Salvatore Pane

Tag: Lorrie Moore

Edward James Olmos and the Next Big Thing

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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.

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Intro to Creative Writing Spring 2013 Syllabus

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English 21844 270-01 Intro to Creative Writing
MWF 10:00-10:50am

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

Syllabus
Required Materials

On Writing Short Stories, 2nd Edition edited by Tom Bailey
The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail, written by Gregory Sherl

Welcome to Intro to Creative Writing

In this course, you’re going to write and read a lot. You’ll produce fiction or poetry or creative nonfiction or a combination of the three, and along the way we’ll discuss the publishing industry, the internet blogging scene, and even have a few guest speakers. I’m not going to lie and say writing is easy. It’s not. It’s one of the hardest things you can ever do. But, and I can guarantee you this, if you’re serious about the craft of creative writing and you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll absolutely be a better writer at the end of the course than you are today.

Each student will put up 6 – 12 pages of literary fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry for workshop twice a semester. You can write a short story or flash fiction, you can write memoir or literary journalism, you can write a series of connected poems, but remember, you have to demonstrate the fundamental principles of writing we’ll discuss in class 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 300-500 word critiques for every student workshop. Similarly, you will read a ton of professional writing from our textbooks and handouts. Students will post 200-300 word takeaway posts for outside reading days.

Reading so much literary writing will allow you to build a library of published work in your head. Students are expected to use their knowledge of writers like Chuck Klosterman, Terrance Hayes, or Alissa Nutting 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 literature.

By the end of the course successful students will:

Use basic elements of craft (image, voice, character, setting, etc.) to create 15-30 pages of thoughtful creative writing.

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

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 writing.

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 this becomes a problem, I will mark you absent.

2.) Write a 300-500 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.

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.

Distribution of Manuscripts

For your workshops, you can put up any combination of fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry as long as you hit the page count—I don’t want novel chapters; more on this later.
In the first week, you will be broken up into one of five pods. Each pod has its own specific due date. Your work will be due at 10am on whatever due date corresponds to your pod. If your work 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. Please include page numbers.

ACE Takeaway Posts

On days when we aren’t workshopping, you will often be required to read at least one professional example of writing. On these class sessions, you must post a 200-300 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. During weeks in which we will be discussing multiple professional examples a classroom session, you are required to write a 200-300 ACE Takeaway Post that covers all of the assigned pieces. 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. Below is an 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.

NOTE: You will have to read one full book in this course, the very short The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail by Gregory Sherl. For this Takeaway Post, you must write 500 words. We will then Skype with the author. Come prepared to class with questions. He will give a short presentation, and then we’ll do a 30 minute Q&A.

Writing Buddies

After everyone has workshopped, I will break you up into small groups of Writing Buddies in which you will read each other’s revisions and then run mini-workshops. You should begin revising your work immediately after workshop as you will be expected to turn in mini-revisions (not your final revisions for the end of the course) to your writing buddies twice throughout the course.

Long Form Projects

Long form projects are wonderful. We love novels and memoirs and 100 page poems. Novels are why so many of us want to be writers. But in a workshop setting, students often use first chapters or short excerpts as an excuse to not end their work. They can avoid criticism by saying, “That happens in chapter two.” I’ve seen many, many talented writers produce thirty opening chapters in their undergraduate career, graduate, and have no idea how to sustain a middle or land an ending. I don’t want that to happen to you.

For the first workshop, I don’t want you to write a chapter of something larger. Everything must be self-contained. Everything must end. For the second workshop, if you’re really serious about writing a larger project, I want you to first provide me with a 4 page outline of the entire book. If given permission, you will put that AND a 6 -12 page chapter up for workshop. I want to know you have a plan and that writing a chapter isn’t just a way out from writing an ending.

Genre Fiction

All of our discussions in this class will center on literary writing. What is literary writing? We will explore that as the semester goes on. The point is that 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 work that drives toward emotional complexities. I don’t want to see battle scenes between elves and warlocks. Your stories can be wacky, your stories can be strange and not set in reality (wait till you see the craziness of Alissa Nutting!), but this class will never focus on straight genre fiction.

