Salvatore Pane

Tag: Cathy Day

American Short Fiction’s NFL Preview

ryan-tannehill-wife-lauren3I’m thrilled to be part of American Short Fiction‘s NFL Preview. Read my take on the Dolphins’ 2013 hopes in addition to analysis from Brian Oliu, Barry Grass, Cathy Day, Patrick Sommerville, Aubrey Hirsch, Lincoln Michel, and many more.

Advanced Fiction Workshop Fall 2013

Advanced Fiction Workshop
ENGL 472-50X (12032)
MW 4:00-5:20pm

University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
E-mail: panes@uindy.edu
Credits: 3.0

 

Syllabus
Welcome to Advanced Fiction Workshop

By this point in your creative writing career, you know a few things. You can generate a scene out of nothingness. You can build a setting and populate it with characters who are more than just one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. You can write dialogue. You’ve written more than your share of stories, and hopefully, your writing routine reflects that. Hopefully, you’re working on your craft well before the night before a story is due. Hopefully, you’re even writing fiction even when there are no deadlines or class assignments.

But what is fiction? On a primitive level, we know the answer. But what can fiction do? Can it be more than a simple A to B to C narrative with a traditional rising action and climax, or are there new ways forward we haven’t even imagined yet? And if we are going to live in the world of traditional narrative, how can we do so to the very best of our abilities?

In Advanced Fiction Workshop, you will take the next step toward becoming an active literary citizen in a broadband world. That means not only are you expected to produce and revise a great deal of writing—both creative and critical—but you will be required to learn about and participate in the many writing communities within Indianapolis and nationally via public readings, book reviews, and social media.

Each student will submit 30-44 pages of literary fiction for workshop. You can write traditional short stories or multiple pieces of flash fiction or potentially even novel chapters, but remember, you have to demonstrate the fundamental principles of literary fiction in all of your workshop pieces. I want to see structure, character, development. I want nuance and complexity. I don’t want filler pieces meant to get you closer to the page requirement.

Substantial revisions will be required. Substantial revision does not mean fixing grammar. Substantial revision usually means a complete rewrite and perhaps multiple rewrites. Students must also post 500-750 word critiques for every student workshop. Similarly, you will read a large amount of published fiction. Students will post 500-750 word ACE Takeaway Posts for every published piece of fiction we read.

Reading so much literary fiction will allow you to build a library of published stories in your head. Students are expected to use their knowledge of writers like ZZ Packer or Jorge Luis Borges or Richard Yates to comment about peer work up for discussion. Students will make parallels and use the published work to inform their critiques of peer work. The majority of the course will be spent workshopping. The goal of the course is for you to not only become a better writer, but to become an active literary citizen who can participate in the ongoing dialogue concerning fiction.

 

By the end of the course successful students will:

 

Use basic elements of craft (image, voice, character, setting, etc.) to create 30-44 pages of thoughtful literary fiction.

Employ critical-reading skills while analyzing, for specific issues of craft, a wide range of published and peer fiction.

Substantially revise their work by utilizing critical feedback generated by class discussion and written critiques.

Contribute thoughtful and complex commentary to discussions of published and peer fiction.

 

Workshop

 

You will be prepared for every workshop class by doing the following:

1.) Write comments in the margins of stories up for discussion. You MUST use the comments feature in Microsoft Word. All comments will be transparent to the entire class. I want you to upload your marked up versions of workshopped stories to Ace under the student-in-question’s forum. Failure to do so will negatively impact your grade. Also, DO NOT FORGET TO BRING A PRINT OUT OF THE STORY IN QUESTION TO CLASS. This is mandatory. If you don’t, I will mark you absent.

2.) Write a 500-750 word critique for each peer written story we read this semester. You must critique the story based on its own intentions. For example, if the writer is attempting to write in the realist mode of Ray Carver, do not suggest adding a mysterious underground school ala Patrick Somerville just because you don’t like realism. On the flip side, don’t knock an experimental story because you prefer realism. Judge the work the writer wrote, not the work you want to write. Try and help them see how they could better serve their material and unique world vision. In your responses, first describe what you think the writer is attempting to do and what the story is about— this should be the shortest section. Then discuss the piece’s strengths. Finish with prescription, a section where you point out very specific things that still need work within the story. Go beyond grammar. Character, plot, prose, all the building blocks of writing are on the table. You must use the description, strength, prescription model.

3.) Post your critique and margin comments to Ace by 12am the night before workshop. All critiques will be visible to all members of the class, and I encourage you to read what your peers are saying about every story. Name your thread on Ace after your favorite line of the story in question. If you don’t turn in these materials BY MIDNIGHT, you will lose points.

 

Example of a good critique:

 

[TITLE OF STORY REMOVED] is primarily about a squeamish young man who dates an over-sized, sailor mouthed woman he meets in a bar. She is emotionally unavailable and taunts the boyfriend–who she nicknames Christopher Robbins–quite a bit, but in many instances Robbins interprets these gestures as tenderness and grows to love his female companion. He can’t leave well enough alone, however, and decides that he has to figure out her past–which he believes is connected to the sea. He takes her to a small boat off a dock in New York City and when pushed, Mary lies to him prompting CR to trick her into falling into the ocean. Then he sails away but remembers he can’t.

The principal strength of the story is the prose. It is quite beautiful in places and has a really sweet lyrical tendency despite the crazy subject matter and frequent cursing. The sentences move. Also, the character of Mary is quite strong. She’s an enigma to CR, and she’s an enigma to the reader. I don’t want her backstory, and I don’t think the writer should be talked into giving it to us. Mary is a puzzle inserted into fiction. She doesn’t need to be solved.

Christopher Robbins does not fare as well. I’m going to echo [NAME REMOVED]’s sentiments. We don’t know CR well enough and that makes some of the story fall relatively flat. When CR gives up his previous life to follow Mary everywhere it doesn’t have much impact because we have no idea what he’s giving up. Is he some little rich kid–he implies otherwise when Mary accuses him of having Harvard hands? Is he right out of college? Does he have some office job? Does he live in Hoboken and eat canned soup? We need the details of his life before-Mary to understand how his life post-Mary is so different and strange, and at times, wonderful.

Secondly, the story makes a big leap in logic when CR definitively decides that his girlfriend’s past is tied up with the sea. We need more concrete hints from Mary to buy into this. And why does he want to know about her past so much in the first place? Is he inherently an inquisitive person? Does he need to solve everything he comes across? Up until this point in the story, CR seemed so utterly passive. Why the change in demeanor? Also, the boat plot at the end seems a little half-baked. He thinks something terrible happened to his girlfriend at sea, so his solution is to tell her he has a surprise for her, then he brings her to a boat. That’s kind of crazy and out-of-character. It almost makes it seem like he’s getting back at her for all the little pot shots she’s taken but I don’t think that’s your intention. The final image of CR sailing away from Mary is a compelling ending, but it does not (yet) feel earned.

 

Distribution of Manuscripts

 

For your workshop, you must submit 15-22 pages of literary fiction the Wednesday before your stories are due by 3pm. I will release the workshop schedule after the first week of class when the student roster is locked. Please feel free to include any combination of short stories. For example, a single 17 page story is absolutely fine, as are 17 one page stories. The breakdown is up to you as long as you don’t dip below or above the 15-22 page limit.

If your story is late, your grade for that story will drop by an entire letter. If you are more than a day late, you will get an F, no exceptions. Once you upload your manuscript, you CANNOT EDIT IT FOR ANY REASON. If you do, we will skip your workshop and you will take an F. You are responsible for printing out your peers’ stories for discussion on workshop days. Reduced grades will count toward the final grade. Also, please include page numbers.

 

Notes About Workshop

 

When you are being workshopped, it is very important that you are quiet, take notes, and do not respond to anything verbally. To reiterate, you are not allowed to talk when being workshopped unless I specifically ask you something, and that will be very rare. You are not there to defend your story. Your story must stand on its own.

Please proofread your work. If a story is excessively sloppy, I will not workshop it. Do not depend on your classmates to fix your grammar.

 

ACE Takeaway Posts

 

Before we discuss a story you must post a 500-750 word Takeaway Post on ACE under the appropriately titled forum. Posts must be uploaded by midnight the day before we discuss the work. If your post is late, you will lose points. Post your responses on the appropriate Ace forum. There’s a forum designated by name for every professional piece of writing.

Let me be very clear on this. This is not a forum for you to explain whether or not you like the piece in question. I don’t care. What I’m looking for is what you can take away for your own writing. Every piece of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction has something to teach us as writers, something we can take for our own writing. Whether you like or dislike a piece of outside writing is beside the point in this class. If you simply talk about why you love or hate a specific piece of writing, you will take an F on the Takeaway Post in question.

In addition to what you took away from the published piece as a writer, I want you to provide three questions for the class related to craft. I don’t want you asking plot questions or questions about why a story is so bad or so good, but questions meant to stimulate discussions of craft related to the story. Your three questions will count toward your word count.

Below is a truncated example of a good Takeaway Post:

 

Don Lee’s “The Price of Eggs in China” provides a great example of keeping characters consistent. They’re unique characters, I think, but they’re always consistent.

Dean is a devoted, committed boyfriend. No matter how Caroline treats him, he wants to be with Caroline. He wants to help her when she’s sick, even though she’s broken up with him. He wants to help her with the problem with Marcella.

Caroline is consistently just kind of mean and crazy. She seems to have no filter on what she says…as made obvious when she says “This is what it’s come down to, this is how far I’ve sunk. I’m about to fuck a Nipponese fire hydrant with the verbal capacity of tap water,” and again when she responds with “yikes” to Dean’s declaration of love.

One of the good things to learn from this story, though, is that we see a mean character who is not evil, only evil, all we see is evil. I know that’s something I had a problem with in my last workshop story–that the character was just mean, and rude, and no one could understand why the main character was friends with her. In this story, you see Caroline’s vulnerable side. You see her vulnerable side when she starts getting sicker due to a stalker who is leaving her death threats. Though this sympathy is kind of taken away when it’s suggested she might have sent herself the death threats, you still see the vulnerable side. The side that is not completely mean/evil. She also transforms at the end when she becomes a mother, and although we do not see her in that role, it is described in the narration. I think this was a really good story to help show a way to fix the problem that a lot of us are having with writing a completely “evil,” one-sided character.

1) How is “The Price of Eggs in China” different from what we typically think of as mystery fiction?

2) How is it similar to what we typically think of as mystery fiction?

3) How does “The Price of Eggs in China” manage to achieve a satisfying ending without revealing the truth behind the mystery?

 

Genre Fiction

 

All of our discussions in this class will center on literary fiction. If you’re here to work on your vampire zombie spaceship novel, this class is not a good outlet for that kind of work. I’m expecting you to produce character driven literary fiction that drives toward emotional complexities. I don’t want to see battle scenes between elves and warlocks, young adult work, etc.. Your stories can be wacky, your stories can be strange (look to George Saunders or any other published fiction we read in this course for examples), but this class will never focus on straight genre fiction, and you will be expected to write literary fiction.

 

Novels

 

Primarily, we will be focusing on short fiction in this course. However, for your second workshop, you may choose to submit a novel chapter if you provide me with a four page outline of your entire novel in addition to a 15-22 page opening BEFORE uploading your work to ACE.
Conferences

 

After your workshops, I will schedule a mandatory conference with you during my office hours to discuss your work and provide feedback. Please remember: my door is always open, and I want to help you become a better writer.

 

Twitter

 

Over the last decade, social media hasbecome one of the best sources for writers to stay up-to-date on the latest books, literary journals, presses, reading series, and writers. This semester, you will be asked to enter into that world. You will be required to sign up for Twitter—however, feel free to keep your tweets protected if you’re so inclined—and each week you will follow five new literary journals, presses, reading series, or writers. Every Friday by 5pm, you will post which five accounts you’ve followed on the Twitter forum on Ace. Please feel free to follow accounts other students have found. Pay attention to whom and what other writers and journals tweet about. They’ll often discuss new writers and journals for you to discover.

 

Book Reviews

 

Over the course of the semester, you will be required to write two 500-1000 word book reviews chosen from the list of books I’ll recommend to you during your individual conferences. These are the only books you’ll be required to obtain over the course of the semester. We will talk about this more in depth as this semester goes on.

 

Outside Events

 

Students will be required to attend five readings outside of our class. You must attend the Roxane Gay Kellogg Writers series event in addition to two student hosted readings—more about that soon—along with two readings of your choice. To become an active literary citizen, you must actually engage with writers in our community. That means going to readings. Below are some options available to you, but I’ll approve other readings if you know of them. In addition to attending the readings, you must write a 100 word review of each event and post them to Ace. Keep in mind, readings are huge opportunities. Don’t treat these as burdens. I encourage you to go to all of the readings happening this fall.

