Author Archives: nancystebbins

Reasons to Read The Little Friend

I don’t know about you, but nothing inspires me to write more than reading a wonderful novel or story. And after reading Donna Tartt’s book, I couldn’t stop thinking about craft.

A good friend, who recommended the book to me, did me the favor of telling me the ending before I ever picked up the book. Her intent wasn’t to “spoil” the book for me, but a warning not to read it like a mystery novel. All of the criticism of the book I’ve read comes from readers who didn’t enter the book with this mindset, so I’ll pass this information on to you: in the end, you won’t know who the murderer was. Yes, the little girl sets out to solve the murder, but what she learns is so much more interesting.

Here would be my top three reasons for reading this book:

1. The language is both precise and gorgeous. The author’s use of modifiers is so perfect, you’ll want to go try on some adverbs when you’re finished, all those writing manuals be damned.

2. If you’ve ever struggled to understand Dramatica concepts, especially the main character’s unique ability, you’ll see a perfect example here. (I don’t know if this was intentional in the author’s part, but when I read it, it was an “ah-ha” moment for me.)

3. She makes the “villain” (one of them, anyway) so human and vulnerable, that the reader wants him to make good choices, understands when he doesn’t, and hopes his punishment isn’t too harsh.

I’m sure you can think of more reasons to read this book. You are welcome to post them!

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Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

(Nancy’s Critical Introduction for her Pacific MFA thesis)

First though, I’d like to make sure you all know how much I appreciate you: my advisors, workshop leaders, and the other faculty I never got to work with directly, for the knowledge and wisdom you pour into your craft talks and workshops. Shelley, Colleen and Tenley for your dedication and patience. My fellow students. Thank you all so much.

I originally titled this talk “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch,” because I had been pondering transitions in my work, experimenting with making them less and less explicit, especially after doing Pam’s famous writing exercise involving the three memories. At one point I shared with Kellie that this felt foreign to me, as I’d always been a “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch” sort of writer. And while this has been an important element in the novel, I’d like to officially change the title of this talk to A Tilted World, because I think it has a more overarching meaning.

It has been difficult to narrow down the sort of writing that resonates most with me, because my favorite works seem to have little in common. I love magical realism, Southern Gothic, metafiction, and works that exhibit a wry humor. My favorite writers have included such diverse people as Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Peter Taylor, and Carson McCullers.

Kellie used a fascinating phrase early last semester, as we were talking about genres: she spoke of writing that “tilts toward” the magical. I began to think about how the works I love don’t rebuild the world, but instead tilt it just a little through magic or humor, or the odd juxtaposition, all of which cause a sudden shift in understanding, a reframing.

(Continued on Nancy’s Author Page)