Monday, December 20, 2010

MFA Monday: The Best Book of 2010...and the one I wrote

This week Entertainment Weekly names Brady Udall's novel "The Lonely Polygamist" the Best Book of 2010. I admit that I'm often behind the times when EW comes out with their book reviews. Most of the time I've never heard of the books; after all, isn't book reviews where most of us find out about new books?

But this book I've not only read, I've devoured and partially memorized, and this is why: Brady Udall is on the faculty of Pacific University, and he was one of my top choices for an advisor until I was told he would be taking this semester off mentoring because of the success of this latest book.

I think this just validates why I chose Pacific University for my MFA program. How many times can you be mentored by authors who make the #1 Best Book of the Year slot?

I'm now just two weeks away from leaving for the January residency, and even though Christmas is upon us, grad school still looms as my most consuming thoughts. I've come to grips with the reality that lugging my walking cast around is probably an eventuality, as my foot doesn't seem to be getting much better and walking without the cast is still near impossible. So somehow I'm going to have to impress with something other than my stellar fashion statement (not!!).

The first thing many people will see about me is actually not even me... it will be my first submission of writing to be workshopped. That should start making its way to my workshop group pretty soon, and they will have in their hands one of my favorite, but my riskiest, chapter of PRODIGAL, my latest complete novel.

This is touching a raw nerve with me today, in that panicky - have-I-sent-my-soul-to-the-right-people kind of way.  You see, PRODIGAL is a book that started very much out of an experience of my own. Exactly two years ago, my friend Jean was killed in her own house with her son, on a Friday afternoon. I remember still, with rawness, the way I found out, and the numb and yet overwhelming shock that spread over me.

More than a year ago, the young kid who'd walked in their house with a gun and an objective to steal a few hundred dollars worth of stuff was put on trial for their double murder, and as I sat in the hallway of the courthouse waiting for the trial to begin, I began writing in a notebook the scene that would eventually be the emotional crux of PRODIGAL. At the time, I didn't know that. At the time, I was merely pouring my heart onto the page and trying to hold myself together.

The book is in no way the story of Jean. And yet.... the story would not exist if it were not for her and that horrible day two years ago. Writing the book - with all it's revisions and the twists and turns it took that led it into something completely different than my own experiences - was such a healing process for me. If it never gets published, it will still have been worth it to write. The story and plot and characters may all be something out of my imagination, but the soul is me.

Really, as a writer, can you ask more of a book than that?


  1. Writing is courageous work, especially when you share your work with a big piece of you (and what could be bigger than your soul) within the writing. Congratulations. You are inspiring!
    I'll be looking up Udall's book over the holidays.

  2. That took incredible courage. I am so sorry about what you went through, but I am hoping with you that it will be published and reach many people- and help them heal just as writing it helped you.

  3. I often read EW's list as well and go "What?" "Who?", but I did read one book and want to read Room.

    I think it's amazing that you've poured your soul into this book, especially since it's so personal. It's hard to put yourself out there emotionally.

  4. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, but I'm glad you were able to take that and make something positive of it. Writing is very much a healing process.

  5. Thanks all for your kind words.

    Judy - you are so right. Writing is such a gift to help us heal.

  6. Cases like that of your friend is why my husband works as a prosecutor. It's heartbreaking but worth it. Sounds like your book is much the same.

  7. Your book sounds like the kind that will touch so many people! I wanted to stop by and wish you a Merry Christmas and I am excited for your new adventure beginning this next year!

  8. I'm so excited for you Heidi! What a wonderful adventure you are about to begin...enjoy the ride...

  9. Even if it doesn't get published, which I'm POSITIVE it will, I want to read it, ok? This post gave me chills.