Thought I'd share my guest post from the great blog bermudaonion.wordpress.com
FYI, no MFA.
A funny thing happens when you publish a book: People expect you to be smart. And I don’t mean the manageable kind of smart, like witty-at-a-cocktail party, or entertaining-at-the-soccer-field, or even best-read-at-the-knitting-class. (Those are close to doable.) I can handle people expecting I’m the next Nora Ephron. It’s people who expect the next Salman Rushdie that get me into trouble.
Wherever I am, when discussion turns to something literary, all heads swivel in my direction. At my 12-year-old daughter’s book club, I was asked which book is more romantic: Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, or Jane Eyre. Gulp. It’s either bring up the latest study linking past marijuana use and memory loss, or tell ‘em I’ll get back to them on that. At a Christmas party I was asked what I thought of Martin Amis’ earlier work. That’s like asking me if I preferred Michael Jackson when he was seven years old! I quip. (It makes only a tiny bit of sense, but everyone laughs because I must be funny; I’m a writer.)
Of course, when I visit book groups to discuss my novel, I’m comfortable discussing literary aspects of my own work. Or so I thought. Then I was invited to sit in on a graduate class that was studying Standing Still as part of their curriculum. I held my own until the second hour, when the professor asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks, because sitting in the middle of his ordinary nouns and verbs was “verisimilitude.” I confess in a room full of twenty scholars that I don’t know what “verisimilitude” means. The next question, I am certain, is going to be “how did you become a writer with such a small vocabulary?”
Since so many writers teach writing, have Masters of Fine Arts, or at least majored in English Lit, it’s a reasonable assumption, I suppose, that we have an encyclopedic knowledge of the classics. But some of us majored in diaper changing. Some of us didn’t even graduate from college. And please, when it’s Sunday morning and I stop by for a cup of coffee, don’t come up to me with the Times crossword puzzle. I told you last week: literary envelope has to be Mailer, and that’s all my pea brain can muster.