Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: mfa

The other day I mentioned you have to decide for yourself what “good enough” means to you. I want to elaborate.

I opened this “Add New Post” page with the intention of noting that I don’t mean it’s okay to be mediocre.

But then I got to thinking, “What’s mediocre?” Just like we wonder “What’s ‘good enough’?”

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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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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.

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.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth debuts at #1 on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestsellers list.

I’ve read a number of people express surprise, I think mostly because it’s a short story collection (short story collections generally don’t perform nearly so well as novels). There are a couple of reasons I’m not really surprised, though, the first of which is that Lahiri has come further into consciousness, this past year, as a result of the mainstream success of The Namesake. True, it’s a movie that received some positive reviews and probably only had a decent-sized audience, at best, but it starred Kal Penn, who had a brilliant run on House, M.D. for a while (and will again in a few weeks, when the show returns to the air). Before that, Lahiri was known most well to literary readers, and I think that helped open her audience.

The second is: considering the list, there really isn’t much else out. A couple of bigger names (Grisham, for one), but The Appeal‘s been out for nearly a month already.

(the third is: why have I never heard of The Dresden Files? Anyone read any? Are they worth picking up? Sounds interesting)

Also last week, Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer for fiction. I ended up picking it up; I’m about 150 pages in, and so far, it’s not bad. I’m actually rather pleased with its selection; Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke was named as a finalist, but I didn’t like any of the excerpts I read.

Finally, really close to home for me, USC’s MPW program names Brighde Mullins as new director. Not too much in the way of thought for this one–once I got to the program, I kind of put my head down and trucked through my classes. We had interim, acting leadership, but it was largely academic, not professional writers. This saddened me, as that was the main reason I chose the program, and I’m glad it’s back under the leadership of a writer (Mullins is a poet and playwright).

And now I’m done the program, so her leading it really won’t affect me one way or the other. I wish both her and the program the best, though, and leave it with the hope that they continue to follow their strength, as a professional writing program, and avoid the pitfalls that so many “fine arts” programs seem to come with.

And last but not least (no, wait; maybe it is least), I realized I was doing nothing over at et cetera, because from this end, I’m submitting, which means there’s no news. And then I realized I didn’t want it to just be about me. So I’m opening it up to include literary news/reviews/interviews for highlight but about which I haven’t much to say (unlike the above three newspoints, obviously). The first new post concerns Jo Rowling taking the stand in the Harry Potter Lexicon case.

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.

For a long enough while that I can no longer recall when it began, I’ve been reading lamentations about the current health of the short story, or, more accurately, the complete lack thereof. Seems a lot of people think it’s dying or already has done, that it’s gasping its final breaths and all that’s left is the death rattle. For example, this post on After the MFA (which further links back to a post on Galley Cat), about anonymous e-mailers who wrote to the latter site “asserting that the short story is, in fact, six feet under in their literary world. “Valid career” go the anonymous cries, as in you can’t have one writing short stories.”

I yet wonder about ‘valid careers’. Since when has writing ever been a valid career choice? It’s difficult, long, time-consuming, and quite possibly the least valued of the various media; people seem to think very little of dropping a hundred bucks on a single evening at the cinema (parking, ticket, popcorn, soda, etc.), but few of them seem interested in dropping $30 on a hardcover novel. Heck, even I rarely do (I buy from Amazon marketplace. You’re awesome, Amazon marketplace). Books very rarely sell more than a few thousand copies (with obvious notable exceptions, so put your hands down Messrs. Brown and King. You too, Jo Rowling); most sell substantially less. 15,000 or so is usually considered pretty successful. Meanwhile, the albums that top the Billboard charts often move more than 200 times that in a week.

And then AMFA offers a terrific suggestion for the reason: “Maybe it’s because all of our stories suck?”


He asks readers when was the last time they read a story that blew their mind. I’m sure some people, like my colleague, the illustrious Mr. John Fox over at BookFox, could probably cite one off the top of his head, but I’m also certain most people wouldn’t be able to. Heck, I know I couldn’t. If I had to think of really recently, I’d probably re-peruse Gaiman’s Fragile Things. Beyond that? Besides Ray Chandler or Stephen King, I draw a blank.

This isn’t to say I haven’t skimmed issues of The New Yorker recently. In fact, one of the assignments in one of my classes with Shelly Lowenkopf required us to edit one of the stories contained therein; I chose one by a woman named Tessa Hadley, “Married Love”, and covered it with marks. I see on searching her name that she’s had three stories published in the magazine since Feb. 2007, and I say, “Really, New Yorker? Really?”

But this is the current way of the short story. This is the sort of fiction/voice students in MFA programs (and their faculties, too, for that matter) strive for. It’s tedious and homogenous at best, and just plain crap at worst.

It’s sad, because short stories are fun. Short stories can provide a venue for the kind of experiment one can’t sustain for the length of a novel. Two of the stories in my collection concern C. Auguste Dupin investigating the death of Edgar Allan Poe; I don’t think such a conceit could sustain a novel’s length (it’s arguably too ‘gimmicky’. Two novels whose titles I can’t recall tried it, in fact, albeit, from the reviews I read, unsuccessfully). Some of the stories were inspired from songs; certainly not a conceit for a novel.

(one reason I chose USC’s Master’s program was that its teachers were known for their novels, and not their short stories)

One other thing I think works against short stories is the way they’re published, i.e., pretty rarely and in obscure places. Because, seriously, who reads literary magazines except writers who are hoping to publish in them, and what sort of market is that? It’s not so much that the form is dead, perhaps more that its medium has changed; when most magazines’ content can be found online anyway, what’s the point of the newsstand? Why buy the newspaper when The New York Times is online, for free. And this isn’t an argument for buying the cow; this is a real question in terms of market and audience. As the aforementioned Mr. Lowenkopf noted in this blog post, “many individuals who like to think of themselves as writers have the singular goal of publication,” which is a bit backwards because publication is one of the slightest aspects of writing, and in the age of the Internet and POD, what’s ‘publication,’ anyway? Who’s the arbitrary arbiter of quality that decided Miranda July’s collection was worth so much attention last year (and whose mind did it blow, really)?

Last month’s issue of Wired featured a story on free (it’s free, here, in fact, which is fun). Short stories are, traditionally, a basically free medium; they have historically been published in magazines, so it’s almost bonus content. $5 pays for the whole magazine, of which the story is merely one feature.

Short stories won’t die, because writers will always write them, but I think the trend will be toward freedom.

When that comes to fruition, however, one thing to keep in mind: we as readers should demand awesome and never again settle for any damned less.