Edited by Elizabeth Benedict
Published October 27, 2009 (Hardcover) by Free Press
The introduction itself is worth the price of admission. The book Mentors, Muses & Monsters is by writers about writers — about those writers who inspired them to pick up a pen in that entirely new way, to tap on a Remington, or to pull up to a PC or a Mac. Elizabeth Benedict tells in that introduction how she put out the call, and got deluged with yes! She chose thirty writers.
I began reading, thinking, oh crap, I wish I had an MFA instead of “just” of BS in Journalism and Communications. But I don’t, so I settled down and read the book in one whole gulp. Who is this Elizabeth Hardwick, I wondered, who showed up in so many stories? (Essayist and founder of the New York Review of Books.)
I adored Maud Casey’s essay about being a child of writers. “What is it like to be a child of writers,” she is asked, and she never understands what to say until she asks a similar question of a man who is a twin.
I’m a writer and a dancer. Both are in my heart, always have been, always will be. As a writer, I walked in through the back door of journalism. But because of those thousands of deadlines, I never fear a blank page.
Sigrid Nunez lives with Susan Sontag and Susan’s son David. At first she feels madly criticized by Susan. Later she learns that Susan was just like she was at that age. What was that? Sontag’s friend from that earlier era offers up the word “stupid.” But Sigrid sets that notion aside to write admiringly of Susan’s reluctance to go along with the rules, and the rewards that stance brings.
Joyce Carol Oates speaks of not having a mentor, not even her husband who never read her books, although she did love the Alice books. Her book Do With Me What You Will, endeared me to her forever when I was a teenager. Her plot twists with quiet violence I found stunning and close to the bone.
When I was in my tenth grade English Lit class, I didn’t know whom to chose to write a biography about. A family friend suggested Eugene O’Neill, particularly his play A Long Day’s Journey into Night. I found my family in O’Neill’s drunken, dysfunctional brood. It helped to know I wasn’t alone. I got an A on the paper.
Lives are changed. My friend Cheryl Strayed — who, by the way, tipped me to this book — has a story in it. A love essay, really, to Alice Munro. Cheryl’s story is about how, in losing her mother just before her story wins a contest and is published in a book, she receives two books — one for her, and one for her mom — and Cheryl finally writes to Alice. And, she gets a letter back from Alice Munro.
Anita Shreve is convinced she would never have written had she not opened Alice McDermott’s novel That Night at that particular point in her life.
Jonathan Safran Foer writes of a snow globe he made for Yehuda Amichai when he was just out of his teens.
Carolyn See writes of her philandering father who finally settled down at age sixty-nine, to write seventy-three hard-core pornographic novels before he died.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of authors, and really haven’t thought of any of them in that mentor way. Except perhaps for Chuck Palahniuk. Chuck, who invited me three years ago into this amazing Workshop with real writers — like Chuck and like Cheryl and like Chelsea Cain. Chuck, who challenged me to write the truth, “unpack it,” he would say of lines I wrote that danced along the edge. And, he praised me for my courage to write about the evil I have experienced first hand, and the transformation that occurred as a result of telling the truth.
Thank you, Chuck.