Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Category: grad school

The other day, amusingly obscene penmonkey Chuck Wendig posted a prompt about Terrible Minds nicknames to Google+. His note at the time was that one’s first name was the object immediately to one’s right, while one’s surname was one’s greatest fear.

Which is where the title of this post comes from, as mine was Remote Control Mediocrity.

Because it got me thinking about success and how we define it. Years ago, I thought six-figure (or any-figure) book contracts were required for validation, because I thought for sure that if one wrote a “good enough” book–meaning a book that is technically competent in all ways–one could get an agent and attract a corporate publisher like Random House.

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I’ve discussed earning it, completing the coursework, etc.

But look:

I’m pleased.

In April 2006, I left the corporate world to go back to school. I didn’t know much, only that if I hoped to do what I wanted to do, I needed to be a better writer. For a long time, I had no idea how to go about becoming one. It’s not as though there are standards and qualifications and credentials, sadly. It’s not as though writing is the sort of thing one can study hard enough long enough and pass a test and be appointed one.

It’s not like law or medicine, in other words. It’s not like most things.

Still, I had, then, an inkling. I had a start. I had an idea that felt right, and so I left Jersey and went to USC. I was about to say I left everything I knew to embark on a new journey at the culmination of which–but let’s be honest, that’s overwritten, and I didn’t go to school to learn to overwrite.

Truthfully, I learned one of the best ways to be a better writer is to shut my trap.

USC felt galvanic, the sort of right decision that compels one to forget caution and take a chance. Any chance at all. So I did.

By then I had already joined MySpace, and this gets all wrapped up together, and sometimes I think is why I stop and start at this posting and maintenance thing.

Ah, MySpace. Sometimes I think that MySpace was the worst thing that ever happened to my writing, and it might be, but on the other hand it might simultaneously be the best thing, as well. MySpace is kind of like a zombie movie where so many of us had a dream vacation that went rapidly south because of some virulent outbreak that was caught–in opposition to dramatic theory–just in time, so we all left and quarantined the whole shebang, and now we smile about the memory of all those groups and a few of the bands that flashed there and then got a paragraph’s worth of coverage in Rolling Stone and some putz with a hat while simultaneously expressing relief that whew, thank goodness that’s over.

But boy did I lose sight of writing.

I think, in some ways, I realized it. When I think back, I remember I took a lot of breaks. I’d just check out for a couple weeks. I always have been sporadic when it comes to maintaining the sort of ever-constant vigilance building-a-readership-through-social-networking seems to require.

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This weekend, I turn 33 (seriously? 33? When did this happen?). Well. I have a lot of things planned this weekend, including a luncheon tomorrow and a Walk for the Cure on Sunday and various parties and destinations between, so I’m trying to figure out where I’ll pencil in the “Turn 33” part, but I’m hoping to get to it.

Maybe next weekend.

Who knows?

This past week, I completed my MBA. I got the “Congratulations graduate!” email yesterday, and today found that my final grades had been posted. After acing this past semester, and solidly, I pulled my GPA up to a respectable 3.769. Not bad for a guy with a background in literature and science.

If you’d asked me, when I packed up my car to drive to Los Angeles for USC, where I saw myself in five years, I don’t think completing an MBA in Pittsburgh would have occurred to me, but then again, I never would have predicted much of the past decade.

So in celebration of completing my MBA, and probably turning 33 if I can get around to it, and everything else that’s been going on, I thought I’d have a big Exciting Writing sale. May has always been my favorite month, because finally it’s actually spring, now boubt adout it as my pop used to say, and flowers are in bloom and the world’s turning green again and pretty soon it’s going to be summer and that means bikinis and reading.

Two of my favorite things ever.

So, for the weekend (and probably a couple extra days), Meets Girl is just 99 cents.

As is my collection. As are all Exciting books, for that matter.

So you’ve got a novel, a collection, two short stories, and a long essay concerning literature and poetry and medical education to choose from. Heck, get it all for less than five bucks, and you’ll have enough reading material to last you a month or two.

At which time, The Prodigal Hour will be available.

Pretty cool how that’s gonna work, right?

And again with the link. Right here! Exciting writing for a dollar! Read all of them!

Last week, Meets Girl got a review from Nicole Ireland of The Evolution of Nikki, who called it “beautifully written” (aw, shucks).

This week, Nikki did an interview with me, which you can read here.

Gave me a chance to talk a little more about Meets Girl (and note that I think of it as The Colbert Report of debut literary novels, which I intend to elaborate on). Also, some more on The Prodigal Hour.

Which has been with my editrix for a few weeks now. I’ve put in a few of the revisions already, and I think it’s already gotten to be a better book (and I already, obviously, thought it was good).

I’m hoping to be finished all the revisions this week.


In other news, I think all the coursework for my MBA is finished. I have an email in to my most recent instructor. Just waiting for confirmation, I think.

More news to come.

A few days ago, I got the news that I’d officially aced both my MBA capstone course and its final. This is pretty big news, the culmination of three years of work in a field I never really thought I might find myself pursuing.

Now, I can’t imagine not having pursued it.

I remember the day I went to the open house at Regis University, in Denver. I knew I wanted to continue pursuing graduate education, but I had an entirely different idea about how; I’d recently had a huge idea for an enormous non-fiction project (so big I’m still working on it, in fact), and I thought I might pursue that. I though perhaps it would be a good idea to have university support for what otherwise might have been construed as something more akin to a thought experiment.

