Day three officially began with Robert Boswell’s lecture “Process and Paradigm.” It was really moving. He framed it by using the story of a young, desperate woman he met while on the road, staying in a hotel. It started humorously and ended very thoughtfully and made me reflect on the morals of co-opting other people’s lives and desperations to make our stories. Let’s face it, we all do it…and do we do it as a way to make the cautionary tale that Bill Kittredge spoke of, or to find understanding, or to simply entertain? What are the moral implications when we use a real person in our fiction? (Mind you, the whole lecture was not about this at all, but it was a powerful message that spoke to me.)
Here are the crib notes:
1-The Writing Process:
-Dress characters in clothes that make them uncomfortable.
-Throw in some instability; create a shifting ground (alcohol, smugness)
-Bring in a catalyst (a young woman who persists…like a story persists)
-Give your main character a sense of obligation (the masculine duty to buy her a drink when she offers to first)
-Offer a backward glance or a sideways reflection (often accomplished through the barest associative details)
-Then do whatever it takes to make the story work
2-Paradigm and Paradigm Shift
-A paradigm is the general collective of principles, patterns, suppositions and practices of a particular culture
-A paradigm shift occurs when there is any revolutionary change in a particuar way of thinking. An example would be a religious conversion.
3-How we think when we think about writing fiction
-conflict should not be imposed from outside, but should occur from within
-be mindful of the limitations of your story
-create a social paradigm in which the character participates (the young woman in the bar had lost custody of her kids–mothers are not supposed to lose their children)
-Tolstoy does this in The death of Ivan Ilych when he says, he was an ordinary man and that was terrible to be. (paraphrased) The paradigm stays the same, but Ivan’s position in it changes when at the end, he asks, “how should I have lived?” His young son is there at his bedside but Ivan hardly notices–thus his question is answered.
4-Servants of Mercy
-In the Jean Thompson Story “Who Do You Love?” A policeman named Quinn opens the story by saving a possum from his dog. The possum is ugly and ungrateful and Quinn sees it (as do we) as a gratuitous act of mercy. Later in a convenience store there is a hideous man stealing cat food. His name is Gary and he is the son of Bonnie Livingood. Quinn takes them into his patrol car to talk. When Bonnie falls asleep in teh back seat, he lets her sleep–another act of mercy. Later, when Gary dies in a car accident, Quinn responds to the call first and is the last to leave the scene. Then he goes to see Bonnie and ends up having sex with her. Then, at the end of the story, the paradigm shifts when Quinn goes to find Bonnie later and she looks at him with disgust and tells him that she only slept with him because she felt sorry for him. Bang: Quinn’s (and our) understanding of the world is changed.
-Peter Taylor’s “A Wife of Nashville” offers a similar paradigm shift, involving race and gender in the south.
5-The Wrap Up:
-Take a look at your stories that are not quite working and examine the social paradigm.
-Search for patterns and use them.
-Ask yourself what social customs you accept without even considering them.
-Then, in the final wrap-up, “Boz” socked me in the gut by saying that he had come to understand that he used that young, desperate woman in the bar because of his interest in what her story could give him. Then, he told us, he had used her again, just now…but somehow–in this social paradigm–he thought he could get away with it. (Which of course, made us all instantly complicit as we had listened to the story of this desperate woman, and had laughed and gone along. It was a very powerful ending to the lecture. Let’s just say my paradigm shifted.)
Later in the day there was a reading by Gina Franco (poetry) Allison Smith (CNF), and Michael Collier (also poetry). I missed most of Gina’s reading, but I heard positive things about it, and what I heard was musical and lovely. Allison’s story was a humorously melancholy examination of her childhood relationship to Jesus and how that ended the day her older brother died. And Michael’s was excellent (as always). I was grateful to hear two of my favorites read. One about Spelunking and one about his son’s mummified pet chameleon discovered behind the clothes dryer years after he went missing.
At lunch Cliff and I realized we had a few hours to kill and so decided to go for a hike. We walked about two-and-a-half miles up bread Loaf Mountain and back. It felt great to be weat and exhausted, but not so great when I had to still work the Treman Cocktail hour, smile, and serve drinks. We had our staff pictures taken, went to dinner, and then attended an excellent reading with Robert Hill (a collection of humorous mostly first-person rants), Barbara Klein Moss (who read from a story about two historical interpresters who blur the lines of the past–in college I worked in Colonial Williamsburg, so that was fascinating to me) and Mac McIlvoy read a very impressionistic, jazz-influenced sort of piece that was delivered in a perfect, smoky, sotto voce.