Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Guest Post - Kathie Deviny, Author of Death in the Memorial Garden

The Author's Apprentiship.
When I began to study creative writing in my 50's, it was to help me document what it was like to have Stage Three breast cancer. Time was of the essence, since I didn't know how long remained. I had translated my oncologist's prognosis of "cautiously optimistic" to a fifty-fifty chance of long term survival. I had always wanted to be a writer, so now was the time.
I signed up for a week long workshop in Cannon Beach, Oregon, taught by the memoirist and poet Judith Barrington, whose recently published book about her family had sent shivers up and down my spine. Her students were a diverse group. Two men, as I recall, were writing autobiographies to share with their families. One young woman's parents had been involved with the famous Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, and her description of assembling a Cassoulet with her father had the sensuality and beauty of a love sonnet.
I selected my fiercest writing to share, one a piece titled, "Cancer of Unknown Origin," and another comparing my chemotherapy hair loss to the shaved heads of Auschwitz victims. I expected that Ms. Barrington would declare my work compelling, important, and ready for immediate publication. Possibly she could introduce me to her agent. I had been writing for about eight months at the time.
We spent much of the time outside our readings in free ranging discussion, and I challenged her when she criticized another, arguably more famous memoirist, for not being supportive of other women authors. I countered by saying, in effect, that geniuses operated under different rules.
Seeing that some of her students had gotten a little ahead of themselves, and knowing that her own "breakthrough" publication had emerged well into her middle age, Ms. Barrington decided to give us a traditional lecture. Its subject was the writer's apprenticeship. She began by describing the ages old vocational training path of craftspeople, that of the apprentice. Blacksmiths, barbers, butchers, troubadours, Jesus the carpenter, all learned from and worked with their elders. They could not ply their trade until worthy to do so. Room and board might be part of the deal, but in effect they were indentured servants, trading youth for livelihood.
Why should writers, or musicians, or poets need any less time or supervision to achieve competence, she asked. And it takes a minimum of ten years, she added. Even I knew enough not to argue with her. Hadn't it been at least ten years before I could get through a whole day in my previous career as a social worker without being desperate for a social work angel to bail me out?
The apprenticeship system is a tattered one these days. With the decline of labor unions, the average youth of apprentiship age today probably doesn't know what the word means. A new hire is lucky to get one work shift to learn to ropes. Employers cry out for skilled workers, but can't find them, and apparently can't take the time for an apprentiship.
Ten years. I never forgot what she said. I studied writing for seven years after that workshop, and joined a writing critique group. I finished my unpublished memoir about having cancer. I started writing a mystery. Eight years and many drafts later it's just been published, after a year of revising with my editor. I'm now receiving Medicare. God willing, I've begun the transition from from apprentice to journeyman.

Thanks for sharing that with us, Kathie. I hit my ten year mark as an author this year and I've never thought of it as an apprenticeship but you're right, it has been an uphill climb of learning about writing through any means I could.
Here is a bit more information about Kathie's book, Death in the Memorial Garden.

Just as the sexton is about to inter the ashes of one of Grace Church’s last wealthy patronesses in the Memorial Garden, he unearths a wine crate containing the ashes of an unknown. Next to the ashes is a distinctive pair of shoes. Not only are the woman’s relatives furious at the interruption, but they soon have grounds for a lawsuit: yet another piece of the church’s tower comes crashing to the ground.
With their congregation dwindling and their world literally falling in around them, Father Robert Vickers and his colorful staff members and volunteers put their heads together to solve the mystery of the anonymous ashes and find the means to save Grace Church from the developers … all in time for the Bishop’s visit.

AUTHOR SITES:   Website    Facebook


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