“Writers always look toward the future. In a sense, we have no past, only whatever time we have remaining to write the perfect book to mask our emptiness—or my emptiness, anyway—the book that won’t defeat us, the book we’d like to be remembered by, if we’re remembered at all. And Frank [Conroy] will be remembered; Stop-Time is a singular achievement. A sui generis insanity governs its style and the very act of its creation. ‘I’d write a chapter and then take four months off and fuck around,’ Frank told me, recalling how he wrote his memoir—after he’d accepted the failure of his first novel, a novel about a priest. I haven’t read it, and I won’t; Frank considered the work so weak that a sense of shame, perhaps, attached itself to the manuscript. Yet, he didn’t destroy it. Boxed and marked, it remains in his archive. I can’t ask Frank now why the pages still exist, but I’m a writer and I know why: he wants it to be read so that this life’s work is understood completely.”
~From Mentor, by Tom Grimes
Over the weekend I read Mentor, a memoir by novelist Tom Grimes about his journey as a writer, which took him through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a close friendship with the famed director, Frank Conroy. It’s an exploration of friendship and the role of the teacher, and a trip through the vagaries of the publishing world that will make any writer groan with frustration and intimate recognition.
The New York Times review suggested* that writing students avoid this book, but I rather think it should be required reading for anyone considering an MFA or who wants to be a writer. Here it is, honestly, the writing life in all its beautiful glory, agony, confusion, and self-doubt.
Read the Washington Post review: “While there have been plenty of books on how to write, or how to get published, or how to promote your work, as well as a number of triumphalist accounts of "making it," this is a story of what it's like to just miss succeeding. It's also a superb reminiscence of the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the late 1980s and of its celebrated director, Frank Conroy, author of the classic memoir "Stop-Time" (1967).”
Tom Grimes’ website.
An excerpt of the book.
Buy the book from Tin House.
*”Don’t give this forthright and bewildered book to the would-be writer in your life. It might make him or her climb a tall tree and leap from it. You don’t need that on your hands. In any case, I suspect many aspiring writers will find it on their own, and read it between the cracks in their fingers.”