Kellogg Writers Series (http://www.uindy.edu/arts/kellogg-writers-series)
Vouched (http://vouchedbooks.com/)
Word Lab (http://www.meetup.com/IndyWordLab/)
Indy Reads (http://indyreadsbooks.org/)
Service Center (https://www.facebook.com/servicecenterindy)
Butler University’s Delbrook Visiting Writers Series (http://www.butler.edu/mfa-creative-writing/delbrook-series/)
Hosted Reading

Once this semester, you will be required to team up with another student from our class to host a reading similar to the five you will attend on your own. At said reading, you will bring together a UIndy student writer of your choice—not yourself—with a local, established writer. Below, I’ve provided a list of venues in addition to a list of local writers who might be interested in headlining such an event. Please check out the venues beforehand and the work of the writers in question. Find someone you’re interested in, and when you do, contact me with your idea for the venue, headlining writer, and student writer. From there, I will put you in contact with the necessary people. You will be asked to promote said event via social media or other methods you’re comfortable with. You will also need to introduce both readers to the crowd at the event. Once an event is approved, those writers will be taken off the board of available readers.

 

Possible Venues:

 

Indy Reads (Mass Ave)
Indiana Writers Center (Broad Ripple)
The Wheeler Arts Community (Fountain Square)
The Service Center (Lafayette Road)
University of Indianapolis Schwitzer Building
University of Indianapolis Good Hall

 

Possible Writers:

[REMOVED]

 

Public Reading

 

At the end of the course, all students will be required to give a public reading of their work. This will take place during class time and other students and faculty will be invited to the reading. The reading will be livestreamed on the internet at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/uindy-lit.

 

Final Portfolios

 

You will receive preliminary grades for both of your workshop pieces that are not factored into your final grades and instead are meant as guideposts to where you work is before it is substantially revised over the course of the semester. At the end of the course, you will be expected to turn in a polished portfolio of your substantially revised workshop pieces that uses the feedback provided by me in addition to comments from your peers. An unwillingness to revise will result in automatic failure.

 

Grading Breakdown

 

Final Portfolio 50%
In-Class/Ace Participation 35%
Literary Citizenship (Readings, Book Reviews) 15%

 

Technology

 

Turn off all cell phones, laptops, tablets, and whatever else is invented before this semester ends BEFORE class begins. If, at any point during class, you look at any of this technology, you will be marked absent. I will not disrupt class. You will just be automatically marked absent. Don’t check your phones if you want to pass this class. Don’t look at the readings on phones and laptops. Print them out.

 

Attendance

 

If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. The ONLY excuses I will accept are doctor’s excuses or some kind of family emergency.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.

 

Note

 

The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.

 

Special Assistance

 

If you have a disability that may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please inform me immediately so that your learning needs may be appropriately met. Students with a disability must register with the Services for Students with Disabilities office (SSD) in Schwitzer Center 206 (317-788-6153 / http://www.uindy.edu/ssd) for disability verification and for determination of reasonable academic accommodations. You are responsible for initiating arrangements for accommodations for tests and other assignments in collaboration with the SSD and the faculty.

 

Plagiarism

 

Intellectual theft, like any other kind of theft, is a crime, and is especially dangerous on a college campus. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another person’s thoughts or words as your own. I don’t expect to see plagiarism in this class, and if I do each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, but the MINIMUM penalty will be failure for the assignment in question. Failing the entire course is not out of the question. If you are doing research and are unsure how to incorporate someone else’s work into your own in a valid manner, please ask—I’ll be more than happy to help you out so that there’s no danger of confusion.

 

Week One
August 26
Syllabus and Introductions
AD Jameson “Seven Movie Reviews”
Writing Goals
Prompt

August 28
Anton Chekhov “The Lady with the Pet Dog”
Sam Martone “Last Tour”
Social Media Overview
Prompt

Week Two
September 4
Dennis Johnson “Emergency”
Amber Sparks “You Will Be The Living Equation”
Prompt

Week Three
September 9
Rick Moody “The Apocalyptic Commentary of Bob Paisner”
Hosted Reading Overview
Prompt

September 11
Alice Munro “The Progress of Love”
Karissa Chen “The Emperor’s Malady”
Prompt

Week Four
September 16
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

September 18
Workshop 3
Mike Meginnis “Navigators”

Week Five
September 23
Workshop 4
Workshop 5

September 25
Workshop 6
Revision Overview

Week Six
September 30
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

October 2
Workshop 9
Book Review Overview

Week Seven
October 7
ZZ Packer “Dayward”
SKYPE WITH WRITER

October 9
Mini-Revisions

Week Eight
October 16
Donald Barthelme “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning”
SKYPE WITH WRITER

Week Nine
October 21
Cathy Day “Jennie Dixianna”
Jorge Luis Borges “The Garden of Forking Paths”
Prompt

October 23
John Cheever “The Swimmer”
Richard Yates “The Best of Everything”
Prompt

Week 10
October 28
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

October 30
Workshop 3
Roberto Bolano “Last Evenings on Earth”

Week 11
November 4
Workshop 4
Workshop 5

November 6
Workshop 6
Wells Tower “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”

Week 12
November 11
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

November 13

Prompt

Week 13
November 18
TBA

November 20
Mini-Revisions

Week 14
November 25
Writer Visit

Week 15
December 2
Writer Visit

December 4
Public Reading

Edward James Olmos and the Next Big Thing

bsgadama

Cathy Day recently tagged me in The Next Big Thing, a series of blog entries where writers across the genres interview themselves and promote their books. Basically, I answered a bunch of e-mail chain questions. It’s come to this. Expect interviews from Tyler Gobble and Jay Varner next week.

What is the title of your novel?

Last Call in the City of Bridges.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

On one level, the book is about how modern twenty-somethings mediate loneliness by turning to virtual friends on Facebook and Twitter instead of seeking comfort from physical, flesh and blood people. I was living in Pittsburgh when I started writing the book—this was in the summer of 2009—and the majority of my friends suddenly and en masse moved away. We tried to keep in touch via Facebook, but I quickly found myself feeling more depressed as I “liked” their photos and made comments on their links. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction? Humor? Coming of age? Pop culture? Maybe wacky literary pop culture infused coming of age fiction?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

You know Edward James Olmos? The dude who played Admiral Adama in Battlestar Galactica? The sixty-five year old actor made famous in Stand and Deliver and Selena? I have this weird fantasy for a film version of Last Call where Olmos plays every character kind of like the barbershop scene in Coming to America, or more accurately, Eddie Murphy’s less successful venture, The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps. Olmos plays nerdy twenty-something protagonist Michael Bishop. Olmos in drag plays love interest/pastor’s daughter Ivy Chase. Olmos plays Michael’s dead best friend from high school. Olmos plays everybody. The soundtrack is completely culled from Busta Rhymes’ 1999 sci-fi epic Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front. I would definitely watch that if somebody made it.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

EXTRAORDINAY SWAG AND A MOUTH FULL OF GOLD:  THE MICHAEL BISHOP STORY (TRILL BOY IS SOME SHIT YOU NEVER HEARD OF)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The novel was published by Braddock Avenue Books, a fantastic independent press based out of Pittsburgh. It’s headed up by Jeff Condran and Robert Peluso, both amazing writers in their own right. My work is represented by Jenni Ferrari-Adler of the Union Literary Agency. She’s a great editor, and she’s been an absolute pleasure to work with.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I completed a “draft” of Last Call in about four months, but it was missing major characters and what eventually became the ending. It couldn’t be more different, and it took me about three years of editing for the book to become what it is now.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Man, this is ridiculous. Because if I say, “this book is a lot like The Great Gatsby,” I come off as a total douchebag. Instead, I think I’ll list some books that inspired Last Call: Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth, The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon, and anything and everything Lorrie Moore has ever done.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Kanye West. A$AP Rocky. Patrick Ewing. Spider-Man. Spider-Ham. Spider-Man 2099. Spider-Ham 2099. The world in Super Mario Bros. 3 where everything is really big. All the levels in Super Mario Bros. 3 where Mario gets to ride around in a giant green boot.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Look. I’m the worst at trying to convince people to read my stuff. For a brief, terrifying couple of days I thought You Better Fucking Read This: A Novel was a good title for the book. So I don’t know. If you want to read a book about the internet, sex, booze, classic Nintendo games, relationships, Obama, Pittsburgh, Kanye West, religion, death, and finding your way in the world, this might be a book you enjoy.

Indianapolis Lit Events or CATHY DAY HAD A DREAM! SARAH LAYDEN HAD A DREAM! CHRIS NEWGENT HAS A DREAM!

Cathy Day! Sarah Layden! Chris Newgent! SATURDAY SATURDAY SATURDAY! 7PM AT INDY READS! DOOM!

English Composition Syllabus or Comp So Hard The Registrar Wanna Fine Me

A new semester has begun, and I thought it might be interesting if I posted all my syllabi. I’ve done this before, but every semester I try to retool some things that aren’t working. I’ve just started work at the University of Indianapolis, and honestly, I can’t even imagine being happier than I am right now. My experience here has already gone above and beyond expectations, and they were pretty high to begin with. This fall I’m teaching two sections of English Composition, one section of Advanced Composition (the only course I haven’t taught before), and one section of Fiction Writing Workshop. I’ll be posting the syllabi separately over the next week. If you want to use these or take sections that work for you, please feel free to do so. I’ve cobbled these from syllabi I’ve photocopied and downloaded. Some of it comes from Cathy Day. Some of it comes from my friends back in Pennsylvania. Some of it was used as the standard comp syllabus at Pitt back in 2007. Most of the assignments and papers are my own inventions, but I really think syllabi are things to share and learn from. Let me know what you think of what I’m proposing here. Let me know what you’re doing in the classroom. Let’s collaborate.

ENGLISH COMPOSITION

MWF 8:00-8:50

University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Office Hours: 10-11 MWF, 2-3 MW
Credits: 3.0

Public Connections: The Evolution of the Essay

 

Syllabus

 

 

Required Texts

 

The Best American Essays, Sixth College Edition, edited by Robert Atwan

Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

 

 

Recommended Text

Writer’s Reference, Seventh Edition, by Diane Hacker

Welcome to English Composition

Somewhere along the way, you likely encountered the five-paragraph essay with its introductory paragraph and thesis statement, its three supporting examples and conclusion that re-states the central idea. Now, having arrived in a college Composition course, you may be expecting more of the same. But you will soon discover that English Composition—and writing in the university more broadly—demands more complex (and inventive) writing and thinking than this kind of essay allows. You might say this is a writing course that begins where the five-paragraph essay leaves off…

Course Description

This is a class in which we will write A LOT. We will write about the reading we do and write about the thinking we do and then write about the writing we do and just plain write. This description may sound exhausting or exciting, but either way, you can be sure that the course will be both challenging and rewarding. Keep in mind that writing is a skill, just like playing football or driving a car. That is, it is something that improves with diligence and practice. But in this class, unlike driving a car, you will never be asked to follow the same rote steps. The essay assignments and short exercises in this course are designed to help you approach writing from a variety of contexts, using a variety of techniques. We are trying to look beyond pat formulas (such as the five-paragraph essay) while still understanding the writely conventions specific to each piece and how they can be useful. At times, the prompts might ask you to employ a particular strategy or style of a published essayist, but always with the aim of exploring your own range of writing and voices.

Workshopping and revision will be key components of our work in this class. We will put essays from inside and outside of class onto the table to find out what is working or not working for us as readers and writers. The object is to take what we learn from workshop and apply it to our own writing in future drafts and revisions. I encourage you to look at every assignment that you complete as a draft that can be improved rather than a finished product.

Critical engagement and close reading will also be integral to this course. In fact, I hope that they will both become daily practices. A big part of this class is learning to complicate your thinking, to notice the details of language and composition on a micro and macro level. Throughout the term, we will do close reading exercises focusing on various literary and rhetorical devices with the aim of nuancing our own analyses and writing. Producing work that is fresh and insightful depends upon being able to draw out insightful readings of other texts, of ourselves, and of the world. English Composition will push you to ask not only the “how” of writing but also the “why” and the “so what.”

Things to Remember

Push yourself to be innovative and creative. Push yourself to take that extra step towards flushing out the complexity of an issue. This class is a safe place to take risks that may not always improve your writing in the short term but will help you better understand writing and the successful choices you can make as a writer over time. You will be given plenty of time to write during class. Use this to your advantage.

This small size of our class will help you get to know each other and each other’s work well. The goal is to forge a community of writers who participate in an ongoing and constructive conversation about the craft. English Composition illustrates quite literally how your writing is always part of a public conversation!

Turning in Your Writing

It’s important that you turn in your writing on time, as late work cannot become part of class discussion. Likewise, because the Essays and Exercises build upon one another, turning in late work means you miss out on comments that would help you with the upcoming assignment. Since you will regularly revise your work, make sure to keep electronic and paper copies. All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch fonts. Failure to comply will result in a lowered grade. Also, please title your work. Do not generically title your papers, “Essay 2” or “Essay on Singer.”

Readings

All of the assigned readings are either in Best American Essays or on Ace. It is your responsibility to print out the readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. You only have to read essays marked “Homework.” If you do not bring print outs of the readings, I will take off participation points. If this becomes a consistent problem, I will start marking you absent.

