Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts
by M.E. Hughes
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GENRE: nonfiction, personal transformation
A fascinating collection of life stories told by 30 authors from eight countries. They write of their attempts to move beyond crippling grief, free themselves of haunting memories, get out from under abusive relationships. They tell of their struggles – often painful, sometimes funny – to let go of everything from a fear of horses, to old family homes, and piles of books and papers.
Farewell to a Novel Too Long in Progress
A writing teacher of mine said that a novel is like a pyramid: The possibilities for how to begin can cover wide ground, but the end point must be inevitable.
In novel writing, then, like life, choice is fateful. You can erase, cross out, go back to a previous point and begin again—and with computers, mix and match older versions—until you go mad. But in choosing a direction, there remains an element of commitment. You don’t go there in a day. You must convince yourself that opening up this facet of character, that detail of the past, this scene in the present, is worth the effort. You have to believe, or at least suspend disbelief, just as, some day, you will ask the reader to do. In the end, you can’t really go back, because the choice becomes real. You can’t say—to yourself, at any rate—no, he didn’t live in a house with an old lady. She didn’t have a lover named Emmet. Strangers didn’t make her cross and suspicious of snooping. You can choose not to include those things, but they still happened off-stage and still shaped the people you are writing about, because you know them. If they didn’t, you’d be writing about different people—and that, as the saying goes, would be another story.
I have been writing a novel—the same novel—on and off for twenty-three years. The joke I make—that what began as contemporary fiction is now a historical novel—is not really a joke. I began it in the fall of 1984, when that year still sounded futuristic, at the end of my first summer in an MFA writing program, now long since defunct. One of the two Writers who led it is now dead; the daughter of the other, whom I knew when she was five years old, has since published two novels, to favorable review in the NY Times.
The Berlin Wall has crumbled.
The Soviet Union has fallen.
AIDS has swept the globe.
The World Trade Center, then twelve years old, has toppled.
We have entered the computer age.
I have married, fathered children, and acquired an apartment, two cats, and a career that, while it involves writing and editing nearly every minute of the day, is not Writing and never will be.
Through it all, however, there has been this book—the wildcard. What, after all this time, do I have to show for it? Not a published line, not a dime. Yet it has had major consequences for my life and that of others. I have declined jobs that would have left me too little time to write; I have asked my wife to put off having children.
#1 Julie Strong, “Acadie”
Julie Strong is a physician and shamanic healer in Halifax, Nova Scotia and holds a medical degree from Trinity College, Dublin; a BA in classics, Dalhousie University, Halifax; and is trained in psychosynthesis, a transpersonal psychology fostering wholeness and creativity.
Her “Athena in Love” won the 2012 Canadian Atlantic Fringe Festival’s new playwright award; she received the 2010 Atlantic Writers’ Federation Award for short story; The Medical Post of Canada has published her articles. She has presented on madness and on the “Shamanic Roots of Western Medicine” in America and Europe, and teaches shamanic healing workshops, helping others find their power animals and spirit teachers. Strong was born in England.
#2 Roz Kuehn, “Commencing Being Fearless”
Roz Kuehn received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C She is the author of a novel, Various Stages of Undress (loosely based on six years as an exotic dancer in Washington, D.C., which was runner-up for the Faulkner-Wisdom Competition, and a finalist for both the Breadloaf Bakeless Prize and Bellwether Prize. She has also received numerous Delaware State Arts Council fellowships, including a $10,000 Master of Fiction fellowship, as well as a Barbara Deming Memorial Award for feminist writing. Her memoir, Losing Glynis, is about a coterie of well-meaning girlfriends who swoop in and make a royal mess of a close friend’s dying days. She acted as fiction editor for The Washington Review for four years and currently works as a legal secretary in a New York City firm.
#3 Emily Tsokos Purtill, The Perfect Mother
Emily Tsokos Purtill has won several Australian awards for young writers, including the prestigious Tim Winton Award for Outstanding Achievement for Young Writers. Her winning story was published in the anthology HATCHED (edited by Tim Winton, Fremantle Arts Press, 2013). She holds a bachelor of laws and a master of laws from the University of Western Australia and has recently returned to writing after working as a lawyer for eight years in Australia and Paris. In 2014, Emily was living in New York where she participated in an advanced fiction course at New York University. She currently lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and children. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
#4 Joan Scott, “The Paper Room”
Joan Scott was born in England. At fifteen she wrote a prize-winning essay about a trip to Paris. The newspaper prize paid for a baguette and a croissant. Years later when the writing life paled and the rent was due, she honed her creative writing skills with London advertising agencies, taught tango to VIPs, marketed wines and left rainy England for a Californian drought, where she became ‘Nanny Joan’ resulting in a nonfiction proposal, We Don’t Just Go Places, We Experience Them, for caregivers and grandparents to bolster children’s creativity.
