I didn’t mean to start taking notes during the keynote speech at the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards when they were held last week in Duluth, but I couldn’t help it. When a speaker quotes Johnny Cash: “Talent is God-given; style comes from our limitations,” and starts talking about writing, well, it’s hard not to . . . start writing in every open space on the back of the program.
But I also need to let you know that there was pie at this event; five kinds of free pie provided by the Rustic Inn up the North Shore of Lake Superior. I wrote my notes under the sugar-rush influence of a raspberry cream variety, so keep that in mind as you read this.
The speaker was Kevin Kling, noted playwright, speaker, author and storyteller who I am ashamed to say, I’d never heard of before. But hey, I live in Duluth. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Kling is almost as cool; he hails from Minneapolis. He talked a lot about why people write and how the process helps people deal with emotions, tensions and physical difficulties.
Kling’s physical differences are more apparent than most. Although he was born with a short left arm that has no wrist or thumb, audience members couldn’t help but notice it because it’s the only arm he can use. His right arm (which he used to depend on) was rendered pretty much inoperable by a motorcycle accident over a decade ago.
Despite a shorter than usual appendage with which to make his point, Kling made his point clear, even to the sugar-impaired. He told us a condensed story about his accident and used it to illustrate how, when he tells a story, it doesn’t control him anymore. “By the telling and the asking, we know we’re not alone.” Kling was in therapy after the accident and described how retelling the story of his accident so that he didn’t crash lessened the hold the experience had on him. By rewriting it in his mind, he took away its power.
Other notes I scribbled include: stories are tension – things that need to be worked out. And, “God loves stories so much; he created people so there would be an endless supply.” (Love that quote!) And Kling discussed how stories “round off the rough edges of torment and desire.” Now, as an eco-mystic romance writer, I know a bit about desire and torment. I lived with it for the 17 years it took to write my first novel, and I’m living through it now while writing the sequel (which I hope will take me less than two years). I suspect the thing that kept me going that long on the original (other than to eventually prove I could finish it) was to work out the feelings that inspired it. Did all that writing help? Yes, I think so. The feelings aren’t locked inside me anymore. They are loose upon the world, for better or worse.
By the way, my novel was not up for consideration in the competition, since it was set on Isle Royale, which is technically an island in Michigan (not Northeastern MN), and it was published in 2011. The stories under consideration for this ceremony were published in 2012. I attended the event to just to enjoy hob-knobbing with bookish folks in hopes it would help me stay inspired.
My first novel did not have a happy ending for the human protagonists. I’m a sucker for a happy ending, so I’m working to find them one in the sequel – so that some of their desire and torment can be lessened; and in doing so, lessen mine.
But right now, I’m desiring more of that pie. . . .