Geraldine Brooks Tickets, Ned Stuckey-French, and a Poem on Ms Monday!

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
Cover of one of my favorite essay books, The American Essay in the American Century.

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?


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.

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
Panelist Ned Stuckey-French considers a question during the panels ending Q&A

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.”

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
Ned Stuckey-French and his analysis of Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” sent me scrambling to read the poignant essay for maybe the 4th or 5th time!

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…)

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
Captivating the audience with his own work was Paul Lisicky of Graywolf Press.

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…)

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
Panel moderator Deborah Lott introducing authors, and discussing Tristram Shandy. Lott is a psychology sharp-shooter in writing. If your own writing involves a lot of self-analysis or exploration of the psychology of others, I recommend you begin stalking, er, “following” her asap.

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.

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
Hope Edelman answering a question at the end of the panel. (If you haven’t read Hope Edelman’s book, Motherless Daughters, please do!)

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.

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
My newest stalkee, Paul Lisicky, answering questions at the Progression by Digression panel.

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.



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!


Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
Signed just for you by author Ned Stuckey-French. This pricey, hardbound book is priceless for writers and readers of non-fiction!

2. Win a hardcover of The American Essay in the American Century, signed by Ned Stuckey-French!


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!

Love, Marla

P.S. I’m going to leave you with a little April Fool’s poem I wrote a few years ago…

Progression by Digression Multiple Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction AWP 2013
A little April Fools poem I wrote a few years ago to read to my friends at Green Poets out in Santa Monica.

25 thoughts on “Geraldine Brooks Tickets, Ned Stuckey-French, and a Poem on Ms Monday!

  1. Marla! I commented on Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures on FB. I was already fans of them but I made sure to post about my excitement for Monday. Do I still get an entry to win Orchestra seats? ‘Cause that’d be awesome.

    1. I saw that. Thanks, Nicole! You’re definitely entered for both the PA&L commenting and the posting here. I’d love to hear about your favorite essay, if you have one.

    2. I also was already a FB fan of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, and I just commented on how much I love the series. I hope I win the tickets – I adore Geraldine Brooks!

  2. I’ve been re-reading “Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America” by Natalie Goldberg. I first came to writing non-fiction after my Mom bought me a copy of her “Writing Down the Bones” so whenever I’m feeling a little lost as a writer, I go back to Natalie. This book is a memoir, but also manages to get lots of good writing advice in as well. (She’s number one on my secret worship list, Lopate after that.)

    1. I just added Long Quiet Highway to my Kindle queue (I am now sadly only Kindling since we’re getting ready for this move) as well as Writing Down the Bones.

      Thanks for sharing that, Erin. You’re entered and yay for your secret Lopate worship as well! We need to form a club.

  3. Commented on the Pgh Arts & Lectures page. Gimme my entry!

    One of my enduring favorite essays is Kathryn Rhett’s “Our So-Called Illustrious Past.” If you haven’t read it yet, Marla, you should. It’s a linguistically supple exploration of roots and ancestry, and much of the action takes place in dusty old libraries in England.

    1. I haven’t, but I will! I just found it and am linking it for other readers to view it also.

      You have 2 entries for the book, Caroline, as well as one for the tickets from your post on Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures page.

    2. <3 "How comforting history can be." Indeed.
      You're right to think I would love that essay. (Although that doggone Bleak House infiltrates every part of my life now, and all I could think after reading the word "baronet" was "Sir Leicester Dedlock" hahaha.
      Now I want to make another trip to England, you realize, and play in the musty old papers in my annual tour of disillusionment.

  4. I hadn’t even heard of Notes of a Native Son, but you did a great sell, so that is now next in my queue.

    And since you mentioned Bill Labov, how could I *not* mention his short essay-reflection on the trajectory of his life and work, How I Got into Linguistics ( Plus I kind of secretly worship him 😉 Have you seen his most recent work on the Phila dialect and its changes? Find a video if you can, he is brilliant at reproducing exact phonemes. <3

    And I lovelovelove essays, so consider me entered in the American Essay book contest now please!

    /heads over to read Notes of a Native Son/

    1. ps your ‘Notes’ link isn’t working for me, you might double-check it (I found the essay elsewhere though!)

    2. I really, really understand about secret worship. I didn’t know Labov before Stuckey-French mentioned him, so now I’m trying to get more of him. Thank you so much for this link!
      I’ll try to track down a video. Maybe I can incorporate one into a future post.

      I’m so excited you’re entering!

      Do you also read Lopate? Wait until you see the Lopate post I’ll be doing either in April or May (soooooo far behind right now). I have his latest book, signed for the contest, and adorable photos of him (talk about worship).
      He has one titled “My Drawer” that I think might have been the first piece of his I ever read. I immediately wanted to just move into his mind and live there.

      1. I don’t know Lopate well – I first came across him as editor of the Best American Essays 1999 (I think), which is a pretty great collection, and includes Gordon Grice’s ‘Mantid,’ which might be my #1 favorite essay ever. I’ve been curious about Lopate all these years, but haven’t really followed up, I’ve just run into him here and there with no real shape to our encounters – I look forward to your post!

  5. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard. Includes the essay “Fourth State of Matter” — one of the best CNF essays of all time, in my humble opinion. Breathtaking.

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