Grading

You will receive provisional grades on each of the essays you turn in, but you will have a chance to revise those essays throughout the semester. At your mid-term conference you will receive a provisional grade, which is in no way final and is not factored into your final grade. Rather, this mid-term assessment is intended to give you a sense of how your writing is being evaluated and of your progress in the course. You are always welcome to stop by during office hours to talk about your writing or your grade. Keep in mind that your final portfolio will be comprised of three polished essays. Thus, you are encouraged to keep on reworking essays that you like throughout the semester.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Classroom participation will affect your grade. Lack of engagement or preparation will lower your grade. Regular comments and involvement with moving the ongoing conversation of the class forward will increase your grade.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you turn in a paper late, you will lose an entire letter grade. If you turn in a paper more than 24 hours late, it is an automatic failure. Automatic failures WILL impact your final grade in the class. No excuses.

Essays & evaluations                                                                                                 70%

Exercises and class participation                                                                                30%

Course Objectives

1)    A successful student will add thoughtful and complex commentary to every class discussion.

2)    A successful student will hand in thoughtful and complex essays on time for each corresponding assignment.

3)    A successful student will complete all of the exercises with great attention to detail.

4)    A successful student will substantially revise and extend two of their essays.

Conferences

You will have at least one conference with me over the course of the semester at mid-term. This meeting takes place in my office. It will be brief and is designed to better gauge individual needs and interests as well as get feedback.

Attendance

I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.

Note

The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.

Plagiarism

Intellectual theft, like any other kind of theft, is a crime, and is especially dangerous on a college campus. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another person’s thoughts or words as your own. I don’t expect to see plagiarism in this class, and if I do each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, but the MINIMUM penalty will be failure for the assignment in question. Failing the entire course is not out of the question. If you are doing research and are unsure how to incorporate someone else’s work into your own in a valid manner, please ask—I’ll be more than happy to help you out so that there’s no danger of confusion.

Week One

Monday August 27

Syllabus & Introductions
Azar Nafisi “Words of War”
In Class Writing

Wednesday August 29

Farhad Manjoo “Is Facebook a Fad?”
Exercise A

Friday August 31

Ben Percy “Keep Doing What You Are Doing, James Franco”
Exercise B
Homework: Read Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”

Week Two

Wednesday September 5

Exercise C
Discuss Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”
Homework: Read ANY five opening paragraphs from Best American Essays

Friday September 7

Discuss Essay 1
Exercise D

Week Three

Monday September 10

Examples of Essay 1

Wednesday September 12

Nate Jackson “The NFL’s Head Cases”
60 Minutes
Exercise E
Homework: Read Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”

Friday September 14

Discuss Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”
Homework: Read David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”

Week Four

Monday September 17

Essay 1 Due
Peer Review

Wednesday September 19

Discuss David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”
Exercise F

Friday September 21

Discuss Essay 2
xTx “We Have to Go Back”
Exercise G

Week Five

Monday September 24

Examples of Essay 2

Wednesday September 26

Student Workshops

Friday September 28

Essay 2 Due
Peer Review

Week Six

Monday October 1

Molly Lambert “The ‘Poor Jen’ Problem”
Exercise H

Wednesday October 3

Revision Pamphlet
Discuss Revision 1
Exercise I

Friday October 5

Roxane Gay “A Profound Sense of Absence”
Exercise J

Week Seven

Monday October 8

Student Conferences

Wednesday October 10

Student Conferences

Friday October 12

Student Conferences

Week Eight

Wednesday October 17

Revision 1 Due
Roger Ebert’s Twitter Feed
Kellee Santiago “Are Video Games Art?”
Homework: Read Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Friday October 19

Discuss Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”
Exercise K
Homework: Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”

Week Nine

Monday October 22

Discuss Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”
Exercise L

Wednesday October 24

The Simpsons “Marge vs. Itchy and Scratchy”
Exercise M

Friday October 26

Class Cancelled

Week Ten

Monday October 29

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Wednesday October 31

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Friday November 2

Discuss Essay 3
Exercise M

Week Eleven

Monday November 5

Examples of Essay 3

Wednesday November 7

Ray Fisman “Clean Out Your Desks”
Exercise N
Homework: Read Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”

Friday November 9

Discuss Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”
Exercise O

Week Twelve

Monday November 12

Essay 3 Due
Peer Review
Homework: Read Richard Rodriguez “Aria”

Wednesday November 14

Discuss Richard Rodriguez “Aria”
Exercise P
Homework: Read Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”

Friday November 16

Discuss Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”
Discuss Essay 4

Week Thirteen

Monday November 19

Examples of Essay 4

Week Fourteen

Monday November 26

Peer Review First Page of Essay 4

Wednesday November 28

Student Workshops

Friday November 30

Student Workshops

Week Fifteen

Monday December 3

Student Conferences

Wednesday December 5

Student Conferences

Friday December 7

Final Portfolios Due

In-Class Writing

For this first writing assignment, we would like you to discuss authority in Azar Nafisi’s “Words of War.”

At some point in your response, we would like you to focus in on specifics.  Which details capture your attention and why?  As you describe what you read—bombs over Iran, some strange book called Pride and Prejudice, allusions to the US War in Iraq—consider what gives Nafisi “authority.” Authority, on the page, is when readers believe what a writer writes. What makes you believe that Nafisi knows what she’s talking about? Is it because she is from Iran? Is it because she is a university professor? Is it because she uses big words? Or do you not believe her, and if so, why not?

While you may come to some interesting conclusions by the end of your response, you should not feel obligated to wrap things up neatly or to offer a definitive set of statements.  In fact, rather than driving toward a pre-determined conclusion, we want to encourage you to surprise yourself, to discover new interpretive territory.  Try writing without knowing quite where you will land.  You may even find that as your understanding deepens, a whole new set of questions arises.

You will have the rest of class to complete your response.

Essay #1 (3 pages)

DUE MONDAY SEPTEMBER 17th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

—Joyce Carol Oates

As readers, we are often drawn to voices we consider “conversational,” by which we usually mean friendly or non-threatening.  And yet there are many modes and styles of conversation.  Consider the differences in tone, diction, cadence, and syntax that characterize the dialogues in which you regularly engage, your varied motivations for speaking or listening.  Talks with your teachers no doubt differ markedly from those with your parents, your friends, your romantic partners, your cat, or that police officer who pulls you over for speeding.  Even chats between the same two speakers can vary considerably according to circumstances: arguments, heart-felt confessions, interventions, seductions, lies, denials, comic relief.

Write an essay in which you present your conversation with “The Singer Solution to World Poverty.” What do you notice about how Singer shapes and manipulates the relationship between writer and reader? Where, for example, does Singer anticipate your response?  How does he ask you to see yourself, and what strategies does he employ to get you to do so? What do you notice about your responses to Singer’s provocations, his anticipated counter-arguments, his questions and direct addresses? Where did you listen quietly, and where did you speak back? Do you agree or disagree with Singer? Why or why not?

Keep in mind that we are not asking you to summarize the essay, but rather to describe and reflect on your reading process. Unless you have a compelling reason for doing so, you should avoid the five-paragraph essay form.  Write as many paragraphs as you need, structuring your work according to the logic of what you have to say.

In your essay, make sure to use quotations from the text to illustrate your ideas or support your claims.

Essay #2 (3 Pages)

DUE FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 28th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“We must remove the mask.”

                      —Montaigne

“If you must preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness.”

                                                                                 —Alexander Smith

One way the essayist fashions a persona is by choosing what to reveal to the reader, and what to conceal.  Personal history is offered piecemeal, often while the writer appears to be focused on another subject altogether.  In telling someone else’s story, the writer plays the part of looker-on, a lens trained on the essay’s real subject.  When such essayists turn to talk about themselves, their candor seems almost accidental, a slip of the tongue.

In Tom Bissell’s “Grand Thefts,” we learn about the writer’s Grand Theft Auto avatar Niko Bellic. We discover vital information about Niko’s world and personality, but at the same time, Bissell reveals his own faults and obsession with drugs. In David Masello’s “My Friend Lodovico,” we meet the author’s dear friend, Lodovico Capponi.  But we also get to know the author—his history of love affairs and lost friends, his changeable fashions and wandering eye.  For as much as David Masello looks at Lodovico, Lodovico (and we) look at David Masello.  One might say these essays are as much autobiographies as they are biographies, double-portraits of the subjects and the writers.

Try your hand at a double-portrait in the spirit of “My Friend Lodovico” and “Grand Thefts.”  Like Masello, your subject will be a friendship, an acquaintance with someone (or something) you have never actually met.  A figure from art, history, or popular culture.  A character in a book, film, or television show.  An image in a painting or photograph.  A celebrity.  An athlete. As you prepare to write, consider the persona you will shape on the page, the tidbits of personal history you will reveal.

Revision #1 (5 pages)

DUE WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 17TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“When you write,” Annie Dillard says, “you lay out a line of words . . . Soon you find yourself in new territory.  Is it a dead end or have you located your real subject?”  You write a first draft.  A few weeks pass and the terrain changes. You have some ideas for improvements.  Those comments in the margins are a good place to begin.  A few pointed questions, the occasional word of advice.  You have the voices of your classmates, a few new ideas about writing.  That’s a good start, you say to yourself.

For this assignment, you will substantially revise one of your essays and take it in a new direction.  Begin by reading over your writing, looking again at those lines of words you laid down.  Think about where you want them to go now.  How have your ideas about what you wanted to say, or how you wanted to speak, changed?  Where do you find yourself at a dead-end?  Are there questions in the margins that open up new routes, perhaps calling to mind stories you have yet to tell, ideas you would like to pursue further?

Once you have read through your writing and the comments, decide which essay you will revise.  Be sure to ask if you have questions about anything written on your draft.

Plan on spending at least as much time and effort revising as you did writing the original.  In some instances, you may write new paragraphs, entirely new pages.  In others cases, you will undoubtedly find yourself fine-tuning single sentences.  Highlight the revised and new material by using a different colored font.  Once you have completed your revision, the new essay should look quite different from the original.

If you scored an A on the first draft, cut 10% of your material. If you scored a B on the first draft, cut 25% of your material. If you received a C or lower on the first draft, cut 50% of your material.

Essay #3 (3 pages)

DUE MONDAY NOVEMBER 12TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say ‘never,’ because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

–Roger Ebert in “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about what exactly constitutes art and who gets the right to proclaim that something isn’t art. Kellee Santiago claims in her YouTube video presentation that Roger Ebert is wrong, that video games can be art, and in fact, already are. Ebert’s response essay, “Video Games Can Never Be Art” very much defends his position. And of course, Jason Wire argues in “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?” that everything is now considered art, even demonstrations as bizarre as an orchestra sitting in silence for four-and-a-half minutes to the demented, a starving dog tied up just out of reach of food in a museum.

For this essay, you must come up with your own definition of art and argue for its validity using examples and logic just like Wire and Santiago and Ebert. In our society, what constitutes art? Do you take the hard-line view that only so-called “great works”—the classic novels and poems and paintings and operas—should be classified as art, or do you feel that everything—a sock, Transformers 2, the New York Knicks, a double cheeseburger—should be considered art? What is your stance? Prove it. Where do you draw the line?

Secondly, do you think that the specific people who have the ability to declare things art or not—Roger Ebert and other critics—in any way mimics the social power structure that governs our lives? Who in this society has power, and how do arguments about what and what is not art reflect that struggle? Remember Roxane Gay’s essay “A Profound Sense of Absence.” She makes a case that the art that is most often valued in our society focuses on upper-middle class white people from America. What does that say about us as a society?

NOTE: For this paper, include a works cited. You must use 3 of the essays/videos we’ve gone over in class during this unit (the Ebert, the Santiago, the Wire, the Simpsons episode or the Gay), and you must find 2 more CRITICAL sources on your own. I don’t want Wikipedia.

Essay #4 (7 pages)

DUE FRIDAY DECEMBER 7TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.”

—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”

For Essay #4, you will produce an essay that combines personal inquiry and argument, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life ala David Masello and Tom Bissell, but one that also strives to make a point ala Peter Singer and Roxane Gay.

The educational system is something every one of you has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education here at UIndy. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the educational system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck.”

For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelly is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelly, you must use sources. For this essay, we are requiring that you use two of the three education readings (Roskelly, Rodriguez or Rose) in addition to two outside sources on your own. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelly’s, and you must provide a works cited. Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your argument and “beat” them at their own game just like you “beat” Peter Singer. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.

FINAL PORTFOLIO

DUE DECEMBER 7th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

In addition to Essay #4, you also must turn in Revision #1, and Revision #2. For Revision #2, you will revise Essay #3 just like you did for either Essay #1 or Essay #2. All the same rules apply. You must cut out either 50%, 25%, or 10% of your work depending on your grade. Then you must extend the paper to five FULL pages.

Indianapolis Lit Events or You Wasn’t With Me Shooting In The Gym!

