Vanessa Blakeslee's debut short story collection, Train Shots (Burrow Press) won the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction. Her debut novel, Juventud, explores the idealism of youth, the complexities of a ravaged country, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive and is scheduled for release by Curbside Splendor Publishing this fall. She’ll be reading from Juventud at 7 p.m. on October 14 at Magers & Quinn Booksellers. To welcome her to Minneapolis I asked her to share some thoughts on the writing process, goal-setting, and writing with confidence.
This is just a rough draft. A very rough draft. Definitely not finished. So, please, let me know what’s wrong with it, I want to know how to make it better, but know that I wrote it very quickly, and late at night when I was super tired, and also I haven’t read through it all because I didn’t have a chance to edit so…
If I had a nickel for how many times I prefaced a critique of my writing with some form of the above statement, I may have enough money to pay off my student loans. One of my chief writerly sins is using rough drafts as a crutch, as a cop-out for writing that doesn’t meet my standards for what I hope my writing can/should/will be.
1. “Do you think we’ll ever be as happy as we are now?” Monica asked.
They were on the cabin’s back porch sipping white wine spritzers. Jake didn’t like wine, but a bottle was included in the honeymoon package. From across the lake he heard a loon call. He wondered when the pizza delivery guy would get there.
“Honey?” Monica poked his arm. “Haha, I mean, hubby?”
Today's roundup congratulates Julie Schumacher on winning the Thurber Prize, celebrates Banned Book Week, and looks back at a Julie Schumacher interview.
The title of this column is perhaps a little deceiving, I myself am generally skeptical of any title that alludes to sensation and am reminded of things like Dateline specials and conspiracy theories. I mean to say that Inside the MFA is a column in which I’ll be sharing my experiences as a first year student at the University of Minnesota. In a way, I’m “on the inside” of this MFA world, which, admittedly is somewhat secluded. However, my aim is to not to sensationalize. Rather, I’ll be describing my experiences here for perhaps potential MFA-ers thinking about applying to programs, and possibly current MFA-ers and creative writing educators interested in this particular experience, as I navigate teaching, writing, and building literary community.
Small yellow houses. It’s August, the sky is high, bright. In a blink it’s September and I’m a child sitting in the yard. Playfully my mother throws a newly laundered sheet over me. Settling down. This is the sky. This how the sky feels in September outside those small yellow houses. The corn has red roots—have you looked? It’s all around. Hawk-footed, it claws fiercely at the earth. There are horses and snowmobiles and old cars in the yard. We’re all running around with soft lamb’s ears leaves hidden in our pockets. We hope they last. Of course they lose their softness. There’s always more in the field.
Banned Books Week is coming up. To celebrate (and in preparation for this blog post), I scanned my overflowing bookshelves to see what banned or challenged books I own. Turns out, I have quite a few, and that’s without me purposefully collecting the titles because they were banned.
I don’t know if I was more surprised at how many books are challenged or at the specific titles that have been.
I love my job. I love every part of it. The discovery of new talent, the dealing, the schmoozing, the lunches, dinners, cocktails, and calls. But as a literary agent, my favorite calls to make are the call to sign the author and the call to tell the author we have an offer on their work. These calls can sometimes be days apart…or years. The offer can be on the manuscript with which I signed them, or it can be on the third or fourth manuscript I shopped. There has to be that electric spark of right time/right book that creates that conduit, but above all else right talent: the writing has to be phenomenal in craft, technique, and narrative voice. And that has to start from page one. Actually, paragraph one. Actually LINE one.
Literary Roundup: National Book Awards, RIP C.K. Williams, Harry Potter Lineage, and a C.K. Williams Reading
Today's roundup celebrates National Book Award nominees, mourns the loss of C.K. Williams, discovers Harry Potter's family tree, and takes time to listen to a reading by C.K. Williams.
I've always wanted to write about a graphic novel in this space. Even though the column is about words, I thought maybe I could make it, once, about pictures.
And then I read Renée French's The Ticking. It's a graphic novel about a boy born with facial irregularities and the strange relationship he has with his father, who tries to protect him in misguided ways. The Ticking does some amazing things with pictures—the kind of things that writers (of the non-graphic variety) hope to do with words.