Friday, May 25, 2012

LUKE REYNOLDS: KEEP CALM AND QUERY ON

Posted by Ruby Johnson

About Luke Reynolds...

Luke Reynolds is back to share an excerpt from his book Keep Calm and Query On. A former teacher of English in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, he also taught Composition at Northern Arizona University. He currently makes his home in York, England with his wife Jennifer and son Tyler. Luke is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.He is co-editor of Dedicated to the People of Darfur: Writings on Fear, Risk, and Hope (Rutgers University Press, 2009) and of Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach (Teachers College Press, 2011). A Call to Creativity: Writing, Reading, and Inspiring Students in an Age of Standardization (Teachers College Press, 2012).

 Back Cover Blurb...

In Keep Calm and Query On, Luke Reynolds discusses his journey as a writer with all of its bludgeoning defeats and small triumphs. Against the backdrop of life abroad in York, England, these reflections on living and writing pulse with hope, wisdom, and conviction.
Luke’s journey as a writer is accompanied by 14 interviews he has conducted with powerful and prolific authors, including Jane Smiley, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), George Saunders, Lindsey Collen, and David Wroblewski. They discuss their worst rejections, their first publications, what keeps them motivated, and why they believe in the power of words.

What people are saying about Keep Calm and Query On


“Reading Keep Calm and Query On is like sitting down one afternoon with a good friend, a fellow writer who knows first-hand about the daily struggles of the writing life. Only this friend is also wise and caring and generous with his support. And when the day is over and you have to leave, you will go with the quiet certainty that you are on the right path.”
—Francisco X. Stork, author of the novels "Marcelo in the Real World" and "Irises"
“‘Stubbornness saved me,’ says Charles Baxter, in Luke Reynolds’s brave new book, Keep Calm and Query On, a collection of deeply honest personal accounts that show how a group of wise and gifted authors have developed and sustained the stubbornness every writer needs to survive.”
—Sarah Stone, author of the Booksense 76 Pick Novel
"The True Sources of the Nile"“Keep Calm and Query On is a rallying cry to writers of all ages to find out what drives them to make art. A compassionate, challenging, and creative call to action for writers everywhere—both aspiring and veteran.”
—Betsy Lerner, author of "The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers"
“In this lucid, readable, warm and admirably honest book, Luke Reynolds offers up fine comfort for writers just starting out and those well established seeking to weather the inevitable struggles that at times attend a writing life.”
—E.J. Levy, author with work appearing in The New York Times,
Best American Essays, and The Paris Review


Pain and the Point of Writing

Even thirty seconds of silence felt sublime. But then the coughing would erupt again, sending my two-year old son, Tyler, into a fit of wheezing, almost-vomiting, and crying. Listening to him deal with the nasty flu was like putting my heart through a meat-grinder.

And yet.

As a writer, it becomes harder and harder to not see pain as a necessity for creating truth with words—even the kind of truth that deceives (known by its popular genre title as fiction). Perhaps John Gardner, revered author of Grendel and On Becoming a Novelist among other works of literary fiction and criticism, gives us the ultimate call to action when it comes to pain and creation.

Gardner once wrote that “Art begins with a wound.” He should know. When he was only a young teen, he accidentally ran over his younger brother with a tractor on their farm, killing the younger boy. Gardner’s battle with guilt and depression, some claim, lasted his entire life.

But the pain that Gardner so tragically endured also served as a candle from which to draw light for his words. In a sense, John Gardner the writer had to tell stories as a way of dealing with the deep and harrowing suffering of his accident.

Are we any different as writers?

I’ll be the first to admit that I would like to avoid that unwelcome guest, Pain. When he shows up at my front door, I have often tried to persuade him that he had the wrong address, or, that, if he’s sure the address is right, would he like a cup of joe and a chat rather than performing his duties? Pain always seems uninterested in my pleas.

But then again, I am a writer. The very best work I have crafted has come as a result of the pain I’ve felt in my own life, or from seeing the pain in the life of someone for whom I care deeply. Because it is pain that makes the heart break open, and an open heart is a necessity for writing. A writer must be able to then translate pain—his own or another’s—into compassion. As soon as compassion begins, so can creation.

Towards the end of my first year as a seventh-grade English teacher, I had gotten close to a handful of students who were facing huge foes: one had an abusive mother; one had a dad who walked out on the family earlier that year; another’s parents were embittered in an ugly divorce; and the last had been relentlessly bullied.

I offered every kind of support that I knew how to give. I connected my students with the proper counselors in the school, and I got on my knees and home and prayed. But another option presented itself to me: write.
I banged out the rough draft of a middle-grade novel originally entitled Atticus & Me. With my students’ faces in my mind, and their pain in my heart, I wrote almost in a state of obsession—producing twenty to thirty pages every evening after teaching during the day.

I cried through those pages, and I battled my students’ foes—and my own—in those pages.

After two weeks of constant work, I had a quite terrible novel in my hands. But since our school budget was short, and we had no class sets of novels left to read and still two months of the school year awaiting us, I photocopied the manuscript and we read it together. All 80 of my students and I.

Two years and nine drafts later, Atticus & Me helped me land an agent, Ammi-Joan Paquett of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I met Joan at the Rutgers University One-on-One Conference and we corresponded for four months before she offered to represent me and Atticus. The moment was beautiful for me, yes, but it was most profound to think of my four students, for whom Atticus was even created in the first place.

I now find myself oddly at ease about whether or not Atticus ever makes his way into the “real world” through Random House or Little, Brown or any other publishing house. Instead, I have found that my fingers—when they write with a compassion that can only be borne of pain—are capable of producing many more words, many more stories.

In using the pain of our own lives and that which we see in others to fuel our writing, we not only teach ourselves to feel compassion, but we also learn to craft stories that house that most authentic of all emotions and actions: love.

And I doubt any of us would daresay that a writer can craft without love. Because while Gardner is right that art begins with a wound, we might add that it ends with a way forward—a crack where hope seeps in.
~~~
If you're a writer, what keeps you motivated and inspired to write? 

 Luke has graciously agreed to evaluate a query for one person who comments today.

6 comments:

Caroline Clemmons said...

Luke, you've chosen a lovely area in which to reside. I love the cover of your book. Your story of your son's illness emphasizes that a writer uses every event as fuel for writing. Hope your son is doing well now. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

Thorne Anderson said...

Luke:
Thanks so much for posting on this blog. You make great points about writing through pain. One of my friends wrote two books after her husband passed away. Much success on your books.
Thorne

kimberlypackard said...

Thank you, Luke, for sharing! I agree, pain definitely seems to fuel the need to create something beautiful - maybe it's a yin and yang thing.

For your question, I think the motivation comes from the need to create, the need to answer a "what-if" question floating out there, and the need to give life to the voices in my head.

kimberlypackard said...

Thank you, Luke, for sharing! I agree, pain definitely seems to fuel the need to create something beautiful - maybe it's a yin and yang thing.

For your question, I think the motivation comes from the need to create, the need to answer a "what-if" question floating out there, and the need to give life to the voices in my head.

Ruby Johnson said...

I've always been fascinated with how people can sometimes effortlessly string words together to express themselves. But you take one word and open up new possiblities to all of us. Thanks for such a thought provoking post.
I'm more motivated by how a story is going, than anything else. I hate getting bogged down in a story.

Laine said...

What a nice post. You certainly hit the nail on the head. I have pain every day when the words don't come. This gives me hope.
Laine

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