It has been an inexcusably long time since I last blogged. Inexcusable, but not without excuses. I was working and teaching, of course, but I was also bogged down by the need to find yet another place to live, seeing as how the "writer's retreat" we rented was left in filthy, deplorable condition; I didn't know something so unsanitary and dirty could exist in tony Westchester/Putnam County! It was inhabited by a plethora of bugs, and then a vicious, mysterious smell. The fridge was broken (who thinks to open a fridge to check its status when renting a house?), there was mouse poison everywhere, and then the washing machine broke. More on that next blog.
I was also out of town for a week, visiting the lovely state of Colorado for the first time. My very good friend Renee, who is one of my favorite writers and one of the nicest people on planet Earth, lives there while her husband works on his PhD in music. She teaches ESL and Creative Writing at the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. Renee put my debut novel, CLOSER TO FINE, on the Fall 2008 syllabus for her Advanced Creative Writing course; Renee was also amazing enough to set up a public reading for me at the College.
I spoke to her Advanced Creative Writing class about CLOSER TO FINE's publication process, starting back in 2001, when I first started the novel as part of a Writing Workshop taught by Kaylie Jones during my MFA program. I also visited her Introduction to Creative Writing class, and workshopped about 8 short stories. I miss workshopping! I had so much fun and I'm so grateful to all the students for welcoming me to their classes.
The reading went superbly well, and was my most populated to date (no, it wasn't just her students! There were over 50 people in the audience). The Q&A session was interesting and lively, with really great questions! I'm not sure if it was due to the academic setting or the non-East Coast locale, but there were some really unique questions!
I saw Denver and Ft. Collins for the first time, as well as the Rocky Mountains! I've posted Renee's lovely introduction here, so you can read her words about me, our friendship and my novel, which she edited (draft after draft). Enjoy!
"Thank you to the Neal Cross Lecture Series committee and to the School of English Language and Literature; special thanks to Karen Janata and Dean David Caldwell.
I met Meri Weiss on the first day of our graduate studies at Southampton College on Long Island, New York. It was there at our brief meeting that I learned a fundamental difference between our American coasts: I, a wide-eyed girl from the Wild West effusively asked Meri, a wizened, cautious New Yorker, where she lived. I hadn’t gotten to know anyone yet. I needed to know who was nearby. Meri skirted my question, and I was left wondering if I had found a friend.
It turns out I had; not only did we have all the same classes and work as graduate assistants in the same office, but we just happened to live on the same street. Meri became one of my truest friends and most trustworthy associates during our time in the Hamptons; we discovered, through her organizational brilliance and my attention to detail, we could accomplish much—including double-handedly publishing a literary magazine and collaborating on a two-week writers conference. In our time as students, writers, and teachers, we edited each other out of pockets; we swapped lesson plans; we endured 9/11. It was the time in our lives—when we were still in our twenties—when, despite monumental individual or global catastrophes—our vision remained intact.
It was there where Meri wrote her way through workshops to a master’s thesis that, now, six years later, is a published novel. In Closer to Fine, Meri provides solid story, compelling conflict, and appropriate wit—despite the ominous theme of recent and impending death. She does this with remarkable speed and clarity of pace. The crux, however, of her novel is character. The people of Closer to Fine—Alex, Jordy, Jax, Tucker and Carchie—aren’t just deftly rendered elements of fiction. They are real. They are us. And we love them because of this. As Simon Van Booy, a friend and former classmate from Southampton, writes, “You'll spend the rest of your life looking for them on the streets of Manhattan.” Meri creates a world in Closer to Fine that is not perfect, and her characters understand this, but they recognize a more valuable, a more true, fact: friendship is important—we benefit when we’re surrounded by those we love, those who make us better. I am pleased, and proud, to introduce you to a person who makes me—and so many of those around her, including her readers and her students—better, my friend Meri Weiss. "