It's been precisely one week since I've posted grades. And I'm getting into the swing of being on "vacation" which has fortunately meant that I've been writing writing writing. I don't know how or why, but it feels like I have a strong stream of ideas flowing. I've had enough mental energy to accomplish two writing sessions a day lately, which is enormous for me. I spend the morning with my poetry, and then in the afternoon, I'm switching to fiction. I'm not sure how long I'll be able to keep this pace up, but hopefully at least until summer school begins.

Part of why my writing has been going so smoothly (well, no, not smoothly, but productively... I've encountered plenty of snags and tangles) is because I've also been reading. I've got four books "in progress" right now, and I spend the day thumbing through each of them: A Certain Attitude, which is an anthology of Texas women poets in which I've encountered some incredibly powerful stuff, War of the Worlds, which I'm mainly reading for funsies, Whispers of Dust and Bone, a Texas short story collection I'm pulling apart in hopes of learning a little something about how short fiction works, and Alone With All That Could Happen, a collection of essays on the art of fiction writing. I'll muse a little bit about the last one.

The idea of autobiography comes up often with my work. It was something I had to think about when I was first in graduate school writing my thesis, when I had to place my work within the greater literary conversation. "Is your work confessional?" my advisor asked. And I didn't quite know how to answer that.

At the time, I told Advisor my work was "confessionalistic," inspired by my life but I kept the artistic license to change details to explore the "greater truths" rather than my strictly personal truths. To explore the pastiche personas within us all.

Advisor didn't like that answer very much, but he gave me a pass nonetheless.

Years later, I'm still dancing around that question in both my fiction and in my poetry. All writing is inspired by the personal, no? Our impulses, emotions, feelings?

A few months ago, I read a marvelous essay by Antonya Nelson titled "Short Story: A Revision Process.," which was published in The Writer's Notebook 2. The first part of her proposed writing process, she said, was to think of a "story" that happened to you and write it in 500 or so words. Then, though a series of revisions, you remove your SELF from the story, inhabiting a different character, changing up the narration, futzing with setting, time, symbolism, etc. I loved the idea because it keeps a kernel of autobiography in the story, while allowing you to meld it to explore what you really want to say or do with the piece.

Now that I'm reading Alone with All That Can Happen (by David Jauss), I'm rethinking things a bit. The first chapter is titled "Autobiographphobia." It basically argues that we have to explore more than our public selves in order to write good fiction. We have to dig deep and explore the PRIVATE self, and to do that, we have to inhibit other personas. In essence, use what you know to write into what you don't know. Hmph. That sounds pretty complicated to me. He says that instead of writing what you know, you have to write into what you don't know.

As I'm exploring my own emerging voice as a fiction writer (emphasis on emerging here), I'm thinking about how all of this comes together. I want to write from my own life but it's boring and mundane. I teach college English. I have a good, boring home life with a solid relationship. I grew up with loving parents. There's nothing salacious going in on my life. So where's the "story?"

But like everyone, I have longings, fears, passions, anxieties, and impulses which can be the seed of a good story. Right now, I'm writing a short story inspired by one of my college jobs. I used to work at a book store, which was a dream job for me except for one big problem. We also sold porno magazines, and part of my responsibilities as a book associate was to, well, keep the dirty magazines organized. Fun. My protagonist is a girl in a similar position, and I'm using that experience to explore how we as women learn about how society views our bodies and our labor. She's my former self, but I've kept my artistic license to change specific details. In my story, she's living with her sister, who is a waitress at Hooters. The tension in the story is about how they're going to be able to afford their first month's rent payment. The sister who works at Hooters earns a lot more money than book store sister. And they're both marginalized through their work, though in different ways. My protag, at first, feels superior to her sister because of how she's earning her paycheck, but in the end, she's not so sure.

Jauss would probably tell me I need to change more. Nelson would probably tell me the same thing. I need to write into what I don't know. But how do I do that? I guess that's what I'm still trying to figure out. I KNOW what it's like to struggle to pay rent as a young adult. I KNOW what it's like to confront men who are inappropriately reading dirty magazines in the back of a book store. I KNOW what it's like to feel at odds with earning a living and being "respectable." I'm using this knowledge to explore that conflict, that tension. What I DON'T know is whether there's "right" or "wrong" ways to earn money as a feminist. How much can you sacrifice and still call yourself "empowered?" I think that's the larger question I'm exploring here.

Anyway, writing short fiction is hard. I guess that's why people study it in MFA and PhD programs, right? One day, I'll figure it out.