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.

Monday, March 06, 2006


New format

So I got tired of the old look: all that black and also those pictures. I figured I needed to get things simpler here. Now I like this setting but it looks weird that the title is "Non Photo Blue" but it's in an orange background. Crazy. But this type is bigger and I think better to read which is important, don't want anyone going blind out there.

As for me, I did spend Friday morning with Tony Giardina. We had some nice conversation about Italy and writing and things like that. His new book, White Guys will be coming out in a few months.

I've been waking up now and then in the mornings thinking about how I'm going to teach fiction next year. I have so many ideas that I fear I'll get confused.

First, I don't think I'll have them write stories, at least not at first. I'd rather they stick to moments or scenes. I'd like to avoid the desire to write some complete circle and rather just focus on what happens with two people in a room, and some simple actions to break up dialogue.

I've also been thinking a lot about the "mystery" of writing vs craft. I think both parts need to be addressed. I'd like to go over specific text to see how it works, hands on, like taking apart an engine to see how that works. All us MFas were just discussing recently how we wish we had a class like that, just dedicated to craft issues. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist.

But I also believe in prewriting. I have written scene break downs that I learned as preps for my acting class. Also I did 5 page character analysises for an a different acting class which was helpful too. I try to spend time writing about my characters in their voice, but not writing the actual fiction. Like expository writing, where I sort of interview them and see where it goes. This is the more mysterious part to me, because I just write this stuff, read it over, think a little, then go back into the story, and bam, suddenly the characters have a little more depth. It's not as though I'm writing from a blue print--yeah, here's this character and here's his past, so how will it work in a story? But somehow it works.

Though I don't know because I don't write much pure "fiction."

I also have a page of quotes and a bunch of excerpts from novels that I'll probably share on the first day of class. I can't wait, really, I'm sick of 39C and I'm dreading having to start it over again in a few weeks with a new class.

There's a movie version of John Fante's Ask The Dust coming out in a few days, with Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell. Link. I can't picture Farrell as Arturo Bandini. I just know they're going to fuck it all up. But I'll go see it anyway.

Friday, March 03, 2006



The end of week eight. Lots of work. Another meeting with a visiting writer and potential hire, Anthony Giardina. It went fine, the reading was good. I'll be taking him to see Laguna Beach tomorrow since no one else was around to drive him. So that's cool, I've had lots of time over the last few weeks to hang with writers, which is nice.

I have to write an introduction for my seminar paper, which, thankfully is part of a story I already handed in this quarter. Plus, I have to finish the interview with Brad and transcribe the damn thing which'll take forever. But I sat with him Tuesday and he told me lots of good stuff about his work and so that should come out nicely.

Then I have this 4C's narrative to finish, plus I'm still working on my draft for next quarter, and well, I think it's going to be a fiction piece, like real fiction, not autobiographical and actually it scares me to write like that, the way it scares some of my classmates to share autobiographical work. My fear is that it will come out flat and fake. I never have that problem when I write from memory--I know it's real and has heart and I trust why I'm writing it. But I think I should be using this time practicing fiction, trying things I don't know how to do and see if they work or not.

I haven't been to the gym all quarter and feel fat.

I went to a nice production of Orpheus Descending tonight, directed by Amanda McCraven, one of the MFA director students. The play went well, the lead actor was awesome.

I have a weekend of grading crappy 39C research papers. God so tedious. I thought about telling my class I wasn't feeling well tonight and sending them home, but instead I just got through it.

This post has no particular point, in case you hadn't noticed.