(At this point, of course, it’s still mainly a thought experiment.)

But I got to the open house and something changed. To pursue theology, or even anything in the liberal arts, I had to design my own curriculum. Which wouldn’t have been a problem; I’d already designed and implemented a syllabus at USC.

Rather, I didn’t feel at comfortable at the liberal arts information session. I can’t really explain it better, but I sat down in the classroom, and I looked around, and I realized I felt more comfortable in the bigger room with the business students in their suits and professional attire. Their demeanor had been different, as had their language.

Business, like science, is a realm mainly of objectivity, I think. I like science at least partly because it’s recordable, measurable, and it focuses mainly on tangibility. Same with business, focusing on things like revenue and earnings before etc., and market data and demographics.

Problem was, as I mentioned, my degrees were in literature and science. I had no background in finance and accounting and those sorts of things, so, to pursue an MBA, I had to fulfill some prerequisites, and start not just at the beginning but well before said beginning.

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Finishing my MBA at Regis University.

Regis splits semesters into two eight-week sessions, and this year, this Spring 2011, my first eight-week session was devoted to what they call the capstone, and which is actually titled Strategies in Global Environments. So the reason I disappeared was that, for the past eight weeks, I’ve been part of a five-student team acting as consultants, in a simulation, running an athletic apparel company called Mercury International.

Given that it’s a simulation, the whole experience has been rather like one long, turn-based RPG videogame. Well. I think that’s what it’s like. I tend to prefer third-person, plot-drive shooters when it comes to videogames (inFamous ftw!), and this was nothing like that. It was divided into weekly rounds, and every week, we held a conference call during which we discussed and agreed on strategies going forward, based on previous results and future objectives.

I had a great team, and a great time. But I’d wanted to finish this strong, and I feel, now, like I have.

And now, just one more course to go. Product Management.

Product management is interesting from my side of things. I’m a writer, but if you think artists are selling art, well, at least in a digital context that becomes slightly problematic. Ross Pruden has an #infdist hashtag on Twitter that discusses Infinite Distribution, which is basically how creators can make a sustainable living from their creations in an age where information pretty much, at this point, demands to be free.

Of course, that’s not even to mention how many creators actually ever make a sustainable living, anyway. Stephen King and Jo Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, sure, but they’re modern-day exceptions. Shakespeare pretty much made a living as a real-estate agent when he wasn’t collecting money from some lord or other (to whom he may or may not have dedicated his sonnets).

Really, nowadays, with sites and Kindles and apps and independence, what writers are selling is more themselves. Which tends to be even more problematic from the self-promotion side of things (because no writer wants to be Tila Tequila).

Which I think is going to be helpful for me, in approaching this final course. For years, now, I’ve been trying to work out the kinks in what I’m doing, between MySpace and Facebook and Amazon Kindle and this site and Twitter and work and teaching and writing. I go back and forth in terms of how rewarding any one endeavor is, but there’s so little cohesion between everything. I look at authors who have nine different profiles across seventeen different sites, and all I want to do is take a nap.

And write.

So wish me luck. Hopefully, after I finish, I’ll have some better ideas, some better strategies, and some better writing for your better reading.

So, I’m doing my MBA. This semester focuses on consumer behavior and requires a laddering interview. Which is about decisions and finding out why people do what, and all that kind of thing.

So here’s the deal: I need your responses. I’m going to paste the interview after the jump. Think of it as one of those surveys everyone always used to love to do.

I think I’d most like to work this as an e-mail thing. Unless you want to post your response after the comments.

To sweeten the pot: anyone who responds will receive a copy of the first chapter of “Meets Girl,” by e-mail. If you comment, I’ll send it to the e-mail used in the form. If you email it to me (at willentrekin at gmail dot com), I’ll respond to the survey with the chapter.

I’ll appreciate every response I get. I’d love to deluge the course’s submission box with reader responses.

Thanks in advance. Survey after the jump:

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So if I’m now doing what I want to do when I grow up, does that mean I have?

When I got the call that offered me a position teaching fiction, I was staring down a fork in the road. After this semester, I’ll be a mere few courses shy of an MBA, and one of those courses is a capstone, which I get the impression is a demonstration of the proficiency I have acquired by way of my courses.

I decided to earn the MBA because while I learned some great things about craft and writing in USC’s MPW program, the courses I took concerning the business side of things really set me thinking and made me want to learn more. I hear too many stories of too many writers who concentrate solely on one word after another with no concern for audience and how to reach it. And while I think that strong writing and good stories must be one’s primary concern, the thing about strong writing is that writing is a form of communication. It is meant to convey a particular idea from one party to another. It’s not just about the words, but what those words are conveying, and by extension, to whom.

I think it’s detrimental to a story to neglect that. Any story. Writers must consider to whom and for whom they are writing, as those aspects, I think, must be part of the why they are writing; if not to convey information, if not to transport a reader, if not to entertain and excite, what, precisely, is the point? Don’t take me wrong; the ideas conveyed may be for some purpose, to convince the reader, but still, both reader and purpose must be considered.

Which is why marketing and branding fascinate me. I have always liked stories that strike on a visceral level, stories that, for some reason or other, somehow transcend the words and the pages so that the stories take on lives beyond both writer and reader; stories are the halfway point in culture where tellers and their audiences meet, and like all halfway points, there is much power in them.

Before I digress too far, however, my dilemma: three courses left for a general degree, only a couple more than that for specialization–I’ll be done by next May at the latest, and probably sooner.

