The dark caves of Houston

My first post-residency entry will be about my first assignment.  There’s so much to say about my time at Goucher – what I did there (and didn’t do), whom I met, how the faculty was, and more.  It will all come eventually, once I get my thoughts and work organized.  But the first entry will be about my first assignment.

I didn’t realize we would be expected by the first semester to have already formed a strong idea of what our final manuscript will be about.  I thought we’d spend the first semester focused on improving creative writing skills, group discussions, and so forth, and by the end of that semester we’d be ready to start working on the manuscript.

I didn’t have a firm idea of what I wanted to do, although I had some ideas and I knew it would be a reported piece.  (By the way, that is language I learned at Goucher: memoir versus reported.  I could – and may – devote a whole post to the vocabulary of creative nonfiction).  We tried in my workshop session to get more specific, but in the end my original, half-formed ideas didn’t translate into an outline for a 150-page opus.

So my mentor, Suzannah Lessard, suggested I pretend I’m working for The New Yorker and write some Talk of the Town type pieces.  She told me to go forth and examine Houston, looking for things that might not present themselves as stories but on further investigation might in fact be worthy of writing about.  In a follow-up email she asked if I had had a chance to go “spelunking” for stories.  Hopefully I won’t have to actually climb into any caves – but if I have to, I will.  By September 6.  That’s the deadline for my first assignment, which is to write one or more Talk of the Town style pieces.  Each assignment after that will develop based on the previous one, until it becomes clearer what my manuscript will be about.

I already know what I want my manuscript to be.  Not one long narrative, but rather essays and long-form reported pieces, around a theme, which I already am 85% sure will be religion in some way.  Unless I am persuaded otherwise, I am going to be stubborn about this.  I also need to find out if there’s any policy against my selling pieces that I write for my Goucher manuscript, because career development is a major part of my goal with the MFA.

I know what I’m good at, and I know what I can excel in, and that’s what I’m going to do.  Starting in the caves.