Cunningham51nJi6kvjrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_While digging through old files today I came across a few chapters of an unfinished novel I brought to the the Napa Valley Writers Conference, eighteen years ago. My workshop leader was Michael Cunningham, who would win the Pulitzer Prize three years later for his novel, The Hours. There, in blue ink, was his signature on the bottom of his critique of my manuscript. I felt a little thrill seeing his scrawl.

I had attended other conferences before the Napa Valley Writers event in 1997, but this week-long gathering was an intensive, craft-oriented ordeal in which writers picked each others work apart while defending their own. Michael was a patient, encouraging leader. One thing he said that has stuck in my head for 18 years is “Your reader is not a dumb-fuck.” Meaning, don’t over explain. Which I just did.

After re-reading the Pulitzer Prize winning author’s critique of my submission, The Gilgamesh Society, I think it might be time now to finish the story  Eighteen years in the file cabinet doesn’t seem to have harmed it.

The Gilgamesh Society is a near-future story about organ transplantation — organs capable of eternal regeneration. It was conceived during my years working night shift as a registered nurse in critical care, back in the ’80s and early ’90s. (This was before Kazuo Ishiguro’s quite amazing novel, Never Let Me Go was published.) Funny thing is, about ten years after this workshop with Michael Cunningham I became a living organ donor; I donated a kidney to my husband. Which gives me a new and intimate perspective on the story… KazuoIshiguro6334

I’m finding I want to give The Gilgamesh Society another look. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even finish it. Michael Cunningham seemed to think it had potential. I’d better get busy because if I wait any longer, what was begun as a “near future” novel will turn out to be a historical novel.

Stay tuned…

Michael Cunningham critique