Roxane Gay is hosting a Word Lab TONIGHT at Indy Reads Books at 911 Mass Ave., Indianapolis. Details here.

Guys! You should totally come out for this. Lots of cool people are going to be there. Cathy Day! Chris Newgent! This bruh! Come on. Fun will be had.

AWP 2012 Aftermath

In no particular order, I give you my 2012 AWP highlights:

1. I read at the Beauty Bar for Mud Luscious, PANK, and Annalemma. The venue itself was really neat. You could get manicures and they had seasonal beers for three dollars. I read this new flash fiction piece I’d just finished called “I am Ronald Reagan: The Game” and it seemed to go over really well with the crowd. But being the clumsy jamoke I am, I hit my head on a low-hanging ceiling on the way to the stage. I mean really clocked it. And by the time I finished reading I’d totally forgotten hitting my head in the first place and slammed the thing twice as hard right between the eyes. I staggered down into the back room where all the readers where hanging out and there was all this blood coming out of my forehead. Yes. I injured myself reading.

In the closet-sized bathroom, I wadded up some paper towels and tried to stop the bleeding. There was only one stall and inside were Ben Tanzer and Ryan Bradley doing a literary podcast. I was stuck back there for pretty much the second half of the reading. Matt Bell came by and assured me I didn’t have a concussion or need stitches, and I shook Scott McClanahan’s hand while simultaneously holding bloody paper towels to my head. The best part was when Chad Redden came in and told me he’d read the chapbook I submitted to NAP Magazine and wanted to publish it. So if you listen to Ben and Ryan’s podcast and hear some lunatic shouting with joy in the background that’s bloody face me. I’m beyond excited about the chapbook! It’s called #KanyeWestSavedFromDrowning and it should be out late 2012.

2. I was very lucky to be included on a panel called “Vampire by Vampire: Genre Writing in the Creative Writing Workshop” with Jeff Condran, Alissa Nutting, BJ Hollars, and Elizabeth Weber. It went so much better than I ever even hoped for, and I was really moved when two current undergrads said they’d been so discouraged by their own universities for producing strange fiction that they weren’t even sure if they wanted to be writers anymore. Also, I explained the speeder bike level of Battletoads to the crowd, and then BJ told us about one of my favorite movies, The Wizard. I hope this starts a trend of more Battletoads references in AWP pedagogical panels.

3. At the Stymie reading, I finally met my boy Mark Cugini who came up to me and yelled, “Internet Friends!” We shared a cab with some folks to Literature Party and talked about fantasy football and Ms. Pacman which, if you know me, covers nearly all of my interests.

4. I ate Chicago style pizza with Geoff Peck, Dave Keaton, and Amy Lueck and Dave kept calling it a “Pizza Cake”.

5. The WPA in the 21st Century Panel with Geoff and Cathy Day.

6. While in line to register at the hotel, I saw Mike Meginnis and his wife Tracy a few people in front of me. We’d never met in real life, so I yelled, “Mike!” really loud and then tried to make it seem like I didn’t yell “Mike!” so if it wasn’t him I wouldn’t look weird. It was Mike. He recognized me because I was wearing a tie which is what many, many people told me throughout the conference.

7. I went to the top of the Sears Tower with Katie Coyle and Kevin Tassini and I basically spent the entire time complaining that they had all this shit about overrated Michael Jordan and nothing about Kanye West. We then dragged Katie about a half hour away so I could buy a handful of retro games including Dragon Quest I & II, Dragon Quest V, and Dragon Quest VI for the Super Famicom.

8. Oliu got a manicure at Beauty Bar.

9. I was drinking at the hotel bar with Peck, Lauren Becker, and Erin Fitzgerald when this dude came over to us and invited us up into his room for free wine. We went and met a bunch of really nice poets. Nobody lost a kidney which was a serious concern of mine.

10. I stepped off the plane and a writer gave me her card even before I made it to the subway.

11. Dancing with xTx, Roxane Gay, Ashley Ford, and a host of other people at Literature Party to “‘Mo Money, ‘Mo Problems” or as I call it, the greatest song ever conceived by humans.

12. I was able to grab a drink with the two other creative writing faculty members at the University of Indianapolis where I’ll be a TENURE TRACK ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH CREATIVE WRITING this coming fall! Pedagogy Level Up!

13. On the last night, me and Peck were closing down the hotel bar when this woman came over and basically advised us on every aspect of our lives. I’m talking some serious Yoda shit.

14. Steve Kowalski reading “When the Browns Win the Super Bowl” and it being as good as the time he read it in Cleveland.

15. Drunkenly rambling with Paul Morris about Nextwave, DC’s new 52, The Authority, and a host of other nerdy comic awesomeness.

16. Tim Kinsella is the Tim Kinsella from Cap’n Jazz.

 

 

 

2012 AWP Guide

And so it begins again. In less than two months we will be reunited in Chi-town to discuss our websites, publications, and favorite Nintendo games. xTx will play Dark Tower. Devan Goldstein will cry. Brian Oliu will rock a track suit. I will undoubtedly ramble about mid-nineties Spider-Man stories to vaguely interested new friends.

A-W-P!

This is my third year writing a guide, and it’s my fourth time attending. Each year has been significantly better than the last. What began as an excuse to hang around an exotic city with my friends has turned into the conference where Facebook Comes to Life! Here are all those people that post things that I click a button to like! And most of them are great people too! And they’re all fun to drink with. Let me recap what I basically said in last year’s guide. There are two AWPs. There’s the day AWP where you engage in thought provoking panels and strike up conversation with interesting people in the bookfair who work for journals and presses. Then there’s the night AWP where you attend reading after reading and everything is in a bar and everyone’s going nuts. It’s the worst. It’s the best. It’s AWP.

In the unlikely event that you’re interested in hanging out with this champion (crickets), here are three times/locations you can definitely find me.

Thursday
7

Convocation in Chicago
Location: Beauty Bar
Cost: Free
PANK, Annalemma, and Mud Luscious will once again host a holy meeting of literary minds. Convocation in Chicago will feature performances by Scott McClanahan, Daiva Markelis, Jac Jemc, Robb Todd, Sal Pane, Brian Oliu, Aubrey Hirsch, Matt Bell, xTx, Chris Newgent, Brett Elizabeth Jenkins, Casey Hannan, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Brandi Wells, Doug Paul Case, Ryan Bradley, Myfanwy Collins, Sarah Rose Etter, Laura Ellen Scott, Molly Laich, and Allyson Boggess.

Friday
7
Stymie Magazine Presents: A Really Big Show
Location:Theory Sport.Dine.Lounge; 9 W. Hubbard
Cost: FREE
Stymie Mag is coming to AWP 2012 and we’re throwing a party, or at least a reading with words, beverages, and good times at Theory Sports Lounge. We couldn’t be more excited and hope you are too (and that you’ll mark the date/time on what we’re sure is an already busy AWP calendar)!

Featuring:
Cynthia Hawkins, Tim Kahl, Jeanie Chung, James O’Brien, Lauren Becker, Alex Moody, Steven Kowalski, Joseph Baron-Pravda, Diane Durant McGurren, Shaindel Beers, Sal Pane, Erin Elizabeth Smith, Joe Ponepinto, J. Bradley, Megan Cass, Elijah Burrell, Ilan Mochari, Tyler Gobble, Mark Cugini, and Maria Nazos

Saturday
10:30am-11:45am
S143. Vampire by Vampire: Genre Writing and the Creative Writing Workshop
(Jeffrey Condran, Aubrey Hirsch, Alissa Nutting, Salvatore Pane)
Honoré Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, Lobby Level
At a time when many students’ visual literacy is as highly developed as their traditional literary skills, when genre fiction dominates publisher and best-seller lists, and when many writers of literary fiction are open to narratives that reach beyond realism, instructors are often under pressure to include genre traditions in the fiction workshop. Four fiction writers teaching at colleges with diverse missions share stories and discuss strategies for including genre conventions in the workshop.

Below are the panels I’m thinking of attending. Let me be extremely clear on this. These aren’t the top however many panels of AWP. These are just the ones I’m most interested in seeing. That means there’s a huge fiction/comics/pedagogy/small press bias. Also, I’ll be rolling out a guide to the outside events sometime in the near future. Get pumped.

Thursday
9-10:15

R103. A Writing Life, After the Workshop
(Ilana Shabanov, April Newman, Daniel Prazer, James Lower, Sheree Greer)
Boulevard Room A,B,C, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
This intensive presentation covers what your MFA program might have missed: how to organize and sustain a writing life in today’s economy. Our event showcases planning ideas, technology solutions, and tools writers can use to take control of their career and maintain a writing lifestyle long-term. The approach is engaging to the audience, displaying websites and tools available to writers to promote their work. The audience members will come away with resources and an action plan for their writing life. A Q&A session follows.

R104. The Constant Critic Anniversary Panel: Poetry Reviewing in the 21st Century
(Karla Kelsey, Ray McDaniel, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Vanessa Place, Jordan Davis)
Continental A, Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level
In 2002, Fence publisher Rebecca Wolff began the Constant Critic, an online-only poetry book review website. The venues for poetry criticism have dramatically altered in the past ten years, but the ,CC, has remained. This panel, staffed by the site’s five critics (two of whom have been with the project since the beginning) discusses what it means to have a lengthy presence in one venue along with issues surrounding the rapidly changing world of poetry publication, dissemination, and criticism.

R108. Reports from the Trenches: Teaching Novel and Novella Workshops
(Richard Sonnenmoser, Sabina Murray, Katherine Karlin, Cynthia Reeves)
Lake Erie, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Workshops focused on long-form narratives are difficult for many creative writing teachers to imagine. This panel focuses on issues related to the effective teaching of novel and novella workshops for graduates and undergraduates. Panelists who have been in the trenches of long-form workshops will discuss course design and suggested readings and give advice about the problems specific to workshops focused on longer forms.

R111. Of, By, and For the People: Indie Lit in the Second City
(S. Whitney Holmes, Jacob S. Knabb, James Tadd Adcox, Amanda Marbais, Jonathan Fullmer)
Lake Ontario, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Editors from a range of Chicago publications—online and print, established and upstart—discuss why independent literature thrives in Chicago, how their organizations contribute to a dynamic local literary community, and how their publications contextualize the city’s contemporary literary landscape for readers outside of Chicago. Panelists invite questions about how to get involved in the literary and publishing community in Chicago and offer advice for fostering such a community in any city.

R117. The Business of Publishing Your Novel with an Independent Press: Author and Publisher Perspectives
(Dennis Johnson, Joe Meno, Adam Levin, Christopher Boucher, Leigh Stein)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Melville House publisher and co-founder Dennis Johnson leads a practical discussion of the publishing process with four authors in various stages of their literary careers: Joe Meno has had seven books published since 1999, Adam Levin’s first novel was a 2010 critical hit, and Christopher Boucher and Leigh Stein have debut novels appearing in 2011 and 2012. Topics include acquisitions, editing, big house versus indie publishing, publicity, marketing, tours, social networking, and the changing role of the author.

R119. Flash Points: Publishing Flash Fiction in an Evolving Landscape
(Glenn Shaheen, Roxane Gay, Nancy Stebbins, Edward Mullany, Adam Peterson)
Empire Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 3rd Floor
Editors from PANK, NANO Fiction, matchbook, SmokeLong Quarterly, and the Cupboard discuss trends they see in the flash fiction submitted to their journals. What are some tropes they’re tired of? Things they wish they’d see more often? Are prose poems and flash fiction pieces scrutinized differently when submitted? Join the editors as they attempt to (briefly, of course) characterize the landscape of contemporary flash fiction and give advice to those who are submitting their shortest work.

10:30-11:45

R127. Ideas That Always Work; Solutions That Never Fail: Best Practices for the Creative Writing Workshop
(Christopher Castellani, Ethan Gilsdorf, Lisa Borders, Jill McDonough)
Continental A, Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level
Every workshop has problems: the dude who won’t stop talking; the lady who keeps psychoanalyzing; the inappropriately dirty/violent/creepy story. Every workshop needs new ideas: unique exercises that always yield worthwhile pages; rules that structure conversation without squashing spontaneity. In this panel, instructors of all genres will share case studies of how they deal with common problems and also reveal their best strategies for maximizing the effectiveness and fairness of workshops.

R130. Angles of Ascent
(Toi Derricotte, Major Jackson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dawn Lundy Martin, Vievee Francis)
International Ballroom South, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
In this reading, representative voices of eighty poets spanning three generations discuss and read from the anthology Angles of Ascent (edited by Charles Rowell). This landmark project was published by W. W. Norton in February 2012. Toi Derricotte, Major Jackson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Vievee Francis will discuss the nature and importance of Angles of Ascent in American poetry. This will be followed by twenty minutes of readings and a ten-minute exchange with the audience.

R134. Phoning It In: Publishing through an iPhone App
(Maribeth Batcha, Tyler Meier, Sunyoung Lee, Daniel Pritchard, Chad Post)
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Representatives from five leading publishers—Boston Review, Kaya Press, Kenyon Review, One Story, Open Letter—discuss their experiences: the pitfalls, successes, and strategies of publishing digitally.

