Wednesday, April 26, 2006


So far. ..

I've just handed out a new draft for workshop. It's non autobiographical, so that's new for me. I'm really excited. It's that horrible time though, where I hand it in, and have to wait a week before I hear anything about it. Hate that. But I've learned, at least, *not* to read over the mss this week. It's best if I don't think about it at all.

I think I'll publish it on here, serial fashion, a segment every couple of days. What the hell. I finished *Stop-Time* by Frank Conroy, which was awesome. He did so many things there that I'd like to be able to myself in my book, so that's been key. Meanwhile I'm onto Nabokov's *Speak, Memory* and it's good, but damn is he a smug prick. At lease he's unapologetic about it. Still, dude can flat out write. Here's a passage where he's describing his father being hoisted in the air by the local villagers. It's made my wall of quotes:

"From my place at the table I would suddenly see through one of the west windows a marvelous case of levitation. There, for an instant, the figure of my father in his wind rippled white summer suit would be displayed, gloriously sprawling in midair, his limbs in a curiously casual attitude, his hand some, imperturbable features turned to the sky. Thrice, to the mighty heave-ho of his invisible tossers, he would fly up in this fashion, and the second time he would go higher than the first and then there he would be, on his last and loftiest flight, reclining, as if for good, against the cobalt blue of the summer noon, like one of those paradisiac personages who comfortably soar, with such a wealth of folds in their garments, on the vaulted ceiling of a church while below, one by one, the wax tapers in mortal hands light up to make a swarm of minute flames in the mist of incense, and the priest chants of eternal repose, and funeral lilies conceal the face of whoever lies there, among the swimming lights, in the open coffin."
--Vladimir Nabokov
Speak, Memory

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Great Project

Over the break in Chicago, I had gotten a few free books-one was a nice craft book put out by the Gotham Writer's Workshop from NYC. Every other street corner in the city has ads for these guys. I never gave them a second thought. So my composition director grabbed the book for me (thanks, LH) I ripped through it and really liked it. I think it would be a great tool to teach intro to fiction with next year)which I'm obsessed with, I think about all the time, can't wait). It's really accessible and simple and not too didactic.

Since then I've been addicted to craft books: they're my guilty pleasure. I know, everyone says not to read them, but I've been learning so much, even when what they say is simple and formulaic at times. It's helped me thinking about techniques like foreshadowing in very distinct ways, I already feel like a better reader because of it.

I haven't finished Janet Burroughs' Writing Fiction, yet, but I like it. It's detailed, but it wouldn’t' be my first selection as a teaching tool. But! It suggested free writing first thing in the morning-- no bathroom, no brushing of the teeth, just roll out of bed and onto the word processor. So I tried it. To get started on my first draft for workshop. (a side story: after the first workshop, my first with Geoffrey Wolff, we had to decide who would be submitting the next week, and it came down to me and a second year so we flipped a coin for it, heads, I won, thank god, because now I still have two weeks to hand in my submission, which is coming along swimmingly right now, more on that) I'd write, very badly and very freely for anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour. After about a week I had 30 pages of very weird fiction, but all related and there was a story in there for sure. It's my first real "fiction" piece that I'll be handing in, the first for GW, so I'm nervous about it. Up until now, I've been almost strictly working autobiographically, working on my memoir/novel (more great news on that later in this long but worthwhile post.)

So tonight I index carded all my scenes and thought through the whole damn story. It took a few hours. I talked to myself out loud, and (obsessively) recorded it. (side note: my plan is to audio record all my workshops from now on. I've already cleared it with the rest of the troupe and GW and they all said cool, so I'm psyched about that.)

I still have a lot of work to do for it, but I'm really happy about how it's coming along. I think it's an insane story.

So I went to see GW today, and didn't have an agenda: usually he likes to talk, and I hadn't spoken to him since we started in workshop, and I figured I'd say hi and he'd go off for a while, but instead he grinned and said, "What's up?" and I realized I didn't have anything to say to him, so I just blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, which really wasn't a question at all since I already had my own answer: I told him I wasn't sure if I should be working on the memoir of short stories (though I'd already decided just to do whatever I wanted to work on at the moment) so he spoke for a while, and it gave me a chance to realize what a dumbass I was. Here I am, writing a memoir mostly about my loan sharking womanizer father and fucked up family etc,etc, and here is GW, author of Duke of Deception, all about his con artist fucked up father, and jesus , who knows more about telling life stories that GW? I almost jumped out of the seat. I told him the thirty second run down of my life and he got all excited--when I told him about how I found out my father had another family when I was twelve, his face lit up- that's great for a writer, he said. Bad for a person, but great for a writer.

