This week in nonfiction: finding a woman

This quarter I’m taking a nonfiction class in the classics.  We’re reading Ben Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Francis Bacon, Charles Lamb, and Jonathan Swift, among other notable male writers.  But the really exciting part is that each student will get to “discover” a pre-twentieth century female nonfiction writer.  Through research, we get to pick a woman writer and introduce her and her nonfiction writing to the class.  We post links to classic essays, and by the end of the class we’ll have compiled a great resource for anyone who wants to study the lesser-known essayists of the before times.  Read more »

Buddy Holly Wears Glasses and Here They Are

I don’t normally post two days in a row, but last night I had the pleasure of seeing the last dress rehearsal of a toe-tapping musical in Spokane, and I want to tell you about it.  It was Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at the Spokane Civic Theatre.

The real Buddy Holly

The real Buddy Holly

It’s kind of coincidental that yesterday I posted about the value of honesty in criticism, because here I am reviewing a piece of theatre (and now that you know my feelings about honesty, you know this review is 100% above board).  It’s even more coincidental that yesterday’s post included a reference to plays involving roller skates, because this production starts out with a group of poodle-skirted teeny boppers roller skating across the stage.  That’s the kind of play it is: light, fun, and entertaining.  Set during Buddy Holly’s short career between 1956 and 1959, it is full of bouffants, fluffy skirts, and skinny ties.

Now, it might be hard for you to believe that a play that ends in the hero’s death (that really isn’t a spoiler–Buddy Holly famously died in a plane crash alongside the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in 1959) could be light, but with all that rock and roll music and big-haired back-up singers, it’s hard to hit a low note.  The play is probably 70% music–some recorded, but mostly performed live by the actors playing Buddy Holly (Brian Gunn) and the Crickets (Dave Turner, James Elvidge, and Nicholas Dawson)–so be ready to clap your hands and maybe even sing along (there were literally children dancing in the aisles near the end of the show, when the actors played what might have been a full set, recreating Buddy Holly’s final show with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens). Read more »

Welcome Back to Workshop

A layer of respect…peppered with hate.

Anyone who’s been through a workshop knows how it feels to be asked for an opinion you don’t want to give.  Anyone who’s sat through a friend’s bad play, concert, reading, etc.  Sometimes, the desire to be honest outweighs the desire to protect the ego of your friend/classmate/colleague.  But how honest is too honest?  Is it better to focus in on a small strength and neglect to comment on the weaknesses, or is honesty really the best policy? Read more »

On Ridiculing for the Greater Good

So I’ve volunteered to read my work aloud this Friday at Voice Over, a monthly group reading we put on here in Spokane. I’ve been chopping up and Tetrising an essay into a sharp, fast slice of prose to be read aloud and absorbed by the audience in ten minutes. The memoir is essentially about an ex-girlfriend who puked on my bed sheets awhile back while she was shitfaced, how I couldn’t bring myself to throw the sheets away, an exploration of why I couldn’t do so, and an attempt to transcend the obvious reasons (laziness, “letting her go,” and so on) into something bigger. The problem is, over half the audience at Voice Over is going to know who this person is – she may even be there. It’s intended to be a humor piece, but she’s often the butt of the joke (as am I – the monster must always see himself in the mirror at some point, as essayists know). I’ve changed her name, but come on – that’s bullshit; I’m sure the written-about are typically pretty good at deducing who they are through context. So the question is, what right do I have to read this essay aloud to a group of friends and colleagues, with the intention of entertaining at the expense of a mutual acquaintance? Does the art of the written word justify it?

Read more »

the enquirer for the lit set

in the charles baxter interview that sam linked to the other day, baxter talked about one of the reasons why he reads fiction: he likes seeing people “misbehaving and getting themselves into real trouble, serious trouble.”  which seems spot on to me.

fiction writers themselves may not be getting into that kind of trouble, but in an e-mail today, electric literature openly pined for the days where writers were a little more brazen (at least beyond the usual bouts of revelry at AWP, presumably), citing scott & zelda fitzgerald, who once crashed a fancy party by arriving at the door and barking on all fours, or the time scott collected party guests’ watches, bangles and rings and boiled them in tomato soup.

filling what is clearly a gaping hole in the gossip business, electric lit is now blogging about such outrageous exploits from writerly types, and they’re calling it “the dish.”  fittingly, today’s post concerns the literary figure we have blog traffic stats to prove you love: james franco.