R142. Ten Years of Literary Politics: Is There Still Room and Interest in the New Marketplace?
(Dennis Johnson, Valerie Merians, Jessa Crispin)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Jessa Crispin, founder of the seminal lit-blog Bookslut, leads a discussion with Melville House founders Valerie Merians and Dennis Johnson on the challenges and importance of publishing political literature in a changing industry. Topics explored include: books of longform cultural and political rhetoric in the age of the Internet, the specific demands of political publishing, and the dedication to activism in the arts.

12-1:15

R153. Writing the American West
(D. Seth Horton, Antonya Nelson, Toni Jensen, K. L. Cook, Claire Vaye Watkins)
Continental B, Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level
Best of the West: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri is an annual anthology of exceptional short fiction rooted in the western United States. Four award-winning contributors gather to read from their recently anthologized work. They will be introduced by D. Seth Horton, the series co-editor

R159. A Novel Problem: Moving from Story to Book in the MFA Program
(Cathy Day, David Haynes, Patricia Henley, Sheila O’Connor, Elizabeth Stuckey-French)
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Short stories are often our main pedagogical tools, but the book is the primary unit of literary production. When are apprentice writers ready to write novels, and how do we review them in a workshop setting? How can we create courses and curricula that encourage students to move toward and complete book projects? This panel will explore the challenges of accommodating the novel or the novel-in-stories within the structure of an MFA program.

R164. A Reading from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop Instructors
(David Lynn, David Baker, Nancy Zafris, Rebecca McClanahan, Geeta Kothari)
Wiliford A, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Held annually in the month of June, the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop is a week-long residential writing experience that focuses on the generation of new material in an intimate, creative, and productive setting. This reading by recent faculty offers the opportunity to hear the work of returning instructors and will include an audience guided Q&A about Kenyon’s process-oriented approach.

R170. Villains and Killers and Criminals, Oh My: Representing Evildoers in Literary Fiction
(Reese Okyong Kwon, Matt Bell, Eugene Cross, Brian Evenson, Lauren Groff)
Honoré Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, Lobby Level
Iago, the Misfit, Milton’s Satan, Judge Holden—some of the most memorable characters in literature have been the evil ones. “The death of Satan was a tragedy / For the imagination,” said Wallace Stevens. If this is true, how can fiction writers profit from the inclusion of villainy, and what might be lost? Join writers as they discuss their experiences incorporating elements of evil into their fiction, providing examples from their own and others’ work.

1:30-2:45

R175. The Tech-Empowered Writer: Embrace New Media, Experiment, and Earn
(Christina Katz, Jane Friedman, Seth Harwood, Robert Lee Brewer)
Boulevard Room A,B,C, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
What can a professor, a journalist, a novelist, and a poet teach you about new media? Using real-life examples from our own experience and that of other tech-savvy writers, we’ll construct a composite of how working writers use technology to invest in their careers, experiment and launch new works, and grow their income opportunities. Whether you need a day job, a part-time job, or just enough gigs to pay a few bills, there have never been so many ways for tech-savvy writers to earn.

R180. East and West: Creative Nonfiction and the Possibility of Post-Orientalist Travel Writing
(Joshua Schriftman, Faith Adiele, Fred D’Aguiar, Elizabeth Kadetsky, Oona Patrick)
Joliet, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
New travel writing too often builds on old notions of race. Developing cultures get reduced to romantic piquancy, and national identities become exotic foils to Western quests for identity: find prayer in one nation; food in another; love in a third. We may know Orientalism when we see it, but does this ultimately help us as writers to avoid it? How can Westerners writing on Eastern experiences use the tools of creative nonfiction to write outside of these old imperialist patterns?

R187. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Reading
(Peter Mountford, Alexander Chee, Bruce Machart, Dean Bakopoulos)
Waldorf, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
A reading by four writers who have had books published in 2011 by one of the most esteemed publishing houses in the United States, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The authors will read from their diverse work and discuss the challenges and benefits of publishing literary fiction with a large publishing house and the changing landscape for emerging novelists.

R191. Keeping a Debut Book Alive
(Justin Taylor, Heidi Durrow, Marie Mockett, Joanna Smith Rakoff, Dylan Landis)
Crystal Room, Palmer House Hilton, 3rd Floor
What happens once a publisher says yes? First, champagne—then the author’s hard work starts. In this economy, relying solely on an in-house publicist, especially for a novel or story collection, can hurt a new book from a little-known writer. Four emerging authors reveal how they generated their own buzz. They discuss publicists, websites, mailing lists, social networking, book festivals, blogging, the art of coaxing people to readings, the legendary book tour—and who really pays for it all.

R193. The Bookstore Is Not Your Best Friend: Effective Small Press Marketing Strategies
(Colleen McKee, C.J. Kearns, Erin Wiles, Behnam Riahi, Winnie Sullivan)
Grand Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
Many publishers and authors starting out mistakenly assume that the first (or even only) places they should market their books and journals to are bookstores. While bookstores should be their friends—and often are—they are not necessarily their best friends. In this panel, publishers and PR people from young yet successful small presses discuss alternative venues for readings and book sales, from anarchist bakeries to punk bars, galleries to outdoor fairs, burlesque nights to feminist groups.

R195. Beyond Pulp—The Futuristic and Fantastic as Literary Fiction
(Anjali Sachdeva, Victoria Blake, Kevin Brockmeier, Brian Evenson, Matthew Williamson)
Red Lacquer Room, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
This panel examines the role of science fiction, horror, and fantasy writing in the world of serious literature. Literary journals’ submission guidelines often include the phrase “no genre fiction,” but these genres include talented writers who wield all the tools of literary fiction. Why are fantasy and sci-fi so often considered trivial? How do publishers separate literary genre writing from pulp fiction? The panel will discuss how literary genre writing is promoted, written, and published.

3-4:15

R208. Periodical Wisdom: Advising Student-Run Lit Mags
(Jay Baron Nicorvo, Jennifer Acker, Don Lee)
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Current faculty advisors and publishers of literary magazines discuss the ins and outs of directing a student-run publication.

R212. There Will Be Blood: Writing Violence in Fiction
(Alexi Zentner, Antonya Nelson, Benjamin Percy, Alan Heathcock)
Waldorf, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
As writers, we are often told to kill our darlings and to leave blood on the page. But what if we really mean it? Four writers talk about when, why, and how to introduce violence into fiction, how to choreograph a moment of physical savagery, and walking the line between too little and too much bloodshed.

R215. Points of View/Angles of Approach
(Peter Turchi, Robert Boswell, C.J. Hribal, Susan Neville)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Point of view is one of the most complex of the basic elements of fiction, with far more variables and possibilities than general discussions typically acknowledge. The writers and teachers on this panel will discuss “Deep Point of View: what we don’t talk about when we talk about point of view”; “The Reliably Unreliable Consciousness”; “First Person: From I to IIIIII”; and “Don’t Be So Sure: Interrogating the First-Person Narrator.”

R218. The Geometry of the Novel: Making “Shapelier” Fiction
(Peter Grandbois, Debra Di Blasi, Michael Martone, Lance Olsen)
Grand Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
While Jerome Stern’s classic Making Shapely Fiction focuses on alternative narrative forms, most of the shapes are actually variations of the Freytag pyramid, for example, his “Journey,” “Visitor,” “Bear at the Door,” and “Aha” shapes. This panel seeks to expand Stern’s premise in order to explore not only the power alternative shapes offer in driving longer, book-length narratives, but also the aesthetic beauty of geometries that work with a story, not against it.

R221. What about Blog?: How Blogging Can Propel Your Career and Polish Your Craft
(Sarah Klenakis, Turi Fesler, Claire Bidwell Smith, Rachel Vogel, Caitlin Leffel)
State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
Sure, lots of writers blog, but what can you do to actually capitalize from your daily posts? A writer, editor, literary agent, and blog sponsor come together to discuss what appeals to them when reading online, how you can better attract followers, make money from your blogging, and possibly even find a job. From sharing success stories to blogging “don’ts,” this panel will clarify the murky waters that surround online writing.

4:30-5:45

R233. The Renaissance of Midwestern Literature
(Jason Lee Brown, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Dan Chaon, Mark Wisniewski, Rebecca Makkai)
Lake Ontario, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
There is no doubt that midwestern literature exists, but how do we define and support its eccentricities and its coexisting relationship with other regional literature? Contributors to the new anthology New Stories from the Midwest read excerpts of their work and comment on the burgeoning renaissance of midwestern literature.

R236. What’s Wrong with the Whole Truth?
(Susan Resnick, Philip Gerard, Peter Trachtenberg, Paige Williams, Rebecca Skloot)
Waldorf, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Many writers feel comfortable molding the truth to create a more satisfying story, yet still calling their piece nonfiction as long as the emotional core and basic frame of the work remain true. Not the writers on this panel. These authors, journalists, and nonfiction professors will explore the philosophy of factual versus emotional honesty and discuss how to achieve both—beautiful and moving nonfiction writing that is 100% true.

R238. Opening the Circle: Connecting Workshop Pedagogy and Public Audiences
(Sarah Harris, Tim Mayers, Dale Rigby, Drew Krewer)
Wiliford B, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
The CW workshop has been often critiqued, but seldom clearly defined. We argue that the workshop is a valuable space for openness, collaboration, and creativity, and these pedagogical aims can be achieved when the circle of the workshop is opened to include real-world audiences. Presenters will describe current methods of instruction used in the workshop and present attendees with a variety of workshop methods that allow students working in various genres to connect their work with audiences.

R239. Poetry Reading for Beauty is a Verb: New Poetry of Disability
(Jim Ferris, Cecil Giscombe, Stephen Kuusisto, Laurie Clements Lambeth, Ellen McGrath Smith)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
A reading by poets featured in the new anthology Beauty is a Verb: New Poetry of Disability. The book originated from a panel of the same name presented at the 2010 AWP conference in Denver. Following the panel, presenters Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen came together to develop the anthology.

R244. The Way the Wind Blows: Trends in Contemporary Short Fiction
(Todd James Pierce, Steve Yarbrough, Kevin Moffett, M.M.M. Hayes, Darlin’ Neal)
Red Lacquer Room, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
In this panel, five noted short-story authors identify trends in contemporary short fiction. From the research-based stories of Andrea Barrett and Jim Shepherd to the sardonic explorations of Stacey Richter and George Saunders, this discussion will focus on how the form of the short story has evolved over the past ten years, with an eye toward understanding where the form is headed.

7:00-8:15

A Reception Hosted by Chatham University
Private Dining Room 4, Hilton Chicago Hotel 3rd Floor
Join students and faculty from Chatham University for a reception.

Friday
9:00-10:15

F112. The Fiction Chapbook—A Sleeper Form Wakes Up
(Nicole Louise Reid, Eric Lorberer, Diane Goettel, Kevin Sampsell, Abigail Beckel)
Marquette, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
In recent years, the literary marketplace has seen an upswing in publication of fiction manuscripts as chapbooks—a format associated mainly with poetry. A chapbook is the perfect medium for a short story or a clutch of short-shorts, and is capable of bringing an intimacy and aesthetic appeal unattainable by full-length books. Editors from Black Lawrence Press, Future Tense Books, Rain Taxi, RopeWalk Press, and Rose Metal Press, will discuss a range of experiences with this exciting format.

F116. Thirty Years of Award-Winning Short Fiction: The Drue Heinz Literature Prize
(Shannon Cain, Adria Bernardi, Tina May Hall, Edith Pearlman)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
The University of Pittsburgh Press celebrates thirty years of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for short fiction, featuring a panel of four DHLP winners. The authors will read from their work and discuss how they discovered their literary talent, what inspires their writing, what excites them about the writing process, and how their work fits into their daily routine. The audience is invited to participate in a Q&A, and the authors will sell and sign copies of their books following the event.

F119. Literature and the Internet in 2012
(Roxane Gay, Stephen Elliott, Blake Butler, James Yeh)
Grand Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
The literary editors of four leading web magazines—HTMLGiant, the Rumpus, PANK, and the Faster Times—offer a roundtable discussion about how the Internet is changing literature and literary publishing in the 21st century.

10:30-11:45

F138. Apocalypse Now: A Multi-Genre Reading of Apocalyptic Literature
(Brian Barker, T.R. Hummer, Pinckney Benedict, Judy Jordan, Kevin Brockmeier)
Waldorf, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Earthquakes, global warming, peak oil, and giant, man-eating ants: every generation has its version of the apocalypse and an abundance of writers who write about it. In recent years, the end of the world has become the subject for a number of literary writers, and a new genre of literature is emerging. Five award-winning poets and novelists read from their apocalyptic literature, examining how their work has been influenced by recent events and by the sense of impending doom we humans share.

