I’m a fiction writer and I’ve also written essays. And, like all writers, I do so many other things that, while writing is absolutely central to who I feel I am, it’s only a small part of who my friends, family, and students see. I’m very, very lucky to teach creative writing at the University of Michigan’s Residential College, so most of what I do is read and talk to undergraduates about their fiction, essays, and poems. Our program teaches students in unique one-on-one tutorial sessions, so I’m privileged to wrestle in the writing mud in a mentorship role with my students. We talk about inspiration, the different ways to tell a story, the powers and the limits of language. It’s important to me to teach revision as the creation of new possibilities rather than a process to dread. These lessons are all ones I am learning and re-learning every time I sit down to write. I’m also a mother, a stepmother, a second wife, and the child of divorced and remarried parents, so I don’t have to drop by ancestry.com to find a vast family tree! I’ve learned many times over that writing is as much about fitting together the puzzle pieces of time management as efficiently and kindly as possible as it is about actually sitting down at the desk. I try to be generous to my family, my students, and myself in all that I do. I don’t always achieve this balance all at the same time.
I fell in love with reading when I was still very young, and I started writing young, probably to mimic what I loved. I also remember telling awfully long stories that took their time to reach an ending! I recall that, at every new and exciting plot twist, I would take a deep breath and cry, “and…!” I wanted to make sure my mother was still listening with what must have been an eternal wellspring of patience! Bless her heart. Then in kindergarten, during sharing time, I was mid-story when the teacher told me I was talking too much and cut me off. She was right! I was talking too much, and it was unfair to the other kids. But we moved a lot when I was young, and I was still the new kid in class. Sitting in the back of the room, with every kid staring at me over a sea of desks, was so mortifying that I became the quiet kid after that. I dreaded speaking in class or giving presentations. From that moment on, I saved the stories for paper, and came to believe that my way of storytelling was not the way people wanted to hear stories told.
I still write long stories and prefer to read short fiction that takes time to explore the alleys and the byways of character and place, like Alice Munro, or Jane Smiley’ short fiction, or Detroit’s own Lolita Hernandez. I was talking with Lolita recently about the stories in my collection, States of Motion. She told me she liked that I wrote about characters who don’t always have a sincere champion in literary fiction. Some of my characters are people easily misunderstood, made fun of or looked down upon, people who seem to lend themselves to easy, mostly false, assumptions. I’ve learned in my writing life that some stories take time to unfold, and some moments and events play the long game with a character’s heart and soul. The way these characters tell their stories doesn’t always fit with what people want to hear from them, but taking the long view is the only way they know how to make sense of their experiences.
How I go about writing a story or an essay is to begin, and then keep going until I feel an ending. I believe writing inspires ideas, not the other way around. Sometimes I’ll sketch out a rough series of scenes first, but more often I sit down cold and start typing. I’ll then jot down dialogue or narrative for the rest of the day after I finish a morning’s session. I almost always write in the morning and early afternoon, which is why I can’t write every day. Long stretches of writing, followed by dribs and drabs, is how I like to go about it. When life gets super busy, which doesn’t it always, I’ve trained myself to grab time—a half hour waiting for a kid to get done with the latest activity, fifteen minutes waiting for the pasta water to come to boil, the brief moments between student appointments. Not my preferred process, but sometimes the only way to get anything done. I guess at heart I’ll always be that long-winded little girl working out the story as she goes, but I have over the years tried to fit writing into life, and life into writing, a bit more gracefully than I did from the back of that kindergarten classroom.
Laura Hulthen Thomas’s work has appeared in The Cimarron Review, Nimrod International Journal, Epiphany and Witness. She received her MFA in fiction writing from Warren Wilson College. She currently heads the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan’s Residential College, where she teaches fiction and creative nonfiction. Laura’s short story collection, States of Motion, may be purchased at Amazon or Wayne State University Press.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell the truth without shame.
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
2015 Great Midwest Book Fest Honorable Mention.
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters