Yesterday, I drove down I-5 in the rain to Salem, Oregon, where I joined students, faculty, and community members at Chemeketa Community College for their Chemeketa Writes program. They’d invited me to read from my novel Hagridden.
Almost a year ago, on November 12, I did almost exactly the same thing, except at the time, Hagridden was not a published novel, and I wasn’t in Salem — I was the first Chemeketa Writes reader on the Yamhill campus in McMinnville, where I normally teach composition and creative writing.
Last year, we’d picked the date of November 12 because it was the release date for my first book, the flash-fiction chapbook Box Cutters. But I was reading from Hagridden because last year was when I’d won an Oregon Literary Fellowship, and my home campus wanted to celebrate that achievement and support my creative work.
What no one knew at the time, almost a year ago, was that literally ten minutes before I was due to begin my reading in McMinnville, I’d received an email from my agent, John Sibley Williams, telling me we’d had some interest from a publisher. The publisher wanted to talk to me first, but they indicated they might be ready to make on offer on Hagridden.
So yesterday’s reading in Salem was exciting for me for a whole range of reasons: I was repeating the Chemeketa Writes program, but I was going whole hog and doing the reading, the classroom visit, and (on Saturday) the workshop, all at the main campus in Salem; my first reading at the branch campus was the moment I met my publisher; it’s been nearly a year between those events, and each one celebrated the publication of a book, first Box Cutters and now Hagridden.
The turnout at the reading was amazing, especially considering it was in the middle of the day. I feel honored that so many folks gave up their lunch hour to listen to fiction.
After the reading, I joined Tammy Jabin’s creative writing class for a lengthy discussion of Hagridden (which they’d all been reading for the class!) and writing habits and publication.The students all asked great questions — writerly questions! — and I loved some of their comments about and insights on Hagridden. And I got to deflate everyone’s dream of making a decent living as a writer — actually, I told them the story of how my undergrad mentor, poet and novelist David Breeden, had burst my bubble, and how grateful I was that he did because it taught me to focus on writing for the sake of writing and to take pleasure in the process, not the product. Someone made of joke of needing to marry someone rich, which gave me the chance to tell the story of how, while we’ve never been rich and probably never will be, my wife did pay the bills for a year or so while I wrote full time, including the first draft of Hagridden, and how lucky I was to have that. (Thanks again, Jennifer!) I also gave them my often-repeated charge to find other writers and engage in the writing community, and I explained how fortunate we all are to live in Oregon, which is rich with small presses, writers, writing workshops, and an intimately connected writing community.
Which is what I felt a part of yesterday, sitting in a classroom with all the new writers, talking about our dreams and the realities we all face, discussing fiction and publishing and punk rock (yeah, that came up). It was a wonderful experience.
I know many of those students are planning to also take my workshop tomorrow at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, and I look forward to talking with them again!