Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Faculty Voices with Ron Koertge

Ron Koertge
For about 9 months now, I’ve been writing something I may not be very good at. Perhaps majoring -- as my wife advises her counseling students not to do – in my weakness. Perhaps.
About a year ago, I decided to get into the head of a school shooter. A high school shooter. Like Columbine and the others. When I see it laid out like that in black & white I wonder what in the world I was thinking.

But I could say the same thing about the graphic novel script now languishing on some editor’s desk and probably ringed with coffee stains. I liked writing that script. I didn’t know how to do it, so I tried. I don’t draw, but Gene [Luen Yang] said that wasn’t a deal breaker. I enjoyed myself. Like Magellan and Marco Polo, I was in unexplored territory. If I got lost, well, then I got lost.
Now I’m lost again. My water supply is running low and there are ominous sounds from the underbrush. This school shooting story makes me feel stupid. It’s been one predictable scene after another. I showed an early version to Chris H. and she threw up. I’m having trouble looking at it as not a failure but just an adventure in limitations.
The limitations, since you asked, are probably these: I’m a smarty pants and this thing doesn’t play to my strengths. Coaltown Jesus was funny even though the hero is a very troubled boy. Some of the poems in Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses are witty and askew. The school shooting story is serious. My muse shows up in a simple black dress with no pearls. She sits in the corner dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
Or maybe I have the tenses wrong and it’s she showed up and sat. The last draft was a little sharper. I have a new angle on the whole enterprise: a question-and-answer format. A FBI criminalist and the shooter’s best friend. No wall-to-wall prose. No setting but an interview room. It’s essentially nothing but probing and sometimes evasive dialogue.
Chekov said, “My job is to be able to distinguish between important phenomena and unimportant and to be able to illuminate characters and speak with their tongues.”
Don’t you just love that?  “. . . illuminate characters and speak with their tongues.”

All right, Anton: stick with me. I’m not giving up yet.


  1. Ron,

    Amazing how different writers are and yet how much we have in common. I don't feel all that horrible now about not liking my last 60 days of writing. Guess maybe I'll change tenses and work on the tongues of the characters. Aha, maybe I have too many characters.

    Thank you to Ron and Anton,


  2. Kudos to you for tackling something risky. Stay with it. I feel sure your muse has something for you to say. Hope to see you at AWP. I should show you my disastrous novel in verse mss, and boost your confidence to the heavens.