Sunday, November 20, 2011

Task #1 (homework)


Even before tuition is due for my first semester with Converse College, I was given my first assignment for my low-residency MFA program.   I am to submit a writing sample that will be critiqued by seven other students.  These peers along with a couple of instructors will spend an hour discussing my work during the residency.   The writing sample itself is not homework.  I am not expected to produce 25 pages of new material, but instead I am to select a piece I’ve written previously.  The real work is that I’m responsible for reading seven other manuscripts, writing critiques on each, and preparing opinions in order to discuss them in a few short weeks.

I attacked this first assignment with vigor.  I set aside my recently purchased Kindle and the one book in its que,  I let the protagonist of my current thriller in progress, Detective Lou Knabe, sit ignored with some newly revealed evidence, and I began to reread pages of my own past writings in search of my sample to submit for review.   This was truly an encouraging experience.  As I read chapters of my work written months and sometimes a year before I found I connected with my voice; I got my own characters, and when I came to the end of a chapter, I wanted to read on.

Okay, so I have healthy self-esteem.  And yes, this is why I need readers and editors, and why I must tell myself constantly to heed others’ advice.  But I would much rather feel good about my work in hindsight than feel like hiding my eyes when reading past efforts.  Had I gone back far enough in my journey as a writer, I would have certainly found some paragraphs that could make me cringe and possibly wretch.  But at least in the most recent past and with the sample I chose to send, I feel confident that I have some chops.  And in the end, regardless of the opinion of my future classmates, I know I have one reader that is happy about where my writing has come… Me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Past, Present, Future

           My story, as it pertains to my writing, starts as it must, with a great read.  Sitting quietly each day after lunch, my fourth grade class listened to our teacher read The Hobbit.   For a few minutes each day I closed my eyes and moved in a world of wizards and trolls.  I followed closely behind Bilbo Baggins on his fated quest ready to help or fight.  I could feel my own sword in a sheath on my hip, often trying to draw it upon hearing that our reading time had expired for the day.   
            Looking back, I realize it was not the fantasy world of Tolkien’s creation that ultimately intrigued me, but it was the realization that wonderful story-telling could captivate, could free the mind and allow it to travel throughout not only our own universe but any that another could imagine.   
            Deadlines and guided analysis pulled most of the joy from the classics that anchored my syllabi in the years to follow.  Save for a few exceptions that included To Kill a Mockingbird and A Separate Peace, my mind accepted the assigned reading much like the body receives medicine, cringing through its ingesting only to become stronger and healthier after each dose is absorbed.   I sought escape from the rigors of traditional studies in my elective classes. 
Journalism, Creative Writing, and physical education were my favorites.  At times I found ways to marry the three, writing editorials about sports that ran in the monthly issue of my high school newspaper.  It was in writing and editing the paper that I was once again reminded of the power of the written word.
Looking back on that time, a part of me wishes I would have attacked the craft of writing then and there, committed myself to the art of storytelling.  However my easy way with words, a glimmer of talent if you will, was overshadowed by my ability to catch and hit a ball.   Baseball had become my platform to shine and a way to offset the cost of college.  Professional status and the Major Leagues became my Everest, a dream that if realized would unleash fame and fortune and allow the use of the moniker “one of the world’s best” to describe me.
After six years toiling away in the minor leagues, my climb to the big leagues ended short of my goal.  However, during the hours of idle time on buses and in hotels, I turned to books to keep my mind from turning to mush.  Grisham, King, Koontz, and Clancy kept me surrounded by an endless supply of mass market treats.  Each new title was like a small bolt of lightning in my soul that stirred that long forgotten passion for story-telling. 
Baseball created within me an appetite for dreaming big and a best-seller was now atop my bucket-list.  Then I read An Instance of the Fingerpost.  Not long after came The Alienist and The Green Mile.  Books like these made me realize I didn’t want to just write a best seller.  I wanted to write a novel that left a mark both in a reader’s heart and mind.  I wanted to eventually be considered “one of the world’s best” writers.
            I hope someday to have a number of stand-alone tales as compelling and heart-felt as those written by Pat Conroy.  A master of capturing the human experience, Conroy seems to place his characters in situations that allow the readers to see clearly their greatness as well as their faults.   I would be thrilled to find a voice as easy as Richard North Patterson.  Like him, I want to be able to effortlessly weave difficult and complex relationships into commercial fiction.
            I have been given opportunity to study in a low-residency MFA program.  I hope to hone my craft, shore up my fundamentals, and achieve a level in my writing that will qualify me to teach others.  I currently own and operate a baseball and softball academy.  I make my living instructing young players, helping them learn the game and improve their skills.   To have the opportunity to play and compete while also teaching and coaching would have been ideal.  Sadly baseball is a young man’s game and every career has an expiration date. 
            I see, in writing, the possibility of playing and teaching.  I’m excited that my path as a writer can continue as long as my mind and heart are willing.