A room full of alumni and community members gathered April 8 to hear Assistant Professor of English David McGlynn speak about personal experiences and how they fuel fiction writing as part of the “Lunch at Lawrence” series. The talk, “Flirting with Disaster: Turning Personal Obsession into Fiction,” included memories from McGlynn’s upbringing in what he calls the “epitome of suburban America,” Southern California.
McGlynn remembered believing his experiences were not exotic enough to be published or read by a wide audience. Said McGlynn, “adventure is not a narrative impulse” but one that keeps us from seeing our ordinary worlds as something worth delving into. He said that there were dozens of stories he missed around his neighborhood because he felt that while they were good anecdotes for a party, they did not amount to much. One of his influences, Flannery O’Connor, focused on just this ordinariness, hoping to articulate the mysteries of ordinary human existence.
Overcoming this prejudice against his own memories also created a wealth of problems in terms of the labels readers would use to describe his writing, which often centered around the lives of Evangelical Christians. He stated that “religion becomes such a fierce and polarizing word,” which could potentially alienate a portion of his audience who would disregard his writing as being too flat, too feel good, or too saccharine as most Christian Fiction is described.
He isn’t interested, though, in reflecting the beliefs of Christians right back at them. Instead, McGylnn works to complicate the notion that Evangelical Christians are simplistic, fit only to be lampooned and parodied as the rather embarrassing underbelly of American culture.
To close, McGlynn read a section from his story “Moonland on Fire,” which appears in his collection of stories “The End of the Straight and Narrow.” The excerpt presented Rhonda, a very religious, new step-mother, as having a history that filled her with experiences that could not be boiled down to something unremarkable and silly. The fact that she was living and breathing and remembering made her matter, regardless of what we thought of her religious beliefs.
A question and answer session followed that delved into questions of promotion and consumption surrounding programs like Oprah’s Book Club and self-publishing, which has grown in popularity in recent years with the introduction of e-readers like the Kindle.
In an interview later that day, McGlynn suggested that it’s not naïve youthful writers who perpetuate this notion of needing to get away from the boring parts of daily life in order to have something exotic to write about. It’s the publishing world that continues to look for exotic writing, looking for a more international tone that privileges the urban and cosmopolitan world over the one in which most Americans grow up: the suburbs. The tension between these two worlds will always exist, but it doesn’t have to delegitimize the people who continue to live in those forgotten pockets of the country.