Classroom Etiquette

Turn off all cell phones before class begins. Do not text people during class. It’s really obvious when you’re doing this. If you’re checking your cell phone, I won’t interrupt class, I’ll just mark you absent.

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.

Grading

This is what you have to do if you want an A in this course. You have to put up two thoughtful workshop pieces. Then you have to take the time to substantially revise them. You have to be engaged in classroom discussions and add something relevant every class. You must do all the Ace posts and turn them in on time. You do all these things, you get an A. You slack off, turn work in late or short, doze off in class, and you’re not getting anything that even resembles an A.

Here’s the grading breakdown. 70% of your final grade will come down to your final portfolio, i.e. all of your revised work at the end of the semester. The other 30% comes from participation and Ace posts. Please note: participation is mandatory. If you are not contributing to every single workshop, you are not going to get a good grade. This is a workshop course. The same goes for Ace. If you consistently fail to turn in work on time, you’re not going to get a good grade.

Final Portfolios

On the last day of class, you will be expected to turn in two substantial revisions of your workshop pieces between 15-30 pages. Late portfolios WILL NOT be accepted. We’ll talk more about this as the semester goes on.

Conferences

After your first workshop, I will schedule a conference with you during my office hours. After your second workshop, please contact me and we can either set up an appointment to discuss your work or I can just send you your critique. I encourage you to meet with me in person, but this second conference is optional. Please remember: my door is always open.

Visitors

I have scheduled a number of visitors throughout the semester. Some run reading series or lit journals here in Indianapolis, others are national writers dropping by on tour, some will chat with us via Skype. I want you to be engaged in these discussions. Participate. These are very rare opportunities. Don’t squander them.

Outside Events

Students are required to attend one reading outside of class. The details will be announced, but you will have multiple opportunities to attend one, although I encourage you to go to them all. I sure will. These are opportunities, not burdens, and I hope you treat them that way.

You will be required to attend and write a short 300 word Takeaway Post for one of these readings.

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.

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.

Course Schedule
Week One

Monday January 14
Syllabus
Introductions
Justin Taylor “Tetris”

Wednesday January 16
Lorrie Moore “How to Become a Writer” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Geoffrey Wolff Excerpt of The Duke of Deception COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday January 18
John Updike “A&P” On Writing Short Stories
Terrance Hayes “The Same City/Snow for Wallace Stevens/All the Way Live” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Two

Monday January 21
Writing Prompts

Wednesday January 23
Alissa Nutting “Porn Star” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Chuck Klosterman “Being Zack Morris” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday January 25
Flash Fiction Tutorial Etgar Keret/Roxane Gay/xTx COURSE DOCUMENTS
Pod 1 Writing Due

Week Three

Monday January 28
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Wednesday January 30
Workshop 3
Workshop 4

Friday February 1
Skype with Gregory Sherl, writer of The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail (You must have the book read by this point; Takeaway Post due)
Pod 2 Writing Due

Week Four

Monday February 4
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Wednesday February 6
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Friday February 8
Metonymy Media Visit
Pod 3 Writing Due

Week Five

Monday February 11
Workshop 9
Workshop 10

Wednesday February 13
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Friday February 15
Wells Tower “Welcome to the Far Eastern Conference” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Pod 4 Writing Due

Week Six

Monday February 18
Workshop 13
Workshop 14

Wednesday February 20
Workshop 15
Workshop 16

Friday February 22
Raymond Carver “Cathedral” On Writing Short Stories
Pod 5 Writing Due

Week Seven

Monday February 25
Workshop 17
Workshop 18

Wednesday February 27
Writing Prompts

Friday March 1
Lit Journal Presentation

Week Eight

NO CLASSES SPRING BREAK

Week Nine

Monday March 11
Writing Prompts
Mini-Revisions Due

Wednesday March 13
Anton Chekhov “The Lady with the Pet Dog” On Writing Short Stories
Sheryl St. Germain “Addiction/Sestina for the Beloved/Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday March 15
Writing Buddies I
Pod 1Writing Due

