Last night I spoke to a MLAS class at UNC- Asheville. What is a MLAS class? I didn't know either but I looked it up. Masters of Liberal Arts and Sciences is "a broadly interdisciplinary program designed for a wide spectrum of adults that provides a challenging, structured liberal arts curriculum at the graduate level."
The class are using Francine Proses's How to Read Like a Writer and they were assigned (among other local writers) The Day of Small Things to analyze -- paying attention to the writer's choice of words and construction of sentences and paragraphs. Their teacher Tommy Hays had asked me to come in and answer questions.
Which I was delighted to do but I decided that first I'd better read the book -- I wrote it almost ten years ago and, though I skimmed it last year, preparatory to speaking to a book club, I wanted to be sure I remembered various points so I'd be able to answer any questions semi-intelligently.
I knew I was proud of the book but this re-reading had me really loving every word and every character -- well, except for the evil guy. I also realized that, in a way, this book was written just for me and no one else will ever appreciate some of the little hidden things about it as I do.
No matter. I enjoyed answering the questions they had -- questions like "Where are you when you write -- mentally and physically?" (Mentally, I'm in the head of my characters; physically I'm in a chair, feet up with a lap top.) and "What was the most challenging thing about writing this book?" (Bowing to my editor's insistence that I revise and tell the story chronologically rather than using the present day story as a frame with the bits of Birdie's early life interwoven.)
Some of the comments were thought provoking. "How do you balance the harsh/scary/intense scenes and the beautiful scenes?" (I prefer writing the beautiful scenes but the harsh/scary/intense scenes are necessary to provide tension/conflict and to move the plot along.
Tommy commented that I was good at writing evil characters, saying that he had trouble with this. Actually, I struggle to make people do bad things. I realized some time ago that most of my villains are either crazy in one way or another or, as in the case of two of the Black Hats in DST, semi-mythical personifications of Evil rather than real people.
It was a pleasure talking with the class and a pleasure spending time with Miss Birdie and her friends. At this long remove, all the toil and agonizing that went into the book is forgotten and it's very much like reading a book someone else wrote -- someone who has an uncanny knack for my sort of story.