On October 2nd, the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program celebrated the Mary Higgins Clark Chair in Creative Writing and Fordham LitFest 2017.
Preceding this year’s Mary Higgins Clark chair address by celebrated surrealist YA author A.S. King, English majors, minor, and prospective majors gathered in McNally Amphitheater for LitFest 2017. A celebration of the discipline of literary study and excellence in writing, LitFest gave students the opportunity to learn about the value of the English major from department faculty, enjoy the premiere of the new English department short film Real Talk: Fordham English Alums starring recent English major graduates, and discuss literary and professional interests within specialized caucuses.
At the conclusion of LitFest, King, took to the stage to deliver her address, titled “Writing Novels - Trust the Process, Work Often, Die Happy.” King’s address focused on her spontaneous writing process known as pantsing.
Pantsing, explained King, is the process of writing without an outline—diving right into a story without knowing where it will lead. For King, this writing begins with a character: “My characters tell me things, and I listen.”
This method seems like a crazy approach to writing a novel, and it is, King promised. She admitted her dive-right-in process requires trust in a way plotted writing does not. "I trust in a very untrustworthy world,” she explained. “I always have, and I always will. That's why I write the way I do.”
The author also discussed her challenges as a woman writing in a predominantly male genre. “As a surrealist writer, being female isn’t always a picnic,” confessed King. She reflected on years of being mislabeled by publishers, undervalued, and rejected for being too strange or not romantic enough for a female writer: “Apparently my work wouldn’t be as hard to shelve if I thought like women are supposed to think, as if the marriage of my brain and my hands is somehow rerouted through my glands.”
After fifteen years of rejection, King was finally published. Though praise has followed, King insists financial success and glory have never been her motivators. “This is a hard business, but the goal is ultimately to write more books, to make more art, to stay focused on what’s important, to continue to meet my own goals, to reach out," she explained. "And encourage people to share their stories too—that’s a big one.”
King's advice to young writers in the audience was simple: make writing a priority. "I am always writing," said King. "Writing makes me happy," she explained. "I’m a better mother, a better friend, a better writer, and a better person when I’m happy."
Write often, encouraged the celebrated author. Pantsing is one way to do it, said King, but it doesn't work for everyone. "No one writes a book the same way as anybody else," she maintained. "Find what works for you, and write."
King closed her address by revealing what inspires her: “I want to give people a part of myself. I want to write books that come to me. I want to help other people." She put it simply: "That’s what makes me happy.”
“Queen of Suspense” and graduate of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, Class of 1979, Mary Higgins Clark took to the stage after King, and praised King for her inspiring and entertaining address. The bestselling author especially identified with the joy King found in proving her critics wrong. She reflected on a particularly harsh rejection slip: “It read, ‘Mrs. Clark, your stories are light, slight, and trite,’ and I thought, ‘I’ll show you,’ and I did.”
“You’ve proved them right fifty-seven times now, correct?” asked Fordham’s president Father McShane upon the event’s closing. “That’s how many novels you’ve written?” Clark nodded. McShane ended the evening with expressing his gratitude for Mary Higgins Clark and her generosity towards Fordham University, as well as his gratitude for King: “You have liberated some minds in here tonight with your words, and for that we are grateful.”
[To see the Fordham News story on this event, click here. Their story includes even more fun photos!]