Week Ten

Monday March 18
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Wednesday March 20
Workshop 3
Workshop 4

Friday March 22
Pod 2 Writing Due
Stuart Dybek “Pet Milk” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Eleven

Monday March 25
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Wednesday March 27
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Week Twelve

Monday April 1
Workshop 9
Workshop 10

Wednesday April 3
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Friday April 5
Tobias Wolff “Bullet in the Brain” On Writing Short Stories

Week Thirteen

Monday April 8
Workshop 13
Workshop 14

Wednesday April 10
Workshop 15
Workshop 16

Friday April 12
Workshop 17
Workshop 18

Week Fourteen

Monday April 15
Patrick Somerville “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” Course Documents
Billy Collins “Consolation/Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes/Workshop” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Wednesday April 17
Public Reading I TBA

Friday April 19
Erik Deckers Visit
Mini-Revisions Due

Week Fifteen

Monday April 22
Writing Buddies II

Wednesday April 24
Public Reading II TBA

Friday April 26
Final Portfolio

Course Sequences

Over the last month or so, I’ve tried really hard to blow up my workshop syllabus. Things were going really well, and I wasn’t motivated out of some fear that I wasn’t getting through to the students. I just wanted to keep things fresh for myself. I realize that you can’t let students graduate with a degree in creative writing without knowing about certain benchmark writers/stories/novels. But I think it’s healthy for teachers to switch up their course sequences so they don’t fall into the trap of making the same tired points about Tim O’Brien or Ray Carver or Joyce Carol Oates or whoever.

This semester, I’m teaching a multi-genre workshop for the first time which I’m really excited about. I’m pretty well versed in creative nonfiction, but I’ve never even taken a poetry class. I’m hoping to learn a lot as the semester goes on, much like last semester when I taught Written Professional Communications. I didn’t know much at the beginning about LinkedIn or CVs or resumes, but by the end I felt pretty comfortable.

Below are the two course sequences I’m using for my two workshop classes. The first is for Intro to Fiction at the University of Pittsburgh, and the second is Advanced Writing Workshop at Chatham University. Usually, I’d include the syllabi, but I’ve discussed them at length in earlier posts. I’ve made some modifications to my workshop syllabus this semester (most having to do with long form writing projects and genre fiction), but the core of the thing is intact. Let me know if you have any suggestions or if you’d like to share your own course sequences. I’m also interested in what other teachers are doing.

Course Sequence

Week One

Wed January 4
Syllabus
Introductions
Justin Taylor “Tetris” HANDOUT

Fri January 6
John Updike “A&P” 3X33
Lorrie Moore “How to Become a Writer” 3X33

Week Two

Mon January 9
Raymond Carver “Cathedral” 3X33
Alissa Nutting “Porn Star” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Wed January 11
Donald Barthelme “The School” 3X33
Etgar Keret “Fatso” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Roxane Gay “The Harder They Come” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Amelia Gray “Hair” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Fri January 13
Emma Straub “Pearls” COURSE DOCUMENTS
George Saunders “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” 3X33

Week Three

Mon January 16
Class Cancelled Martin Luther King Day

Wed January 18
Joyce Carol Oates “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” 3X33
Barry Hannah “Testimony of Pilot” 3X33

Friday January 20
Breece D’J Pancake “Trilobytes” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Patrick Somerville “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Four

Monday January 23
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Wed January 25
Workshop 3
Workshop 4

Fri January 27
Rick Moody “The Apocalyptic Commentary of Bob Paisner” 3X33

Week Five

Mon January 30
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Wed February 1
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Fri February 3
A.M. Homes “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Six

Mon February 6
Workshop 9
Workshop 10

Wed February 8
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Fri February 10
Ethan Canin “The Year of Getting to Know Us” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Seven

Mon February 13
Workshop 13
Workshop 14

Wed February 15
Workshop 15
Workshop 16

Fri February 17
Deborah Eisenberg “Twilight of the Superheroes” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Eight

