Two weeks out (or so) and I'm still processing the lessons learned at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Here are the highlights:
Michael Perry was humble, gentle, honest and funny as he described the church of his growing-up years, and his departure from his parents' fundamentalist faith. I cracked up when he said he learned to write by reading The Writers' Market chapters on "How to Write." I could have listened to him all day.
Scott Russell Sanders described essay writing as "a search for pattern and meaning." When he starts an essay, he said, he has an experience, or story, in mind, but not the meaning or purpose or point. These come out of the writing process, and are gradually uncovered or revealed as the essay develops.
I'm not sure I understand this. I might not be smart enough, or patient enough, or secure enough, to be that kind of writer, but I think it might be worth pursuing.
Then Wally Lamb took the stage. "We knew Wally Lamb was a pseudonym for a woman," the person who introduced him said, "because when we read She's Come Undone, we knew only a woman could have written it." Everyone in the audience nodded in understanding. "And then we read I Know This Much is True, and we knew he was also a twin," she continued. "And a schizophrenic."
Wally (can I call him Wally?) told us how a line of dialogue popped into his head when he was in the shower. Out of that line of dialogue, he envisioned a character, and he started writing in order to find out who he was and what was going to happen to him. Two years later, his first short story was published, and nine or ten years later, while still teaching high school, Wally Lamb published his first novel.
Also? Parker Palmer is my new boyfriend. "I was born baffled," he says, and writing helps him sort of figure things out. "Writing is truth telling through questioning, through struggle," he said. He discussed the analogies between faith and writing, and said, "God companions me as I navigate the dark places." Everything that came out of his mouth was quotable, although I did not take notes and didn't write any of the quotes down. Also, I fell asleep three times because JH kept me up talking the night before until three-fricking-a.m., and she kept having to nudge me awake. I have not yet read anything he's written, but I think I might start with The Promise of Paradox.
Mary Karr was funny, honest and inspiring. She reminded writers to do two things: Rewrite; and, unexpectedly, memorize poetry. The woman has a memory like double-sided tape. Everything sticks. She recited poems easily, and she made me hear the difference between reading a poem from the page, and reciting it from the mind and the heart.
The Andras Visky play Backborn was strange, poetic, and completely non-linear. It was virtually unfathomable to my Western mind, and yet I was strangely intrigued. We discussed it at dinner, and the veils of cultural and intellectual ambiguity parted a tiny bit.
I talked to three editors about my incomplete book proposal. One reluctantly stuffed it into her purse and said she'd read it. Another referred me to an editor at a different publishing house. And the third sat down with me like an editorial therapist, asking me questions about me, my background, and my proposal.
And now I need to get to work, fleshing out the ideas of the proposal, and putting meat on the bones of the chapter-by-chapter outline. The working title is Fight Nice: Restoring civility in public and private discourse, and the challenge is to make the topic of civility so engaging, so real and provocative and maybe even a bit humorous, that people will want to read it.
Wish me luck.