hill. It was heading down the path as I was heading up to meet the road again. I laughed, but as it was forest-bound, I let it alone, mindful of everyone teasing me over dinner about the poor turtles. Agymah insists that they like to lay on the backs with their feet kicking in the air, enjoying the freedom. But I couldn't resist moving the second one. He was on the edge of the road by Harmon Park, stepping onto the tarmac. I just helped him continue his journey. He had a big scar across his back. Maybe I am pointlessly prolonging the course of natural selection, but I don't want to see him flattened today. So, I guess that makes my motives inherently selfish!

A colleague at UHD tells me her local book club has chosen my novel as their July book and she wants me to come talk to them. Wow! It's a funny feeling. I still feel amazed when someone I don't know asks me to sign their copy of my book. It's wonderful (I'm starting to realize just how much I use that word, but I am often full of wonder).


Gene Kannenberg, Jr. said...

Yes yes! Please do write a story about someone finding the Scream tract; it might be the only way to get my favorite literary trope ("guy on fire") into an MFA-style story!

C. Margery Kempe said...

Well, sweetie, how can I resist giving in to your desire to see yet another "guy on fire" in a narrative? Perhaps a doubling -- after reading about the guy on fire in a Chick tract, the main character inadvertantly finds himself inexplicably on fire...

Oh, the irony.

C. Margery Kempe said...

One last "guy on fire" link, then to work -- here's the transcript of Joe Bob Briggs' commentary on the broadcast of Swamp Thing which includes -- of course -- a guy on fire motif (see Commercial Break #1) and Joe Bob's usual pithy comments about it.