And what to do then?

I haven’t had a corporate job since I stopped working at a small publishing company in South Jersey a month before I left for USC, and one of the myriad reasons I had to stop working was that I could no longer fulfill my end of the employee contract. I would say the corporate lifestyle of set hours and salaried wages doesn’t appeal to me, but really, to whom does it?

I love marketing and branding and advertising, though. I thought I might be able to usefully apply what I’ve learned in my business courses beyond my own writing career by trying to find work as a copywriter in ad agency, eventually working my way up to creative director. Of course, a position like that requires much experience, which requires many long hours working for clients. I’ve been in that position before, working with Kraft and Sony and Campbell’s. I won’t say it’s not fun. I can’t say it’s not fulfilling.

But there’s writing.

There’s always writing. I tried for years not to do it. I tried to find other things I liked to do as much.

And then, at USC, I did. I still remember the moment I was standing at the reception desk as the gym where I was working, mostly folding towels, when I realized I’d like to stand in front of a class. When I considered how interesting it might be to teach. At the time I envisioned a fiction workshop.

In four semesters, I’ve gone from teaching freshman composition to teaching core fiction. And this fiction course? It’s a dream. I walked out of the meeting during which I talked to the chair about the books I hoped to use, and I was giddy. I literally jumped and clicked my heels. Because I always heard that’s what people do when they’re happy, and so I made it a habit to do so when I get great news.

I’m only a few days in. I’m still teaching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which I’m using as an introduction to elements of story like structure and plot, as well as to outline the Hero’s Journey as explored by guys like Joseph Campbell and George Lucas. So far, I’ve been relating it not only to Star Wars and The Matrix but also to the big myths, the real myths, like the stories about Baldur and Christ.

So far, I’m having a great time. I’m hoping my students will ultimately say the same. I’m hoping they’ll learn some new things about fiction.

It’s been validating enough that I’m realizing I need to retake the general GREs and then take the subject one, too, because, okay, fine, yes, I want to get my PhD. I always avoided it because I never thought I’d find a place in academia, but maybe I don’t need to. Maybe it’s worth enough that I feel like I can say the same thing about a chalkboard and a roomful of students that I always said about a keyboard and a screen.

Give me those things, and I’m home.

Saw those words at Will Shetterly’s blog yesterday and thought it was sage advice. Then again, I often think Shetterly offers sage advice, among which, over the years, has been that I should throw my novel out and rewrite, which I did, and which then carried me on through both grad school and The Prodigal Hour.

He posted it as start of the New Year, which has always been a little blurry for me if only because I tend to gauge every year according to three milestones (Halloween or the Samhain, New Year’s Eve, and my birthday). The latter two come with official numbers and dates while the first has always felt in a way more spiritual, but then again, all have some meaning to me, and I track my life according to all three. This year, the time between the Samhain and yesterday was full of wrapping things up and preparing to start anew, almost as if it were preparation for the fresh start yesterday offered. And prepare I did: leaving Denver, polishing up my business plan, finalizing grades, submitting my application to NYU…

That latter came with a great deal of excitement. This year’s anniversary of September 11th hit me differently than in previous years, if only because this past September, I started to realize how much I missed Manhattan. Back when I was looking at grad schools the first time around, I had narrowed my choices to NYU and USC and chose USC solely because I hadn’t actually done LA yet, and one of the reasons Denver seemed so attractive was that I wanted to be in a new city but didn’t think I was yet ready to return to Manhattan, and home.

This year, around September, the call of Manhattan came as of a siren save the danger. It’s in my gut and makes my abs clench. I want it. I want NYU.

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A lot’s happened in the past few weeks, while I’ve been away, the biggest change being that I’m typing this from my old bedroom in my parents’ house, where I’m now living again for a lot of reasons I’m not yet going to go into, no so much because I don’t want to articulate them to you but rather because I’ve already tried several times and failed rather spectacularly.

I left Denver pretty much the day my commitment to the community college where I was teaching ended. I packed up my car full of all my earthly possessions, and for the third time in two and a half years, started driving to new goals and a new life (same as the old one).

I hesitated in doing so; I moved back after September 11th, and very much spent several years trying to figure things out and not doing a very good job of it.

This time, though, the difference is: I have a plan.

And yes, I realize plans are the surest way to inspire God to laugh at you, but I’ve got high hopes for this one.

I just applied to NYU, you see. I’ve realized that I love teaching and wish to continue to do so, but I’d like to teach more than just composition and writing. So I’m going for another Master’s degree, this time in literature with a concentration in writing, and then I’m hoping to go on to earn my PhD, which I also hope to do at NYU. So far, I’m cautiously optimistic; I want this in a different way than I’ve wanted some other things recently, and I executed it quite deliberately.

Plus: I really want to go. In the same way that I wanted to go to USC.

Anyway, that’s what I’m doing. And I figured with all the new changes, it was the ideal time to move to my new digs. Which are pretty much the same as the old ones to you. But really, the old blog was actually hosted at WordPress, even though it looked like it was on my website, mainly because I didn’t know enough about hosting and the web stuff to initially set it all up the way I had wanted it.

Now it is. This is actually

I dropped the “blog” in front, because: well, yeah. Also because it’s me in the world, and part of me in the world is my writing, and I figure it’s logical the online extension of my writing would include my blog. And my photography, which I’ll be posting here intermittently and sporadically, like I never kept up with over there.

Regardless, here I am. Glad to see you. I’m suitably refreshed and looking forward to more, and I hope you’re having a terrific holiday season so far.