Yeah, I knew that, but it was damn special to hear G tell me it with that grin.

So he started giving me some ideas of how to tell the story, and then I asked him if he could give me a reading list. He said he'd read what I have of the book so far (maybe 80 pages?) and I've give him a outline of my life, and then we could meet outside of office hours and talk about ways to tell this story. I'm so thrilled, ugh, no words. It feels just like the only thing I've been missing since I've been here, that level of personal attention, one-on one work. I respond well to that. This is gonna be great.

BUT! He gave me three novels to read: Stop-Time by Frank Conroy, A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley and Speak, Memory by Nabakov. I'll also be reading Duke Of Deception, which I never got to finish. We'll probably start meeting in four or five weeks, and normally that's not so bad, four novels in four weeks, but I’m in Michelle's novel class and that's a novel a week too, so that's two novels a week. Plus I've be working on drafts like crazy, the next two weeks, and after that, I only have three weeks before I hand in again, and that will start all over.

So I'm fully prepared and excited to be a hermit for the next six weeks.

One more great thing--I think I was inspired with my meeting with GW, because afterwards I went to teach and for the first time, really felt like I was *teaching* them--I went around the room and demonstrated the difference in audience by jumping and cheering (if your audience is on your side already)or sweet talking one of my students if they were against my ideas--I was improvising off the top of my head but I just knew they were really getting it, they laughed and were into it. Before this point I'd basically spent time *explaining* things, very slowly and clearly, and while that (mostly) worked, this was a much, much different feeling. And I'm not just saying this because my course director reads this(hello, LH!)

So that's a lot.

I'm psyched.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Chicago Convention and nose surgery

So this last weekend I went to the CCCC convention in Chicago. I was worried about doing this presentation since I was asked way back last quarter. In the end in wasn't really a big deal. I spoke for ten minutes, a short narrative about my experience coming to Irvine as a new teacher and having to teach college for the first time, along with learning the writing studio, which is a web based work studio we use with the composition students.

I got into Chicago on Thursday. The presentation was Friday afternoon. There was a great party Thursday night in the Fields museum, which was throw by one of the publishing companies. Free food and free booze and dinosaurs. Friday night another book company threw a party at the House of Blues. More free food and booze. Saturday the lot of us went to Buddy Guy's Legends, and had a blast.

What was really nice about the convention was the free books. I got three fiction craft books. I've been reading this one from the NYC Gotham Writer's series which I really like, and I think I'm going to ask if I can use that as a text when I teach fiction next year, in addition to the unnecessarily huge anthology that's mandatory. I don't know why. I'd rather teach less stories more in depth and hands on than cover a lot of broad things. It's not a literature class. Well, I'll be focusing more on craft.

I returned to Cali Sunday night. I had surgery on Monday. I had a deviated septum (that's in my nose) and had to have my this stuff on the insides of my nose sucked out so I could breath right. So I've been recovering the last two days. I'm sitting here typing gassed up on codeine with two gigantic tampons shoved up my nostrils. The blacks strings are taped to my face. Here's what I look like:

I know I'm pretty. Hopefully the doc'll yank out my nose tampax and I'll be a little more human. Aside from that, I'm done. Grades are handed in, the interview with Brad is done (the first draft, at least) and the surgery is over too. Hopefully I'll recover in time to relax before class starts up again next week.

And I've got to get working on a new draft, and even though I shouldn't be, I 'm worried about impressing Geoffrey on my first submission.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Readings and Revisions

Listening to The Frogs' My Daughter, The Broad.

For my seminar this quarter, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who is very MFA friendly, so much that she allowed us to write narratives for our papers, with an introduction relating to the theory or books we've read.

First, that was strange writing an analysis of my own text. It felt very self-conscious. But was it was interesting, once I put it down on paper, how much the theory crap lined up with my text.

So Thursday night, as a final class, all the students met at our teacher's house. We had a reading there. So I selected a section of my text that I had submitted for workshop recently. I made a lot of edits, but it's still nowhere near done.

The most amazing thing was sitting there reading it, I immediately knew what was wrong with it. I knew what sections to cut (which I skipped while I read) and which needed to be shortened. It was that feeling, that awareness of the audience, their undeniable presence in the room that called my attention to everything that needed to be taken out, at least. I didn't get a sense of what needed to be put in, that might be a little trickier.

So I think I'll keep that feeling in mind when I'm revising on my own. Try to find a way to recreate that natural sense of audience, even when I'm alone. When I'm alone, I'm much more wrapped up in my head, locked into what the things on the paper mean to me.

