We’re nearing the end of another Semester in the Hamline MFAC program, and that means we are also getting ready to gather in St. Paul. I’ll be doing a class with the Alums on voice during the first weekend and so I won’t be lecturing during the residency. I will, however be joining the one and only Jackie Briggs Martin for an informal session on what’s new in non-fiction. Yes that’s right: the veteran YA novelist volunteered to help lead a conversation on a nonfiction. And why not! (That exclamation mark goes out to Eleanora, BTW). After all, I’ve been listening to Jackie, Claire, Jane and all others discuss the subject for several years now. Surely I can contribute something beyond “I like the pictures.”
We encourage writing across the genres in the program. Talking across the genres is a good first step toward doing that, and is in fact what happens in workshops. I don’t at the moment have any ambition to write nonfiction, but I do know that taking the time to read and reread the books Jackie and want to focus on and then requiring myself to articulate my reaction to those books can only help my fiction writing.
When the MFAC program began I confess I felt out of my depth (i.e., miserable) when I was forced to co-lead workshops that included picture books, nonfiction, and poetry. Soon we’ll no doubt be seeing some graphic novel texts. Now when I wade into all those strange waters I’m still very much out of my technical depth, but I no longer care because I love the conversations that roam all over the genres, even if I have nothing to offer beyond “I like the words.”
Hooray for you! (Hi, Eleanora!) I think it's an important realization, that many of the same elements of craft apply across genres. With nonfiction, for instance, you still need a compelling plot, a distinctive setting, fully developed characters. Even if those characters are chickens.
A few years ago, who would have thought that nonfiction would become the hot topic that is currently is due to the new Common Core standards that school systems are just starting to implement. I'll be intrigued to see how that stimulation in demand influences the market.
I'm really looking forward to it, Marsha. And Christine, I hope you'll join us. You've just published a great non-fiction book, with, as you say, fully developed characters–both human and chicken. You can speak as writer, reader, reviewer. Cheryl, are you coming to the residency for any time? It would be great to have you with us, too.
Story and great writing cross all genres. Thanks for doing this, Marsha and Jackie. Some tremendous true stories out there waiting to be told.