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.