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MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book [Kindle Edition]

John Rember
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $4.99
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Book Description

Buy the Kindle edition for $4.99 -- or, better yet, buy the print edition as a gift for someone else and get the Kindle edition FREE as a gift for yourself via Amazon's Kindle Matchbook program!

Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Short List, and 1st Runner Up - Reference Category

Nautilus Book Awards, Silver Winner - Writing/Creative Process Category 

Midwest Book Awards, Finalist - Reference Category

MFA in a Box is a different kind of book on creative writing--and, more broadly, on the creative process. Part craft talk, part philosophical tome, part literary criticism, part memoir, MFA in a Box is not so much a book about how to write as it is about why to write. In chapters that explore the relationships between the writer and love, grief, place, family, race, violence, and other topics, author and creative writing professor John Rember (Sudden Death Over Time, Traplines, Cheerleaders from Gomorrah) helps writers dive deep into their own writing. He tells them how they can breathe down there and how they can get back.

"A big part of writing involves grappling with the terrors and discouragements that come when you have writing skills but can't project yourself or your work into the future," says Rember. "My hope is that MFA in a Box will help writers balance the despair of writing with the joy of writing. It's a book designed to help you to find the courage to put truth into words and to understand that writing is a life-and-death endeavor--but that nothing about a life-and-death endeavor keeps it from being laugh-out-loud funny."

"Witty, audacious, and wise, MFA in a Box is a unique and valuable book that addresses the subject--and the life experience--of Creative Writing from both a practical perspective and in a manner so highly personable you'll read it like a memoir--and want to meet the author. Rember has the storyteller's magic. You'll be enthralled. And walk away a more astute and vibrant writer." Robin Metz, winner of the Rainer Maria Rilke International Poetry Award, Director of the Knox College Creative Writing Program

"Rember cleverly makes the reader dig into her own unconscious wisdom to recognize the true jewel at the center of a story. This book is not filled with rules and dogma to guide the writing process. Instead, an understanding of our relationship to our place on earth, acknowledging that our civilization is built on violence, and 'how the big moments in life require a witness,' impel us to infuse our stories with truth." Judges of the Hoffer Awards

"There is such a wealth of life in each essay...deep, authentic stuff about relationships, politics, religion, mythology...and everything is discussed with such perfect humor. I love the Rules for Writers at the end of the chapters...really useful as well as entertaining. This book should be mandatory for any writing course, undergrad or graduate. This is so much more than a craft book...this is an inspiration. It makes me want to write, helps me find the courage to do so, and allows me see the purpose in the hard work of it." Rebecca Elgin, wolvesandwriting.com

"The best book I've read on why to write. Deep. Wise. Thoughtful. Informative. Hilarious." Adrienne Christian, author, editor, teacher, broadcast journalist

"John Rember is unafraid to stare down life's big questions, but does so always with a twinkle in the eye. Like the fool in King Lear's court, he will rap you on the noggin with a truth so sweet it hurts. If you don't close his book somehow transformed, you may well be un-transformable. Rember demonstrates time and again what it means to write as a fully engaged human being, teaching along the way that deep writing is deep living, and profound fun." Robert Peake, The Silence Teacher


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on Gilgamesh, the Book of Job, the myth of Orpheus, his own life, and the lives of Ezra Pound and Jack Henry Abbott, with a little James Hillman thrown in, Rember (Traplines) argues that the only reason to write is to tell the truth about the soul-less, life-denying, nature-destroying culture we inhabit. This news simultaneously taps into a writer's deepest fantasy-I'm the one, the truth teller-and nightmare-writing really does require a descent into hell, and makes the writer superhuman, able to bear truths the rest of society can't. There must be a lot of kryptonite about, then, because Rember's effort often reads like a cross between self-help manual (face the darkness!) and a teacher's cri de coeur (go deeper; don't make me read another puerile story!). It's hard to argue with some of his points-yes, language lies, especially when writers mistake prettifying for deepening. But when the insights have to be plucked from a mash-up of overstatements, self-indulgent personal narratives, and gnomic and risible rules like "Dream as a God, write as a mortal," most writers and would-be-writers will opt to find another box.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review

"The essential truths of excellent writing." The Judges of the Hoffer Awards

"Witty, audacious, and wise." Robin Metz, winner of the Rainer Maria Rilke International Poetry Award, Director of the Knox College Creative Writing Program

"Beyond Burroway. This is the book for the serious student of writing." Jo-Ann Mapson, co-creator of the University of Alaska Low-Residency MFA Program

"For writers and teachers searching for rejuvenation in their work and affirmation of it, this book is a sacred read." Renee D'Aoust, Body of a Dancer

"Rember engages his readers in some of the issues every writer faces--writing about place, about family, about grief--not as problems to be overcome but as issues to be understood." Jeff Baker, Book Editor, The Oregonian

