The kind of ‘thank you’ we creative writing teachers usually only dream of

Reprinted with the writer’s permission is this email, from Jeffrey Gerretse, former student at USC MPW (Master of Professional Writing.) It’s letters like this that remind me that what we (as writers) do matters, and that the best thing we can do is to pass it along.
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You may not remember me, but I was a student of yours at USC, 2006-2008. I’d read The Vorovich Affair as part of my reading for your fiction workshop, and I’ve mentioned you repeatedly to my wife when I talk about my time at USC. (She and I have been married a little over a year now; she didn’t know me back then.)

Anyway, because of the great things I told her, she tracked down a hardbound copy of Spring Thaw and bought it for me, knowing that was one of your books that I hadn’t read. What a wonderful thought!

Spring Thaw (novel)

Spring Thaw (novel)

Last night I finished the book. It was fantastic. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed it. I stayed up later than I’d planned to just so I could finish it before going to bed. I was so close to the end — I absolutely needed to read it through to the last page. Great job!

The novel I read before Spring Thaw was Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, which itself is very lyrical, and I thought reading Spring Thaw immediately afterwards was a perfect pairing. I love that your story moves so quickly, yet you spend the perfect amount of time beautifully describing the island, from the landscape to the events taking place. As did Dandelion Wine, Spring Thaw showed me how powerful the perfect description can be.

I also noticed that the novel deployed many of the same writing strategies you promoted as an instructor at USC. For example, the end of every chapter gave me a reason to immediately turn the page and start the next. I loved that.

So I just wanted to send you a note, point out that here’s another student who remembers all your great advice, and congratulate you on producing such a wonderful novel. It’s still affecting people, still finding new readers. (And this morning I gifted the Kindle version to my wife. She’s gonna love it!)

I’ve been a working writer since 2005, working on staff at a software company doing business writing. I’m very grateful to be writing for my paycheck, but I’m usually too drained at the end of the day to do any writing of my own. And I was so out of practice — I’d even slacked on my reading — that when I did try to write, it was a tortured process that left me with nothing but garbage. I kept trying to rework old stories, hoping to capture something worthwhile. I never did. I started to think that I didn’t have the imagination for creative writing anymore, that maybe I should focus my technical chops on writing for the business world and give up the idea of selling stories or scripts or books.

Then, last Christmas, my wife’s sister (an enthusiastic recent English grad) gave me Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. She’d been talking about it since the day I met her years ago, but I’d never gotten around to reading it. Now there was no excuse. I started it in January and couldn’t put it down. It just unlocked something inside of me, and my imagination started going wild. It was like I’d been reborn. It’s like the book told me I could write about anything — anything! Because that book was about so many different things, and lyrical and beautiful, and haunting and true.

In the intro to the book, Bradbury talked about his writing process and it just clicked with me. I realized that I needed to stop writing with a computer, that I didn’t have the discipline to keep from getting distracted, and that being at a computer was one thing that was getting in my way. For the past month or so, I’ve been writing by hand into a notebook. Nothing but one word in front of the next. Suddenly I’m writing stories again — full stories, in one sitting. After I wrote my first story in years, I flipped through those handwritten pages and just started crying. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I had found something to say again. All that self doubt just fell away.

That’s where I was when I started Spring Thaw. I needed something to maintain my momentum, keep me going creatively. I needed something that showed me how powerful writing could be, how powerful story could be, and that’s exactly what I found. It was a wonderful, magnificent experience. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been missing in my creative life. I couldn’t have asked for a better book at a better time.

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He was also kind enough to give the recently-published Kindle version of Spring Thaw a rave review. Read it here. Thanks, Jeffrey!

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