Mon February 20
Workshop 17
Workshop 18

Wed February 22
Workshop 19
Brian Oliu “Gradius” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Brian Oliu “Punch-Out!!” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Brian Oliu “Wizards and Warriors” COURSE DOCUMENTS
xTx “Water is Thrown on the Witch” COURSE DOCUMENTS
xTx “Marci is Going to Shoot Up Meth With Her Friend” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Fri February 24
Matt Bell “His Last Great Gift” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Nine

Mon February 27
Richard Yates “The Best of Everything” 3X33
Tobias Wolff “Bullet in the Brain” 3X33

Wed February 29
Junot Diaz “Fiesta, 1980” 3X33
Andre Dubus “The Fat Girl” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday March 2
Don Lee “The Price of Eggs in China” COURSE DOCUMENTS
James Alan McPherson “Gold Coast” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Ten

Spring Break – No Classes

Week Eleven

Mon March 12
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Wed March 14
Workshop 3
Workshop 4

Fri March 16
Seth Fried “Loeka Discovered” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Twelve

Mon March 19
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Wed March 21
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Fri March 23
Jonathan Lethem “Super Goat Man” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Thirteen

Mon March 26
Workshop 9
Workshop 10

Wed March 28
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Fri March 30
Scott Snyder “Blue Yodel” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Fourteen

Mon April 2
Workshop 13
Workshop 14

Wed April 4
Workshop 15
Workshop 16

Fri April 6
Lorrie Moore “People Like That Are The Only People Here” 3X33

Week Fifteen

Mon April 9
Workshop 17
Workshop 18

Wed April 11
Workshop 19
TBA

Fri April 13
TBA

Week Sixteen

Monday April 16
Fiction Pod

Wednesday April 18
Fiction Pod

Friday April 20
Final Portfolios Due

Course Schedule

Week One

Wed January 4
Syllabus
Introductions
Justin Taylor “Tetris” HANDOUT
Nancy Krygowski “Heaven, As We Know It” The Autumn House Anthology
Writing Exercise (First Lines)

Week Two

Monday January 9
Kim Addonizio “Collapsing Poem/Onset/The Moment” The Autumn House Anthology
Lorrie Moore “How to Become a Writer” E-MAIL
Geoffrey Wolff from The Duke of Deception Modern American Memoirs

Wednesday January 11
Sheryl St. Germain “Addiction/Sestina for the Beloved/Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce” The Autumn House Anthology
John Updike “A&P” On Writing Short Stories
Sarah Vowell “Ike Was a Handsome Man” E-MAIL

Week Three

Monday January 16
Class Cancelled Martin Luther King Day

Wednesday January 18
Billy Collins “Consolation/Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes/Workshop” The Autumn House Anthology
Flash Fiction Tutorial Etgar Keret/Roxane Gay/xTx E-MAIL
Chuck Klosterman E-MAIL

Week Four

Monday January 23
Raymond Carver “Cathedral” On Writing Short Stories
Workshop 1

Wednesday January 25
Workshop 2
Workshop 3

Week Five

Monday January 30
Patrick Somerville “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” E-MAIL
Workshop 4

Wednesday February 1
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Week Six

Monday February 6
Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts” E-MAIL
Workshop 7

Wednesday February 8
Workshop 8
Workshop 9

Week Seven

Monday February 13
James Baldwin from Notes of a Native Son Modern American Memoirs
Workshop 10

Wednesday February 15
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Week Eight

Monday February 20
Terrance Hayes “The Same City/Snow for Wallace Stevens/All the Way Live” The Autumn House Anthology
Workshop 13

Wednesday February 22
Workshop 14
Workshop 15

Week Nine

Monday February 27
Jim Daniels “Short-Order Cook/Where Else Can You Go” The Autumn House Anthology
A.M. Homes “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” E-MAIL
Frank Conroy from Stop Time Modern American Memoirs

Wednesday February 29
Lynn Emmanuel “Dear Final Journey…/The Murder Writer/The Revolution” The Autumn House Anthology
Anton Chekhov “The Lady with the Pet Dog” On Writing Short Stories
Maxine Hong Kingston from The Warrior Woman Modern American Memoirs

