Mary Guterson, appears Saturday, October 10th at 1 P.M. on the Wieden+Kennedy Stage, and then at 4 P.M. the same day as part of the panel discussing “Writing Communities.”
When people ask me what kind of books I write, I never know what to say. I’ve published two novels and they both have female protagonists dealing with life’s problems—including problems in their love lives. So, “chick lit” works as a description, I suppose. So does “women’s fiction.” Then again, I definitely have male readers. For awhile, I called my work “romantic comedy.” Recently, I’ve shortened it. I say: “I write comedies.”
I once read a quote from Nick Hornby, where he said that when he writes he’s always striving for that balance between funny and sad. That’s what I strive for, too—although Nick Hornby is brilliant and accomplished at it and I am only a hopeful beginner. Still, it’s what I work toward and I think it’s the right goal for me. I’m happy to have that goal.
So now I’m back to work on Drizzt Do’Urden, my dark elf character who has been a friend and companion for 22 years and through more than a score of novels. Any thoughts of putting this guy on autopilot were thrashed with the current release, The Ghost King, because I pretty much turned his world upside down. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t just me who did that. I write Drizzt in a shared world, Wizards of the Coast’s “Forgotten Realms,” and as occasionally happens in such a setting, big things change and timelines advance. So, too, must Drizzt.
The Stuff of Story
I watched Serena Williams’ tantrum on TV the other week. You know, the now infamous moment when during a crucial point during the US Open Semi-final against Kim Clijsters, a female line judge called a foot-fault on Williams, and all hell broke loose. My husband, son and I crept closer to the television as Williams turned and strutted toward the judge, shaking the tennis ball.
“No,” I said. “Don’t do this, Serena. Don’t go there.”
But she did go there, letting the demons fly, she told the beaver-shaped woman just where she was going to shove the chartreuse-colored tennis ball. The judge reported the verbal assault and within moments, the number-one-ranked player in the world was ousted from the match, struck down by the speed, velocity, and venom of her own words.
Even Veggies Tell a Story
Earlier this summer I stood in the center of my main vegetable garden – a 15-by-20 foot raised bed in the front yard of my Seattle house — and I realized that, in each direction, I was growing a plant with a history.
To my right was Dwarf Grey Sugar peas – a variety with a very unappetizing name and yet one that has been a favorite since Colonists brought them from England in the 1700s. In front of me, the Jimmy Nardello’s Italian Sweet peppers were just starting to curl into their distinctive, knobby J shape. That variety was named for the Italian immigrant who brought it with him to the Boston area.
Nothing is shocking about my subject line—there are many who tout the importance of grammar, the importance of being correct and proper. And, while I don’t disagree with the fact that correctness matters, I don’t think this is the only reason—or even the most important reason—grammar matters. Grammar is a tool for expression, a way to embed detail and life and style in our writing. I want my students (and the teachers I work with) to know the power of grammatical patterns, the power they give writers to express themselves. Frankly, it’s not an endless list.
Start small, go deep, and students will know what they need to know. By knowing a few patterns of power (like a compound sentence or a serial comma), young writers can begin to find their voice, to find the power of their very own words. I think our obsession with correctness does grammar a disservice. My work has been about looking again at grammar instruction and how we can do it so that it makes sense for students, so they can actually use it, so they are not running away from it, afraid.
When we stop clamoring about not ending a sentence with a preposition or starting a sentence with “but” and focus on patterns that actually help students express the power of their words with clarity and grace, we are going a long way toward showing them that grammar is a creational facility rather than a correctional one. I hope you bring your voice and your open mind to Wordstock.