Students Take Advice from Writer Gail Godwin

Acclaimed author tells packed house what stirs her and how she crafts her stories
By Yvonne Marcotte, Epoch Times
April 13, 2016 4:55 pm Last Updated: April 25, 2016 7:47 am

MIDDLETOWN— “Desire. Ambition. Hope. Despair, lots of despair. And a grittiness to keep on with it.” That’s writer Gail Godwin’s formula for success.

Students, fans, and friends filled the Gilman Center for International Education, Room 130 of the Library at SUNY Orange-Middletown on April 6 to hear more from the successful published author.

Creative Writing Instructor Steven Shaw invited his class to the author’s master class to meet and learn from Godwin. Shaw has been discussing the writing process in his class for about 10 weeks. “I’m hoping,” Shaw said, “that they can come away with a little bit more insight into the writing process.”

Steven Shaw, Instructor of Creative Writing at master class by aAuthor Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)
Steven Shaw, Instructor of Creative Writing at master class by aAuthor Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)

He says Godwin’s work is “very sparse and brilliantly constructed.” Shaw likes Godwin’s “Dream Children”: “I just love how dreams are interwoven into this. The big thematic elements behind something that’s so stark but powerful.”

Shaw’s students were eager for tips to improve their writing. Amarilis Cruz has always struggled with writing. “I feel like getting tips from someone who is published would be really good for me to better my writing and to get over the problems that I do have. I think she develops really strong characters and that’s what I want.”

(L-R) Sheri Mead, Caitlin Feely, Amarilis Cruz, and Diane Melansky at master class given by uthor Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)
(L-R, foreground) Sheri Mead, Caitlin Feely, Amarilis Cruz, and Diane Melansky at master class given by author Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)

After reading some of Godwin’s work, creative writing student Sheri Mead could “feel the passion that she puts in her writing.” Mead likes to write because she says it relieves stress.

Caitlin Feely admires how Godwin creates her characters. Feely loves to write so she can use her “very big imagination.”

She put in mystery and I’m wondering about what’s the story to this woman.
— Diane Melansky, on a character in Gail Godwin's short story, A Sorrowful Woman

Diane Melansky does not intend to be a writer but took the class to fulfill credit requirements. She plans to go into special education. She had many questions about Godwin’s character in “A Sorrowful Woman.” “She didn’t describe her as just a regular housewife,” Melansky said. “She put in mystery and I’m wondering about what’s the story to this woman.”

A Writer’s Life

With a slight twang that betrays her Southern roots, Godwin says she is compelled to write because “if you didn’t do it, you would always regret it.”  She studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop which honed her skills and determination. “What it gave me was other people of my age who were also good. It roused my competitiveness.”

Author Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)
Author Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)
It used to be the hard part was figuring out what I didn’t know. Now I love what I don’t know.
— Author Gail Godwin

Writing is hard work but Godwin says she finds “it gets easier and easier.” The writer’s life has its compensations. “It used to be the hard part was figuring out what I didn’t know. Now I love what I don’t know.”

In  “Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir” published in 2015, Godwin writes, “My current work in progress all but devours me. I lie in bed at night and let it fill up my head with sentences for the next day. It’s called Publishing, and gives me a chance to tell everything I know about that consuming state of affairs.”

A resident of Woodstock, NY, she disdains book tours. “What I don’t like is going out, building the brand, as they say,” yet she continues to do book tours. She expects to promote her next book soon after she has edited it.

The writer’s life has been good to Godwin.

The writer’s life has been good to Godwin. She has 14 novels under her belt, two short story collections, and three non-fiction books. Her novels include five best-sellers, three which were finalists for the National Book Award.

Author Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)
Author Gail Godwin at SUNY-Orange in Middletown on April 6, 2016. (Yvonne Marcotte/Epoch Times)

 “I’ve been practicing this art, this craft for over 60 years, and I’ve been making my living at it 50 years. I know the basic exercises,” she said.

Rob Neufeld, in his essay on Godwin’s contributions to literature, describes an exercise in her writing process. She takes “a conflict or mystery from her own life and casts it as something larger than and different from herself.”  

A good exercise for any student of the craft. In the words from “Dream Children,” “I am a happy woman, that’s all I know. Who can explain such things?”

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