Week Ten

Monday March 5
Toi Derricotte “Boy at the Patterson Falls/Bird/Not Forgotten” The Autumn House Anthology
Flannery O’Connor “Everything That Rises Must Converge” On Writing Short Stories
Zora Neale Hurston from Dust Tracks on a Road Modern American Memoirs

Wednesday March 7
Class Cancelled Spring Break

Week Eleven

Monday March 12
Class Cancelled Spring Break

Wednesday March 14
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Week Twelve

Monday March 19
Alissa Nutting “Porn Star” E-MAIL
Workshop 3

Wednesday March 21
Workshop 4
Workshop 5

Week Thirteen

Monday March 26
Tobias Wolff “Bullet in the Brain” On Writing Short Stories
Workshop 6

Wednesday March 28
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Week Fourteen

Monday April 2
Malcolm X from The Autobiography of Malcolm X Modern American Memoirs
Workshop 9

Wednesday April 4
Workshop 10
Workshop 11

Week Fifteen

Monday April 9
Workshop 12
Workshop 13

Wednesday April 11
Workshop 14
Workshop 15

Week Sixteen

Monday April 16
Writing Pod

Wednesday April 18
Writing Pod

Friday April 20
Final Portfolios Due

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

I AM LIVE TWEETING EVERYTHING

Hey, guys. My life is pretty taxing right now. Remember last October when I posted about not having time to do anything because of teaching a 3/3? THAT SHIT IS HAPPENING AGAIN! And this time I’m writing stuff for HTMLGIANT (I got comic book and creative writing pedagogy posts appearing next month) and a One Note on Smalldoggies (it’s about my boy Grant Morrison’s Supergods) and an interview for Patasola Press and a review for The Rumpus. Also, I’m writing a second novel. Most of the time I just want to retreat home and monkishly work on the book which involves characters like Jimmy Hoffa the Battle Wombat and Mecha-Hitler and Dr. Wilhelm von Triumph and a scene where Davy Jones descends from Heaven as an angel. And because of all these responsibilities in tandem, something had to give. That something was the amount of time I had for this blog.

But fear not. Because I have decided that from now on, I’m going to live tweet EVERYTHING.

First up: sports. Guys. I am having a rough month. The Dolphins’ season is pretty much over and it’s not even October yet. The NBA is probably going to be locked out all year. And Pitt’s football team needs a lot of time to work out the kinks of Todd Graham’s “high octane” offense before limping off to the ACC. So what’s a guy to do?

WATCH LALA’S FULL COURT LIFE!

Let me educate you on this shit. Lala is Carmelo Anthony’s wife. ‘Melo is a recent addition to my one and only New York Knicks. Sure, my favorite of the current Knickerbockers (my boy, Amar’e Stoudemire) is spending the Lockout writing a YA series, but ‘Melo is starring in a reality show with his wife, former MTV VJ Lala. I’ve only seen one episode, but it involved Lala confronting Chauncey Billups’ wife in a scene that would not be out of place on Laguna Beach. This show comes on every Monday at 10. My official hashtag is #MamaThereGoesThatWoman. CATCH THE EXCITEMENT, KNICKS FANS!

Second thing I’m livetweeting: 2 Broke Girls! You guys see this shit? There’s a laugh track! And a horse living in Brooklyn! And racist stereotypes galore! I don’t exactly know what the deal is with CBS and why they’re still pumping out three camera sitcoms (like, is this for real for real?), but Kat Dennings is on the show. KAT “DID HE SAY MEOW MEOW” DENNINGS. This week’s installment involved “the girls” trying to get horseshit out of a white dress. BUT GUESS WHAT! The water had been turned off in a conveniently foreshadowed plot point! See you at #KatDenningsDeservesBetter.

Oh, you don’t like TV? NO PROBLEM. I’m covering all the hijinx of being a low level adjunct in the go-go world of 21st century academia! Curious how many times I reference Kanye West in class? Want to know how much time I spend wondering what it would be like if Lorrie Moore was my girlfriend? Think I listen to DJ Khaled on repeat while grading papers? Then find out on #proflife.

So join me, my friends. Let’s live tweet everything.

