"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of The Big Reap, The Wrong Goodbye and Dead Harvest.

"Bagley's got the poet's eye, but that doesn't mean everything is prettier in his work. It means the ugly stuff is more vivid. More intense. Like a sudden switch from analog to HD. And that's a trait to very much admire in his work." --Anthony Neil Smith, author of Hogdoggin', Yellow Medicine, The Drummer and Psychosomatic.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Tribute to James Patrick Kelly

Jim Kelly, my former mentor, was Guest of Honor at Readercon last month. Sandra McDonald and Erin Underwood put together a chapbook of short essays about Jim by his current and former students in the Stonecoast MFA program and some of the most prestigious speculative fiction workshops. They surprised Jim with the book during the convention. It was a privilege to take part in creating this gift for a guy who made me a better writer. Here is the essay I wrote for the tribute book:

It’s a hard admission to make, but I ain’t the sharpest crayon in the box. I applied to Stonecoast, not knowing what I’d take away from those two years—aside from an MFA. I had a BFA in creative writing. Some of my stories and poems had already seen publication in dinky little journals, and I wanted to move on to the next level. I’d started a novel, a sort of Erskine Caldwell-meets-Elmore Leonard kind of thing, but it was adrift after only about seventy pages. Maybe I could get help pounding the goddamned thing into shape at Stonecoast.

Yeah, I got some help. Even better, I got Jim Fucking Kelly. Jim is a one-man fiction program. If there’s anything he doesn’t know about story—and I doubt there is—then you won’t need it. Jim taught me how to round out my characters more fully. He taught me how to make plots work without planning out every little detail in advance. He showed me ways to up the tension. He read my packets and asked the big questions: “Why?” and “So then what?” and “How will you do that?” He helped me rein in my usual nihilistic impulses (it’s a good idea to have at least a couple of characters still alive at the end of the book…readers like that kind of thing). He rode my ass to get things done. More importantly, Jim taught me to trust my instincts.

MFA? Jim Kelly don’t need no steenking MFA. But Stonecoast ought to give him an honorary one anyway. He’s earned it, and then some.

If your writing doesn’t improve after spending a semester with Jim then, sporty, you just aren’t trying. I graduated from Stonecoast ten times the writer I’d been during my first residency, largely because I had James Patrick Kelly as a mentor.


So I still ain’t the sharpest crayon in the box, but I am one lucky bastard.

1 comment:

Lyman Feero said...

Nicely put, Patrick.

Jim made me a far better writer as well. Somehow I pilfered three semesters out of him.

Truly a great teacher and magnificent person.