"Not your father's writer's manual. Rember's humor is dry, mordant, and merciless." Kent McDaniel, Windy City Reviews

"Could change the whole way you think about the process of writing." Sharon Harrigan, Walking on the Highway

"The best book I've read about writing and living the creative life." Gretchen Little, "A Book Review and More," Squidoo

"An inspiration. It makes me want to write, helps me find the courage to do so, and allows me see the purpose in the hard work of it." Rebecca Elgin, wolvesandwriting.com

"Belongs on every writer's bookshelf." Randy Richardson, President, Chicago Writers Association

"Maybe not a book for the faint-hearted writer--unless you want to stop being faint-hearted." Richard P. Flanagan, Colby College

"If you don't close his book somehow transformed, you may well be un-transformable." Robert Peake, The Silence Teacher

Product Details

  • File Size: 411 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 098257942X
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Dream of Things (April 6, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004VF681U
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,259 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If You Want To Make Your Writing Go to a Deeper Place February 8, 2011
Format:Paperback
MFA in a Box is a "why to write" not a "how to write" craft book. If you are looking for instruction on technique, such as point of view, pacing, and plot structure, see Julie Checkoway's terrific Creating Fiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs. But if you are ready to plunge into the depths of your writer's soul and uncover the secrets that you might be holding back, then MFA in a Box could change the whole way you think about the process of writing.

The book unfolds through stories--from the author's life, books, and world events--to illustrate hard-to-understand truths. The chapter "Writing Violence," for example, uses the story about Jack Henry Abbot and his prison memoir and relationship to Norman Mailer to show a number of ideas, such as the need for irony in writing. Irony is the "struggle against the absurdity of having a god's mind in an animal's body," and without that struggle stories die. Irony is "the difference between the way things are and the way things are supposed to be."

This chapter was especially relevant to my writing, because I see the need for more violence in my plots, not necessarily physical or actual but a recognition that the world is a violent place, an insistence on not ignoring the Cold War artifact that is the world we live in (which Rember also calls "writing in the Now.")

"Violence" can mean conflict pushed to its boiling point. Rember says, "When I advise new writers, I encounter people who find it difficult to resolve the conflict in their stories. . . If the conflict has to be resolved by violence, the writer often as not leaves the scene. . . nobody's life--least of all the writer's--is transformed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
John Rember is unafraid to stare down life's big questions, but does so always with a twinkle in the eye. Like the fool in King Lear's court, he will rap you on the noggin with a truth so sweet it hurts. If you don't close his book somehow transformed, you may well be un-transformable.

Rember's "why to write" book is a memoir of the creative heart and mind in conflict with itself, which is to say a universal struggle that any artist will recognize. More than this, he emerges triumphant over big issues-family, violence, bearing witness, estrangement, grief. Gilgamesh, "Hansel and Gretel," Greek mythology and Paris Hilton all figure in to his survey of literature and culture, teaching through the age-old workshop mantra of showing, rather than telling us, what good, deep writing is all about.

John demonstrates time and again what it means to write as a fully engaged human being, teaching along the way that deep writing is deep living, and profound fun.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Must Have Writing Book May 19, 2011
By Mia731
Format:Kindle Edition
This is the first writing book since Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird that I have read simply for the joy of reading it. John Rember's MFA in a Box inspires, motivates, harangues and pokes the writer in the butt. It is also an excellent resource guide to some fabulous "must read" literature. Thank you John for a "writing manual" that is a great read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Sweet, Not Sour, Pure Umami May 14, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Late last night I settled into bed and finally opened "MFA in a Box" on my Kindle. I finished the introduction and the first two chapters. Though I read past midnight, I hated to switch off my e-reader and turn out the light. I've not been so entertained or so engaged about the why of writing since I'd read Carolyn See's "Making a Literary Life."
For starters, John Rember provides new perspectives on Anderson's Little Match Girl and the misogyny of Bob Dylan and Joyce Carol Oates. He introduces the concept of a fifth primary taste sensation, umami, the savory taste of protein, separate from the basic four we've always known (salty, sweet, sour and bitter). Then he slips in a phrase that's haunted me for the past six years after the successive deaths of my first husband, a longtime boyfriend and a second husband: that some suspect that "everyone who ever loved you is dead." OMG,IMHO, he nails it!
With all this to think about, I wondered if I'd ever get to sleep. But I slipped off into a troubled dream where The Little Match Girl listens to Dylan rasping out "Positively 4th Street" as she freezes to death finger by finger, toe by toe. Rember says writers need to pay attention to irony and violence. I agree.
This book is so allusive, so sly, and so on point on both how and why we incorporate our every experience into what we write. I've flipped ahead to the index to discover with delight that Leave it To Beaver nestles against Leaves of Grass, and Shakespeare and Anne Nicole Smith can be found within hugging range.
I'll read chapters three and four tonight and anticipate more wondrously complicated dreams. And when I devote tomorrow to writing an essay about marriage, I'll remember to include the irony and violence.MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of "MFA in a Box" from [...] July 4, 2011
Format:Paperback
John Rember's "MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book" is full of deep literary allusions, such as this one to "Gilgamesh": "Editors view apostrophe mistakes the way they might view a worm dropping out of the nose of a corpse, and as far as they're concerned, the corpse belongs to the writer whose flawed manuscript they're reading."