Engineers, Miners, Physicists, and Poetry

Not Quite This Cute

I’m surprised World News hasn’t picked this up yet, but poetry and I are back together. Wait till you see our progeny. Though I admit, they’re not nearly as cute as Bat Boy.

Despite having earned a BA in Creative Writing and an MFA in Poetry, I am a very practical person. I considered getting an MSW or a Masters in Education, but I didn’t want to pay for tuition. Nor did I want to borrow more money for a degree than I would make doing one of its jobs for a year.

In order get my MFA debt free, all I had to do was live off of $8000/year and teach composition while I was in school. The MFA qualified me to teach engineers, miners, and physicists writing and literature. Getting a job at the Colorado School of Mines was my own personal lottery. Read more »

Is present tense taking over?

Short post today, since this past week has been a bit chaotic for me—but in a good way. The phone has been ringing off the hook (finally) with job opportunities, interviews, and even one offer. Then there was my birthday, I screamed myself hoarse at the MSU vs. Notre Dame game, and I’m on week three on the cold from hell, so instead of the long post about Banned Books weeks I’d been mulling over, all I have is this question: Has present tense narration taken over fiction? Philip Pullman seems to think so. And, if so (okay, I can’t really stop at one question), is it really such a bad thing? And is there a difference, say, in a present tense prevalence in novel length fiction as opposed to the short story?

Twitter me This!

Just got back from a weekend away, the last hurrah before school starts. I’m still dealing with unpacking, laundry, and lesson planning, so I’ll keep it short today. (I know, a few of you are saying “About time.”)

I’m using my share of social networking tools these days, but Twitter is one I’m still in the discovery stage with. That may change now that I have found this:

A Directory of Book Trade People on Twitter

Highspot Inc. posted this on their blog back in 2008, but keep it current. The Twitter names are sorted in to these categories:

Book Publishers – Company Accounts | Book Publishers – Individual Accounts | Literary Agents | Bookstores & Booksellers – United States | Bookstores & Booksellers – Canada | Bookstores & Booksellers – Europe & Australia | Bookstores & Booksellers – Online | Libraries | Book Industry Publications | Book Industry Groups & Associations | Book Festivals & Conferences | Book Prizes | Publishing Education Programs | Book Industry Suppliers & Tools | Author & Publisher Services | Book Publicity & Marketing Services | Book Printers & Paper Suppliers | Subsidy Publishers | Book Reviewers | Bloggers on Books & Publishing | Book Discussion 2.0

Sweet tweeting!

What’s mine is…whose?

This New York Magazine post, about the striking (too striking?) similarities between Annie Leibovitz’s Jones New York ad and a Mad Men season 2 promo, caught my eye earlier this month. I’m curious about how these photos came to be – did Jones New York request the Mad Men vibe? Is this art promoting commerce mimicking art where the characters promote commerce? Or were the similarities totally subconscious? If you’re of the “it’s a rip-off” mindset, there’s something so fittingly ironic about the idea that a rip-off advertisement would rip off a series in which the characters sometimes rip off advertisements.

The exact story here is anyone’s guess. I’m wondering, though, how to avoid unintentional rip-offs in my own writing. I often get a bug in my ear about certain sentences or phrases, things I’d like to use in a story or essay but that I can’t nail down to a source. Did my best friend say that one time two years ago? Did I overhear it on the bus? Did I pick it up on a TV show? Did I read it in a novel when I was in high school – or last week?

I tend to err on the conservative side, cutting the things I can’t place, that I might have lifted from a published source. But I hate the idea of being so cautious that I lose something good, something usable, something I could make my own. How do you handle those issues?

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