I am.

Because I’m home.

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My “About Me” page notes that I am, currently, an educator based in the Denver area, and I think I’ve mentioned I currently teach composition at a local community college. Previous to this year, I taught composition for a year at the University of Southern California, a name I don’t so much drop as note with gratitude; it was my great pleasure to serve my students there, as it continues to be to serve my students at my current institution. When I started blogging on MySpace, the idea of teaching hadn’t so much crossed my mind, and neither had the ideas of either Denver or Hollywood.

And I look around today, and I think: yowza. This, this is special. I’m extraordinarily lucky (and discover every day that the amount of luck I experience is directly proportional to the amount of effort I put into the work I do).

I mention this because I have now been teaching, at the college/university level, for more than a year, but today was the first day I was ever observed. I found out about the observation a few days ago, and just the idea made me nervous: ZOMG authority! What if they realize I’m a sham? What if they realize I’m, well, me, because no matter how many novels I write and how many people love my work and how many classes I teach, it’s still difficult to think of myself any differently. I’m just me, and I still feel like I’m goofy and silly and really lucky to be anywhere at all. Maybe that’s a self-esteem issue, or maybe it’s the truth. I don’t know. I just know that even though USC recognized me as an expert in writing, and even though I taught my students well enough that I went so far as to inspire them, in a few notable cases, it’s still difficult to realize that.

But today, the totally rad woman who is the composition coordinator of our department sat in my class to observe me.

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My classes at Regis began this week, at the same time that I set in motion my departure from Lulu and wound up the assignment I’ve been guiding my students through.

The class, so far: meh. I don’t have a business background and, indeed, never took any such courses in college, even despite two degrees and graduate school. Which means that, though I’m currently attending Regis, I’m really doing a conditional acceptance sort of thing. I have to pass a couple of Foundations of Business or somesuchlike courses.

Which would be fine. I get that I need to know stuff like statistics. And I can’t wait to get to marketing.


(you knew there was going to be a but, right? Which gives me an opportunity to try out this “more” function thingy I’ve been wanting to use)

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What a couple of days.

Orientation over the weekend to get started at the college where I’ll be teaching. All day session, and I think the catered lunch made me ill, but beyond a perturbed stomach, I’m pleased to say it all went really well. I think I’ve mentioned it’s a community college close by, and I’ve picked up three classes to teach, which should be good, if intense. Two of them are already full, with 23 students, and I’m wagering the last one will fill up before Tuesday.

So now I’m lesson-planning and syllabus-building and suchlike.

One of the interesting things that’s come out of the orientation is the information that we, as teachers, can’t penalize for absences, but yet the school requires us to include an attendance policy on our syllabi. I’m not quite sure what policy they want given that penalization is apparently against state law. It’s like Eddie Izzard’s joke about career counselors: “I advise you to get a career.” I think my attendance policy defaults to: “Well, I advise you to attend, thanks.”

Other than that, it’s a good challenge coming up with the syllabus and familiarizing myself with a new curriculum. I’m still deciding how I’m going to grade.

And then on Tuesday I shook hands with a guy named Mike Fisher when he congratulated me on getting accepted into Regis’ MBA program. I haven’t decided whether to go general or concentrate in marketing, but I’ve got at least a semester to decide; I’ve first got to take some foundation courses about basic business stuff I never studied because I was too busy in labs and writing books.

Man, am I ever excited.

I read an interview with Andrew Gross yesterday (I can’t locate the link this morning. Sorry). Gross is a frequent co-author of James Patterson and a bestselling author in his own right, and he compared working with Patterson to getting both an MFA and an MBA at the same time. Point being: I think it’s going to help in the next few years.

And plus, it’s something I can use. I joked to both my mother and Fisher that, you know, I figured I got a degree in literature, and then I got one in writing, and now I think maybe it’s about time I got a degree I can actually, you know, use for something. Something practical, in fact, and in something I enjoy, to boot.

So I think things are about to get intense, but in the best possible way.

I went to an information session today at Regis University, a Jesuit institution in northern Denver. I think it’s best I didn’t manage to get into the University of Denver’s PhD program, but I still want to continue schooling somewhere. Thing is, there are two options now, both with Regis.

The first is another MBA, this time in religious studies. I’m fascinated by religion in all ways, but more important, I sense something right now. See, I’m thinking specifically of guys like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom wrote mega-bestselling books concerning the fact that religion is, at its heart, a bad idea.

But I think there’s a foundation for all religious thought and pursuit, really. Personally, I don’t believe there’s any difference between a spell, a prayer, and a meditation session; all are, at their bases, pretty much mainly modes of positive thinking. Same thing with that The Secret book from last year or so.

The problem, I think, is that Harris and Hitchens lack a scientific background, and are approaching religion from a mainly philosophical/ethical point of view.

Which is fine, of course.

But I think it misses some very huge things. I honestly think that the fact that most people believe in something of a divine nature has some substantive argument to it. But most of all, I think the more one examines biology and quantum electromechanics and physics, the more one starts to not just believe but realize that there’s something greater going on.

Einstein himself said that religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind.

And I think there’s something there.

So I could, in theory, design a degree in something like scientific deology (they’re not allowed to use the word “theology,” apparently, for some Arch-Diocesan reason [okay, so there’s a spot where Hitchens and Harris have a point]), and ultimately produce a book I’m planning, called Godology, on the application of the scientific method to areas including God and the afterlife.

