March 19, 2017 – The most amazing thing has happened. A novel that I’ve worked on off and on ever since traveling to Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 has finally sold. The first version was (rightfully) rejected all over the place. I rewrote it, collected more rejections, and almost by accident turned to writing crime fiction, which did sell. Those novels had another, perhaps more valuable, quality – they taught me how to write: how to plot, how to develop characters, how to structure and pace a novel. After writing three of them, I took advantage of a monthlong residency last year in Mexico (thanks, 360 Xochi Quetzal!) and took one last whack at what I’ve long called “the Afghanistan book,” overhauling it completely, in essence writing an entirely different novel. As the above shows, the new approach was worth it. And the whole process underscores the old saying that all writing is rewriting. Amen.
I got to spend a month in heaven recently—aka an artist residency. For the uninitiated, residencies are retreats—frequently free (my personal favorite word)—where artists can hone their craft free of interruptions and daily responsibilities.
The Alliance of Artists Communities is a terrific clearinghouse that lists residencies around the world, along with their requirements and deadlines. I’ve been privileged to attend three—the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming; the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, also in Wyoming, and most recently, 360 Xochi Quetzal in Chapala, Mexico.
Residencies come in all types and lengths. Some are just for visual artists or musicians, others solely for writers. All of mine have included a mix of visual artists and writers and, in Mexico, also a musician—a mix that I really enjoy. They typically range for a minimum of two weeks to as long as six months or even more. For years, when I had a day job, I could only apply for two-week residencies because I had to take vacation time to attend. These days my schedule is flexible enough to allow a monthlong residency, which turns out to be the perfect amount of time to take the first draft of a novel, tear it to shreds, then put it back together and shine that sucker up.
For this, I have to thank Xochi Quetzal director and fabric artist Deborah Kruger, along with New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice B. Fogel, who judged the writing submissions. And for daily inspiration during my time in Mexico, I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow residents – writer Luke Dani Blue, visual artists Jenine Shereos and Hollie Thompson, and musician John Hughes. I urge you to go to their sites and check out their work.
Coming back from heaven—we’re talking 80-degrees days and a casita just a block off the haunting beauty of Lake Chapala, with its nightly sunset extravaganza, not to mention all of that blissful writing time—was tough. But I returned with an editor-ready manuscript, along with a renewed sense of commitment and enthusiasm.
I’m aware that residencies, despite the lovely fact of being free, are still an unattainable luxury for a lot of people. Children and day jobs can pose insurmountable barriers. But if you get to a point in your life where you can take advantage of them, by all means do. Everybody deserves a little piece of heaven.
It feels like international week here in Missoula. The German edition of Montana, Der Lohn Des Bösen (The Wages of Evil) goes on sale today. Exciting stuff! Even more exciting, Amazon in Germany lists books by Tana French and Jim Thompson in the “also-viewed” category.
And, even though the Italian version of Montana won’t be out until late next year or even 2016, its publisher, Rizzoli, now lists it in its catalogue. “La reporter di guerra Lola Wicks…,” the description begins. Here’s a peek at the cover – in true Italian fashion, it’s super-stylish. Bellissimo!
Finally, tomorrow morning, I’ll hop on a plane for the first of three flights that, over the course of nearly 24 hours (assuming no delays, breakdowns or baggage mishaps), will finally deliver me to Guadalajara. Then I’ll head to the nearby town of Chapala and an artists’ colony called 360 Xochi Quetzal. There, I’ll spend the next month tearing the WIP apart and reconstructing it into what I hope will be a coherent novel. Oh, and I might eat a tamale or 10.
Next week: Montana author Craig Lancaster, whose most recent novel, The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter (released last month), is about a washed-up Olympic boxer, writes about the allure of sportswriting.