Friday, June 26, 2009

The Tree of Knowledge.

Like Lisa's first photo in her post on this subject, it's all been kind of one big blur. The years between my graduation and... er... present day, that is. My how the time, she do fly.

Like Jillian, I did a graduate degree - a Master of Arts, English degree specialising in Shakespeare and Arthurian literature. And what did that do for me, studying for so long 'neath the Tree of Knowledge? Well... it kept me off the streets and out of trouble for several years.

It didn't teach me how to write. But it did make me read a whole lot. In fact, what that degree did was, it crammed my head full of a bunch of stuff. Stuff which, lo these many many years later has fermented and distilled down into "stuff" of my own.

I vaguely remember the creeping sense of unease that I felt post-graduation upon departing the Hallowed Halls of Higher Learning. Stepping out from beneath the sheltering shade of the Tree...

I had letters behind my name, sure. More letters. Aaaannnd..... so what? For awhile there, I had the disquieting sense--like Jillian-- that all that schooling might have been for naught. That all my toiling, my slaving over hot textbooks, had been an exercise in futility. "Seriously", the nagging voice said, "what the hell are you gonna do with an MA?"

But I was writing, you see. And eventually--years later, to be sure, but still--I was writing stuff that I wouldn't have been able to write without all the stuff that, in the course of those studies, I'd been made to read.

So the question wasn't really ever "what are you gonna do"? It was "what have you already done"? And "how have all of those scintillating words and gorgeous phrases and magnificent stories that you sucked up into your brain in that tiny, stuffy, marvelous residence room affected you"?

My degree gave me the soil and the seeds and the watering can. It took a while for my own little tree to grow, but I'm pretty pleased with the fruit.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Terminal Degree

I’ve been feeling pretty stumped about what to write about this week. After all, the last time I graduated from anything was a good seven years ago when I graduated from graduate school. But then this morning, I came across a blog review of The September Sisters in which the reviewer started by saying that she would not hold it against me that I had an MFA, because The September Sisters was actually a good read. (I should mention here, too, that she also spelled my last name wrong in the first sentence of her review!)But . . .hmmm. That MFA comment really made me pause, and I had to consider for a moment how to feel about that. Was it an insult or a compliment, or a little bit of both?

And that also brought me back to the last time I graduated, my MFA graduation. It was different than my high school graduation, which felt like the most amazing moment of my life – my freedom from the confines of those school walls. And different than my college graduation, in which, as the valedictorian in my major, I’d felt full and confident and proud, like I’d really accomplished something.

No, my MFA graduation was quiet. For one thing, I chose not to even attend the actual graduation. I didn’t see much point in crowding into a stadium with thousands of undergrads who thought the whole point was to throw tortillas. (Really. This was the tradition.) But also, I had trouble seeing it as an accomplishment, any sort of milestone. I’d spent the previous two years being reassured that my degree was useless and “terminal.” Of course, they meant terminal in the fact that there was no higher degree you could get as a writer, not in the fact that an MFA might squash your desire to write! Although, for me, it had done this, too.

Yes after I graduated with an MFA, with my terminal writing degree, I was so burnt out that I celebrated by not writing a single thing for an entire year. Call it a graduation present to myself, if you will. Which of course, really only proved everyone’s point that my degree was also useless.

I know there are plenty of writers with MFAs who write and publish books and plenty without who do the same. I know there are camps of people who think an MFA is useless and camps that think it’s priceless. And I know there is a stigma placed on an MFA – that to have an MFA you must be a literary snob, that you must only write literary esoteric fiction and turn your nose up at everything else (which is what I’m sure that reviewer meant when she said she wouldn’t hold my MFA against me). But to me, an MFA is just like any other degree. It doesn’t really say anything about who you are as a person, a student, or even a writer. It just means that you went to two extra years of school and learned how to somehow salvage your dignity, in that time, after being in workshops with 10 other people who seemed to take pleasure in tearing your work to pieces. And like any other degree, seven years later it amounts to little more than a piece of paper hanging on my wall.

Someone asked me a few months ago, if I had the chance to do it again, would I still get my MFA? At first I said no, then changed my mind and said, yes. Because when I thought about it, I realized that getting an MFA didn’t teach me how to write – in fact, in the year after I graduated I threw most of what I wrote in graduate school out when I realized how boring it all was. But it did, in fact, teach me something tangible about writing. I learned how to take criticism, how to revise, and how to write quickly and under deadline. And these three things have been of the utmost importance in my career. Maybe I would’ve learned these things in other ways if I hadn’t gotten my MFA, but also, maybe not.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pomp and Circumblur

Dear Maureen, thank you for passing over the graduation cap. I'll hold on tight until the first week of October when my official graduation from unpublished to published comes and goes. Until then, I'll stay jittery and anxiety riddled just like you have been. Must be a rite of passage.

As I reported a few weeks ago, my baby graduated from high school. Since he attended a gargantuan public high school and I had forgotten my binoculars, there are no special moments to recount about him crossing over on the stage. Actually, I missed it. Wait a minute, I take that back, I saw him walk through the lens of my camera.

Note to self. Don't ever do that again. Not worth it.

What is worth it is his grand feeling of accomplishment. Two days before graduation I got a call from our lovely high school advisor, Vicki Crowell. "Lisa," she said, as soon as I answered. There was a sing-song in her voice. "This is your sixteen-thousand dollar-phone-call!" Tennessee offers the lottery scholarship to all who earn at least a 3.0 GPA and it amounts to 16K for four years! All of my efforts to harness his senioritis had paid off. Even though, there were days during the last four weeks of school when I just knew the two of us would end up in either the jailhouse or the hospital.