Or, I could go for an MBA. Which would really sort of be the first practical degree I could actually use I’d be earning.

And the thing is, it’s not a question of passion or love or whathaveyou, because just the existence of this blog and all I’ve done related to writing is evidence of how I’m fascinated by marketing and branding. I’m aiming for “Entrekin” to become a brand every bit as much as Crichton and King and Gaiman are. I’m not solely concerned with the airy-fairy artsy-fartsy aspect of writing, which is the most major reason I chose USC to study writing; it was about professional writing. About the craft of it yes, but also about selling it.

Because I’ll be honest; I’m not solely trying to write the best books I can. I’m also trying to get them to as many readers as I possibly can.

And part of that is marketing. Part of that is both about analyzing target audience and then reaching it.

So this weekend, I’ve got some figuring out to do. I think, ultimately, the MBA is probably more practical, and I’ll certainly write Godology anyway.

When I got to USC’s writing program, I was lucky that I had already completed at least a draft of a novel; truth is, I’d finished several drafts by then, and I was about half-finished the then-current draft. I actually completed it a few weeks after I took my first class, and then I set it aside to write it as a screenplay before I picked it up to start it all over again.

I mention this because it had some effect on how I approached the program; besides the thesis/final project, there was also an opportunity to take a semester of guided research with the faculty mentor nearly of one’s choice. Given that I already had a draft, I bypassed that semester in favor of other classes and workshops.

When it came time to take my guided research, I chose a man named Sid Stebel as my advisor. Sid is a great, puckish guy with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and we got along like gangbusters. He can be very opinionated, but also allows he could be wrong. I guess what I liked was that he wasn’t afraid to make suggestions. That, and that the man knew stories. He knew them well (his book, Double Your Creative Power!, is built around his idea of secret story, which I’d actually like to study further), and a lot of times, you could just tell. Some of his suggestions for the way characters might interact in the context of the story’s structure . . .

Yeah, I learned a lot from Sid. I like to think there are ways we’re alike, and not just considering we’re both fair writers.

I mention Sid, however, because one thing Sid likes to talk about is Ray Bradbury; he and Ray go back many years, and they’ve shared a friendship through the years. When I found out, I kinda flipped a little.

I like Ray Bradbury for a somewhat obscure reason. Back when I was a sophomore in college, my history professor assigned Fahrenheit 451. I read and enjoyed it immensely, but what really caught my attention was a ‘Coda’ my buddy, captain doctor Brian, pointed out to me in his edition. In this Coda, Bradbury talked about critics and reviewers, and he said, and I’ll never forget this:

“Get off our fields and let us play.”

I loved that. Immensely. My father taught me early on about criticism, that there were always going to be people who had something negative to say, but they’re not the one’s down there, wrestling the lions–he used to allude to a quote by either Hemingway or JFK, I can’t remember which (though I think it was the latter). It’s something I continue to struggle with, in fact, the just-playing part, because I’ll admit I sometimes pay too close attention to how my writing is received. I know I shouldn’t, but old habits etc.

I’ve always liked allusions, and there are many in my novel: to Bradbury, yes, but also to Fitzgerald, Eliot, Williams, and Whitman, among others. They’re quick enough you’ll miss most of them if you blink, but they’re there. I mean, you write a time travel novel, you ought to pause time when there’s an explosion, and when it’s raining, and if it’s gonna be raining, it oughta be a storm, and if there’s a storm, you can bet there’s going to be a sound of thunder (all that’s part of story theory, by the way. That there are certain elements that just make sense given a story’s framework, and how it functions). My protagonist, in fact, happens to live on Bradbury Lane.

So when I found out Stebel was friends with Ray, I had to ask if he could get my novel to Ray.

Sid didn’t think that was the best idea, given Bradbury’s current health, which isn’t bad, exactly, don’t think that, but certainly Ray reads way less books than he used to. But, he said, perhaps an excerpt, a few pages where the story kicked, where there was something that really pulled out all the stops . . .

Well, lemme tell you, I’ve got plenty of pages like that. There aren’t any stops in my novel, because I pulled every last one of them out.

And if I sent him that, Sid could send the pages along to Ray. Maybe, he said, we could even get a quote from Ray for my book.

At this point, I’ll tell you, I’m struggling not to get too excited. Not so much about a possibly Bradbury quote to put on the cover of my novel, though, yes, of course, how fucking awesome would that be? But Ray Bradbury! Reading something I wrote!

Two weeks ago, I sent Sid a few pages from the climax of my novel. I was pushing hard by the time I wrote them, trying to fire on all cylinders at once, really nailing down the theme while never forgetting, hey, there are characters to care about here, and what’re they doing? I do some experimenting with both typography and formatting at certain points in my book, but I cut them from the climax, solely wanting an honest, sincere moment, making the effort to rely solely on the strength of my words to make readers feel something and trying to avoid clever at all costs.

Sid sent it along immediately.

So for two weeks I’ve been on pins and needles, here. Trying not to hyperventilate, and trying not to get too excited.

Turns out I probably shouldn’t have worried.

I got an e-mail from Sid last night; Ray called him late Wednesday evening to comment on what he’d read. He was, apparently, extraordinarily encouraging (Sid paraphrased), and he said to just sit down and write write write like he did with The Martian Chronicles.

Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. Write write write.

I’m smiling.

