I was at an Arists’ Residency, far from home, and things weren’t going well. There was lots of chatter about people you knew in New York, and I didn’t know anybody in New York unless you count my college roommate who lives in Harlem and my cousin who lives in New Jersey. The people I knew were “people I loved,” but they weren’t “people you knew in New York.” I mean, I don’t think they went to the same parties. So, over dinner, I stayed mute. People didn’t want to know about my small town friends, my cousins, my community organizing extravaganzas for towns of 1,500 people. My towns were not New York.
So, I was blue. Also, the writing wasn’t going well. I’d look out my window, watch antelope zoom like shape-shifters over the dry hills, and think, “Well, this is going nowhere.” My novel was so long, I couldn’t even remember what was in it. I had so many characters, I didn’t remember who they were. And I couldn’t find things. Read more
One of the great gifts of the writing life is the chance to be with other writers and artists in cross-genre communities. One of the ways to do that is through a residency. When a residency comes as a gift, and it includes the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, moonrise, prairie dogs, and antelope–what could be better? Thanks to the Hemingway Foundation and PEN organization, I got to spend 27 days this fall at Ucross Ranch, writing in my studio, meeting new artists, filmmakers, writers, and musicians. Dinner was congenial and delicious, prepared by chef Cindy, and we got our hands dirty in Cindy’s kitchen on Sunday nights, making soup and cookies, the most essential comfort foods for the writing life.
In the way of full disclosure, it’s true that I spent most of my writing studio time growling at my manuscript, sighing heavily, thinking what a bad writer I am, and going and lying on the floor. But then I would look out the window and there would be antelopes. Or a whirlwind of yellow cottonwood leaves. Or snow. The whirlwind turned into a scene, the scene turned into a metaphor, the metaphor begins to hold the whole thing together. Oddly, the residency’s deluxe washer/dryer also inspired a scene. Everything is art in such a place.
Now that I’m home, I’m appreciating new friends made, and letting the writing simmer until I can plunge in again. Thanks to Ucross friends Suzanne, Carmiel, Frank, Sharon, Yehuda, Chris, Janet, Lalita, and Justin for making a home on the range a comfort zone for writing and creativity. And thanks to Craig Johnson, of the Walt Longmire mystery series, one of the “population 25” at Ucross, for taking the time to talk to a visiting writer about cool places to go and see. Including the Busy Bee Cafe, home of the Western version of biscuits and gravy (more pepper than in the South). Been enjoying his “paranormal western detective” books ever since.
Another Ucross moment: making jack-o-lanterns. Mine is the squinty one at the left.
A long-dead longhorn at King’s Saddelry in Sheridan.
Every writer has a dream award, the one that she knows would change life forever. Pen/Hemingway, an award for first fiction book, has always been one of those for me. It’s the kind of award that you can get only when you are starting out. Only first-time fiction writers are eligible. It’s a fairy tale award. A Cinderella story award. A happy ending for a first book, and a beginning for just one lucky writer a year–plus a powerful nod to finalists and honorable mentions.
Founded by Mary Hemingway in 1976 to honor her husband Ernest, and to recognize “distinguished first books of fiction,” the award is administered by the wonderful PEN organization for writers.
Some of my favorite writers have won this award, here are just a few:
The recognition that comes from this award starts careers, lets the world know you are writing something worth reading. Plus, how cool is it to have your name in the same paragraph with Hemingway’s?
Yesterday afternoon I got the confirmation that Accidental Birds of the Carolinas was selected for Honorable Mention for the Pen/Hemingway award.
I am still so excited that I’m not quite breathing right. Today I celebrate by calling friends, doing a little yoga, and taking the dog for a very long walk, a glass of wine with a friend. Tomorrow, it’s back to writing the next thing. But ahh, the sweetness will linger through my days. Thank you, Mr. Hemingway, and your lovely wife Mary.
To read about this year’s winner, finalists, and honorable mentions, see www.pen-ne.org