F145. The Hollywood Stint: Prose Writers and Writing for the Screen
(Andrew Scott, Douglas Light, Tom Chiarella, John McNally, Owen King)
Red Lacquer Room, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
Writing for Hollywood has long appealed to prose stylists such as Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and many contemporary writers. These panelists will discuss writing across genres, what’s required to write for the screen, how their fiction writing skills aid or hinder their attempts to please Hollywood, their dealings with producers, studios, and television networks, and the changing perceptions about screenwriting within creative writing programs.

F147. Home and Away: The Influence of Travel on Writing
(Stephan Clark, Sabina Murray, Jeff Parker, Kyle Minor, Jensen Beach)
Wabash Room, Palmer House Hilton, 3rd Floor
Every writer works alone, but some go to great distances to do so. This panel brings together five writers who have traveled extensively—to Australia, Haiti, Hungary, the Philippines, Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine—to discuss how travel and living abroad have enriched their fiction and nonfiction, allowing them to tell stories they otherwise would not have known and, paradoxically, better write about their own culture.

12:00-1:15

F149. Ghostwriting the Eulogy: How to Survive and Make Your Name beyond the Academy with a Degree in Creative Writing
(Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, Kim Addonizio, Dana Gioia, Maggie Dietz, Simone Muench)
Boulevard Room A,B,C, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
With the expansion of programs in creative writing, more and more degreed creative writers are overwhelming the academic job market, causing many of us to seek different ways to make a buck while continuing to write. Ghostwriting, editing, independent scholarship, running a workshop, writing for TV: you name it and the five poets and novelists on this panel have done it. They will share with us the creative ways they’ve found to make a living and some tricks they’ve learned along the way.

F153. A Reading and Conversation with Jaimy Gordon and Rebecca Skloot
(Jaimy Gordon, Rebecca Skloot, Donna Seaman)
Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
A reading and conversation by best-selling authors Jaimy Gordon and Rebecca Skloot. The conversation will be moderated by critic and editor Donna Seaman.

F154. Killer Verse: Poems of Murder and Mayhem
(Harold Schechter, Cornelius Eady, Lynn Emanuel, Patricia Smith, Brian Turner)
International Ballroom South, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
What are the moral implications of writing about violence? Where is the line between portraying violence and exploiting it? The danger of writing about violence is that we might wind up aestheticizing it. If there is a difference between sensationalism and truth, when do we put down the pen and do something to help the victims? Or is writing about violence a form of action, an effective way of addressing the problem? Panelists will address these questions and more.

F156. Measuring Creativity: What Do Grades Have to Do with Artistry?
(Cass Dalglish, Heather Gibbons, Kate Green, Ellen McGrath Smith, Cary Waterman)
Lake Erie, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Creative writing teachers constantly face the inadequacies of conventional grading as they work in an unconventional field that often defies prescriptive norms. Five faculty members with diverse backgrounds—lecturer, instructor, assistant professor, and professor from community college, private college, and public university settings—will offer meaningful assessment tools for the survival of students and teachers alike, including self-evaluation, scoring machines, grade contracts, and chapbooks.

F160. Works in Progress Mix Tape
(Ken Chen, Nami Mun, Don Lee, Prageeta Sharma)
Marquette, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Participants read new work and the life behind their literature: private writing rituals, relationships with mentors and peers, favorite books, songs on iTunes repeat and performance-enhancing alcoholic drinks, social media and other procrastination devices. Ask nicely and they’ll talk about writing as Asian Americans when only 5% of the authors reviewed in the New York Times are writers of color. Presented by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.

F166. Short but Not Too Sweet: Three Emerging Writers Read from Debut Story Collections
(Megan Mayhew-Bergman, Emma Straub, Stuart Nadler)
Crystal Room, Palmer House Hilton, 3rd Floor
Long live the short story! Writers are often discouraged from pursuing short story collections, but this panel will prove they are still viable. Come hear emerging writers read from their debut story collections. The panelists will then engage in an honest, lively, and practical discussion about what it takes to get a short story collection published and open the floor for questions.

1:30-2:45

F178. National Book Critics Circle Celebrates Award-Winning Authors
(Jane Ciabattari, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jennifer Egan, Jane Smiley, Isabel Wilkerson, Darin Strauss)
Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
A reading by Bonnie Jo Campbell (AWP Prize, 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist in Fiction), Jennifer Egan (2011 National Book Critics Circle and Pulitzer Prize in Fiction), Jane Smiley (1992 National Book Critics Circle Award and Pulitzer Prize in Fiction), Darin Strauss (2011 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction), and Isabel Wilkerson (2011 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction and Pulitzer Prize Winner in Journalism).

F181. Reinventing Realism: The Craft of Alice Munro
(Catherine Brady, Rachel Hall, Kim Aubrey, Michael Byers, Alice LaPlante)
Lake Erie, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Alice Munro has much to teach about the elegant execution of craft fundamentals. She also deserves her due as a daring innovator who’s inexhaustibly curious about the possibilities of form and the conventions of fiction writing. Panel participants will discuss Munro’s use of time in narrative; consider her methods of characterization, including her depiction of thought; and discuss her manipulation of point of view in the service of dynamic plotting.

F182. Let’s Work Together: Pedagogies of Rhetoric in the Creative Writing Class
(Richard Greenfield, Minal Singh, R.J. Lambert, Robert Houghton, EmmaLee Pallai)
Lake Huron, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Exploring the intersection of creative writing and composition, this panel will discuss pedagogy practices where the writing of composition texts integrates creative writing pedagogy with an emphasis on rhetoric. We will also discuss the benefits of utilizing rhetorical analysis as the basis of discussing creative writing texts in workshop as well as informing composition of the creative writing text itself. Each member of the panel will provide assignments or exercises as examples.

F189A. Anytown, USA: Representing Place in Fiction
(Ron Hansen, Ladette Randolph, Eric Goodman, Sherrie Flick, Robert Vivian)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
How do we define place in fiction? Does the location matter? How do place and region shape the writing and vise versa? This panel aims to answer the larger question of how to define place while also representing the sometimes misunderstood middle coast, featuring authors whose fiction is set in the Heartland, a place many times more clearly defined by what it is not than by what it is. Each author will share a unique approach to representing place in writing.

F196. Between Song and Story: A Reading from the New Autumn House Nonfiction Anthology
(Sheryl St. Germain, Debra Marquart, Michele Morano, John Price, Jane Fishman)
Wabash Room, Palmer House Hilton, 3rd Floor
Readings and discussion from the newly published Autumn House anthology of essays, Between Song and Story: Essays for the 21st Century. This anthology is the first of its kind to focus on the lyric and formally adventurous essay. Five contributors, including one of the editors, will read and discuss their essays, focusing on formal strategies that challenge the traditional essay form.

3:00-4:15

F208. Will Write for Food: Writers Working Outside Academia
(Chloe Miller, Alison Hicks, Patricia Lewis, Valerie Martinez, August Tarrier)
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
During the past two years, openings in English departments declined more than 40%. Creative writing tenure-track openings declined more than 30%. At the same time, the demand for writing opportunities is widening, encompassing community-based, travel, and virtual writing communities. Panelists will discuss writing lives outside academia, including entrepreneurial ventures in online teaching and mentoring, editing and coaching services, workshops and retreats, and community engagement projects.

F218. Gender Interrupted: Poetry of the Alternatively Gendered
(Stacey Waite, Joy Ladin, Ely Shipley, Samuel Ace)
Lake Ontario, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
This reading features the work of alternatively gendered poets and writers, work that re-imagines and redefines the terrain of gender itself. In this unique and first-of-its-kind reading, the voices of transsexual, transgendered, and intersexed writers make their contribution to the rich and diverse aesthetics and politics of queer writing in the 21st century.

4:30-5:45

F232. Writing Games: Gaming, Digitally, and Creative Writing Pedagogy
(Stuart Moulthrop, Lane Hall, Anne Wysocki, W. Trent Hergenrader, Matthew Trease)
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
This panel discusses relationships among writing, digitality, games, and the creative writing classroom. Addressing Surrealist parlour games, Oulipian constrained writing techniques, Candyland, Uno, animation, and videogames, panelists consider the possibilities of games and digitality for developing generative writing exercises and helping students understand how textual experimentation fits within the craft of writing.

F238. Chapbook Publishing in the 21st Century
(Genevieve Kaplan, Lucas Southworth, Kristy Bowen, Elizabeth Wilcox, Ander Monson)
Wiliford B, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Even as print traditions are evolving rapidly, chapbook publishers embrace and promote a somewhat antiquated literary form: the printed chapbook. Chapbook editors and publishers participating in this roundtable will offer perspectives on the business and art of the chapbook, centering their discussion around advantages of the printed chapbook format, aesthetics and innovations in chapbook publishing, and methods for success for new and established chapbook publishing ventures.

F245. Finding the Time—And Money!—to Write
(Angela Veronica Wong, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Kirstin Chen, Farrah Field, Kim Liao)
State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
All writers struggle with this quandary: either we have time to write and no money, or money and no time. But there are ways you can have both! Get practical advice and aesthetic inspiration from five writers under thirty-five who have all received grants, residencies, and fellowships propelling their careers forward. Especially useful to emerging writers battling the post-MFA slump, all genres (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, scholarly research/writing) and many varieties of funding sources are addressed.

Saturday
9:00-10:15

S103. Connecting with Readers via Your Website and Social Media
(Michele Wolf, Kim Addonizio, Leslie Pietrzyk, Matt Bell, Paul Lisicky)
Boulevard Room A,B,C, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
Having a vibrant, user-friendly Web presence—via your own website (supplementing a publisher’s and/or employer’s page for you), blogging, Facebook, and other social media—has become a key asset for engaging readers and students, being part of the conversation, and expanding interest in your work. Learn how to create an appealing, fun-to-click site that best represents your books and passions, what resources and social media contact that readers most appreciate, and what pitfalls to avoid.

S104. Midwest Gothic: Dark Fiction of the Heartland
(Jodee Stanley, Brian Kornell, Dan Chaon, Cathy Day, Michael Czyzniejewski)
Continental A, Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level
From the stories of Sherwood Anderson to contemporary Midwestern fiction, authors have explored the darkness that lies beneath the placid exterior of an often-dismissed region of America. Five Midwest-based writers and editors will discuss how the prairie landscape and traditionally Midwestern character traits, including politeness, stoicism, and a wariness of the unknown, combine with traditional Gothic literary elements to create a rarely discussed subgenre of fiction, Midwest Gothic.

10:30-11:45

THIS IS WHEN MY PANEL IS, DOPES.

12:00-1:15.

S165. Mine Is Clouds: Revisiting the Life and Work of Richard Brautigan
(Shawn Mitchell, Joe Meno, Sean Lovelace, Theresa Williams)
Empire Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, Lobby Level
A forefather of flash, a witty poet, and a great American surrealist, Brautigan has influenced artists ranging from Haruki Murakami to Neko Case and from Aimee Bender to Tobias Wolff. But despite having sold millions of books during his lifetime, he remains less known compared to other Beat and cult writers. At this panel contributors to the forthcoming tribute anthology, Mine Is Clouds, will consider Brautigan’s importance today and celebrate his life and legacy with a reading of his work.

1:30-2:45 

S180. Writing Visually: Using Comics in the Writing Classroom
(Anne Panning, Matt Madden, Hillary Chute, Jarod Roselló, Jessica Abel)
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Many incorporate reading comics in their classes these days. But how can you use comics to teach writing? On this panel, two teaching cartoonists and three literature and writing professors will discuss ways to introduce the practice of comics into the creative writing classroom and how that can benefit students’ writing—of prose as well as of comics. Approaches include the Bechdel method of writing comics without drawing and using panels to visually activate prose (or poetic) writing.

S183. Ambitious Fiction: Tackling Big Ideas, Lots of Characters, and/or Lush Language
(Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Jane Smiley, Achy Obejas, Allen Gee, Brian Bouldrey)
Waldorf, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Everyone admires a spare, economical story or novel that moves forward with seemingly little effort. But some stories just can’t be told simply. They may have a large cast of characters. They may involve big, even complicated, ideas. They may call for a lush, rather than frugal, style. What is involved in biting off a big storytelling mouthful? This group of fiction writers will discuss their choices to sometimes write rich, rather than minimalist, fiction.

S189. A Reading Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Product, the Center for Writers Literary Journal
(Kent Quaney, Michael Knight, Andy Plattner, Mary Miller, Damian Dressick)
Grand Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
The Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi has just published the 25th anniversary edition of its student literary journal, Product, and as a celebration of this landmark will present a reading to showcase some of the best writers the program has produced. Noted alumni Michael Knight and Andy Plattner, recent graduate Mary Miller, and current student Damian Dressick will represent the Center for Writers in a reading exemplifying the artistic standard of the program.

S190. Unrequited Love: Renewing Your Vows to the Troublesome Novel
(Elizabeth Brundage, Stewart O’Nan, Jenna Blum, Alice Elliot Dark, Carole DeSanti)
Honoré Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, Lobby Level
Unpublished novels are like unrequited love affairs, they linger in the hearts and minds of writers for years to come; many of us have one stashed in a drawer. And yet often within the existing work, a new novel can be rescued. This panel will explore strategies of revision, encouraging a fresh perspective, a renewed faith in the text. Other topics will include structural elements such as characterization, pacing, thematic possibilities, and our enduring commitment to the sentences we make.