A quote, something to put on the cover of my book, even a single word like “Splendid!” probably would have been enough to start a career on. But then again, I realize, I already started it, and while a blurb from Ray Bradbury probably would have helped me sell it, that, up there, is the real part of it. The real part of it is not the selling it; it’s the sitting down to write write write every day, and maybe I needed that reminder. Sure, I’ll admit, I really would have liked to have a Bradbury quote, but maybe I’ve got to learn that I don’t need it, that what I really need is to work harder, to sit down and keep at it, and to be honest about it. Because it reminds me that a few words on either cover won’t have any effect on the words between them, and those are the ones that count. And those are really the only part I have any control over.

If I don’t remember that, no matter how many books I sell, no matter how many stories I tell, no matter how many pages I write, it arguably won’t be much of a career, anyway, much less a devotion.

As you may or may not have noticed (if you read this on any regular basis), I became a little too busy in the past few weeks to keep up with Imagery and et cetera. But that’s okay; I got lots of pictures and even some videos from the road that I’ll be posting to the former on a more regular basis, and let’s face it, the publishing industry moves at a glacial enough pace that missing out on a couple of weeks of news doesn’t make much difference (NEWS: books were published! People read them! Some even liked some of them!).

But anyway, here’s a new picture at Imagery; it’s of my final image of USC.

And in et cetera, a couple of publishing manifestos from people contemplating the future of books, as well as the Los Angeles Times’ evisceration of James Frey’s new A Bright Shiny Morning, which sounds like it’s every bit as bad as A Million Little Pieces, only just not pretending to be true.

But finally, one of the reasons I think I’m going to be able to keep up better again; everything at USC is done, handed in, graded, and finalized. I got my final semester grades; I pulled a 3.8. Back when I was an undergraduate, that would have meant I graduated summa cum laude; I’m not sure if that’s the case in graduate school, but still, I’m happy with my performance. Two B+s on my transcript, but one came from Irvin Kerschner and the other came from Janet Fitch, and hell, that’s cool by me.

Now, on the other end of things, I have somewhat mixed feelings about most MFA writing programs, but I can honestly say that going to Los Angeles was one of the single greatest decisions I ever made in my life, and, I think, helped determine the future course of it. I’m in a ludicrous amount of debt and now have to figure out what I’m going to do with a degree in writing, of all things, but still, baby, while it lasted, it was one for the books.

Class day. I’ve been trying to inspire students by empowering them; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. My prompt this time around uses Reitman’s Thank You For Smoking as an example of satire to examine the form’s efficacy in argument, commentary, and persuasion. Mostly, anyway. I mean, that’s the idea, at least. Really, the point of the prompt is the point of the class (and it’s very nearly the point of the movie): any intelligent person should be able to acknowledge every complex issue as beyond issues of ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ and realize that every argument has its counter.

Today, one of my students surprised me. We had a speaker-series evening this week, where a Democrat and a Republican were meant to discuss the mobilization of young voters but which actually became a debate about technology and its efficacy. Which wasn’t bad, exactly, but seemed to be the wrong issue. The Republican called this “Politics for the iPod Generation,” and effused about how great technology is. At one point, he mentioned Live-Aid and how excellent it was that it had increased awareness of how many people in the world were starving.

I wanted to get up and say, well, perhaps, but how many of them are now eating.

Because awareness is all well and good, but should not be confused with action.

One other thing I mentioned was this iPod thing; not everyone has one, certainly. USC is smack between Compton and Watts, in Los Angeles; we get reports from the Department of Public Safety everyday, concerning muggings and etc. And I asked how many people around us actually had iPods, or access to the technology.

And my student raised his hand and said, sure, but one might wonder whether those people vote, anyway.

And it stopped me. Brilliant.

It brings up whole other issues, of course, but that’s beside the point. I was just thrilled to catch them thinking (rather than, you know, sleeping, which has occurred a few times this semester, now).

One thing I’ve noticed is that I think some of these students feel like those people who don’t vote. They seem to continuously seek “the right answer,” while the whole point of the course is that there isn’t one; there’s only their answers. Their papers don’t depend on what they say but how they make their case.

I think they’re getting it.

Here’s hoping.

By the way, new pictures over at Imagery.

No, yesterday’s post wasn’t a joke. Honestly, I’m not into the whole April Fool’s thing; I generally think pranks are annoying at best and infuriating at worst. I don’t like to be fooled. I like honesty.

I’d take a picture of the letter, because I take pictures of just about everything else, lately, but I’m not going to. I think they filled up all their slots already. I hope that’s what happened, because they don’t actually yet have my full application; I don’t take the GRE Lit until next weekend, and I’d thought they were waiting on that score.

Apparently not. Ah, well.

Alma’s comment yesterday, though, brought up a good point that I’ve been thinking about a lot the past couple days (actually, which I’ve been wondering about for a while now); it’s Creative Writing–does one really need a PhD in it? Do I really want to pursue a doctorate in making shit up? I’d had a couple of ideas for what to do for a ‘creative dissertation,’ but I actually have a couple of ideas for real dissertations (in both literature and theology, in fact), and I think that might be more fruitful.

I think I got what I needed from my Master’s degree. I studied with one of the two people who made me want to come to this program, but ultimately I feel I came away with more from other classes. It’s great to be able to say I studied film with the guy who directed The Empire Strikes Back, but both Coleman Hough and Syd Field challenged me in better, different ways, and I learned more from them.

Yesterday, I officially handed in my thesis. I’ve got two more days of class next weekend, and then it’s all in the bag.

