I am typing this on a plane headed for Seattle, happy to be en route to the always-terrific PNWA conference. I don’t get to as many far flung writers conferences as I did before I had children, but that makes the ones I do attend a particular treat. I love fielding pitches, talking about the book business and listening to writers who, despite the vagaries of this difficult marketplace, are united by a love for what they do. It also gives me an opportunity to see my Seattle-based clients, in this case, the prodigiously talented Valerie Trueblood, whose new short story collection, Search Party: Stories of Rescue, was just released yesterday by Counterpoint Press. Valerie’s previous collection, Marry or Burn, was shortlisted for the Frank O’ Connor prize, and this one (I say without a shred of bias) is every bit as wondrous.
Trueblood writes short fiction that is mind-bendingly capacious. Whole lifetimes and histories, epiphanies and slow revelations are coiled into her stories, like DNA inside a cell. And like a double helix, their structure is impossibly elegant. She is also wonderful because, to some extent, I think she writes what she does not know, quietly flouting what Ben Yagoda in this week’s NYT cites as the third of the three cardinal rules of writing. First is “Kill your darlings” second is “Show don’t tell,” both well-worn but worthy cliches of the craft that I lean on heavily. This third one I’m not so sure about. Yagoda concedes that WWYK is a notion is “rightly scorned as leading to the literary solipsism that, in fact, so many short stories, novels, essays and memoirs exhibit.” Still he argues that the “motto is nonetheless true.” Yagoda expands the definition of “what you know” to include what you research and learn, thank goodness, but I’m still skeptical. One of my favorite Trueblood characters is a convicted murderess, and I am pretty certain that Valerie has not done time.
What do you think? Do you WWYN? Where do you come down in your experience as a reader, as a writer? How far do you venture outside your comfort zone?