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Has it really been a year?

That's hard to believe. I wonder what else I have left by the wayside? My apologies if it turns out to be real people--what a thought!

I took a semester off, this spring to be exact. I thought I might return to some projects I had to set aside in favor of school work, but instead it's been months of playing catch up around the house. I've started working on a renovation of the studio space, an important endeavor since I haven't painted since last summer and my last project was in December 2014.

But the bottom line is, nothing is turning out like I thought it would. And taking time off, rather than refreshing my desire to stay in school, has really done nothing but the opposite. I am extremely busy and I can see how laying off one piece of my work simply allows other pieces to fill in the gap.

My vacation from school is about half over and I haven't even begun to do the things I thought I could do, given the time. I guess we'll see what happens next. It's anyone's guess.

Almost done!

One final at 11:00, and then I'm done for the 2013-2014 school year.

How sweet. How delectable. How absolutely wonderful. Just an hour and a half of pure agony left and then I can truly feel free.

Almost everyone I know will have graduated from the program by the end of the 2014 fall semester. It will just be me and one other fellow whom I just met this spring, the both of us working on a thesis in the spring of 2015 if things go as planned. Which they may not.

However, I'm not thinking about this. I'm thinking about painting--well, technically drawing, then painting. Working on some house projects. Writing on long neglected projects.

For the summer I have a reading list to help me figure out where I need to go to get this thesis started. I have something very specific in mind. I don't know if I can learn what I need to learn by reading, but maybe I can. Combine it with a course on sentence construction that I desperately want to take and we might have a little something cooking.

Sometime, I have to face the fact that I have comps to take. And that will be a massive undertaking on my part, as I am definitely not as well read as I need to be. But I’m not going to worry about that this summer, even though I should. I want total freedom to do as I please.

This year I had to take classes outside of workshop, as you do for any degree, and I just really hated it. That’s honest. It was interesting stuff, but not interesting enough to justify the hours spent in memorizing facts for tests and writing papers that I just don’t care about. Chalk it up to my age and the fact I’m not like the rest of these kids, hoping to make some kind of living out of it through teaching. I have a delicate balance to maintain between developing my style and running my life—all which trumps jumping through hoops as proof I’ve learned something.

In writing there is only so much you can teach, the rest is developing and polishing up what you’ve got.

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Mid point of classes

The semester is now half over. I just finished a mid-term exam on poetics. It’s all good except for the poetry essay. That one was a little iffy. Lots of terms in there but I don’t think I did a good job with the comparison contrast of the poets involved.

A finished story and a presentation for next week and then it’s off to Comicon in KC for the weekend. That’s going to be fun. I’m glad about it.

For Spring Break itself, another new whole story and a ten page paper. I am also hoping to work on a new technique in mixed media. I’m going to have to give up my tightly wound perfectionist tendencies for that one to happen. I bought the supplies for it though, so that pretty much means I intend to pursue it.  Good practice and time to make something new.

Some talk today with the visiting writer about how to put everything back together—my natural writing tendencies and all the things I’ve learned in school. I fret way too much over this kind of thing. And it’s making me paranoid and unhappy about writing anything at all. Well, art school was a little like that too. Eventually, I’ll find my voice. I wish I could find it in school, but I’m convinced it’s not going to happen and that’s going to be my mission once I get out. Maybe a genre workshop will help a little bit.

So will Spring.

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Any idea can be a good story

It’s only been a few weeks into classes this semester, but I’ve already come across some interesting ideas about novel writing. I guess the most important ones are: although structure is a key to having a novel that is satisfying, structure alone (or any of the “rules” for writing well) doesn’t mean the book is good. The only place where the idea of a story succeeds or fails is in the execution.

I suppose that is an obvious statement. But maybe it helps a little in not getting hung up on some magic bullet that solves all the problems that come up when writing a story. It’s a myth. Better to focus on the fact that is just comes down to hard work and exacting detail. The right details.

But Henry James had some great thoughts in the Art of Fiction. I especially like his admonishment that any idea can turn out to be a good story. This is really important to remember, because people get very opinionated about this kind of thing. Realism, escapism, literary fiction or genre fiction—in the hands of a skillful and determined writer who actually cares about all the things make for good fiction any idea can become a good story.

But I will say this from my own experience: knowing which details are the critical details is easier to figure out if you work first with realism.

Think about it for a second. If you make up an entire world from scratch, you have to be able to make an experience for the reader that pushes them  to feel like they were born there. Otherwise the whole work is about world building, full of things in a normal story, people would find boring to read.

That’s no easy task. Writing from realism first though, gives you the chance to delve into things like setting as a reflection of character. Easier to do when everything in the setting is familiar. Important factors, like defamiliarization, are easier when objects already have a common connotation.

Working in short story form, in realism, is an exercise in minutia. It’s work on the word choice level, which is the foundation of fiction. It takes discipline. If I didn’t have a natural inclination for puzzles I might really hate it, because so much of the thing is a puzzle. The right word. The right image. The right moment. Things have to happen in the right order. Sometimes you write the end, when you thought it was the beginning. Sometimes the story isn’t what you thought it was about. Sometimes you aren’t even sure what it’s about until it’s finished. The whole thing is painfully meticulous.  

 

 

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Working on a story for class.

It's taken a year, but I sort of have a process for writing literary fiction now. Unfortunately, it requires digging around in my personal experiences for vivid places and moments. Just what I never wanted to write about.

Still, for this kind of work, it's the only way to go. The problem now is--how to be sure that I let go of what might have happened in real life and let it take on a life of it's own.  That's actually a real challenge, because in the early stages I can feel myself fighting it. I want to say--but I didn't like that person or that place or that moment.

This is why I change the names of everything. I write about real places but I don't use the real names. I try not to write about real people.

How different is this from fantasy? Pretty different actually. I think fantasy takes longer to get into that zone, since I'm building it from the ground up. It takes time for it to become as real as any other place I've been. That 's part of how I know fantasy short stories aren't for me.

The big unanswered question here is what part of literary fiction can I take with me when I leave the program I am in? I keep getting asked the question--Kim, you do this so well. Why are you still thinking about fantasy as your true home? And how are you going to learn what you need to know about it?

I don't know why I think of myself as a fantasy writer first. I keep thinking, well, maybe it's because that's what I was raised as a reader on. Maybe it's because everything on TV is fantasy--ironic, since I don't watch it, but you get what I am saying here--when given the reigns, this seems to be what people of my generation do.

My ideas, my stories based on ideas I should say, tend to lean this way. Is it really so different than my painting? I can do realism, but my natural inclination is for flat cute and fuzzies. It just is.

All that being said, literary fiction has changed something about how I want to approach fantasy when I get back to it. I have a deeper understanding of what kind of story I want to tell. And I have a clearer path to get there--in literary fiction, anyway. Will those same tools and skills work in fantasy?

Maybe, but I've come to understand that as fun and exciting new worlds and new ideas are, there is so much abstraction found in the making of them that it makes it hard to get the same level of feeling out of it. You aren't going to be able to get the same depth of immediate understanding and connection with a character who comes from a world and a land that you aren't familiar with. Intellectually you might, but I doubt the emotional connection. And I've decided that's something very important to my own purposes for writing.

I'm still a good deal away from having to come up with a thesis project, and this is the first literary fiction I've done in a year's time. We'll see how workshop goes. I've got a lot to think about.

 

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Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter.
Oscar Wilde