I’ve been asked a few times what I’m going to do next. Which surprises me, because everyone already knows:

I’m going to Denver.

I’m not sure why people thought it might be contingent on getting into their program. Coming out to LA wasn’t; I paid for my apartment several weeks before I got word of any decision on anyone’s part. I’d already decided I was going to do it regardless of whether or not I got into USC.

And I did. I would’ve. I didn’t leave myself any other option.

Same here. I’m not staying in LA, and I’m not moving back to Jersey. Denver has felt, for a long time, like the next logical step. There’s something about it that calls to me, which seems kind of a silly thing to say, looking at it, but there it is.

Vonnegut is known for having said that very often it’s best to jump off the cliff and grow your wings on the way down. Somebody (I want to say Emerson or Thoreau) once said that, in seeking new land, one must occasionally force one’s self to lose sight of familiar shore.

I don’t believe anything in life is certain (not even death, mainly because: who knows? I’m smart enough to know that nobody knows what occurs after the body stops breathing, and also enough to know that I am not my body), and so I’m looking forward to this coming summer. I think it’s going to be awesome. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I’m taking the leap now, and heck, even if I don’t grow my wings on the way down, I’ve never gone wrong by the seat of my pants.

Come August, 16 students will begin to study for their PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Denver, out of some 200 who applied.

I will not be one of them, unfortunately. Got the letter yesterday.

Kind of odd, considering the last post. I don’t really believe in precognitive dreams, but I guess some things, you just kinda know.

On the plus side of things, I hand in my thesis today. So that’s okay.

Last night, I think I dreamt of Denver.

I’m not sure it was Denver, as I’ve never been to Denver, but I think it was my mental approximation.

The situation was this:

A coffeeshop/bar/deli. Not sure which, as I didn’t order anything. Could have been all of the above, in fact, for all I knew. And there was a person (I think a woman) at a table outside. And I spoke to her, and then she referred me to a ledger inside the shop itself. The ledger enumerated points of my life, mainly to do with graduate school, with commentary beside each one. Like, for example, the note under “Went to USC” was along the lines of “Dusting off the old diploma to . . .” etc. (the actual details of the dream, are, as is so often the case, lost to the kind of morning that will last all afternoon). But I woke up thinking about that ledger, and feeling judged. Feeling as though I came before a jury and was found wanting.

Which seemed as good a prompt as any to talk about Denver. Shows how much I want to go, I think. For various reasons.

Los Angeles has not agreed with me. I usually take pretty well to new places, and I dug LA for a while; I’m not sure when it lost its luster, but it since has. Which isn’t to say it’s been a terrible experience, and saying that I hate LA would probably overstate the case, but I really can’t wait to get the hell out of here. I was talking to my advisor and his wife about it on Friday night, and I think they got it; his wife mentioned the “hermetically sealed confines of people in their cars compartmentalizing their destinations” (pretty much verbatim), which may be partly it. Some of my friends have called me a city boy, which may be true, but calling Los Angeles a “city” stretches the word across too many miles to really have any meaning anymore. It’s a giant, smoggy sprawl full of vanity and car exhaust, and though I’ve made some wonderful friends, I’ve never considered friendship a function of geography, and more than I’ve thought writing might be.

So, Denver. First, the PhD. I realized I wanted to pursue one, because I definitely want to continue being a professor. I love teaching, and on a college level . . . yes, please. There aren’t many PhD programs; USC, UNLV, a couple places in the midwest, and Chicago, are the ones that stick out. And really; I’m done with LA, don’t want to do either Chicago or Las Vegas for the next five years, and the midwest doesn’t sound all that terrific. Denver has some really cool professors, namely Brian Kitely and Laird Hunt; the former is interested in story and its origin, while the latter has written some experimental noir books.

Story and noir? Um, yes. I want to found a new theory of literary criticism, in fact, and who doesn’t like good noir?

I had the same reaction to their names and concentrations as I had when I read that Marc Norman and Janet Fitch taught at USC. And that was enough for me.

Also, I think Denver will be a good balance between the urban life I love to immerse myself in and the natural life I continually seek. It was one of my favorite things about Jersey; smack between New York and Philadelphia, with millions of acres of the pine barrens in between. Between the tight-pack of Denver’s thriving downtown and its proximity to both the Rockies and Red Rocks, I think it will feel like a different version of home, which is pretty much what I’ve sought all my life; where I’m from, but a little different. As dynamic as New York but smaller, and without the brusk hustle.

Getting into DU, I’ll be a teaching assistant (awesome), which is actually a step down from what I’m doing now, technically, but that’s all right by me. And if I don’t get in; it’s not like I’m not qualified to do just about anything. I’m going to retake my personal training test this summer, maybe get into subbing again, and query some freelance stuff.

And then I’ll just reapply next year.

That’s always been the deciding point for me; is it something I’d want to do even if I didn’t have to? If I’d gotten a book deal two years ago, would I have finished my Master’s? I didn’t decide to go to USC until I realized the answer to that was an emphatic yes. And if I’d sold my novel last week, I would’ve used it to rent a house in Denver without a second thought.

So I’m a bit scared, but it’s nice to know that feeling comes from the fear that I won’t get into DU. That it won’t work out the way I want it to.

One thing I’ve learned so far, though, is that even when it doesn’t, it works out the way you need it to, and that’s all right by me.

It’s really settling in, with full force, that I’ve finished USC’s MPW program for all intents and purposes. Today, in my email, I got a note about some loan exit interview I’m supposed to do before I graduate.