Here’s Everything I’ve Recommended to Fiction Students So Far This Semester

So, I’m running this advanced fiction workshop and it’s all like woah. One thing I like to do in a classroom setting like this is meet individually with every student after they workshop. I remember very vividly going to see Tom Bailey and Gary Fincke in undergrad and how reassuring and empowering it was to know that writers I really respected were taking my work seriously (not that the students necessarily respect me in the same way I outright worshiped Tom and Gary). In my conferences, I always bring a marked up copy of their manuscript along with a one page note with strengths and prescription. But there’s also, usually, a note at the end with some writers and journals to read, and maybe even a few places to begin submitting to. At AWP, Amy Hempel said one of her favorite parts of running a workshop is putting an emerging writer with a published one, giving a young writer the book they absolutely have to read right this second. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job too, and I’ve kept track of what I’ve recommended so far.

Keep in mind, we read a lot of stuff in class. So I rarely touch on writers we’ve discussed ad nauseam like George Saunders or Lorrie Moore or Gary Shteyngart or Amelia Gray. Also, it’s only halfway through the semester. So there’s still a lot of time. Basically, what I’m trying to convey here, is this isn’t a list of the best writers for undergrads. It’s merely the group that this particular class needed to read at this particular moment. When there’s something lacking in student work that is absolutely nailed in a story collection or novel, students need to see that–in fact, there are a few writers on here I respect without actually enjoying their work. So, without further hand-wringing, here’s what I’ve recommended so far this semester.

Writers

Andre Dubus (5)
Ray Carver (4)
Wells Tower (4)
Alissa Nutting (2)
xTx (2)
Bobbie Ann Mason (2)
Emma Straub (2)
Sean Ennis (2)
Stewart O’ Nan (2)
Adam Levin
Michael Chabon
Trey Ellis
Tobias Wolff
Matt Bell
Don Lee
Ethel Rohan
Tina May Hall
Jayne Anne Phillips
Bret Easton Ellis
Jay McInerney
Douglas Coupland
Martin Amis
Cormac McCarthy
Joshua Ferris
A.M. Homes
Rick Moody
Jonathan Lethem
James Alan McPherson
Joyce Carol Oates
Deborah Eisenberg
Cathy Day
Richard Russo
Blake Butler
Miranda July
Aleksandar Hemon
Shane Jones
Jeanette Winterson
Philip Roth
Deborah Willis
ZZ Packer

Journals

The Fourth River (4)
Flatmancrooked (4)
FRiGG (2)
PANK (2)
Bluestem Magazine (2)
Weave (2)
The Emprise Review (2)
Metazen (2)
Hot Metal Bridge
Annalemma
Barrelhouse
Dark Sky
Fairy Tale Review
The Good Men Project
Wigleaf
elimae

Comics

Fables

Lorrie Moore on the Carmelo Anthony/New York Knicks Trade

“Her rage flopped awkwardly away like a duck. She felt as she had when her cold, fierce parents had at last grown sick and old, stick-boned and saggy, protected by infirmity the way cuteness protected a baby, or should, it should protect a baby, and she had been left with her rage–vestigial, girlhood rage–inappropriate and intact. She would hug her parents good-bye, the gentle, emptied sacks of them, and think Where did you go?

“You couldn’t pretend you had lost nothing… you had to begin there, not let your blood freeze over.”

“I missed him.”

“I wondered about the half-life of regret.”

“When you find out who you are, you will no longer be innocent. That will be sad for others to see. All that knowledge will show on your face and change it. But sad only for others, not for yourself. You will feel you have a kind of wisdom, very mistaken, but a mistake of some power to you and so you will sadly treasure it and grow it.”

“I tried not to think about my life. I did not have any good solid plans for it long-term – not bad plans either, no plans at all.”


“I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable about this.”

“How can it be described? How can any of it be described?”

“When she packed up to leave, she knew that she was saying goodbye to something important, which was not that bad, in a way, because it meant that at least you had said hello to it to begin with…”

What Are You Teaching In Workshop?: O Captain, My Captain!

