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Countdown to Muse 2019: Impossible Writing by Ron MacLean

The Muse and the Marketplace 2019 kicks off on April 5th at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. This year’s theme is writing in a time of upheaval — whether such upheaval is personal, political, artistic, or all of the above. In anticipation of the conference, we’ve asked Muse 2019 presenting authors to describe a time when it was impossible for them to write, but they wrote anyway. How did they do it? What did they write? Our next presenter in the series is Ron MacLean author of We Might As Well Light Something on Fire.

A few years ago, my wife had a serious health scare. The life-threatening kind. For those months, mostly everything fell away as we got her through the crisis and (happily) out the other side. After the first month or so, I found myself going back to my writing desk. Not often, but consistently. Writing has always been the only way I can ground myself, try to make sense of life. Anyway, during that time, I wrote a lot more than I realized. Most of it was crap. But one line wouldn’t let go of me. I couldn’t do anything with it, and I couldn’t escape it. I’d just come back to it, day after day, and poke at it. Take it somewhere, fail, and do it again the next day.

(s)he took a diagnosis in the face.

I felt I had no right to write it, until I realized it wasn’t her experience I was trying to capture, but mine. Ours together. I kept at it. What came out (much later) was both a love song to my esposa, and the most fragmented narrative I’ve ever written. It interests me that readers who don’t usually like my more fragmented work tend to love that story. The emotional logic of it seems coherent to them. That makes sense to me. Writing helped me survive that time, and that story is probably a fossilized imprint of my emotional state.

You can catch Ron’s craft discussion, “Narrative Unbound: Experimental Structures in Essays and Stories” on Friday, April 5th at 10:15am, “Spitballing...Returns!” on Friday, April 5th at 6:45pm, and “All In: Raising the Stakes - and Making them Matter - in Fiction” on Saturday, April 6th at 1pm at the Muse. For all the latest Muse news, follow #Muse19.

Ron MacLean teaches writing at GrubStreet. His short fiction has been anthologized, and has appeared widely in magazines including GQ, Narrative, Fiction International, Night Train, Other Voices, Drunken Boat, Best Online Fiction 2010, and elsewhere. He is author most recently of the story collection We Might As Well Light Something on Fire. His previous books include the novels Headlong, winner of the 2014 Indie Book Award for Best Mystery, and Blue Winnetka Skies, plus the story collection Why the Long Face? Ron has received fellowships from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Millay Colony, and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, and has been a frequent writer-in-residence at The Chautauqua Institution's Summer Writers Workshop. He is a recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. He holds a Doctor of Arts from the University at Albany, SUNY.

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