Posts Tagged “USC”
End of the year means time for lists. I’ve seen lots of book lists over the past few weeks, but they’ve hewed to conservative choices like the new Stephen King time-travel novel or Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I’ll be honest: I tried both before I got distracted (Kindle’s make it easy to get distracted by another book. Just a few pages that don’t grab and suddenly button-click I’m back to my home library with all those other books I wanted to read . . .).
I’ve also seen lots of discussion about the top-selling indie (or “self-published”) books of 2011. Notable: two of the top ten bestselling books at Amazon this past year were independent novels (and fine books to boot).
But I haven’t seen any lists of terrific independent novels–and by independent, I mean what people with corporations would call “self-published.” And I thought, hey, I’ve read some great independent novels this year. Why not talk about them? Of course, I probably should be less declarative and more accommodating and title this something more generic like “My Favorite Indie Reads of 2011,” but none of the other lists I’ve seen have done so, so I figure why not?
I don’t really think in lists, so I’m not going to make one, but here are some independent books I thought highly of. A caveat: through social networking, I’ve “met” a lot of the authors on this list, as we run in the same circles, but they’re not here just because I follow them on Twitter. I follow them on Twitter because they’re here.
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, Chad Harbach
, Christopher Meeks
, Chuck Wendig
, Darker Things
, Donovan Creed
, Entertainment Weekly
, Grass Valley
, Inside the outside
, Irregular Creatures
, J.D. Salinger
, Joanna Penn
, John Locke
, Love at Absolute Zero
, Martin Lastrapes
, Miya Kressin
, Monica Bloom
, My Memories of a Future life
, Nick Cole
, Nick Earls
, Rob Cornell
, Roz Morris
, Shotgun Gravy
, stephen king
, The Art of Fielding
, The Changeling's Champion
, The Creative Penn
, The Gargoyle
, The Love You Crave
, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea
, The Old Man and the Wasteland
, The Road
, the time-traveler's wife
, What Once Was
9 Comments »
Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several essays in which authors have enumerated reasons not to “self-publish.” I think that their use of the phrase implies some prejudice already–no lesser a source than Hachette (one of the big 6 publishers) notes in a leaked document that “Self-publishing is a misnomer.” When one major corporation acknowledges the phrase is misleading, another is tries to pawn off vanity services as “assisted self-publishing,” and more writers are discussing all the reasons not to do it, one possible implication is that it has become more viable.
That’s because it has.
Which means the big question is whether or not you should do it.
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Tags: independent publishing
4 Comments »
Titles seem to be one of the elements of writing writers fret over most, and justifiably so. Chances are, titles are the first thing readers see, so they take on a lot of importance. Under ideal circumstances, they somehow carry the whole theme and story all in a quick phrase. My favorites include Needful Things, American Gods, Peace Like a River, and The Silence of the Lambs. All are not just effective but evocative; Stephen King’s Needful Things, in fact, begins with a character discussing the name of the new shop in town, which happens to be Needful Things–”What do you suppose something like that means? Why, a store like that might carry anything. Anything at all.”
And indeed it does. It’s where you can buy anything your heart desires–or at least the fantasy of it. For a price.
Knowing how important a title can be, I always fret over them. Which was why I was relieved when The Prodigal Hour finally came to me.
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Tags: american gods
, Easton Gym
, irvin kershner
, needful things
, Peace Like a River
, stephen king
, the prodigal hour
, The Silence of the Lambs
1 Comment »
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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, Chuck Wendig
, Terrible Minds
The very first essay I wrote at USC was called “What I Saw That Day (9/11/01).” It was an essay I’d been trying to write successfully for several years but never pulled off, and I thought bringing it to my first non-fiction class and submitting it for workshopping would help to improve it.
And I was right. Thanks to Madelyn Cain-Inglese and my classmates, I finally felt as though I’d written something worthy. I think that’s the only way I can describe it. So much has been (and continues to be) written about that day, and my feeling’s always been that if I don’t have something to contribute I’d rather leave the discussion to others.
