Before I dig into these next couple weeks of bringing you giveaways and posts singing the praises of the annual AWP conference, I have to tell you that finding energy and inspiration from the AWP conference of 12,000+ attendees doesn’t come without navigating my way through a lot of chest-puffing, harumphing, and that bottled flatulence I call literary elitism.
Those are the booths I walk away from, the writers I avoid, the panels I leave early.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I attend both this literary conference (where so many panelists and attendees are degreed professionals often embedded in pedagogy and literary journals), and a commercially-focused annual conference of indie writers and publishers (where attendees have one-on-one meetings with agents and editors who read your work and can give insight on if it will sell, how to sell it, and how to increase digital platform).
I strongly believe that I get from any situation what I invest in it, and I could argue the merits of each conference. I do think each writer (regardless of formal education) should study her genre and craft, and be reading (almost rabidly).
Cross-genre reading is what works best for me, and I often think of what I read in terms of food.
Poetry is my appetizer. The words are sweet, sour, bitter and salty attacks on my tongue, while form is the texture. I relish the alternating play between crunchy, chewy, and silky smoothe. I allow the lyricism of poetry to inform everything I write.
Non-fiction (but mainly essay, memoir, and historical) are my entrees. They linger in my belly like a slow-digesting steak, and I become a ruminating Marla-cow (okay, so in this case a cannibalistic Marla-cow), moving my non-fiction from stomach to stomach until I’ve had my fill.
Fiction is my dessert, my snack, my comfort food. In much the same way sugar aids digestion, fiction helps me overcome the sometimes overwhelming reality of non-fiction. It is the savory treat after a good cry, the escape from the idea that non-fiction hits too close to home, and the pretense that no matter how “realistically” it is written, in the end I can put it away saying “That was, after all, fiction.”
Sometimes, like my Thanksgiving dinner, I like to take my appetizer, entree and dessert and stir it all together on my plate, and scarf it in large, ravenous mouthfuls. This is a rough and dirty depiction of cross-genre (which truly isn’t as mashed as I’m making it seem).
What the hell is my point? Maybe I should change Manuscript Monday to Mad-rambling Monday?
Here’s the point: I’ve been eating myself alive trying to perfect this manuscript. I’ve cannibalized previous portions, allowed them to be informed by other genres and my latest understanding of “self” which is ever-changing (and will always be ever-changing.)
I’m now allowing the way I’m shaping it to be influenced by commercial viability, and I’m okay with that. I worried that allowing my structure to change based on what will sell is a sell-out, but I no longer believe so. To take the “high road” of literary aesthetic is to limit my work to a specific audience of readers.
If I really believe I have something to say to a larger audience, then I owe it to my work (and to the women I think can relate to my narrative) to allow some flexibility in structure and tension.
It is ultimately my story, and like my mixed inheritance of Mayflower and Native, ruminative educators and string-picking bluebloods, it is both accessible and layered. I believe in my ability to portray a straightforward narrative of one wrollercoaster life, while exploring the poisonous side of religion and crippling self-analysis of psychology.
I suppose that to write memoir, we all have to bottle a certain amount of flatulence. And to some degree, we must cannibalize our lives, the works we’ve read and learn to harness our methane to produce electricity and heat instead of smothering the reader in our own micro version of global warming.
And as my good friend and editor keeps reminding me, it’s time for me to own my truth and believe it’s worth sharing.
If you were sharing a story of your life (and maybe you already are) can you capture its essence in one sentence (aim for 10 words max)? Who is the target for your audience (and you can’t say “everyone!”) Each of you who responds to this challenge in the comments below receives the new 2013 Traveling Marla postcard, and if you’re in the U.S. it will come with my dorky little Traveling Marla postage stamp (see photo above).
P.S. I have a seemingly ENDLESS supply of giveaways coming up for you, readers, starting tomorrow.
Remember, you still have one more day to enter to win a signed copy of While the Savage Sleeps by author Andrew E Kaufman. It’s always quick and easy to enter my contests, so click here and good luck!