- Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Mentor
- MFA in Writing
TOM PAINE’s short story collection Scar Vegas (Harcourt) was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a Pen/Hemingway Award finalist, a Village Voice “Writer on the Verge” pick, an Esquire “Hot List” book, a Barnes and Noble “Discover New Writers” pick and was featured on National Public Radio. A finalist for the National Magazine Award, his stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Playboy, Zoetrope, The Boston Review, The New England Review, Glimmer Train, The Oxford American, One Story, Story, and elsewhere. His fiction has also appeared in the award anthologies The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize XXI and XXIII, Best New Stories from the South, American Fiction X: Best Stories from Unpublished Writers, and The KGB Bar Reader. His novel The Pearl of Kuwait (Harcourt) was featured on public radio, reviewed nationally, and was recently optioned. His latest collection of stories, A Boy’s Book of Nervous Breakdowns, was published in 2015. A graduate of Princeton and the Columbia MFA program, he is an associate professor in the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire.
“Writing fiction is an exploration and exposure of the self. Few writers write ‘good’ stories that are not in some way a dangerous exposure of their secret selves, their fears, phobias and compulsions, their lies and their unacknowledged loves. Fiction that doesn’t address the seven deadly sins, that stays on the surface of things, is acidic, and the pages yellow in our hands. So the first step is to get writers to feel safe, and to know they can be honest on the page.
“And while most writers eventually understand the actual plot of their story, what needs to be teased out are the carefully intertwined details that indicate the spiritual and emotional reality and journey of the main character.
“For some writers the recognition of the secret emotional subtext is a revelation. And what I ask is not just that the writers ‘understand’ the emotional situation, but that they can, with compassion, enter into the heart of the character under discussion. A writer must be able to walk in the shoes of another emotionally, and that is often difficult, as it exposes areas of emotional underdevelopment in the writer, and also, at times, regions into which one would rather not tread with an understanding heart. I try and suggest, where relevant, that a writer needs to grow in terms of his or her capacity for understanding a given emotional situation in a narrative ‘off the page’ and that when that is accomplished, the story will flow into deeper and more enriching waters.
“I love to follow an emotional thread of a character, and work to make sure a writer not only understands intellectually, but truly ‘gets’ the emotional ‘beat’ on the level of the solar plexus. In short, I am not looking to be just heard as a fellow writer, but understood on a deep level, for this is the only way that a writer will become stronger, when a suggestion really sinks into the unconscious, and can then manifest itself on the page in the present—or next--short story or novel chapter.
“One of my primary goals is to always work to break down the walls between the ‘natural’ voice of the writer, and their more presentational self. I feel strongly that what I am trying to do is assist in the discovery of the ‘true self’ that will serve as a jumping off place to new fictional risks. Teaching writing is about strengthening the artist within, while also guiding the conversation toward the technical means of achieving the goal of the work in hand.”