Moving to Boston, she promoted textiles, wrote poems and articles on beekeepers, burying beetles and ballerinas, then joined corporate America to build a career in international marketing communications. While being paid to travel, she continued writing on sampans, helicopters and hi-speed Japanese trains. She has let go of paper with her slice-of-life blogs: “When Life Gets in the Way of Writing the Great British Novel,” and is becoming a fearless flyer, navigating social media with her psychological suspense, debut novel, Who Is Maxine Ash? She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
#5 Martha Ellen Hughes, “Isolation”
Martha Ellen Hughes founded the non-profit Peripatetic Writing Workshop, Inc., in 1991. This intensive writing workshop and retreat, lead by herself, Maureen Brady and other writers, meets twice annually, currently in Florida and Italy. She has taught creative writing at New York University for more than twenty-five years and is a free-lance editor of novels and nonfiction books. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College and is a native of Louisiana. For further information, please visit www.peripateticwritingandart.org.
#6 George P. Farrell, “Hoarding Memories”
George P. Farrell was born, raised, housed, clothed and well-fed in the Bronx, NY. Generally puzzled and baffled by life but always hopeful.
“In my early twenties I discovered writing as a cheaper and better alternative to psychological counselling. Discovered the Catskills was a good place to pursue a writing career and inspecting boats, a reasonable way to put food on the table. I have written six novels and a bunch of short stories, as I traveled along my learning curve, and so far have produced a literary income of forty dollars plus numerous, very-appreciated pats-on-the-back. I am looking forward, with some trepidation, to more of the same.”
#7 Marione Malimba Namukuta, “The Battle Within”
Marione Malimba Namukuta, twenty-eight, single, lives in Kampala, Uganda. She works as a researcher specializing increasingly in the fields of population and health, monitoring and evaluating both national and international projects.
Namukuta has keen interests in other cultures, a command of several languages and loves to write and travel. She writes children’s short stories and is a member of the Uganda Children’s Writers and Illustrators Association.
#8 Elizbeth Wohl, “Outside In”
Elizabeth Wohl was a journalist for many years, as an Associated Press reporter, a Ms. Magazine contributing editor and during the Vietnam War, a freelance reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Her fiction has been published in The Quarter, Fiction and other literary magazines. She lives in Brooklyn and is hoping the wisdom in this anthology will help her stop revising and let go of her novel.
#9 Nilo Alvarez, “Spoiled Fruit Bears Bad Seeds”
Nilo Alvarez was born on Negroes, one of many Pacific Ocean islands discovered in 1521 by the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. Named the Philippines for Spain’s King Philip II, eleven of the archipelago’s original 7,113 islands are under water, the victim of global warming. In his fiction, Alvarez often uses his small, friendly town of Talisa, where from the top of the water tower during his childhood all one could see were waving green sugarcane fields, planted during American colonization. Few people lived on Negroes; his aunt, a midwife, delivered all the babies. His mother often took him to movies and told him stories about her life. What he most enjoyed were her stories about World War II. Her colourful stories plus the movies inspired him to become a writer.
#10 Sue Parman, “The Holy Ghost Bird”
Sue Parman, a retired professor of anthropology, is the author of numerous academic books (including Scottish Crofters, now in its second edition). She has also won numerous awards for poetry, plays, essays, short stories and art. Her most recent book combines poetry and art (The Carnivorous Gaze, Turnstone Press, 2014). Her most recent article is a memoir based on her correspondence with Tolkien (“A Song for J.R.R. Tolkien,” The Antioch Review, 2015). She is currently completing, The Death Flower, a biomedical mystery set in the Amazon. For further information please visit www.sueparman.com or www.anthro.fullerton.edu/sparman. She lives in Oregon.
#11 Joe Levine, Finis
Farewell to a Novel Too Long in Progress
Joe Levine lives with his wife and daughters in New York City, where he toils in the spin trade. He wrote “Finis” about his unpublished novel, A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea, in 2007. After subsequently sending the book to scores of agents without success, he has indeed let it go, although the characters live on in his mind. Recent events in his life have made him realize writing autobiographical fiction requires research, too—and the quest can be as perilous as any other.
#12 Evalyn Lee, “Throwing Out the Trash”
Evalyn Lee attended graduate studies at Oxford University, where she studied with the Joyce Scholar, Richard Ellman, and the literary critic, John Bayley. A former CBS producer, she has written on a wide range of topics, including the Gulf Wars and many investigative pieces for the likes of Dan Rather, Mike Wallace and Lesley Stahl. Her television broadcast work won an Emmy and numerous Writers Guild Awards. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, Diverse Arts Project and Willow Review. She is working on her first novel, living in London with two kids, one husband and Hugo the dog and writes: “This is my first personal essay. I mean every word I have written—if depression strikes, try to let go of shame and blame. Aristotle got it right: ‘It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.’ You are the light of your own life. If you can’t see it, reach out and find others who can.”
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