Don's Diary

June 16, 2000

September.

Visit the set of Dog Days, a film based on one of my short stories from Flying Leap. It is a sort of absurdist fable set in post-apocalyptic suburbia. It is bizarre to find my words translated into a three-dimensional world: the houses, the atmosphere, my characters wandering around. The actors look haggard. I feel sorry for them. Later, I learn it is just their make-up.

November.

Begin a publicity tour to support the American publication of my novel If I Told You Once. I get the largest audiences in New York, where I live, and in my hometown of Atlanta, where relatives, old friends and my third-grade teacher turn up.

I like to read the most fantastical parts of the book: on the cannibalistic brother or on street cleaners who clear away unwanted people. At every reading, people ask if the book is based on my family. It makes me wonder if they have been paying attention.

January.

Begin preparing for my two creative writing classes: composing a reading list, practice exercises and writing games. It is easy to teach a student how to be a competent writer with all the technical skills, but it is next to impossible to teach him or her how to come up with ideas and find the magic within the machinery.

February.

I discover I must expand my reading list because I make the shocking discovery that most of my students have never read Lolita or Metamorphosis, nor heard of Flannery O'Connor. The students are conventional, cautious writers. I try to provoke them to be more experimental by giving them stories by Barthelme, Okri, Carter, Calvino and Borges.

March.

I touch down in Boston for the premiere of Dog Days. I have seen cuts at various stages, but not the final product. The director and I were worried about the audience's reaction - the film (and story) are dark and funny but we are nervous the audience will see only the bleakness. I am relieved to hear bursts of shocked, uncomfortable laughter.

April.

Exciting news that my novel has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. This is an unexpected honour. I have always thought my writing had a very American sensibility and I am surprised other readers can relate to it.

June.

Visit London for the first time, to attend the various events surrounding the prize. I have never taken part in something of this magnitude before. In New York, we pack into dark, smoke-filled rooms to hear readers who are constantly interrupted by sirens and espresso machines. The Orange Prize events are larger, more dignified and more brightly lit. On the last night we even get flowers - it feels a bit like a debutante ball. It is a memorable experience, even though I head home without the prize.

Judy Budnitz teaches creative writing at Brown University, Rhode Island. If I Told You Once is published by Flamingo, Pounds 12.99. Flying Leap is published later this year.

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