Lenore Myka

Lenore Myka is the author of King of the Gypsies: Stories, winner of the 2014 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and a finalist for the Chautauqua Book Prize. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Pinellas, the City of Somerville Arts Council, and Hawthornden International Writer’s Retreat. Her award-winning fiction has been selected as distinguished by The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-Required Reading series, and has appeared in New England Review, Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, West Branch, Quartz, and Alaska Quarterly Review, among others. She has served as a Writer in Residence at the New College of Florida and has taught writing at MIT, Boston University, Lesley University, Tampa University, and the Ringling College of Art & Design. Lenore received her MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College and an MA from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. She lives in St. Petersburg, FL.


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Doing Something New

Doing Something New

I was reluctant to read George Saunders’s much-celebrated book. In the past, I have appreciated his work, though some stories have felt too sentimental for me. But I have no reservations about Lincoln in the Bardo. Bottom line: it’s a masterpiece.

I loved this book for many different reasons. As a writer, it comes down to one quality: Saunders is trying to tell stories in new, innovative ways. As I have long told students, all the stories you could ever imagine being told have been. The challenge is in the way you tell them.

The most recent Writer’s Chronicle issue republished Saunders’s keynote address at this spring’s AWP conference. In his presentation, he talks about his early days as a writer, climbing various metaphorical mountains so that he might stand beside literary giants like Hemingway and Carver, until one day he discovered it was better to climb his own hill, in his own way. Saunders stumbled upon his writing gifts. He’d doodled things in the margins of a legal pad he’d been using at work. When at home he overhead his wife laughing out loud at what he had written, he had an epiphany: this was what he was good at.

I think Saunders’s story has two important points worth noting. Yes, we should write from our identified strengths. That’s how you begin to understand how all those stories that have already been told might benefit from your own special version of them. But in looking at a work like Lincoln in the Bardo, I know Saunders didn’t stop there. He hasn’t, for the past thirty years of his writing career, been coasting on his gifts as a humorist. His latest novel shows the world that he is still striving, still improving, still (for lack of a better word) experimenting.

The goal should always be to push against our perceived limitations–as artists and as human beings. That’s what makes for the best in art and life.


The Bookshop

The Bookshop

Unlike many writers who worry about the integrity of a book being irrevocably altered, I don’t mind a film adaptation. Of course, I generally feel the books are better. But film is a different medium, and demands different things of a work. And there are lots of great movies (and more recently, TV shows) that honor the spirit of the books they’ve adapted. There’s also the fact that movies can draw attention to an excellent book that has been otherwise neglected by readers.

So while others might be shocked by the audacity of the filmmakers recreating Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, I’m thrilled. I love Fitzgerald’s books. And this particular film might just do double-duty, reminding us not only of a great literary voice but also of those oftentimes unknown individuals who devote their lives to books: bookshop owners.

My guess is more of Fitzgerald’s books have been sold in actual brick and mortar stores than on Amazon. And despite all the predictions about digital media killing the indie bookstore, local bookstores from my perspective, are experiencing a golden age. When I travel, I seek out these shops. On vacation in the Adirondacks this summer, I discovered The Bookstore Plus. Whenever I visit cities in which I’d resided, I visit bookstores; Harvard Bookstore and Politics and Prose are just a couple of those.

Here in the Tampa Bay Area, there is a growing literary scene. Whenever I’m in Tampa, I visit Inkwood Books. And here in St Petersburg I’ve been ordering again and again from Tombolo Books, and am always happy to see their pop-ups around town. I’m eagerly awaiting the day they’ll have a permanent shop location.

My first bookstore was Talking Leaves in Buffalo, NY. As a sometimes lonely and isolated teenager, this place offered no small degree of solace for me. Bookstores–like their publicly-funded siblings, libraries–connect communities, not only physically, but through the shared love of the written word. It’s not hyperbolic to say that books save people. I know they’ve saved me.


Breaking the Rules Revisited

Breaking the Rules Revisited

My mother and niece, Avery, at Chautauqua

I had a great week at the Chautauqua Institution, taking in speakers and events, jogging the grounds, and conducting a writing workshop with five fantastic women writers. But the event that seemed to draw the most attention was the brown bag lunch I gave on my very last day as writer in residence there, a talk entitled “Great Writing Advice You Might Want to Ignore.” The audience had an abundance of terrific questions and comments.

As noted in one of my previous posts here, I’ve been circling around this topic for some time. Writing is intuitive and rules can oftentimes challenge the intuition. Rules, in and of themselves, are not bad. But they need to match the person and the individual circumstances. The wrong rules or advice at the wrong time, and all hell breaks loose.

Here is just a short list of writing “rules” I determined I needed to break, in order to reinvigorate my creative process:

1) Write what you know. I’ve found it better to write about things I know nothing about so that my imagine can run wild.
2) Write every day. Sometimes, our brains and hearts need a break. Writing isn’t just about producing words; it’s also about living.
3) Don’t take breaks. This is a lot like the above, but is more often applied to that time when you are about to conclude one project. Many of us need space and time to fill the well; launching off onto another, new project, may be premature.
4) Find an artistic community. Community can be a terrific thing, a great source of support. It can also foment envy and anxiety, as we measure ourselves against the accomplishments of others. Envy and anxiety can be paralyzing.
5) Write through the pain. We’re told artistic pursuits are hard, sometimes even painful. But they shouldn’t make you miserable. If they are, consider why you are doing what you’re doing; chances are, your motives are wrong.

There are many more, but I’ll stop there for now.

*Creative Pinellas welcomes submissions from practicing artists for publication in our artists directory. To submit, please fill out the form here. Such publication does not constitute on endorsement by Creative Pinellas and does not imply a judgement about the quality of the work or the participating artist.