“What I Saw That Day (9/11/01)” was something I wanted to contribute to the collective cultural memory.
I wrote “The Come Back” the first time I visited New York after writing that essay to my own satisfaction.
In May, when I heard the news that American Special Forces had killed Osama Bin Laden, I started a new essay. I started it with the intention of posting it here, but it ultimately became something rather more. It became something of a discussion of how my life had changed after September 11th.
And as it did, I thought it would be fitting to create a new book for Kindle. Something specifically honoring and chronicling that day and discussing my experiences and memories of it.
So I did. Here’s the link. It’s a dollar.
When I first published Entrekin, I dedicated a portion of its proceeds to charities, including the United Way and the Red Cross. I’m doing the same with this new collection.
Tags: September 11th
1 Comment »
The other day, I mentioned a positive review from Shannon Yarbrough at the LL Book Review. Today, I’m going to mention a few others, and make an announcement about something I’m rather excited about.
Today, Raych at Books I Done Read gave it high-caterpillar review. A juicy blurb:
Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets girl Tarot card battle royale
Now, Raych disclaims: if you’ve finished Meets Girl, you know that Raych gets a shout-out at the conclusion. Some people might fear some lack of objectivity.
I don’t. I started reading Raych’s blog pretty much as soon as she started it, and I love what a fool she is, and by fool, I mean the n’uncle sort, who says perhaps many nonsensical things and who maybe distracts you with the bouncy jingle balls on his hat but is, often, the wisest person in the room. The canniest. The one who knows what’s what.
I felt the same thing about Veronica’s brother Tom, in the novel. I could see his band–Foolish–doing something silly and poignant and real. Some of what I think are exactly those moments in the novel–the ones that are silly and poignant and real–belong to Tom. When Tom handed our young hero-narrator Foolish’s CD, I saw him offering one with a jaunty, silly, hand-crayoned cover because leave it to the wise-fool to leave the name of the band off.
So it fit, and when I needed a title for that album, I cribbed Raych’s blog.
She doesn’t seem to have minded. Thank goodness. I’m glad she didn’t sue my ass. For cookies. Because who’d sue a broke-ass grad student/novelist/professor/personal trainer for money?
I do wonder about objectivity. Not Raych’s. Just in general. Like, is anyone objective anymore?
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Tags: book reviews
, Books I Done Read
, Huffington Post
, LL Book Review
, Meets Girl
, neil gaiman
, shannon yarbrough
, The Nervous Breakdown
1 Comment »
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.
Not a book deal. Yet. Hopefully soon there. Querying and such.
Sitting there in Miami airport, which currently has free Google wifi that doesn’t actually work, or didn’t on my iPhone. My phone goes off with a number I don’t have stored in my contacts. Usually I let such calls go straight to voicemail. Usually it’s a creditor or something. I’m a writer, so payment due dates are like deadlines, both of which I love for the whooshing sound they make as they shoot past.
I’m glad I didn’t. It was the chair of the English department at the college where I’m currently teaching composition. Or was teaching composition last semester. There’s been a lot of alteration to my schedule; when they asked me onboard, they offered me two classes, but they only had one for me by the time the semester started. I took it anyway. This semester around, they’ve switched me out of not one but two classes. I get it, of course; there are a lot of other faculty members who have been there for ages, so seniority gets dibs. I’m still a new guy, only having been there for a semester, and it’s not like I’m tenured or anything. Technically, in fact, I’m still an adjunct instructor, and not a professor, even though they still call me a professor.
The chair told me there was good news and bad news. The bad was that they had shuffled me out of the composition class. I was disappointed by this; they had begun me in one only to shuffle me into the second-half of my first semester class, which I was actually looking forward to as a challenge; I’ve never taught a two-semester course. Never had any student for more than one semester.
The good news, though, was that they had a prose fiction course offered. Which is, like the composition course, a part of the core curriculum, but which is an actual literature course.
This is ludicrously exciting for me. Then again, I’m a giant geek, so of course it is.