Reading out loud works somewhat, but it’s more than just that—that only gets at the sentence level, hearing if they sound right.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Last Exit to Brooklyn

So A few days ago I finished Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby. A really interesting book. The voice is intense, like a non-stop verbal barrage of word clumps like whydoncha shuddup, thinks of that sort, some page long sentences, SOME ENTIRE SECTIONS IN CAPS. It was five major sections, if I remember right, with some intersecting characters, all in Brooklyn, most Italians. There was no overarching narrative connection between them all, except the place and the voice, and some of the characters. Each section could go and go, and Selby could really stretch a scene out until you were sure he couldn’t go anymore. How long can you read about transvestites on a Benzedrine run? Fifty pages? Sixty? Eighty? Well, he really pushes it and makes it work.

The section called Tralala was the best, if the most horrific. It follows her on a three week run from robbing sailors to just using them for money in exchange for sex. As time goes by, one week, two, she gets worse and worse, and by the end she comes back to Brooklyn to the bar she started, gets drunk drunk drunk and starts stripping and things break down and they carry her out behind the bar, and she's screaming and egging them on and then they line her up in a burned out car. It's a brutal scene which is all told in one excruciating sentence or so. Quite unreal.

Very intense, but by the time the book was done, I was done, I don't think I could have read a lot more of it.

Now I’m reading The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante, and loving it so far. Bandini again!

Friday, March 10, 2006


Banana darts.

Week Nine is done. One more to go. I'm mostly done with Brad's interview. Well, maybe half-way.

Wednesday we had a meeting before workshop with the search committee. So they asked us about our meetings with the visiting writers and what we thought of them. What I hadn't realized until that point was there was a serious division between the members of the search commitee, which became apparent during the meeting. It seemed one was more in favor of one candidate and the other was in favor of another, and though it was subtle, it was still obvious based on how they phrased their questions. Right before then I had witnessed a conversation between them that was fraught with tension. I was surprised, as things had seemed harmonious before this.

I also was a bit of a mouth piece about some things some of us felt should be happening. First, as I mentioned, having a craft class at least once a year is vital. Second was that I was so surprised that there was no official plan to work on your thesis with an instructor. It's kind of--go do it on your own, then hand it in. Which some people like, but I, and others, don't. I work best in one-on-one instruction situations. They said that we could come to them anytime to read pages, but that's not the vibe that's around. The vibe is if you want them to read something extra, you better have a good reason, because they're so busy. Which is understandable. I think they're trying to find a way to have a third creative writer on staff, which would be great, though improbable.

This quarter went by so fast.

I still have to write that dumb narrative for the composition conference, eck.

Wednesday's workshop was tough too. It was good, but we got pretty in depth on both pieces and there's one classmate's work which always ends up being contentious. So things get strained. Still positive, it's really a good crew, but just somewhat whelming.

Wednesday night after workshop at my place was fun. It was Izzy's birthday, so happy birth day. A few poetry students and fiction writers hung out, got drunk, played games with the dictionary (so lame, but fun) then threw darts at bananas and launched potatoes off our back balconies. Setting such a good example for the undergraduates that live around us.

Here's a photo essay of our drunken dart party:

That's me in attack position, and Izzy with the scotch.

Death to the banana.

Then we eat the body.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006



Today was busy. I started in the morning doing a critique for workshop. Then I went to campus to see my teachers at their office hours. First I went to see Brad, to tell him some of the thoughts I had to finish the interview. I needed a better opening since it seems right now to jump in mid conversation. I also told him I'd like him to tell a story, and he had one come to mind. So we'll probably get together sometime towards the end of next week.

Then I met with Geoffrey Wolff. He loves to talk. It's nice meeting with him. We went over the new hire situation. Tomorrow the search staff is meeting with all us MFAs so see what we think.

Plus, I told Wolff that many of us really wanted a craft class. He understood that, explained why we didn't have one, and then what we should do. So we made a plan: tomorrow at the meeting, he'll inconspicuously ask at the end if we have anything to say in general about the program, which will be my cue to voice our dissatisfaction with having no craft class, how that a key thing that needs to be addressed. This way it will have more weight as a key. So we'll see.

Tonight there was an MFA reading, which was good. One of my classmates read from a work that he'll be handing out tomorrow, so it will be interesting to read it on paper and critique it after hearing it read.

The rest of the week promises to be busy: meetings, workshop, Saturday night there'll be a birthday party for one of my classmates and Sunday will be another reading in Long Beach.

A need a long break that I won't be getting anytime soon.