As we all know, becoming a writer involves becoming a reader. It's true whether your aims for writing are more immediate--get through English Composition 101--or more fantastical--write a novel that wins the National Book Award and Pulitzer in the same year.

For those writers and teachers searching for rejuvenation in their work and affirmation of it, this book is a sacred read. For the rest, Rember's book is a must-read. If you still know why you want to write after reading Rember's book, go for it: "get the butt in the chair."

If you don't want to write after reading his book, go outside and play and feel fine. There's no shame in discovering your dreams were misplaced.

As with Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer" (Harper Perennial, 2007), Rember's "MFA in a Box" sets out stories about living, reading, and writing: why we read, why we create, why we interpret, and why we project onto that blank page. Yet this is not a relentless drumbeat. Rather, Rember's voice is much like the authentic "ah-ha" that you wish you had experienced during your actual MFA and didn't.

Through explorations on family, place, grief, race, violence, travel, and love, "MFA in a Box" explores the inner sanctum of a writer's life. Why does one thing lead you to another? Why does metaphor weigh you down? From the lofty to the mundane, Rember stays present: I finished that sentence--now what?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Armchair writer
Not your typical writing book, this excursion into the mind of a writer is more entertaining as a personal memoir than an instruction book. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Mcb
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting: not quite what expected
This is an interesting book, designed more to encourage writers than to give them practical ideas or exercises. The numerous personal narratives by the author are worth reading.
Published 1 month ago by E. Allen
3.0 out of 5 stars almost did as promised ...
I kept waiting for this book to deliver on its subtitle, but I don't feel that it did. There were some solid and entertaining passages interspersed throughout the book, and the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Peter C
5.0 out of 5 stars A Guide to learn to Write
John Rember has done a fantastic job imparting his significant expertise on writing. It makes one wish he/she could sit in a classroom and hear Dr. Rember first-hand. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Deanna S. Adams
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read
Not do much about how to write, but more about why not write? Examples do stimulate ideas and there is a rationale for how to direct one's efforts that recurs throughout.
Published 14 months ago by Lambert McLaurin
5.0 out of 5 stars Only a few pages in and it's a winner
I am interested in reading what will aspire me to write better...I am only a few pages into this book, but can already tell that this one is a winner!
Published 15 months ago by D. Ceroni
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read for writers
The book is well written. It should be, as it is written by someone who teaches writing. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be much of a confirmation of his teaching. Read more
Published 17 months ago by M. Mangano
5.0 out of 5 stars I Had No Idea Why I Wanted TO Write A Book
After reading this inspirational Non-how-to-write-a book, I do!

Packed solid with observations and guidence, but not technology, this book was a joy to read. Read more
Published 20 months ago by John David Lionel Brooke
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing inspiration
This book, suggested to me by a fellow writer, just may go down as one of my favorite books of this year. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Robin Cain
4.0 out of 5 stars Great info. Quick, practical information.
I have a plethora of titles on HOW to write - but this book breaks through all the technical aspects and makes it very clear WHY I should continue on my way to writing. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Amazon Customer
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More About the Author

John Rember is a fourth-generation Idahoan. Recurring themes in his writing include the meaning of place, the impact of tourism on the West, and the weirdness of everyday life.

His book MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book (Dream of Things: 2011) was recognized by the Nautilus Awards, Hoffer Awards and Midwest Book Awards as one of the best new books on creative writing. His memoir Traplines: Coming Home to Sawtooth Valley (Vintage: 2004) was named Idaho Book of the Year by the Idaho Library Association. He is also author of Cheerleaders from Gomorrah: Tales from the Lycra Archipelago (Confluence: 1994), and Coyote in the Mountains (Limberlost: 1989). His most recent book is Sudden Death, Over Time: Stories (Wordcraft of Oregon: 2012).

John has also published numerous articles and columns in magazines and newspapers, including Travel & Leisure, Wildlife Conservation, and The Huffington Post. He has been a professor of writing for many years, most recently as a core faculty member of the Pacific University MFA program (Forest Grove, Oregon). He is Writer at Large at The College of Idaho.

John lives in the Sawtooth Valley of central Idaho.

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