When I was in Oakland this winter, I had a computer crash. Not a real computer. The one in my brain that, on a daily basis works just fine, usually brings up the right things at the right time, shuts down to ‘sleep’ at night, wakes up at the appointed time ready to hit the day running. In January, it just burned to a crisp—nothing left to make it work. Sissssssssssssss! It’s called Burn Out. I don’t remember how I stumbled onto Jami Attenberg’s Substack newsletter. I had first discovered Substack when my sister wrote me about George Saunders’ Story Club with George Saunders. I immediately became a paying member. Comments were invited and I loved reading them. Wanting to know what that person read on Substack, I soon realized how many writers I respected had Substacks, and found ones that I didn’t know who wrote about the craft of writing. I found Jami and her #1000 Words of Summer Challenge.
At the bottom of her Substack, she mentioned she’d written a memoir. I took the memoir, I Came all this way to meet you- Writing Myself Home, out of the library. First I read it. To say I loved it would be an understatement. I felt like she had me in mind when she wrote it. I, then, got the audio version and listened. Feeling exactly the same way as I had after the first reading, I bought the book and added All Grown Up (2017 First Mariner Books). What spoke to me? Jami writes in an intimate, conversationally (is that a word?) way that feels as if she is talking to ME. Writer to writer. She throws in comments about writing, about the craft of writing, about the love of writing, and how to grapple with certain problems, and many things that authors think about and only other writers and authors really relate to. This all while she is telling us about her life in often funny, self-deprecating ways. She is wise and knows herself well. She said eloquently what I felt but had not yet found words for. Writers, both ones she knows and ones she has yet to meet, are her friends. She roots for us. The memoir is one of those books that expands your world, makes you want to create because you can, and she is your cheerleader.
Recently, her weekly newsletter led off with dates that she would be reading or would be interviewed in various cities. There was the word PARIS. She was going to speak at the American Library. I immediately wrote her (you can do that on Substack. Write a comment). Jami responds to almost every comment. I told her I’d bring as many of my writer friends and book club friends as possible. She was up against some big competition. The American Library has had a pledge that would probably bring in quite a bit of money. For the first time, they can have two events on the same night. So, the next day, I learned that the second event was the San Francisco Theatre group, Word for Word, putting on George Saunders’ play HOME. This did not feel at all fair. I wanted to complain (I think I did). But the dates were set and I really really wanted to support Jami. So I put the play out of my mind.
Tuesday evening, I went early to the Library to listen to Jami being interviewed by the wonderful Lauren Collins (staff writer, New Yorker). I brought both of her books hoping to get them autographed. The reading room in the library was packed and it was on Zoom. She told us that she was far enough away from the memoir – it was published January 2022 – that she could discuss it without too much emotion. She told us how she wrote and wrote until she knew what her focus was: being a writer. She explained how she structured the chapters in the book.
Structure is something that is often a stumbling block for me. It feels like the AP class in creative writing. Jami chose ten of the most important periods of her life for chapters. These events didn’t necessarily happen consecutively. So she didn’t write them that way. In my stories, I’m still learning the architecture of a really good story. What do you say when? When do you bring in backstory? What do you start with? And those last two sentences where in a short story, as my Stanford professor told us, they’d better be a knock-out punch.
I’m not the only one grateful to her and the way she writes, the way she tells us about her writing life. She manages to be be inclusive, her challenges are so often our challenges. Her #1000 Words of Summer, in its sixth year, has almost 30,000 subscribers. Most of these people she’ll never meet. Yet, she has had the experience of finding herself mentioned in the acknowledgments of a book as both the inspiration and the kick in the pants push the author needed to get going. I can just barely imagine what that must be like—a thought, an idea she has had and put into action, growing to such a degree that authors around the world express their gratitude in black and white on the acknowedgment page for getting them to the finish line.
Thank you, Jami Attenberg. May you enjoy your Italian vacation!!
For more information on #1000 Words of Summer, go to Jami’s substack Craft Talk
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