Writing mentors in 2011—enough to fill an entire house! Lee K. Abbott, Laurie Foos, Tom Jenks, Connie May Fowler, Lee Martin, and Nancy Zafris. And I must include my fellow writers—Seth Borgen, Mark Fabiano, and Lauren Inness Norton—for their words and wisdom, their thoughtful remarks, and generosity of time and space. Whether in workshop or in casual conversation, in person or over email, all of these souls have been honest and well-intentioned, sometimes hard-edged or even-keeled, humorous and teasing, munificent above all, for the sake of the written word.
The bricks and mortar, the balustrades and spandrels of writing, collected from these teachers and peers into notebooks, scrawled onto manuscript pages, are equal to those of brownstones. They include dramatic action, coincidence, the art of true suspense, the “two boom” effect, character arcs, compassion, circular narrative structures, inspiration, pushing characters into uncomfortable places, presence, cause and effect, and earned endings. Memory, patterns, perspective, doubt, progression, found words, top and bottom stories, prompts, donnée, and the spiraling downfall of Billy Joe McAllister.
That I don’t easily sit down to watch television sports, that I sometimes ask the impossible, that I don’t expect an easy way out (especially in revision), that tenacity is one of my worst traits, and that, most days, I care about literature more than anything else—for these things, I hope my mentors forgive me. For their love of all things literary, I clap my hands like a kid on Christmas morning. For the way they’ve passed along that fierce love through honest edits and reference letters and exuberant recommendations of reading in terms of writing—from Dorothy Parker’s The Big Blond to Richard Yates Eleven Kinds of Loneliness—I thank them all from the basements, balconies, and the uneven corridors of my mind and heart.