I’m leaving in a moment to discuss the syllabus and book choice with the chair. So far I’m hoping to use a few stories by Poe, one by Hawthorne, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Stephen King’s Night Shift and Different Seasons collection (for my money, the finest collections ever published, in any language), and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I think this will work. I know Gatsby will fly, and I saw a few other syllabi include both A Thousand Splendid Suns and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, both of which are rather contemporary and the former of which is decidedly popular (if not exactly genre), but I have a good feeling.
I have a great feeling, in fact. This is gonna be fun.
Edit to add: All books approved. Also given a big book of short stories I can select from. So there’s my week/end.
Tags: f. scott fitzgerald
, j k rowling
, raymond carver
, stephen king
15 Comments »
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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Tags: city of night
, janet fitch
, john rechy
, marc norman
, shakespeare in love
, white oleander
, will shetterly
3 Comments »
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.
Tags: christopher hitchens
, master's degree
, regis university
, sam harris
5 Comments »
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.
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.
, ray bradbury
, sid stebel
, the martian chronicles
11 Comments »
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.
Tags: et cetera
, irvin kerschner
, james frey
, janet fitch
, los angeles times
, university of southern california
2 Comments »
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.
Tags: best seller
, brief wondrous life of oscar wao
, brighde mullins
, denis johnson
, dresden files
, et cetera
, harry dresden
, harry potter
, jhumpa lahiri
, jim butcher
, jo rowling
, john grisham
, junot diaz
, kal penn
, masters in professional writing
, mpw university of southern california
, the appeal
, the namesake
, tree of smoke
, unaccustomed earth
2 Comments »
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.
Tags: april fools
, coleman hough
, creative writing
, empire strikes back
, grad school
, los angeles
, syd field
14 Comments »
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.
Tags: brian kitely
, janet fitch
, laird hunt
, las vegas
, literary criticism
, literary theory
, los angeles
, marc norman
, new jersey
, new york
, pine barrens
, University of Denver
2 Comments »
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.
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.
Tags: grad school
, prodigal hour
6 Comments »
One of the biggest challenges that came with becoming a writing instructor was a rather silly one; figuring out what my students would call me. Technically, professorship is a tenure-track position; my contract will be up in two months, and because I will graduate in May, I’m fairly certain it’s not extendable. Even if I wanted to stick around for another year, I don’t think I’d be allowed.
It’s been a question since at least as far back as I was a substitute teacher for a simple reason: I’m not comfortable with Mr. Entrekin. It just doesn’t fit me as an appellation. My father won’t let anyone call him “Mr. Entrekin”; when someone tries, he informs him that was his father, who has long since passed away–they can call my dad ‘Steve.’ (That’s his name, after all. Calling him Doug would just be off-putting.) It’s not a simple last name, either: ENT-ruh-kin is not obvious on first reading (many go with en-TREK-in, which is just plain wrong).
When I was a sub, I solved the problem by letting the students call me “Mr. E”.
But that didn’t feel right for a college classroom.
Some of my colleagues just let their students call them by their first names. But there’s something– in my head, my students are paying as much for an experience as they are for the information. They are none of them older than 19, which puts me a solid decade ahead on the age scale, but more than that; I feel I’ve earned some degree of distinction, to distinguish myself from them. I don’t feel as though they are my peers; I feel, in fact, as though we are in a relationship very much related to a business transaction, providing a service to them as consumers.
The thing is, though, it rarely comes up. They rarely need to address me. Which is why, last semester, it became a running question, for a few weeks, until a solution presented itself when a student settled on a title.
He called me sensei.
And it just fit.
It was perfect. Because Bob Kennedy taught me as much about writing and thinking as he did about faith, and he did so by forcing me to learn it. My feelings about writing are intricately tied to my beliefs about faith and spirituality and life, as well.
Later during last semester, I received a few emails generated by the college database, which addressed me as ‘Professor Entrekin,’ and so validated that title, in a way; if USC recognized me as a professor, I had earned the right to let students call me one.