S192. You + Me = We: Collaborative Authorship as Pedagogical Practice
(Lily Hoang, Sequoia Nagamatsu, EmmaLee Pallai, Adam Crittenden, Kelsie Hahn)
State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
Authors often work together to create scholarly articles, novels, short stories, screenplays, poetry, and beyond. Collaboration allows all parties to parlay their strength to the page, be it research, sentence structure, concept, or more. It also provides a rich learning experience improving not just writing skills, but also interpersonal skills. This panel will discuss ways of incorporating the collaborative model of authorship in the composition and creative classrooms.

3:00-4:15

S206. Orion 30th Anniversary Reading
(Jennifer Sahn, Amy Leach, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Benjamin Percy, Luis Alberto Urrea)
Waldorf, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
For thirty years, Orion has used literature to bring our relationship with the natural world alive, in the belief that the arts connect people to the world, inspire action, and provide a way of thinking about a better future for people and the planet. Join Orion’s Editor-in-Chief and four of the innovative and exemplary writers who have helped make Orion one of the most respected magazines dedicated to the intersection of literature and the environment.

S215. Men from Venus, Women from Mars: Writing from the Perspective of the Opposite Sex
(Reese Okyong Kwon, Jennine Capó Crucet, Alan Heathcock, Kyle Minor, Kevin Wilson)
State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
The old canard that fiction writers should write what they know would seem to prohibit writing from the point of view of characters of the opposite sex. Meanwhile, some of the most believable and compelling men in literature have been created by women, and vice versa. What is the appeal of writing from the head of an opposite-sex character, and how does one do so credibly? What politics should we consider? Panelists will offer perspectives, tips, and examples of effective embodiment of the other.

4:30-5:45 

S220. Ear Candy: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetic Meter
(Liz Ahl, Jeff Oaks, Annie Finch, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Tara Betts)
Continental B, Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level
Rooted in a diversity of aesthetic and pedagogical perspectives, this panel focuses on the teaching and learning of meter: how, when, and why might one teach meter to young poets? Is teaching meter like teaching other elements of poetic craft and technique? Is meter akin to music or language when it comes to learning and teaching? How can we help our students sing out rather than slog through? How might activities like scansion, reading aloud, or imitation, help poets develop an ear for meter?

S223. Poetry Reading: Pitt Poetry Series
(Ed Ochester, Toi Derricotte, Ross Gay, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, David Wojahn)
International Ballroom South, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
Series Editor Ed Ochester will introduce the poets as they read from their new books from the Pitt Poetry Series of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

S225. Home Sweet Home: Short Story Collections and Small Presses
(Caitlin Horrocks, Amina Gautier, Shannon Cain, Adam Schuitema, Kelcey Parker)
Lake Erie, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
With trade publishers less willing to take a risk on story collections and agents and editors advising writers to just finish a novel, where can the story writer turn? Five debut authors discuss their experiences with the small, independent, and university presses that are increasingly the most welcoming homes for story collections. They’ll discuss how they found their publishers, what small publishers can (and can’t) offer story authors, and how these presses are helping collections thrive.

S233. The Art of the Short Story Collection
(Mary Rockcastle, Richard Bausch, Laura van den Berg, Tiphanie Yanique, Daniel Libman)
Wiliford C, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
In the successful short story collection, the individual stories must move, delight, and entertain, and the collection as a whole must do so as well. What makes a collection of short stories a satisfying whole? How should it be put together? What should the writer consider when deciding upon content, placement, length, title? How easy or hard is it to sell? Robert Bausch, acknowledged master of the short story form and author of eight collections of short stories, joins three authors of very different, all successful, debut short story collections. Each will talk about his/her process in creating, shaping, and publishing the short story collection.

S236. Why Independent Publishers Matter / Independent Publishers and the Changing Industry
(Michael Miller, Tom Roberge, Jeff Shotts, Laura Howard, Eric Obenouf)
Grand Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
Bookforum editor Michael Miller, along with selected editors and publishers from various independent presses, will discuss the changing landscape of the publishing industry and the ongoing rise of independent publishers: why they are leading the way and what this means for the future of the industry as a whole.

Fall 2011 Fiction Recommendations

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is recommending fiction to students. There’s almost nothing better than reading a student story and thinking, “This person absolutely needs to read Lorrie Moore!” Matching students with their established counterparts is an integral and rewarding part of the job. I vividly remember being an undergrad creative writer and going to meet with Tom Bailey or Gary Fincke. Their office shelves were lined with books, most of which I’d never heard of. They’d go over my drafts with me and then list off three or four writers I had to read right that very second. Most times, I’d walk straight to the library and take out every last book they recommended. Reading everything I could get my hands on helped me develop as a writer, and I try really hard to pass that enthusiasm on to my students.

That being said, I’ve decided to again share every fiction recommendation I’ve given out this semester. This term I taught two fiction workshops, one at the University of Pittsburgh and another at Chatham University. In total, there were 33 students, meaning 66 workshops and individual conferences. The same ground rules I set forth last spring still apply. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the writers I teach. In fact, most of the writers on this list don’t show up in my syllabus. I recommended them because students put up work that was in conversation with these established writers. There was something to be learned there, something we might not have covered in the classroom or maybe not in enough detail. Some of the writers who appear the most often were in the syllabus, and I kept recommending other work by them to remind students of the lessons we’d learned throughout the semester. And literary journals! There are a bunch of literary journals at the bottom of the list. I want all of my students to become active literary citizens in the vein of Blake Butler, and that means supporting (submitting AND reading) emerging and established literary journals.

The numbers alongside the names represent how many times I recommended a specific author. Please leave suggestions in the comments feed. I’m always looking to shake up my reading list. If you have certain writers you recommend to students again and again, share. If you’re a student and were truly impacted by a specific writer, share.

George Saunders 15
Alissa Nutting 14
xTx 11
Andre Dubus 10
Matt Bell 8
Patrick Somerville 7
Kirsty Logan 7
Amber Sparks 7
Etgar Keret 7
Raymond Carver 7
Lorrie Moore 6
Martin Amis 6
Wells Tower 5
Breece D’J Pancake 4
Tom Perrotta 4
Alice Munro 4
Emma Straub 4
Bobbie Ann Mason 4
Roxane Gay 4
Kelly Link 4
Brian Allen Carr 4
Cathy Day 4
Scott Snyder 4
Deborah Eisenberg 3
Tillie Olsen 3
Colson Whitehead 3
Don Lee 3
Joyce Carol Oates 3
Matthew Simmons 3
Donald Barthelme 3
Gary Fincke 2
James Alan McPherson 2
Tobias Wolff 2
ZZ Packer 2
Alice Munro 2
Paul Yoon 2
Richard Yates 2
Barry Hannah 2
Bret Easton Ellis 2
John Fowles 2
Benjamin Percy 2
Donald Ray Pollack 2
Blake Butler 2
John Minichillo 2
Steve Himmer 2
Rick Moody 2
Philip Roth 2
Trey Ellis 2
Tim Jones-Yelvington 2
Junot Diaz 2
Steve Almond 2
Jonathan Lethem 2
Justin Taylor 2
Tina May Hall 2
Tom Bailey
Stewart O’Nan
Sarah Gardner Borden
Deborah Eisenberg
Teddy Wayne
A.M. Homes
James Baldwin
Peter Bognnani
Jayne Anne Phillips
Rebecca Barry
Aubrey Hirsch
Joe Meno
Richard Ford
Seth Fried
Rick Bass
Sherwood Anderson
Jeffrey Eugenides
Brian Oliu
J.A. Tyler
Lydia Davis
Dennis Cooper
Douglas Coupland
Cormac McCarthy
Cory Doctorow
Mike Meginnis
Rachel Glasser
Kevin Wilson
Gregory Sherl
Dave Eggers
Jay McInerney
Miranda July
Scott McClanahan
Brock Clarke
Peter Mewshaw
Frank Hinton
Shane Jones
Aleksandar Hemon
Tim O’Brien
John Irving
Gary Shteyngart

The Emprise Review 5
Hobart 5
kill author 4
PANK 4
Metazen 3
Prick of the Spindle 3
Flywheel Magazine 3
Annalemma 3
Atticus Review 3
Monkeybicycle 2
Decomp 2
Gargoyle Magazine 2
Dark Sky 2
Barrelhouse
Pear Noir!
Parcel
The Collagist
Diagram
Weave
FRiGG
Caper Literary Journal
Elimae
Stoked!
Barrelhouse

Every Last Thought I Have on Process: Nothing But a Dream and a Cardigan

Two nights ago I was at the Squirrel Cage with a bunch of writer friends (Chris Lee, Erin Lewenauer, Travis Straub, Lee Skirboll), and in between watching the Pirates game and tweeting about oddly seated couples, we got on the subject of process. I’ve never been very good at talking about my writing process. I remember in grad school Cathy Day encouraged us to set up a process blog. I can’t recall exactly what I posted, but I’m pretty sure it was mostly thinly veiled references to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” (I named the blog “Nothing But a Dream and a Cardigan”). Looking back, I think I was so inarticulate during Cathy’s class because I wasn’t really working on a novel at the time. I was revising what would eventually become Last Call in the City of Bridges, but the overarching draft work had been done, and I was mostly polishing it for agents. The majority of my time was spent on short stories, and with those, I have less of a defined process. I try to stick to a daily schedule, but I fall off the wagon way more often when I’m doing short stories. Novels comfort me. I love having a consistent world and cast of characters that call me back day after day.

This summer, I’ve been working on a second novel, and I thought maybe I’d share my work-in-progress writing routine. What really interested me at the Cage was how different all our processes were. What works for Chris certainly wouldn’t work for me and vice versa. So I guess this isn’t meant to be a primer on a writing routine that will work for everyone, it’s just a primer of a routine that’s working for me right this second on this particular project. In my experience, the fiction leads you to the right process and you always want to listen to the fiction.

So the second novel. A brief background. I’m describing it as Revolutionary Road meets Crisis on Infinite Earths. My agent Jenni Ferrari-Adler is describing it as a “love triangle between three fallen superheroes” which is why she works in a great, big building in Manhattan, and I sit in my underwear in Pittsburgh with three fans pointed at my sweating body for the majority of any given day. I write every day from about 9am-12pm with some light editing in the evenings, but the real preparation begins the night before. My old instructor Tom Bailey used to put a big emphasis on writing the moment you woke up so you’d be as close to your dreaming self as possible. He used to tell us that every serious writer he ever met wrote in the morning, every morning, and I took a lot of stock in that. But I’ve found I fare better when I do a little prep work the night before, falling asleep to some DVD that’ll put me in the right headspace for the morning. From 2007 until this summer, I switched back and forth between episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama. I liked the social satire, sarcasm, and the way the whole town becomes a character in The Simpsons, and on Futurama, I loved the unbridled sci-fi imagination coupled with a deep pop culture reverence. I didn’t start out watching these shows with this intention. I just noticed over time that whenever I watched The Simpsons while falling asleep (by this point I must have gone through season 1 to 10 front to end at least 6 times) I would gravitate more toward realism, and whenever I watched Futurama I’d edge closer to experimentation. At night, I watched whatever series was closest to the story I planned on working on in the morning.

SO THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE WHEN DOVES CRY!

Recently, I switched over to rewatching the entire run of Mad Men. Like I said above, the book is a mixture of bizarre superhero detritus and the kind of doomed suburban love stories I grew to love in college and grad school. Mostly, I’ve found that I don’t need to do much to keep the superhero stuff fresh in my brain. That’s probably because I read comics every single week, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a new superhero movie in theaters every four days. I switched to Mad Men because I’m trying to keep that world alive in my head, not the world from the show, but the kind of commuter family/office worker/adultery drama that is more difficult for me to maintain when I’m not actively sitting down at the desk. I’ve been playing with this tone for awhile, and the notes I’m really trying to hit with this book are the kind of unflinching arguments Yates does in his work combined with bizarre, fleeting references to a superhero lifestyle that’s come and gone. I’ve only put my own writing on this blog one other time, but I’m going to do it here to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. This brief scene takes place right after John, one of the protagonists, leases a minivan for his wife only a few days removed from a confrontation where she told him she wasn’t ready for kids yet and wanted to be more settled in her career. First her reaction to the van, then a quick cut to her walking away from their home in Arlington (this is all pretty fresh and unedited, so keep that in mind):

For a moment, Nessa thought someone had made a mistake. The minivan pulled into their driveway and parked, the engine cut. She stood. The faux-Victorian was at the end of a cul de sac and this would happen occasionally, people would pull into her driveway and turn around, and although this infuriated John, it never bothered Nessa. They didn’t own the driveway, she’d argue, and John would always say, Yes, actually they did. But this time the vehicle did not turn around. A man emerged from the driver’s side and it took her an entire blinking second to recognize this unfamiliar creature as John. John Ditko. Kid Dragonfly. Her husband.