I’ve been reading Cathy Day’s blog lately and all her insightful posts about her undergrad fiction workshop as they went through NaNoWriMo, and the whole time I’ve wondered why more fiction teachers don’t share their syllabi or process or what have you. I’m a sucker for community. It’s what drew me to a university known for its creative writing undergrad and eventually to the MFA itself. Now that I’ve graduated, I miss that feeling of being part of something. There are substitutes. HTMLGIANT. The Rumpus. We Who Are About to Die. Uncanny Valley. And so on and so on. But I don’t know many first year teachers who are teaching workshops, composition and community college. So I thought that maybe I would write about my experience here a little bit, include a draft of my new syllabus, and then if anybody wanted to share similar thoughts that would be great.

This is my fall semester intermediate workshop class. I showed up the last day and they were not only dressed like me, but they’d brought in a Spider-Man cake and noisemakers. To be sure, it was one of  the most touching and humbling moments of my life. I’m not exactly sure why the students responded so positively to the class and to me (I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that they all really got along and the level of criticism was really advanced), but I hope that it has something to do with how I tried to take them seriously as writers, that when they came into my class they weren’t student writers, they were just writers. (Much of my pedagogy comes from this video of Tom Bailey minus all the crying) A lot of them came into the class complaining about how previous workshops focused on inane guidelines (one student said he’d come from a workshop where students had to fit so many imperative, declarative and exclamatory sentences into stories), and I think they responded to how difficult I made the class. I ran it more like a graduate workshop and tried to focus on publishing and literary journals. We looked at PANK, The Collagist, Flatmancrooked, just an absolute ton, and the first student publication (of what I really think will be a lot) will go live on Metazen late this month.

Despite the difficulty (I’d go on about why I think this class is a lot of work, but I’ve included the syllabus below), 15 of 19 students signed up for my advanced fiction workshop in the spring which is the next step up in the program. I honestly couldn’t be happier (although, it poses some syllabus problems because I can’t use any of the same stories from this semester), and have taken this as a mandate to push them further, to expect more from them, to transform them into writing workhorses who believe in perspiration over inspiration and the daily writing schedule. So, with all that in mind, below is the first draft of my new syallbus. Please let me know what you think and feel free to share your own. Have you ever taught a workshop? What have your experiences been like if so? If not, do you want to, do you plan to? Why?

Required Materials

3X33: Short Fiction by 33 Writers edited by Mark Winegardner

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore


Welcome to Advanced Fiction Workshop

In this course, you’re going to write and read a lot. This is not going to be easy because becoming a writer isn’t easy. There will be no easy A’s, and no easy weeks. Writing is a constant struggle, and this course will reflect that truth. However, and I can guarantee you this, if you’re serious about the craft of fiction, if you’re willing to put in the work, you will be a better writer at the end of the course compared to the first day.

Each student will put up 15-20 pages of literary fiction for workshop twice during the semester. You can write a traditional short story, multiple flash fiction pieces, or a novel chapter, but remember, you have to demonstrate the fundamental principles of literary fiction in all of your workshop pieces. That means you shouldn’t hand in a novel chapter that is less than a page. 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 500-100 word critiques for every student story we workshop. Similarly, you will read a large amount of stories from 3X33 and a few handouts. Students will post 500-1000 word critiques for every assigned story we read. In addition to those critiques, you will write two 1200 word papers in which you do a craft analysis of the novels Super Sad True Love Story and A Gate at the Stairs.

Reading so much literary fiction will allow you to build a library of published stories in your heads. Students are expected to use their knowledge of writers like ZZ Packer, Richard Yates or Lorrie Moore 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.

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 Blackboard. Failure to do so will negatively impact your grade.

2.)    Write a 500-1000 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 a woman who gives birth to a newborn baby every night ala Amelia Gray just because you don’t like realism. On the flip side, do not knock a postmodern story because you prefer realism. Judge the story the writer wrote, not the one 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. 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 fiction are on the table. You must use the description, strength, prescription model.

3.) Post your critique and margin comments to Blackboard by 8PM 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 Blackboard after your favorite line of the story in question. If you don’t turn in these materials BY 8PM, you will lose points.

