Yes, what you’re looking at is a photo of two books, both by Jesse Lee Kercheval, that arrived in my mail today. And they weren’t in an Amazon box — they were in a thick manila envelope with my name and address handwritten by Kercheval herself.
How, you ask?
It pays to engage the writing community folks!
I’ve known Jesse Lee Kercheval since my grad school days, when I was working as production editor of American Literary Review and was in contact with many of the authors and poets we published. Kercheval has a fairly substantial body of work in ALR, because ALR knows a good thing when they see it, so I swapped emails with Kercheval a few times in the course of my work and I became a fan of her writing.
But when I picked up a copy of her writing textbook, Building Fiction, I jumped from the back of the bandwagon straight up into the driver’s seat, because, gang, that is one fantastic writing text! It’s my go-to book on the craft of fiction, edging out even the ubiquitous (and also excellent) Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. To be fair, Burroway’s is probably still a stronger text for, say, a graduate workshop, but for the home bookshelves of begining and advanced writers alike I have never found a better, more precise or insightful text on the craft of fiction than Building Fiction. When I took some time away from the classroom a couple of years back and lived overseas, writing practically in a vacuum and trying to make the best of what I’d learned up to that point, Kercheval’s book was indescribably helpful. That’s the mark of a great text: not just one you learn a lot from but one you actively return to and still find useful years down the road.
So when I found Kercheval on Facebook, through a few other mutual friends from writerly circles and the Wisconsin community (Kercheval teaches at UW-Madison), I leapt at the opportunity to reconnect, and she’s proven a great addition to my Facebook newsfeed. In addition to the cool writerly posts she adds, I also get her thoughts on Wisconsin politics (of national importance, people, and because I used to live there and still have friends and colleagues there, I like to keep tabs), her experiences teaching down in South America (she’s become quite the fútbol fan), her writing ideas, even her advice on how to pack for a research trip to Europe (carry-on only, if you can believe it — the woman is amazing!).
Which leads us to these two books. Not long ago, Kercheval revamped her website and, through Facebook, offered free books to the first several people to visit her site and make a comment about the new look. I leapt, people!
Once I was on the list, Kercheval suggested she surprise me with the title(s), which I was very okay with because I love her work and would be happy with anything from her catalogue. And that’s how I wound up with these two books in the mail today — a novella and a memoir! Both are books I’ve been itching to read, so I’m terrifically psyched about this.
Want to explore her work yourself? Check out her website yourself! The writing community is invaluable, gang. Connect with it!