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Off the Shelf: Maud Newton's life - a novel, not a memoir

The reasons why one writer's self-explorations take fictional form.

November 22, 2009|By Maud Newton

At 19, at the University of Florida, I took a fiction class from the formidable Harry Crews. When Crews handed back an inchoate story I'd lamely based on my father, I could feel his scorn radiating off the paper. "The creation of a monster is not the creation of fiction," he'd written, in all caps.

Crews taught me that an event doesn't make for a resonant story merely because it's weird and bad and actually happened; he helped me to see that the books I love most -- such as Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair" -- are powerful and moving because the author breathed life into them with words and hard work and imagination.

Since then I've written -- in a more nuanced way, I hope -- autobiographical essays about my family. But the "novel" I imagined writing as a child has transformed, through thousands of hours and countless drafts, into actual fiction.

In the world of my novel, real people and events have morphed, in incremental but ultimately fundamental ways, so that it is less about me than the fears and impulses and dangers to which my experiences have sensitized me. These psychological and emotional questions are what I'm most interested in exploring now.

Newton was awarded the 2009 Narrative Prize for an excerpt from her novel-in-progress.

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