And then I came home to find a box from Lulu on my stoop:

Which I then opened:

To find a stack of two books, sheathed protectively in foam:

Which I then turned over:

To find my uber-pretty, perfect-bound thesis, The Prodigal Hour:

With its title page:

And then a page I’ll give you a ‘before’ of:

Because I’m meeting with my advisor tomorrow so he can sign it.

A note on the cover: I actually made one myself, with Photoshop, but then got up to the Lulu page and decided to just go with one of theirs, for a simple reason: this copy, in particular, is going to do nothing more than collect dust on a couple of shelves (one with me, the other with my program). It’s really kind of cheesy, but then, I was like, well, who’s really going to see it, and it does sorta match the story (with cool light effects around a pair of eyes, and a cityscape, and then cosmic implication, all of which are included in what the novel is about).

Yes, just two copies:

And here will be the only place you’ll ever be able to see them.

Lucky you.

Fuckall, I’m done with grad school.

I was going to write about why I’m moving on to Denver, but that’ll wait for another time. I’m going to take an evening to process this.

Just done my own class/lecture, during which I taught “A Modest Proposal.” It’s difficult to imagine a time when Swift was his own era’s Jon Stewart, but that’s how it strikes me. The prompt I’m teaching specifically focuses on satire, but it also encompasses ideas of frameworks and Marshall McLuhan’s ideas of media being the message.

I use Swift as an exercise; his essay is good as satire, perhaps, but would it fly in our class? How would I grade it?

My students understand, by and large, that it would perform poorly, in terms of a grade, and, most important, why. And then we fix it.

I try to have some fun teaching it; last semester, the lesson went over like nothing else through the whole course–my students fully engaged, making jokes, and came up with some surprises. They seemed to have fun with it, and any time I can demonstrate how much fun writing can be, how awesome the process can really be, I feel like I’ve done my job. And so today we revised Swift. It came off pretty well, I think. Any time I can get my students to discuss the consumption of infants for nutritive purposes is, I think, rather funny. One other fun thing is the challenge of social mores; the idea of eating babies is awful, but lots of different cultures have their own culinary mores (Jews and pork, etc.).

I tried to really drive home the idea of a framework–that it’s not just what their papers say, but how they say it, and that they need to make explicit the connections they are making. Which, of course, ties back to McLuhan–Swift’s essay works in its medium, but changing that medium necessarily changes the implicit or explicit method.

I’m still uncertain whether it truly is a case of one being the other, though. As McLuhan states it, he uses a being verb–one is the other. Me, I tend to think it’s more subtle than that; one affects the other, but what you say and how you say it are, ultimately, two fantastically disparate things (even if they do, in fact, relate).

One idea that came up was when my student called me a ‘medium.’ I’m not sure about that either way, but I’m really glad they’re thinking.

Lecture first, then class, then office hours . . . I’m out for several hours.

Some pictures of where I’ll be at Imagery, though.

I’ll probably write about finishing my thesis a few times, I’ve realized; “finishing” is, apparently, a process. A few weeks ago, I typed the final period, then sent it to my advisor. In the meantime, I started polishing/tightening myself, until I got a couple of notes from the man himself (he called it “brilliant,” for anyone curious. Coming from Sid Stebel, that’s high praise indeed).

He edited in WordPerfect, the comments of which are not compatible with Word, apparently. So I’ve been polishing blind to some degree.

Last night, I “finished” again; polishing and formatting done. Chapter headings where they ought to be, italics where I want them. Lots of scenes tightened or simply eradicated (I’ve no issues with red pens. Nor blue ones, for that matter); darlings not just killed but slaughtered, hacked up, shifted into Hefty bags, and dumped into the ocean (why yes, I have been watching Dexter. Why do you ask? It’s research for a future book).

I was going to use Lulu to upload it/bind it for handing in to my program, but Lulu apparently hates my fonts. Which is sad. So now I have to go to frickin’ Kinko’s or some shit to have it bound, and it’s going to cost an arm and a leg, neither of which I can exactly spare at this juncture.

I might get a couple copies made, too; I think it’s ready for submission.

Wish it luck.

I saw this Michael Bay commercial the other day (I’m sure it’s old, but whatever), and thought it needed to be included in some post at some point:

Nothing substantive today, unfortunately. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my teaching days. In addition, I collected my students’ assignments, which means I got a hot stack of papers needs some gradin’. Plus, a headache the likes of which made me believe my eyes might ooze from my head because of the pressure.

So it goes.

Yes, I wrote that I’d begin blogging again, in earnest, the moment I finished my novel. And I am, just about.

I finished it last night around five in the evening. I saved it in, like, nine different places (one can never be too rich, too thin, or have their work saved in too many places), copied and pasted 80,000 words to fire off to my thesis advisor.

Which means I haven’t just finished my novel. I’ve also finished my thesis, which means I’ve finished my degree. All that’s left is the formality.

I remember two years ago. I remember how scared I was to do this, how I worried I was going to fall on my face, but I knew that I could no longer remain where I was.

It’s funny, the cycles in which life moves. Two years later, there’s something beautifully poetic about accomplishing exactly what I set out to do (and more), growing and changing and working, and then looking up and finding myself in exactly the same place I was in before. Scared about what I’m about to do in a few months, worried I’m going to fall on my face, but completely knowing that I can no longer remain where I am.

“And it was mom who showed that raging terror of where you’re headed is the surest sign you’re traveling in the right direction.” -Marty McConnell