I just got back from the most powerful evening I think I’ll have at VONA. Tonight, the faculty had their readings at the Berkeley City College. A packed auditorium came out to listen to some very moving, funny, and uplifting work from the brilliant people we have guiding us this week.
The one standout for me was Staceyann Chin. I don’t know what words could possibly describe the sheer power and raw energy she brings to the stage, to the room, to your very core. Her line, “what happened to me was not my fault,” repeated over and over felt like a call to arms. It brought everyone to their feet. She’s fucking amazing and if you can see her perform live YOU. MUST. GO.
Our reading today was Jhumpa Lahiri‘s “Once in a Lifetime,” the first in her short story collection, “Unaccustomed Earth.” VONA likes to make people cry, and this reading was the first time I’ve actually bawled here (Staceyann’s reading was the second).
Once in a Lifetime
What Stood Out for Me
- The level of detail, from the sensory (the smell of lamb curry and pullao) to the mundane (bottles of Avon perfume in the bedroom).
- The story’s gradual building of tension and the one-two punch I didn’t see coming, but should have.
- Use of the 1st person 2nd address.
- Lahiri shows us the importance of knowing when to reveal information. Just because you know it doesn’t mean your reader has to yet.
- The story is a retrospective narrative. The choice of exposition is stronger because the narrator is looking back at past events and trying to understand them. If she wasn’t, the use of scene would be more effective.
- Is each sentence, detail, etc. I’m writing touching on my character’s want, need, or desire?
- For 1st drafts: Have I let myself go? It’s important to let go at this stage. Put everything down so you don’t have to relive these moments later.
- Subsequent drafts: Think of craft as you go through your drafts. Revise using the tools in your arsenal – look at POV, story arc, tension, exposition, scene, etc. Remember that at some point you have to detach yourself from your work.