Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grub Tale: Michelle Hoover

Michelle Hoover teaches writing at Boston University and Grub Street. She has published fiction in Confrontation, The Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and Best New American Voices, among others. She has been a Bread Loaf Writer's Conference scholar, the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University, a MacDowell fellow, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and in 2005 the winner of the PEN/New England Discovery Award for Fiction. She was born in Ames, Iowa, the granddaughter of four longtime farming families. Her first novelThe Quickeningwill be published on Tuesday, June 29.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did you learn about Grub Street?

About seven years ago I was teaching part time at Boston University and was lucky enough to befriend Daphne Kalotay there. She invited me to a few events, and since I was new in town, these became my primary social outlet. Every time I went to a party or reading, I saw some familiar faces and couldn't believe my luck at finding such a ready-made social circle of oddballs and booklovers just like myself.

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
MICHELLE HOOVER: It gave me a vital social network, but also the best teaching experiences I've ever had. I think I basically stalked Chris Castellani until one day he looked at me and said, 'we should try to use you.' Of course I've learned more from teaching Grubbies than I have at any other institution, more about fiction writing in general, about why people write it and its everlasting appeal, and about my own work as well. Now I'm also doing consulting projects for Grub and had a chance to lead a panel about the organization (and those like it) at AWP. The teaching, consulting, and networking opportunities Grub has offered me (as well as plain old friendship) are incredible and I'll always be grateful for them. Grub is even going so far to host a party after my Brookline Booksmith event July 6. Where else can an early writer get that kind of support? And there's not a personality in their office or among their teachers who I can't help but love.

RUN FOR GRUB: What was the best advice you ever received at a Grub Street event?
MICHELLE HOOVER: The most recent came from Chuck Palahniuk's address at Grub's Muse and Marketplace conference. He said he used writing as an excuse to go out. I'd never thought of writing that way. He would force himself to go to parties, readings, whatever, and he would write there, often stealing a line of dialogue or an interesting gesture. Of course, I don't think I'm the type to sit isolated in a corner and wax poetic during a big shindig, but he has the right idea. You have to be in the world to write about it, and if you're paying attention, if you always have your writer's cap on, you'll find plenty of true stuff to put on the page.

RUN FOR GRUB: As a novelist who runs, tell me: Is there some secret to keeping my brain on my book when I run or do I always have to wait for inspiration to bubble up whenever it damn well pleases?
MICHELLE HOOVER: I'm too much of a control freak to wait for much of anything. When I'm flat out in the middle of a book, I often decide on a certain problem or scene I want to work out and then keep it in mind as I run. Sometimes I get nothing, but I've surprised myself. Writers often underestimate the power of simply thinking. They believe they aren't working unless something shows up on the page. Of course, even while running, my head will veer toward the pain in my knee or people I have to call or why that chubby dude isn't wearing a shirt, but then snap, there's an answer to my scene. It's not always a good answer, but it keeps me going.

Editor's Note: Catch Michelle Hoover reading from her novel at the book launch at the Middlesex Lounge at 6:30 tonight, or visit her events page for other scheduled listings. The Quickening, her debut, is available on Tuesday, June 29th. If you loved "Plainsong," "The Quickening" will make your heart sing. Poets & Writers agreesthe current issue featured Hoover as a writer to watch, and there was much rejoicing in Grubdom...

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