Yesterday I had the pleasure of running a session at the Ko’olau Writer’s Workshop in Kaneohe. If there’s a more beautiful campus on the planet, I’d like to know about it.
I did a lesson entitled “Exercises in Style,” inspired by Raymond Queneau’s 1947 Oulipo experiment in which he took a not-terribly-interesting little narrative about a dude on a bus and rewrote in 99 different ways. I took the class on a whirlwind tour of the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century–expressionism, cubism, surrealism, etc.–and had them recast their own microfictions in some of these modes. My friend and colleague Nora Okja Keller gave an inspiring keynote address on her life as a writer. I especially enjoyed hearing her talk about how, per Flannery O’Connor, she writes to learn what she thinks. I do that too. She also spoke about how the impulse to write, for her, grows out of a desire to revise life. I think about this a lot. I don’t have an especially fast mind. I’m not great at Jeopardy, even when I know the answers. I almost never come up with witty rejoinders on the spot. Give me time, though, and I can be fairly clever. I’m afflicted, you might say, with what they call in French l’esprit d’escalier, the idea being, I think, that I’ll lose an argument, trudge up the stairs in defeat and only then come up with the perfect comeback. But by then it’s too late. The moment’s gone. Writing, Nora said, gives us a chance to time-travel. I think she’s right. Language lets us have a do-over, albeit only a glancing, indirect one. I was glad to hear Nora is inspired to get back into the writing game (her novel Comfort Woman, I hasten to mention, is a total masterpiece).
I also got to see my new novel, King of the Worlds, for the first time. Technically it won’t be published for another couple of weeks, but B&N was selling them. And I must say, what a lovely design. I can’t imagine that any other publisher would have put as much heart and savvy into this objet d’art as Chin Music Press did. I’m very lucky/grateful to have found them. And major kudos to designer Dan Shafer. We have yet to meet in person, but I’m confident in saying Dan’s the man.
Thanks also to my friend, novelist and HPU prof Tyler Mcmahon, for putting on the event, inviting me to it, and giving me a lift home. It’s so good to be around people who care about the written word as much as I do.