Laura Lippman

January 26, 2013

January 26, 2013

"I will win "Best of" before I die."
“I will win “Best of” before I die.”

I’ve attended more than my share of writing workshops, including some of the most torturous to get into (hello Bread Loaf and Sewanee) as well as other high profile names – Tin House, Aspen Summer Words, Napa, Taos.

Writers in Paradise

Eckerd College’s WRITERS IN PARADISE is one of my favorites. As far as I know, it’s the only workshop with a competition for best and second best pieces in the workshop. (The best got published in their literary magazine; the runner up got a nice write-up).  For me, this led to what a friend called “fang extension” – a fierce desire to win no matter what.

Clearly, Nicky's the one with fang extension - not me.
Clearly, Nicky’s the one with fang extension – not me.

Victory didn’t come easy. I lost both first and second place for three solid years. I loathe losing and swore I’d win before I died. Luckily, it happened sooner – because, to my chagrin, Eckerd discontinued the competition after 2013. Under the new system, all participants can revise the material they work-shop and submit it to the magazine for consideration. Speaking strictly for myself, I miss the thrill of cut-throat competition but since that resulted in nine miserable writers who lost and one triumphant writer who won, maybe it undermined community spirit and cooperation. Personally, I don’t think so, but who knows?

2013 Sabal

With or without the “Best of” competition, what makes Eckerd such a fantastic workshop?  For me, it’s their faculty. I don’t read literary fiction unless forced to  (I prefer stories /plots).  Consequently, I’ve never heard of the majority of  author/workshop leaders appearing at even top workshops. This isn’t true of Eckerd.  Books by Eckerd authors/workshop leaders are everywhere – many are best-sellers – because they’re entertaining. Where but Eckerd can a student spend time with writers of the calibre of Sterling Watson, Tom Perrotta, Stewart O’Nan, Laura Lippman, Michael Koryta and Andre Dubus? Dennis Lehane no longer leads workshops but he makes himself  accessible and never fails to fascinate.

Celebrity Autograph Show

St. Petersburg weather in January is beautiful, as is the lush green campus. It’s a safe place to stick your toe in the water (figuratively – there are alligators in Florida) and benefit from smart, professional feedback. I liked almost everyone I met there, even my competition – and I returned home a stronger writer. What more could I ask?

This is NOT a paid advertisement. Writer’s in Paradise is that good.

To download a copy of Celebrity Autograph Show, click on the link.

My Favorite Short Story Collections

I love to read short story collections and admire the craft involved. When I tried to write a few myself, I discovered it’s a lot harder than it looks. (I’ll get into some of the reasons why in a later post.) Here are a few of my favorite collections, in no particular order.

  1. Anything by Alice Munro – she’s simply the best and she makes it look so easy!
  2. Tom Perrotta’s Bad Haircut and Nine inches both made me laugh out loud. I like his novels too but I like the short stories better.
  3. Dan Chaon’s Fitting Ends and Among the Missing captured something Midwestern and hard to define. They stayed in my mind for a long time.
  4. Ron Rash, both Burning Bright and Nothing Gold Can Stay – I like his novels and other collections too but these are favorites.
  5. Ron Carlson’s The Hotel Eden – and I highly recommend his book about writing short stories, fittingly titled Ron Carlson Writes a Story.
  6. Laura Lippman’s Hardly Knew Her – great twist-and-turn nourish stories from a female point of view.
  7. Marly Swick Monogamy and The Summer Before the Summer of Love. Monogamy sat on my bookshelf for years before I picked it up and read it. I loved it so much I immediately ordered The Summer Before the Summer of Love and I wasn’t disappointed. Great stories!
  8. Molly Ringwald’s When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories. I wasn’t expecting much on the erroneous assumption a talented actress couldn’t possibly write too but I was wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed these stories.
  9. Alix Ohlin’s Signs and Wonders. A relatively new writer and another great find.
  10. Jennifer Egan’s Emerald City and A Visit from the Goon Squad (linked short stories in service of a novel.)

Ten Books that Mattered (A Lot) to Me

I thought I’d compile a list of the books that really mattered to me throughout my life. Perhaps not surprisingly, I read many of them when I was very young, in my “formative” years as a reader. I don’t know if I’d rate them all so highly today based on literary criteria but that’s not my goal here – these are books I cared passionately about, books that influenced me, made a difference. Literary masterpieces and classics are conspicuous by their absence – I’ll cover my favorites there in another list. These are my top ten for sheer entertainment and emotional impact.

 

  • KNIGHT’S CASTLE by Edward Eager – as an adult, I’m not a huge fan of magic fantasy novels, but I loved all of Edward Eager’s magic-based book. This one, an alternative take on Ivanhoe, was my favorite.
  • DAVID AND THE PHOENIX by Edward Ormondroyd – a wonderful children’s book. I cried again when I reread it as an adult.
  • THE MOONFLOWER VINE by Jetta Carleton. Maybe because I’m one of three sister, this tale of three sisters really got to me.
  • TEMPLE OF GOLD by William Goldman. Goldman is more famous for his screenplays, but I’m a huge fan of his novels – especially this impressive debut.
  • THE MAGUS by John Fowles – I read this in college and have re-read it several times since. It starts slow but then it’s a speeding bullet to the finale.
  • REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier – possibly my first exposure to a huge twist ending – which caught my adolescent self by surprise. I read a lot of du Maurier as a result and also liked a couple more obscure ones – MY COUSIN RACHEL and THE PARASITES.
  • GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell – I’m pretty sure this is an unfashionable, politically incorrect choice, but I loved it – and like most teenage girls of my era, I identified strongly with the Ashley-Rhett dilemma.
  • GREEN MILE by Stephen King – I’m not a big fan of horror either, but this was like a textbook on how to write a page-turner – it was almost impossible to put down and the ending really paid off (for me).
  • A SIMPLE PLAN by Scott Smith – the movie is good, but the book is better. It’s so tight, so compelling, and it really stayed with me.
  • ENDLESS LOVE by Scott Spencer – the novel, not the movie. Spencer captured the crazy urgency of adolescent love (for me) and the last paragraph is a thing of beauty.

 

I’d love to read some of your lists if anyone feels like sharing!

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