            “What do you think?”

            Nessa had never seen him so expectant, so genuinely filled with joy as he crossed the yard toward her, a big goofy grin across his face. She looked behind him at the minivan. It was neon red. The ugliest color she could ever imagine. A black hole of neon, it sucked the life out of everything around it. Somehow the houses, the trees, even the grass looked darker, grayer, deader, just from being in the presence of this impossible color, this cartoony shade of blood. It reminded her of the one and only time she’d gone into outer space with Kid Dragonfly and the overly enthusiastic members of the Teen Super Protectors, how they’d blasted off in their Sky Caravan—why, Nessa had wondered even then, had they christened it with such a pathetic name—to fight the Crimson Blob from Beyond the Moon. That pulsating glob of sentient metal looked a lot like the minivan parked here before her.

            “I don’t know what this is,” she said as calmly as she could, still not comprehending exactly what John had done.

            He took her by the elbow and steered her to the back of the minivan. The license plate. Nessa1. Written in bright blue letters above a Kids First sticker. To the side of her name were two imprints of a child’s grubby little hands. She looked at the license plate. Then she looked at John. Nessa1.

            “This is a top of the line 2001 Ford Windstar,” John explained.

            “Ok.”

            “I bought it for you.”

            “For me… What is wrong with you? You didn’t think to even consult me on this? This is a huge decision.”

            Her voice was raised. John looked nervously up and down the street, presumably to see if anyone was watching. Only the Miller sisters were outside, and all three of them stopped jumping rope and came closer to the edge of the fence.

            “Honey.” He again took her by the shoulders. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”

            She shook loose. “Don’t honey me.” Don’t honey me? What a cliché. How had this happened? How had Nine Lives turned into this: arguing with her husband about a minivan deep within the catacombs of the DC suburbs?

            And so, Nessa started walking. She didn’t have her books or notes or even an umbrella, but that didn’t matter. Retrieving those things would only lessen the gesture of what she was doing, and more than anything, she wanted John to feel this, how stupid he could be. Nessa1!

            “Nessa!” he called. “Nessa, wait!”

            But she had already passed the house next door, then the next house and the next. All identical faux-Victorians. John jogged up beside her, smiling, wiping the sweat from his brow, nervously looking into each window they passed. The Miller sisters trailed them, strolling casually down the middle of the street, and like the houses, Nessa could not tell them apart.

            “Nessa, please. What will the neighbors think?”

            She still didn’t stop. “I don’t care what they think. I have to catch my bus to work.”

            “The bus? Don’t you want to take your new car?”

            “That’s not my car, John. I’m not going to drive that thing. It looks like the Crimson Blob from Beyond the Moon.”

            He looked nervously back at the sisters. “Christ, Nessa, keep it down about that stuff.”

Watching Mad Men the night before orients me in a way so I’m ready to write the kind of relationship dynamic I’m shooting for right when I wake up. I get up around nine or earlier, make coffee, and then sit down to write. Some days I’ll do nothing but write new material, and some days I’ll focus completely on revision. The first two weeks of July, I went back to Last Call and rewrote some of that, and when I returned to this book, I spent the next four or five days just revising, going from page 1 to 112 before I felt ready to really write again. A lot of times in the morning, I’ll just feel spent or at a dead end, and whenever that happens, I’ll watch some video on YouTube. Like Mad Men, I try and watch things that put me in the right headspace, so I don’t necessarily use the same video for every project, otherwise I’d just watch this Earthbound commerical for the rest of my life.

This video, you guys. This video! It captures the sense of joy and wonder I’ve tried to imbue in both my books while acknowledging how difficult that is in 2011, how sarcastic, ironic, how knowing we all have become. The way this video combines the super sweet story of a young Yeti (who looks so much like the beloved Muppets from my youth) with the eternally knowing, cameo happy Jon Hamm is just utterly perfect. The first time I watched it, I just kept waiting for a joke, a punchline, anything. But it never goes for the joke. I’ve just always loved combining the sincere with the sarcastic, that please, please what I’m telling you is so very important, just don’t take anything I say seriously attitude. This video nails it.

Like I said earlier, I’m pretty good at keeping  the superhero stuff in my mind while I’m writing. But you have to remember I was weaned in an era of dark and gritty superheroes, and these days that’s not really what I gravitate to. Take Batman for instance. Most people prefer the darker Batmen, the Christopher Nolan version, your Frank Millers. I always like the crazy takes. The Batman on the moon punching out aliens. The Batman who fights cavemen in the age of the dinosaurs. Batman is a guy who dresses like a bat and lives in a cave and fights people like Clayface. I appreciate the over the top, and nothing is more so than this video from the ’60’s TV show (a close second comes in the ’60’s movie when Batman sprays shark repellant in the face of a hilariously fake shark clinging to Bats as he hangs from a rope ladder connected to the Batcopter. Yeah. That happened.).

Frost/Nixon was a revelation when I watched it a few months earlier. I’ve long been fascinated with Nixon. I’ve read his memoirs and I’ve used him in fiction here and here. In college, my friend Mark Kleman and I once toasted the anniversary of his death by drinking Black Label whiskey (Nixon’s brand) and watching the Oliver Stone movie about his life. This scene sums it all up. He’s so fucking relatable! I know that’s not Ron Howard’s intention (this scene is pretty much lifted from any movie about a cop tracking a killer who suddenly tells the cop before the third reel showdown that beneath it all they’re really the same person), but I find it so easy to agree with Nixon here. He’s so flawed, so awful, so human, just like the rest of us. Remember in Mad Men (there’s a pattern here) when Don Draper says Kennedy is just another rich boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but when he looks at Nixon (a self-made, hardworking man) he sees himself? I feel that way. He’s the funhouse mirror version of ourselves, bloated and magnified. Sarah Vowell talks about how certain presidents are like unrelatable saints (Lincoln, FDR, Washington) who give us something to aspire to. Nixon’s not like that. He’s down in the fucking human dirt with the rest of us. I have so much class rage that I’ve never really dealt with (my solution is to just bury it deep deep down and drink a lot of Gaviscon and beer) and Nixon is that anger birthed into a president. So yeah, he’s a major character in this book, and when I write him, I think of this version, except in my book he’s also kind of like Bucky Barnes.

One thing that’s really different with this book compared to Last Call is the amount of research I’ve had to do. Last Call is about a twenty-something in Pittsburgh, and even though nearly every scene and character arc in the book are totally dreamed up, it wasn’t very hard for me to imagine. This book is more ambitious. Bigger in scope, page count, everything. I was reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad right when I started writing this, and it really inspired me to go all out. That’s one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read. It goes to the future, the past, African countryside, a dictator’s compound, the solar panels of tomorrow, and the whole time you get this feeling that Egan is having so much fucking fun. You ever read a book and think, well it’s good, but it doesn’t seem like the writer enjoys writing very much? I hate that. I never want to be that person. I want to love what I’m writing and take real joy from it and I want to aim for as big a scope as possible, and Egan is kind of my inspiration for that. But that all means research, that I can’t just draw from my own experience. After AWP this year, I decided that I really wanted to write something set in DC. So when the idea for this book started to come together not long after, I figured DC and what it really represents to this country would be a perfect setting. That meant visiting DC as much as humanly possible.

Last month I went down to DC and spent an entire day driving around and taking pictures and videos of places where my characters go, relax, live. I’d never done that before, and it was a totally surreal experience. I had maybe a hundred extremely rough pages by that point, and actually going to the towns where they lived really made them come alive in my head, especially Nessa who I mentioned above. They become real, which is strange but true. Nessa especially seems realer to me than people I actually know in my own life. When I went to where she lives in the book (there’s actually a suburban development in Arlington that borders a cemetery), I experienced this bizarre sensation that I was about to meet her. I started grinning like an idiot and looking around like I’d find her sitting on the porch or walking around the neighborhood. The same thing happened when I went to Georgetown where she teaches. I walked around the building where her office is and hung out where she takes her smoke breaks and it was all just very surreal.

A few of the pictures and videos are below. There’s more, and I look at them sometimes when I get stuck or when the videos above don’t do the trick. One neat thing I did (inspired by my boy,  Robert Yune, who before working on a novel about the Century III mall, walked around its corridors with a recorder to really capture the atmosphere) was videotape a few of my characters’ commutes to work. I think commuting is such a big part of our lives, and I really wanted to have the details right.

Beyond the trip to DC, I had to do a lot of reading. Like I mentioned here, I started by restricting myself to books that were in the third person. First person comes really naturally to me, but I knew early on that the scope of this book was too big, and because Faulknerian-novels with multiple first person narrators make me nervous, I went with third. I started the summer reading Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply and the aforementioned Egan along with some other chapbooks and collections I’d agreed to review. But then, fairly early on, I realized that if I was going to watch Mad Men to put me in the right emotional place (adultery, adultery, adultery) then I needed to do the same in my reading list. I read through Sarah Gardner Borden‘s deft debut Games to Play After Dark which absolutely terrified me in sections. Then I moved onto Updike’s Couples which is in many ways a kind of spiritual cousin to all those Yates novels I devoured as an undergrad.

Fictional research is all well and good, but while I was writing an extremely vague outline of the book I discovered that I was going to actually have to read a ton of nonfiction too. I wanted sections of the book to deal heavily with an NBA team’s front office (in this case an alternate universe version of the Washington Bullets) along with a long stretch involving an American soldier in a Yemeni office job during the War on Terror. As I continued writing, I discovered more and more real world inspired subcultures I wanted to include (the utterly insane Monkees movie Head, an underground military bunker near Durban, South Africa, and NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts). Obviously, I just couldn’t make stuff up. So I asked around. I know a lot of other writers via Facebook and they’re always helpful in tracking down certain nonfiction books.

South Africa was fairly easy. The section in the book is from the POV of an American traveler, so I didn’t need years upon years of history. I just went to the library and picked up a travel guide. I stole the Monkees movie from my mom (technically I gave it to her as a gift years earlier) and Amy Whipple among others recommended Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars to cover all NASA related questions. The hardest was the War on Terror and NBA front office stuff. I found a lot of Iraq/Afghanistan memoirs, but most are set on the frontlines. Aaron Gwyn suggested a whole mess of books that look extremely helpful. Horse Soldiers. Roughneck Nine-One. Kill Bin Laden. Not a Good Day to Die. And a friend of mine who’s a librarian tracked down five books about NBA front offices. Inside Game. Taking Shots. The Breaks of the Games. Foul Lines. Money Players. I haven’t read any of these yet, but my goal is to finish one from each category before the end of the summer. My advice for cnf research? Download that shit on iTunes and listen to it on car trips. You may have to pull over every now and again to take notes, but at least you’re getting work done while driving.

One last thing: the only other process thingy I’ve been using while writing the second novel. I stumbled onto this post by the lovely Kirsty Logan where she writes a novel to do list. Mine’s digital, and I’m not going to post the whole thing because A) this is already really long and nobody cares, and B) I want to avoid massive spoilers. I’m the type of writer who doesn’t like to know how things will end, but I do need to have signposts, scenes and images I can build toward even if they’re deep in the distance. And sometimes, I just need to make notes to myself, otherwise I’ll forget everything. There are a lot of moving parts in this book. It’s hard to keep it all straight in my head sometimes.

NOVEL TO DO LIST

REGGANE IS WHERE THE FRENCH PRACTICED NUCLEAR MISSILES IN THE SIXTIES

DR VON LIEBER IS INVOLVED WITH PROJECT MAYFLOWER – LARGE HADRON COLLIDER of the West

REPLACE FLATBRUSH WITH BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

Mention the Sentry Satellite hovered over the White House earlier

Dick should have a magical monkey pet who was retconned out of existence similar to Beppo the Kryptonian Ape

Nessa confronts the ghost of Richard Yates in Tuscaloosa while giving a guest lecture or something at ‘Bama/Goes to see her father

President Michael Nesmith’s War on Extinction

Darko Millic analogue is drafted by Bullets

John has to meet the President of the Washington Bullets (Marc Cuban analogue) on a yacht

John becomes obsessed with termites in second half

Reasons why the planet is dying:

-Cell Phone Cancer

-Nuclear Fallout

-Oceans Rising, No Ozone, Glaciers Melting, Global Warming, Ecosystems Gone

-No Oil

-Water Shortages

-Food Shortages

-Internet Memes come to life and destroy us

-Tim Tebow is the antichrist

-No more bees

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

The above is every last thing I’ve done to prepare writing this novel. I’ve been working on this book since April, and I don’t anticipate getting a first draft until Christmas at the earliest. And my friends who have read my first drafts can tell you that they usually stink. Tom Bailey compared his to recently birthed children, all sticky with blood and kind of gross looking. It takes time for them to become presentable. But for the foreseeable future (and I mean years here), I’ll be in this world, plugging away at my keyboard. It’s kind of reassuring to be honest.