Using A Piledriver

Late last year, I was chosen as the Stonecoast graduation speaker on behalf of my genre, popular fiction. It was a great honor, one that I stressed out about for days, weeks, even up to the moment when I hiked up the stairs toward the podium. Lemme tell ya: I’m just happy my lobster roll didn’t make a second appearance that evening.

A few friends and family members requested to read the speech, so here it is. Off the cuff remarks in parentheses — as I remembered them. Thank you for everything, Stonecoast!

Delivered on January 14, 2017
Stonecoast MFA Program Graduation
Freeport, ME

Good evening Dean Tuchinsky, Stonecoast faculty, staff, students, loved ones, and my fellow graduates. We are here. We made it. For two years, we have studied the art of writing. But why? Isn’t writing supposed to be easy? Put a bunch of words together and voilà! You’re New York Times best-selling writer, E.L. James. You’re rich, you’re popular, and you’ve given your readers a whole new appreciation for leather. (So I’ve heard). Earnest Hemmingway once said, “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of a typewriter and bleed.” See? Anyone can do it, but writing well? That part requires a lot of blood. A daunting task, certainly, but one that Stonecoast has prepared us for.

My time in this program has taught me many things. I’ve learned to expand my horizons and look beyond genre expectations. Thanks to my first mentor David Anthony Durham calling one of my story ideas “boring” … (Such a warm, painful memory. Two years later, I agree. It was a terrible idea) … I discovered (thanks to David) that fantasy isn’t just about castles, knights, and dragons, although they’re a lot of fun. (I like dragons). But fantasy can also consist of rice terraces, Filipino warriors, and stubborn carabaos. I’ve learned to take risks, to push boldly past my comfort zone and write the stories I’ve been terrified to write: stories about love and loss, humor and absurdity, culture and colonialism. I’ve learned to fail better, to understand why and how a story went awry, and to make sure the next attempt has fewer pitfalls. But most importantly, I’ve learned how much impact the art of writing can have on people and society. All stories, even those with werewolves and vampires, wizards and cyborgs, all stories have the ability to move and shape our lives in ways we do not always expect.

Our words will send potato farmers to Mars. Our words will create magic, allowing children to solemnly swear they are up to no good. Our words will provide hope that the odds will be ever in our favor. Our words will offer warmth and shelter for the winter that is coming. Our words will be the guiding light in dark places, when all other lights go out. Our words will trump hatred in all of its forms. Our words are important, now more than ever. So, writers of Stonecoast, the next time you sit in front of a blank page, don’t be afraid to bleed. Slather it on the back, pour it on the sides, and don’t forget the corners. When you’re finished, those blood-soaked pages will stick to the minds of everyone who encounters them. And I guarantee you, our words will make a difference. Thank you.


Title Quote: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time.” — Winston Churchill, from Churchill: In His Own Words edited by Richard M. Langworth.

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