But that other title, that student-chosen title, the one that came from one pupil who knew nothing of my background . . . that fit. I am a guide moreso than I am a teacher; I am there less to teach or instruct them than I am to help them learn.
It’s a subtle distinction, perhaps, but I think they sense it.
Tags: graduate school
I was eleven years old when I read Stephen King’s Needful Things and realized I loved stories and wanted to tell them myself. That King’s work prompted the realization and that my parents were both pretty avid readers while I was growing up were probably the two reasons I actually thought writing was a pretty certainly viable career option, or could be. One of the stories in my collection is called “Deluded,” and part of the point of that story, at least to me (and I’m only one reader of it, so consider this one personal take) is that there is, sometimes, a fine line between faith and delusion. Delusion and certainty. And that’s okay; I grew up with the firm belief that I was going to become a great writer through careful work and a lot of discipline, and could achieve success by way of the sheer force of my will to write better. Not better than anyone else so much as better than I realized I could, every word down.
For many years growing up, however, I also thought I wanted to be a doctor. I studied hard and started college with a major in premedical biology. In my high school yearbook, my life’s goals were: “go to med school, be a doctor, write a book.” I remember telling my parents I would start a practice and then, at some point, when my book became a bestseller, take a few-years sabbatical to concentrate on writing.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think that idea of a sabbatical was key; I think I was subconsciously realizing that I wanted the safety to support the more risky profession.
By the time I was a junior, however, I’d realized I’m not a doctor, and that’s still the way I think of it. Because, you see, I don’t believe that training and education make someone a doctor; one of my best friends is a doctor (and a successful one, at that), and I think he was a doctor when we were undergrads and roommates. He had to learn the anatomy and the surgery and the general stuff, certainly, but I think ‘doctor’ was part of his core to start. Me, I don’t have the confidence, I realized. I don’t have the self-certainty to stick my fingers into someone’s body, nor even to cut it open in the first place. I realized this the month before I was to sign up for my MCATs, but am glad I did.
What that meant was, after college, I floundered a bit. I graduated with (nearly) two degrees (six credits shy of a second in natural science) and honors and etc., but I hadn’t sold my book. So I needed a job. I fell into temping pretty much by accident and lucked into commercial production via a cushy gig on Madison Avenue. But it didn’t suit me as medicine hadn’t; advertising didn’t resonate with me, and I have trouble doing things I don’t believe in or can’t stand behind.
September 11th kicked me in the pants to figure stuff out. I thought I would by moving back home, regrouping, maybe subbing and then becoming a high school teacher, so I could write in my off time. I got set back, however, and fell into a six-month depression from which I emerged with shoddy credit and little in the way of real prospects. I became a personal trainer for a while, and then finally got into subbing, which was fine for what it was, but I’ve never been about fine with what things are. I remember being at a shitty Christmas party thing, though, and I remember thinking how much more fun it would be if the company throwing it had actually produced a book instead (they sold security systems, from what I recall of it).
So I got it in my head to work for a publisher. I considered moving back to Manhattan, but then found a gig five minutes from my parents’ house, where I was living, as an assistant editor for a healthcare publishing company. Felt like a perfect fit.
It wasn’t. I was there nearly three years, but never loved it. I discovered I couldn’t put my heart into it, and my performance suffered.
That was when I settled on graduate school, which opened my life. Moreso: teaching.
I became an instructor via USC’s Writing Program, and the most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have to just be a writer anymore. I don’t have to try to rely on it for income; I can be a student, and an instructor, because I love to be both. It’s been a real relief, and oddly, it’s freed me to become a better writer than I realized I could be; this latest draft of my novel finally feels like the one, and I think it feels that way because I stopped worrying so fucking much about selling it or succeeding with it and just concentrated on telling that story as best I could.
Being a writer is probably a good gig, but I’m having much more fun just being someone who writes.
Tags: graduate school
, personal training
, September 11th
, substitute teaching
1 Comment »