Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality

Wed Oct 16 2013

Wisdom from James McBride and Maria Semple

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending Books by the Banks, an awesome celebration of authors and books and reading and writing, put on annually by the local libraries and my favorite independent bookstore (Joseph-Beth, where Andy proposed).

Previous years have brought some amazing authors like Garth Stein, Jennifer Weiner, and Dennis Lehane. This year was no exception.


James McBride

Author of THE COLOR OF WATER, a memoir about growing up biracial, which I read in college and loved and identified with, despite a few obvious differences. His latest is THE GOOD LORD BIRD, “a novel of caricature” (as he calls it) about abolitionist John Brown.


Maria Semple

Former TV writer (for Arrested Development and Mad About You, among others) and now author of WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, a comedic novel about an unhappy wife in Seattle. Confession: I only read this because my book club chose it, but I ended up loving Bernadette so much that I bought copies for each of the two friends who hosted me during my recent trip to Seattle.

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  1. Anthony Lee Collins says:
    Wed Oct 16 2013 at 11:47 PM

    Interesting how they approached similar questions with, on one hand, people making “real choices” that could mean life or death, and, on the other hand, whether stuff “happens” or not in fiction. These seem related to me — actions and consequences.

    Oh, and gentrification. I think things are definitely getting flattened out. One effect of the Internet is that there are fewer and fewer subcultures anymore. When I was growing up, Black people were listening to some records that white people never heard of (Rudy Ray Moore, for example). This was true of “underground” gay culture as well. Nowadays, any slang you hear that you don’t understand, you just Google it. It was a lot more fun the old way.

    And, yes, a story-withholder. Very well put. I’ve often said that writing fiction is the art of concealing (and occasionally revealing :-) ) information — the opposite of the newspaper dictum that who, what, where, why, and when have to be in the first paragraph. And to take it even further, there’s Hemingway’s “iceberg” theory:

  2. Shari says:
    Thu Oct 17 2013 at 7:21 AM

    I love the part about scenes being the building blocks — such an important reminder that every scene really does matter. Each one has to play a specific role in creating the whole.

    Sounds like a fun event! :)

  3. Meghan Ward says:
    Fri Oct 18 2013 at 8:07 AM

    Thanks for all the great writing tips! I want to read Where’d You Go, Bernadette and didn’t know that the author was a TV writer or that much of the book was based on her experiences. I want to read it all that much more now.

  4. Kristan says:
    Sun Oct 20 2013 at 10:27 PM

    Oh, absolutely action & consequences are related. :)

    I’d not heard of Hemingway’s iceberg theory, at least not as such. Thanks for introducing me to it!

    It totally is, and I think you’d love it. Leah Stewart moderated Maria Semple’s session this year, but she’s been featured on a panel herself in the past (along with Curtis Sittenfeld), and one year Jennifer Weiner and Beth Hoffman were here.

    Somehow I think you’ll really enjoy BERNADETTE — perhaps because of the West Coast satire element. Also, to clarify, I would say BERNADETTE is emotionally autobiographical, but that the plot points/events are not based in reality.

  5. Lisa Alber says:
    Tue Oct 22 2013 at 11:30 AM

    Hi Kristan, thanks for visiting me on The Debutante Ball. Loved your Star Trek post. Now I’m tooling around your site–which I like a lot! Favorite bit from this post: “You’re not just a storyteller; you’re a story-withholder.” So true!

  6. Kristan says:
    Tue Oct 22 2013 at 11:33 PM

    Thanks for visiting me back, Lisa! And for your kind words. :)

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