Thanks to Robin Black!

A quick word of thanks today to Robin Black, author of the wonderful short story collection If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, for providing my forthcoming novel, The Grievers, with the following blurb:

“The Grievers is a an extraordinary weave of humor, insight and intelligence. Marc Schuster has written a perfect comic novel, one that never strays far from either poignance or hilarity. You will read it with the grateful sense of being in on the discovery of an exciting new literary voice.” – Robin Black, author of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

Robin’s collection has received acclaim from all quarters, including being named the top book of 2010 by the San Francisco Chronicle as well as the Irish Times, being shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize, winning the Athenaeum of Philadelphia Literary Prize, and being named a summer reading pick by O: The Oprah Magazine. Needless to say, I’m extremely delighted by this endorsement from an author whose work I admire so greatly!

Dealing with Writer’s Block: What’s Lurking?

At one point or another, pretty much every writer hits a wall. For whatever reason, you can be moving along at full tilt when, all of a sudden, you realize that you’ve either painted yourself into a corner or, worse, that you’re fresh out of paint. The technical term for this, I believe, is writer’s block.

The important thing to remember when you’re hit with writer’s block is not to panic. Instead, look back over what you’ve written and try to figure out what’s “lurking.” In other words, what remains unsaid? Where’s the potential for your story to grow? For example, is there a character you’ve mentioned in passing but have yet to develop? Is there a “gun over the fireplace” that you haven’t fired yet? Have any of your characters missed opportunities to meet? Is a character holding back on expressing her true feelings or revealing an important detail?

I recently saw the author Robin Black read from her wonderful collection of short stories, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This. One of the things she said she does when she’s stuck is to go back and look for places where her characters don’t speak their minds because they’re trying to be polite. She’ll then remind herself that her characters don’t need to be as polite as she is, and she’ll allow her characters to say what she might never say in real life. From there, the story is forced to take a new turn.

By allowing something that’s lurking to creep out into the open, you give your work the opportunity to do something unexpected. When that happens, your work takes on new life. To go back to my initial analogy, it’s a little bit like giving yourself the power to paint a doorway into the corner you thought you’d painted yourself into—and then to step through that doorway and into the rest of your story.

Writers Are Cool

I feel very fortunate to live in a region with a vibrant community of people who love to read and write. One of the great things about living in this kind of community is that I get a chance to see a lot of authors read and discuss their work. Last week alone, I had the opportunity to see Steve Almond read from his latest collection, God Bless America, at Germantown Academy, Robin Black and a handful of other writers speak on the subject of contemporary fiction at Bryn Mawr College, Beth Kephart read from her haunting new novel, You Are My Only, at the Radnor Library, and Chuck Palahniuk — well, it’s hard to describe what he did, but it involved inflatable brains, and it was wonderful — at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Obviously, this is a wide range of writers, each with different styles and interests, but what struck me about all of them is how really kind and thoughtful they all are. They’re just really nice people. At the end of each reading, the authors generally took time to answer questions from the audience, and when they did this, I got the sense that they were really listening to the questions and answering from the heart. I also got the sense that these authors not only love writing, but they love that people read their work as well — and thus feel indebted to their readers to some extent. To put it another way, I got the feeling that the respect between the readers and the authors was mutual.