Peter Turchi intended to write an essay about writing as the strategic arrangement of information from the largest level – plot and structure – to the smallest level – the arrangement of words in a sentence.
However, getting around to writing the essay wasn’t happening – at first.
“While I procrastinated, I solved a lot of puzzles and felt guilty about wasting my time,” Turchi said. “But, of course, puzzles are strategic arrangements of information, and I’m almost always thinking about writing, so it all came together.”
The end result was the New York Times bestseller “A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic.”
Turchi is the first author in the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Fall Reading Series. He will talk at noon Sept. 1 in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event is free and open to the public.
In “A Muse and a Maze,” Turchi draws out the similarities between writing and puzzle making and its flip side, puzzle solving. As he teases how mystery lies at the heart of all storytelling, he uncovers the magic – the creation of credible illusion – that writers share with the likes of Houdini and master magicians.
The book is a follow-up to “Maps of the Imagination,” in which Turchi uses maps as a writing metaphor. He compares the way a writer leads a reader through the imaginary world of a story, novel or poem to the way a mapmaker charts the physical world. At his UHV reading, Turchi will give an illustrated talk based on “Maps of the Imagination” called “The Virtues of Getting Lost.”
“These two books on writing aren’t meant to tell anyone how anything is supposed to be done; my goal was to provide a new angle of approach, a fresh perspective, a different way to think about some of the things writers think about,” Turchi said.
Turchi, a professor in the UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, said “A Muse and A Maze” was written for writers and people interested in writing. During previous readings, audience members have asked Turchi if writing these books has changed the way that he writes fiction.
“They’ve certainly changed the way I think about fiction,” he said. “I wrote both books to try to understand things that interested me. I’m inclined to make comparisons, to think in metaphors, so both books compare writing to other activities.”
While he’s no expert puzzle solver, Turchi said he is intrigued by puzzles.
“On one hand, there’s a relationship between solving the New York Times Sunday crossword and trying to coordinate my mother’s transition from a hospital in Baltimore to living with us here in Houston: in each case, the goal is clear, but there are numerous challenges along the way,” he said. “On the other hand, crossword puzzles are a piece of cake compared to the life puzzles most of us face, so they can be oddly comforting. Your solution to the Sudoku is either right or wrong; there’s no mystery about it. Life is seldom so clear.”
Turchi has written six books of fiction and nonfiction and co-edited three anthologies for writers. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship and has served as director of the Master of Fine Arts in writing programs at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., and Arizona State University in Tempe.
“Mr. Turchi’s reading will be a fascinating way to kick off our 11th year of the reading series,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and ABR editor and publisher. “He has a gift for finding connections between writing and everyday life. He’ll be of particular interest to authors, puzzle solvers and anyone who wants to peel back the curtain on the methods of writing.”
Other writers scheduled for the fall UHV/ABR Reading Series are:
Sam Lipsyte, Sept. 22 – Lipsyte is the author of the short story collections “Venus Drive” and “The Fun Parts,” as well as the novels “The Subject Steve,” “Home Land” and “The Ask.” Lipsyte’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Tin House, Open City, N + 1, McSweeney’s and Best American Short Stories. He is the winner of the Believer Book Award and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches fiction at Columbia University.
Tiphanie Yanique, Oct. 6 – Yanique is the author of the short story collection “How to Escape from a Leper Colony,” the novel “Land of Love and Drowning” and the poetry collection “Wife.” Her writing has won the BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Fiction and Caribbean Poetry, a Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship, an Academy of American Poet’s Prize and the Rosenthal Family Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “Wife” is a finalist for the Forward Prize for a first collection. Yanique is from the Virgin Islands and lives in New Rochelle, N.Y.
John E. Woods, Nov. 3 – Woods won both the 1981 American Book Award and PEN award for his translation of Arno Schmidt’s “Evening Edged in Gold” and has published a new translation of Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks.” He also is the translator of Schmidt’s “Collected Novellas,” “Two Novels: The Stony Heart and B/Moondocks,” “Collected Stories” and “Nobodaddy’s Children,” all of which are available from Dalkey Archive Press based at UHV. He lives in Berlin.
Monica Drake, Dec. 1 – Monica Drake has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona and teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Her debut novel, “Clown Girl,” was published by independent press Hawthorne Books and has won an Eric Hoffer Award as well as an Independent Publisher Book Award. It’s been translated into Italian and recently was optioned for a film by Kristen Wiig. Drake’s most recent novel, “The Stud Book,” is now out.
ABR is published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2007 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.
For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.