Fiction writers Susan Lindheim, Emily McLaughlin, and Laura Hubber took the top three places in the 2007 Kirkwood Literary Prize. The award, given by benefactor Andrew Morse, was founded to honor writer James Kirkwood (There Must be a Pony!, A Chorus Line) who started his writing career in the Writers’ Program. In a continuing series, the three winners tell us how their winning pieces developed.
Laura Hubber won third place for an excerpt of a novel set in Bosnia, All That Remains. Here she shares with us her writing process and what it takes to keep going.
Writers’ Program: Tell us about your winning piece. How did it develop? How did your workshop contribute to its growth?
All that Remains is a love story that takes place in Bosnia. The story began after I returned from Sarajevo, where I had lived for two and a half years, and in a way is a love letter to a place and time. When I returned to the States, I found that people only thought of Bosnia in terms of the war, and I wanted to communicate the beauty of the people and the country. As I have little patience for political tracts and prefer learning about other cultures and historical periods in fictional form, I wanted to present my experience in that form also.
Les Plesko’s writing classes have allowed me to develop the story in a supportive yet challenging environment. In his classes, everyone reads a page of what they’ve been writing over the week, and it’s remarkable how everyone seems to struggle with the same issues: point of view, writing good dialog, shifting time frames. It’s encouraging to talk about the process together, and I have learned so much from the other students in the class.
WP: Which courses have you taken? What instructors?
I’ve taken all my fiction courses with Les Plesko, starting, I believe with Novel 3 and including a master class in the novel. He’s a wonderful teacher, and a terrific writer as well.
WP: Tell us a little about your writing process.
I write my best if I write first thing in the morning for a few hours, before I start the rest of the day, but as I travel for my job, and recently had a child, the process has been interrupted numerous times, so now I write when I can. Having to produce for class helps me impose a deadline.
WP: Any advice for your fellow writers?
Write every day no matter what.
WP: What’s next for your writing?
First, I want to finish a second draft of this novel. Then, I look forward to starting the next.
WP: Anything else you’d like to share?
I think the biggest obstacle in writing is the judge sitting on one’s shoulder. Do whatever you need to do to silence him or her. Write with your eyes closed, write with an egg timer, tell yourself you won’t include that page, ANYTHING to allow yourself to write without censoring your voice. There’s always the opportunity to rewrite later.
An Excerpt from Laura Hubber’s All That Remains
Despite all of her promises to herself after his betrayal, she feels herself shedding layer upon layer of protection in Almir’s presence, until she’s more naked than she’s ever been alone. She does not take great comfort in this.
This morning, Almir announces he’s taking her for a surprise. Like most Bosnian spring mornings, it’s gray cold, and the wind blows sharp against them as they step out of the car ten miles out of town. She pulls her head down into her scarf like a turtle as they stroll along a path flanked by towering sycamores. Then she twists her hair and tucks it inside her navy blue Florentine hat. He takes her gloved hand.
“I’ll tell you a story,” he says.
Burned-out dwellings border the path, some abandoned, others occupied by refugees who hang laundry in the yard and cook outside on makeshift stoves over fires of twigs. The red tile roofs are a foreign shape, dented in the corners, softening the triangular lines of Bosnian houses. The walls, too, are painted gentle colors–mustard yellow, terra cotta, pink.
“During the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a civil servant was stationed here. His beloved was in Vienna, and he prepared a place for her here, at the very end of the Empire, so that it would feel like home. He brought parquet floors from Vienna and chandeliers from Prague. It took him five years to finish the house.”
“Let me guess. By then she had married someone else.”
He scowls at her for guessing the end of the story. Then nods.
“He planted these trees to honor his love.”
She pushes her chilled hands deep inside her pockets.
“Why are Bosnian stories always so sad?”
She hits him then, and they wrestle on the boulevard next to a horse-drawn carriage. She begins to run off the pavement, but he catches her by the back of her coat and pulls her back.
Beside the path, yellow tape reads, “Danger: Mines.” She is startled, and shaken. Until today, she had become used to not stepping past the asphalt onto the grass, for every day an explosion now means that someone has stepped in the wrong place. She had not expected them here.