Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Meditations on Literary Fiction

Last night I was thrilled to attend this little soiree in honor and celebraton of the fortieth anniversary of Ploughshares, a literary magazine.  I actually Won tickets on the Ploughshares blog, which was cool for many reasons:
  • Number One: it's cool to win things and it's even cooler that the eminent Alice Hoffman decided to donate tickets to give away to lit mag enthusiasts like us
  • Number Two: my husband once slaved away at the magazine as its Managing Editor (and I choose those words with intention) and I once read through its mountainous slush pile. So we had a history with the organization.
  •  Number Three:  Denis Leary was hosting and agreed to hang out at the cocktail reception and be ogled by nerds like us.  We were actually too shy to talk to him, but here's a picture of me standing where he stood 
  • Number Four:  realizing that Lee Pelton, the new President of Emerson College, is a literary Stud!
  • Number Five:  Andre Dubus III's hair...(magnificent)
  • Number Six:  the readings.  Oh.  The readings were exquisite.  Exquisitely written.  Exquisitely read by professional writers (and even some non writers like hockey guy, Cam Neely and celebrity chef, Ming Tsai) and all painfully, beautifully, and exquisitely... sad.
Yes, sad.  Children dying, sad.  Young siblings being torn apart in a divorce, sad.  High School quarterbacks growing old, fat, and bald, sad.  Lonely middle aged bachelors becoming the laughing stock of  small towns, sad. 

And I'll get back to all that sadness in a minute. 

Before the event, at the cocktail soiree, filled with ivory tower, courduroy-blazer-wearing, professorial types, I was a little bit excited to talk about my new book (The Probability of Miracles available for pre-order now at Amazon.com :).  But that was silly.  Because I forgot where I was.  I forgot how the mention of those two little letters, Y. A., could make these folks bristle.  One of my old professors actually said, loudly, "Well I hope you didn't sell out!"  Another colleaugue who's written "real" novels could barely look at me or stop to say hello. Another person quickly dismissed my book as "children's" literature.

Hmmm.  Did I sell out?   Am I writing for children? Yes.  And No. 

Did I compromise and write something less than I'm capable of.  I don't think so.  Do young people deserve less than my best work?  I don't think so.  And are Young Adults, Children?  God, I really don't think so.  The Young Adults I'm only just beginning to meet are voracious and sophisticated and intelligent readers.  I feel challenged by them.  Honestly.  They are not children.

But they are perhaps, child-like.  And this is an important distinction.  This means that while they are sophisticated and experienced, they still have hope.  They are not faced with the brutal realization of their mortality like the audience for all those sad stories mentioned above.  They are excited about living and embarking on their new lives.  And this means that instead of sadness, I get to write with hope.  I get to write with joy.   And although someday I might write the saddest, most beautiful, depressing, literary book for "adults" (I know I have it in me:), for now I feel grateful for the chance to write hopeful stories. 

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