Now he's off to Middle Tennessee State University where he is going to major in Audio Recording. He wants to engineer records . . . and play the piano. Let's just hope he ever sees a paycheck. Ohhh, the flip side of the creative genes!

That's his graduation present by the way.

The other handsome gentleman in the picture is Will's big brother, Michael. He graduated 3 years ago and he's majoring in photojournalism. Maybe someday I'll get a business major out of a granddaughter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pomp, Circumstance and Secrets

After Tracy's wonderful post about her daughter yesterday, I'm afraid I have a little bit of post anxiety this week. See, I don't have much experience with graduations other than my own. Sure, my siblings matriculate from a school every four years, but usually that means sitting in a freezing auditorium and reading a book. (Fragile Eternity got me through my brother's law school graduation this year--sorry Patrick!)

So, instead, I'm going to talk about a different kind of graduation, one that's particularily relevant to me this week: graduating from being a pre-published to a published author.

Before I get into the deets, wanna know a secret? Come close. Shhh...It's better than I expected.

The last few months before A BUMP IN THE ROAD was released, my anxiety increased a thousandfold everytime I saw that little ticker counting down on the right sidebar of this here blog ----------------------------------->

It wasn't that I didn't want my book to come out, that I thought it stunk or anything else. It was just so...overwhelming. The weight of the idea that a life-long dream of mine was about to be fulfilled nearly crushed me. As the days went by, I became more and more nervous and scared that my little book was going to flop. That people would hate it. That I'd never get another publishing contract again.

And so on. By the time June 8th rolled around, I think I was about ready to start drinking heavily or sobbing into my laptop. But, the next morning, I woke up as a published author. And while the anxiety, fear and gut-wrenching nerves were still there, I was OK again.

I held my book in my hands, and I was OK. And suddenly the fire inside was re-lit and I wanted to get out there and tell everyone about my book.

While it's been a stressful and crazy two weeks, I've tried to get "out there" as much as possible. I threw two launch parties, I have a signing scheduled at Borders tomorrow (eep!) and I've embraced the idea of talking about my book constantly, even though I feel like I'm describing my eighth grade English class paper half the time.

And you know what? I'm hooked. Hooked, I tell ya. Every moment of self-doubt, all the tears shed over rejections, the cringe-inducing fear at people reading "my baby" has been worth it.

So now, I pass the graduation cap to you, Lisa!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Graduation Season

Until this year, I hadn't thought a lot about graduation in a long time. But this year marks the year my eldest, my daughter Katie, graduated from high school, and let me tell you, I never expected to be as emotional as I was at her graduation ceremony. So, while this post is about graduation--sort of--it's mostly about my daughter.

She was poised, beautiful, and confident as she made her walk across stage. I remembered the day she was born, and how terrifying the prospect of taking her home was. After all, at home I didn't have nurses who knew what they heck they were doing, and every bit of her care was up to me and my husband.

Scary, but exhilarating too. I remembered her first word (No!), her first steps, the time she managed to lock herself in our bathroom (at the age of 14 months), and I had to call my husband home from work to get her out. It took way too long to get that door open, and the entire time, all I could think of was what was in that room that might hurt her. But when we opened the door (finally) she was as happy as could be, napping in the middle of the rolls and rolls of white toilet paper she'd unraveled and coated the floor with.

And then I thought about her first day of kindergarten, and how she'd refused to get on the bus because her brand new, pretty pink umbrella's handle had broken off. She didn't care it wasn't raining, that it was a sunny, beautiful day outside. She wanted to take that umbrella to school with her, but because the handle snapped off, she couldn't. We ended up driving her, wiped her tears away, and then went home and cried a little ourselves.

Our baby was growing up.

Next in my memory came the sometimes difficult early teen years--the times I wondered if I would be sane by the time she made it to adulthood. And then her first boyfriend, her second, and then finally, we arrived at that moment, the day I sat in a crowd of other proud parents and watched my child complete her high school years.

Graduation is, at once, an end of one portion of a person's life and the beginning of the next portion. It's exciting, but for me--it's also a little sad. As I write this, I know that it won't be that much longer before my baby girl who is now an adult moves completely out of my home to create a home of her own. But as I think back over my life, and all the times I've still needed my mother, I hold onto the hope that she'll never forget the love we raised her with.

I am proud, oh-so-proud, and I am excited for her--for what her life will become, and the amazing choices she has in front of her.

So, to celebrate this high school graduation season, and because of my pride, I want to share a slideshow my daughter had to put together as one of her final exams before graduation. It's been a lot of years since I was a high school student, but this slide show brought those years back in a blink. Oh...I should also point out that we had to change the song as her original song choices are copyright protected.

I love this! Naturally, I'm the mom, so that makes sense, but I hope you all enjoy it too. And if you remember the post I wrote a while back about Katie's prom day, you'll see a shot of her in her fantastic prom dress with her boyfriend toward the end, after the section labeled "My Senior Year."

So, to end: congratulations to all of this year's graduates, whether from high school or college! Grab on to this next portion of your life with excitement, and I hope all of your dreams come true.

Also, on a different note, I'd like to point out an interview/contest that is going on right now. If you'd like to win a signed copy of A TASTE OF MAGIC, and learn a little more about me, head on over to Dreaming on the Job.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Hello, faithful TNG readers!

Just another bit of WONDROUS STRANGE news this week...

For those of you who like your fiction aurally consumeable, I'm happy to announce that the audio book version of WS (unabridged) is now available for download at and on iTunes!

And it's narrated by Yours Truly! C'mon... admit it... you're curious. (Don't make the three straight days I spent locked in a tiny padded room be for naught!)

Cheers and Happy Dad's Day!