You’re probably getting sick of me talking about this move to South Africa as much as I’m getting sick of preparing for it.
I wonder what life is like in non-hoarding brains.
It must be amazing to be able to store and pack without first having to navigate paths of toppling boxes, clothing and, well, let’s just say “miscellaneous and sundry” (I know…redundant) items throughout an entire house.
I hate my hoarding, OCD brain so much that if they ever offer brain transplants, I will make a list about making a list of things I will need to prepare to knock you out of my way to be first in line.
So let’s take a break from talking about this move and get back to our Manuscript Monday, shall we?
A GIVEAWAY EVERY DAY THIS WEEK, STARTING TODAY – AND THIS IS NO APRIL FOOL’S!
First, I have a pair of Orchestra seat tickets to Geraldine Brooks for her SOLD OUT lecture next Monday, April 8th at Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m going to give you a chance to enter for those every day this week. I will announce the winner in a special post Friday evening.
Second, I will have a giveaway every day this week of an autographed book. Today’s is The American Essay in the American Century signed just for you by Ned Stuckey-French, a creative non-fiction expert. He’s an author, an editor, a speaker, a professor and a very gracious enabler of a certain stalkery up-and-coming (read “wannabe”) author you might know. /wink/nudge/
Third, What does this all have to do with Manuscript Monday?
Well, let me tell you…
At this year’s AWP Conference, Mr. Stuckey-French was a surprise guest on a panel I attended, titled “Progression by Digression: Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction.” What drew me to the panel was the following description: “In this panel, three creative nonfiction writers look at other works that progress via digression, with their main narrative arcs illuminated, enhanced, commented on, and deepened by other threads. The panelists will examine how seemingly digressive narrative lines can open up a work’s temporal frame, enlarge its perspective, provide metaphoric resonance, and add to its intellectual complexity.”
Ned Stuckey-French was not listed as a panelist, and I was excited to discover he was a surprise addition. And thank goodness, because his analysis of James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” was incredible. I have studied this essay in a creative nonfiction readings course (thank you, Mel Fox!), and in a workshop with Phillip Lopate (I am in love with Phillip Lopate) and have returned to it as reference in other courses throughout grad school. Hearing Stuckey-French take apart the narrative lines and look at the essay’s two climaxes had me scrambling back home to re-read it again with his insight. It has added to the many ways I’ve learned to enjoy this piece.
I’ve heard people complain that they never want to read the same book twice, or see the same show or movie twice. For me, each time I read I discover something new that informs both the way I read other material, and the way I write my own. And likewise, I realize that the things in my life that changed between my first reading and my current reading influence the way I read the piece. When I discover more layers after re-reading the same work, I want desperately to be able to create that same intelligent design in my own work (apparently there is something akin to a sense of author deification when writing. No? Just me? Okay then…)
In the case of my manuscript, I want those divergent lines, and I want them to be smart, layered, and (at least 😉 ) double-climaxed.
I know I’m giving excessive blog time to Mr. Stuckey-French’s portion of the panel, and it’s not from lack of equally engaging panelists. Paul Lisicky blew me away with his own essay looking at a music parallel: the fugue. Of course Lisicky also got brownie points with me by referencing writer Allison Bechdel.
The work being discussed at the core of the panel was Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, in which the narrative is continuously interrupted, as “time scatters into a multitude of moments and each goes into its own narrative thread.” My apologies for not getting the attribution on this quote, or the following, because the idea of it will be influential in the way I view my own manuscript (please edify me!):
“Digressions become a means of warding off death.”
I don’t expect my own manuscript to be analyzed so beautifully as are ones by some of the early architects of creative nonfiction, but when I write, I take pride and pleasure in layering obvious metaphor with subtle ones, and in planting “hidden Mickeys” for people who get geeked out by uncovering them. (No? Just me again? Well, okay…)
In my own manuscript, there are several choices for digressive lines, but I need to determine carefully what would still drive the narrative forward, because digression simply for the sake of having a clever new tool can just as easily lead a reader away from the forward momentum. Digression, without being part of the point, for me, is just distraction. But digression, it if serves the purpose of underscoring the narrative, or leading a reader to a dual revelatory path, can be powerful.
There are a few digressions which are currently only written as lesser segues, but are important to the final resolutions of the narrative. One is a digression into fiction. This is a tricky and dangerous thing to do when writing memoir, but the reason it’s critical to my own narrative is because I spent so much of my life creating layers of fiction on top of real memories to avoid pain and mask trauma. Likewise I spent a good portion envisioning futures with children who would never be born, and events which would never come to pass. Each digression into fiction in my own memoir was a coping mechanism for avoiding death and loss. While my own narrative lines clearly delineate the non-fiction from the fiction, it’s a risky path to take, but I trust that my readers will be smart enough to read the truth of it.
Leaving the panel I felt more confidence in the process of progression by digression as it applies to my own work, and left with several recommendations of other works to read. I will never stop attending conferences and workshops, or reading the latest books on the craft of my genre, or the best-sellers in my genre, because it keeps me excited and informed, and I always leave feeling my writing and revision is sharper than when I entered.
While I loved each of the panelists (Deborah Lott, Paul Lisicky, Hope Edelman) in his or her own way, and realized that I must now stalk Paul Lisicky and his incredible writing, Stuckey-French was a wonderful addition to the panel, because his natural tendency is to instruct, enlighten, educate. For me, that’s the reason I go to panels. While I occasionally learn from hearing a person read his work (as I did from Paul Lisicky) I find the most benefit from a panelist who is both an expert in the field, but most importantly, who can communicate the mechanics of a work while making it engaging enough that I want to keep reading.
I’m going to leave you with a few parting note from Ned Stuckey-French before telling you how to enter the contests.
Stuckey-French quoted William Labov, who “argued that “’natural narratives’ contain six basic elements — Abstract, Orientation, Complicating action, Evaluation, Result or resolution, and Coda – and of these, he proposes that evaluation is key.”
For other panel highlights from AWP, I recommend visiting the blog of fellow writer Dakota Garilli.
SO ARE YOU READY TO WIN A CONTEST OR TWO?
1. Orchestra seats to the SOLD OUT Geraldine Brooks lecture
Each day this week I will give you a different way to enter.
To get one entry, simply *Like* the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Facebook Page, and make a comment telling them you’re excited that they’re bringing Geraldine Brooks to Pittsburgh, or thanking them for one of the previous authors they brought in. Then comment below to let me know you’ve done it and you’ll get one entry!
To get a second entry, donate to Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, then send me an email confirmation that you’ve donated: marla at marlasinkdruzgal dot com.
DEADLINE: Friday, 5pm. Winner to be announced in a special Friday evening post!
2. Win a hardcover of The American Essay in the American Century, signed by Ned Stuckey-French!
GET UP TO 3 ENTRIES!
To get one entry, comment below on a favorite non-fiction work (book, article, essay) you’ve read.
Double entry if your comment is about an essay (other than “Notes of a Native Son”.)
To get a second entry, read Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” and comment on it below.
DEADLINE: Sunday, April 7th, 5pm. Winner to be announced next Manuscript Monday!
I cannot thank you all enough for your beautiful comments about your parents. And thanks so much to those of you who donated to VIDA for extra entries. I wish I had a signed book for every single one of you who entered.
Winner, by random draw of all entries, is AMANDA HART! Amanda, please email me your address so I can send you the signed copy of Wild!
See you all tomorrow for another new giveaway, and another chance to enter for the Geraldine Brooks orchestra seats!
P.S. I’m going to leave you with a little April Fool’s poem I wrote a few years ago…