Is this just me? Six months after reading a book, I seldom remember the characters’ names and only the most rudimentary elements of plot. Even with books I’ve loved! Character and plot are the foundations of fiction. That’s what writers are taught in classes, workshops, how-to books, articles, and websites. You need engaging characters and a story with tension, conflict, drama, high stakes. Voice, setting, imagery, language are important elements, too, but interesting characters and absorbing plots are vital. But if character and plot fade away, then what qualities create the powerful, resonant fiction that keeps its hold on us long afterward?
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Lynn Sloan: Patty, I’ve enjoyed and admired your work for years, so it’s a real treat to have a chance to ask you about your writing and your new story collection, Responsible Adults. Great title. It’s the title of one of your stories, but what it suggests, a bad situation where a sound, responsible adult is needed, can be applied broadly to this entire collection. Reversing those two words of the title to adults responsible also works. In these stories, it is usually the adult, the one in charge, who is responsible for the harm done. When in the process of pulling together this collection did you choose this title?
Patricia Ann McNair: Hello, Lynn, and what a pleasure to talk with you as well! I think you are exactly right that these stories and the situations the characters find themselves in ache for the intervention of a responsible adult. That was something that became clear to me as I started to put these pieces into a binder to see what they might look like as a collection. I hadn’t finished the story that the title Responsible Adults comes from quite yet, and in a way that has never happened before, the title for the collection came to me before I had a story for it. I just liked the sound of it, Responsible Adults, especially as I thought of it in regards to the relationships in the stories. “Who is responsible here” can have a different meaning from “Who is responsible for this?” One implies a sort of blame, an insinuation of guilt, the other assumes that someone is in charge. Each of these ideas speaks to my stories in some way, so, yeah, the title stuck with me. And then I had to find one of my unfinished, untitled stories that might make use of those two words as well. A sort of backward approach for me; I usually like to find a title that has surfaced organically in a story and can do double duty for the collection. But this time the title asserted itself into and onto the book.
To read more:blog.superstitionreview.asu.edu/2021/03/20/guest-post-lynn-sloans-interview-with-patricia-ann-mcnair/
On Saturday, August 17, 2019 I will lead the workshop on How to Read a Photograph at Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference, Chicago.
Writers collect and use photographs as records of facts and as inspiration. Getting it at a glance—that’s what we like about photographs. They are simple; they yield their information without a struggle; their language is universal; seeing is natural: Each of these statements is false. Photographs are deceptive and they are filled with information beyond what is available at a glance. Learning how to see what photographs describe can deepen and enrich our writing. In this workshop we will explore ways to read photographs to discover what is within or beyond the surface representation.
Writing the Next Chapter, a program in which Patricia Skalka, Joyce Zeiss, and I talk about making the transition to second careers as novelist was warmly received at the March meeting of the Society of Midland Authors. During the discussion that followed, a new writer asked about the limits of the old adage “write about what you know.” “Write about what you want to know,” I suggested. Our curiosity, our urge to understand drives us as writers.