When I was accepted into the MFA program at the University of San Francisco in 2004, I was offered a merit scholarship as further evidence that I should definitely — definitely — be going to graduate school for my writing.
But then there were the kickers.
For one, I was going to San Francisco (I don’t like San Francisco). Two, I like the sun and wouldn’t be getting any. Furthermore, I had to transfer my full-time job to our company’s San Francisco headquarters to make a living (my alarm was set at the cruel hour of 3 a.m. every day to get to work on the city bus system in time for market open back east). And — in addition to moving in with two strangers and having no friends or family out there to lean on — my best distinction as a Coloradoan coming from a mile above sea level down to the cold slap of the Bay was that I could drink everyone under the table for the first two months I was there. And I’m not even much of a drinker!
After a week-long panic attack following the realization that I had made an astonishingly bad decision, I quit the program before it even started, settled down to lick my wounds, and then — lo and behold — started to write. And ended up writing the majority of a novel during my time there.
All my blessings to the faculty and staff of graduate-level writing programs. Best wishes to the dedicated students who complete them and go on to produce great work. And yes, not everyone has the same clumsy experience I did.
So the question is really less about getting an MFA in order to advance a career, but more about your intentions around your writing. Some people need the program as a next step; others find a desk and a chair and do what needs to be done on their own time.
I was the latter. All I needed to do was write.
(Dedicated to my eventual SF friends, who made life during those almost-seven months sweetly bearable: Anne, Carolina, Cheryl, Eliza, Elsie, Geoff, Ingrid and Jason.)
As with every other Aspiring Author on the planet, querying literary agents is the part of the game that I haven’t figured out yet.
Twenty-five agents later, with three bites that ultimately ended in “no,” I still have a disk full of letter versions (does the agent seem to like short and sweet or long and detailed?), a short synopsis (for the short and sweet agent), a long synopsis (for the long and detailed agent), and a descriptive paragraph to memorize in case I get a phone call, an email request, or a letter in the mail asking me for the gist of my book in five sentences or less.
I have sat with my book editor and gone over and over my letters, looking for the misstep, the bad choice of word, or the breezy sentence that sounds like pure arrogance. I have pored over the Writer’s Market and the many websites with agent listings looking for the secret, the Ace of Spades in the magician’s hat.
And still my book “Skin” sits in the drawer, tidy and waiting for luck to descend.
And still my editor says, “We’ll talk again when you’ve queried one hundred agents.” And I look at that Writer’s Market, how thick it is. . .
Or course, I have entered the querying game with the requisite roll-up-your-sleeves enthusiasm of the Aspiring Author because we know that this is our work. This is our brick-laying and our foundation-building. We also know that we go through the motions to feel as if we’re authors, but that the moment when we truly become a published author is often attributed to some random occurrence or chance encounter — just like every other serendipitous moment in life.
So while the work is necessary, the magic is in charge.
And I’ve got seventy-five more agents to query, kids, before I can rest.
I have a friend in television — a broadcaster — who has that cool rhythmic flourish down when he writes his stories. I have another friend who used to turn out one witty results summary after another for our office football pool. Even my friend who got her Ph.D. must have injected — after many cups of coffee and a staredown with a pile of notes — a certain style into her dissertation.
And with any of these people, with anyone who picks up the pen with the intention to craft a fine, sparkling sentence, it comes to this: that feeling you get of familiarity and honor when you read another’s work. From a former dancer’s perspective, it’s like when you watch another dancer do seven pirouettes and then stop on a dime, a gleam in her eye to match the gleam in your own.
It’s that place without ego, when all competition ceases. It’s that moment when the sharing of words is greater than anything else. No matter how innocuous and unassuming, nor how large and encompassing those words are, we stop and grin and gleam together.
First blog entries are strange business. They’re an entree into public life, a debut exposition of minutes in your day most people don’t share with you — the in-between space that’s not coffee with friends, lunch with your co-workers or working out at the gym. They are sound bites from mind to virtual paper that are supposed to be interesting, capturing our quality and essence.
The question of interest and essence aside, all I know is that I am a writer. And I was told this would be a good idea. And in being told, I started to consider. And by considering, I have arrived here.
I write fiction — novels and short stories. My intention is to be published, to make a career out of this thing that I do. And my blog is about what’s happening as I do it, the stories behind the stories, the practicalities of getting to where I’m going, and my thoughts as the world of writing spreads itself before me.
This first post — because you can never share too much grace or good fortune — is dedicated to Keith and Micha, who made it possible. And to Kelley, who held up the camera. And finally to Nancy Colasurdo, for saying “Why not?”