Example of a good critique:

[There’s a critique I wrote here in graduate school, but I’m removing it from the blog because I never told the person whose story I culled from. If interested, look in the Crow Room.]

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.

Distribution of Manuscripts

Stories are due from every student at specific points in the semester. Upload them to Blackboard on the due date by 9AM. 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. You are responsible for printing out your peers’ stories for discussion on workshop days.

Blackboard Reading Posts

On most weeks, you will be required to read at least one outside short story. On these weeks, you must post a 500-1000 word critical response to said story on Blackboard under the appropriately titled forum. Posts must be uploaded by 8PM the day before we discuss the story. If your post is late, you will take an F on the critical response in question. During the first two weeks in which we will be discussing two professional short stories a classroom session, you are required to write three 250-500 word responses each class session, one for each story we read (the exception being Super Sad True Love Story when Paper 1 will be due). Post your responses on the appropriate Discussion Board forum. There’s a forum designated by name for every professional story.

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 a craft analysis. These stories are published. They’re not up for workshop. What can you learn from them? If you simply talk about why you love or hate a specific story, you will take an F on the critical response in question.

Papers

Two papers will be due in this course, one for Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shytengart and one for A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. They will be due on Blackboard the night before class at 8PM like our reading critiques. The goal in these papers will be to do a craft analysis and pick out a few pieces in the work in question that specifically helpful to your development as a writer. Do not analyze these novels in a vacuum. Feel free to tie in your own work or other books you have read.

Fiction Pods

After everyone has been workshopped once, I will break you up into Fiction Pods of four and five in which you will read each other’s revisions and then run mini-workshops. I will explain more about Fiction Pods when we reach that point in the semester. Keep in mind, you will be required to meet with your Fiction Pods for 90 minutes outside of class on two separate occasions during the semester. You will also have to e-mail me where and when you met and a very brief summary of the meeting.

Attendance

I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class four times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuse I will accept is a doctor’s excuse. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.

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

Grading

This is what you have to do if you want an A in this course. You have to put up two thoughtful workshop pieces. Then you have to take the time to substantially revise them. You have to be engaged in classroom discussions and add something relevant every class. You must do all the Blackboard posts and turn them in on time. You do all these things, you get an A. You slack off, turn stuff in late or short, doze off in class, and you’re not getting an A.

Here’s the grading breakdown. 70% of your final grade will come down to your final portfolio, i.e. all of your revised work at the end of the semester. The other 30% comes from Blackboard posts and participation. Please note: participation is mandatory. If you are not contributing to every single workshop, you are not going to get a good grade. This is a workshop course. The same goes for Blackboard. If you consistently fail to turn in work on time, you’re not going to get a good grade.

Final Portfolios

On the final day of class, you will be expected to turn in two revisions of your workshop pieces. Late portfolios WILL NOT be accepted.

Conferences

After your workshop, please schedule a conference with me during my office hours. Revisions will be due at the end of the semester, but you can turn them in at any point. Conferences are mandatory!

Outside Events

Students are only required to attend one event outside of class. On April 7th, writer Lydia Davis will read in the Frick Fine Arts Building at 8PM. You are required to attend and write a short, 500 word craft analysis of her reading. ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY. If you cannot attend, you must go to a make up reading that I will assign.

Academic Integrity

Cheating/plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy on Academic Integrity, noted below from the February 1974, Senate Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom reported to the Senate Council, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process as initiated by the instructor. A minimum sanction of a zero score for the quiz or exam will be imposed.

Plagiarism, as defined by the University of Pittsburgh’s Academic Integrity code, is when a student:

Presents as one’s own, for academic evaluation, the ideas, representations, or words of another person or persons without customary and proper acknowledgment of sources.

Submits the work of another person in a manner which represents the work to be one’s own.

Knowingly permits one’s work to be submitted by another person without the faculty member’s authorization.

Special Assistance

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services, 140 William Pitt Union, (412) 648-7890 or (412) 383-7355(TTY), as early as possible in the term.  DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

Course Sequence

Week One

Thurs January 6

Syllabus

Introductions

Amelia Gray “Babies” and “Dinner”

Week Two

Tues January 11

Raymond Carver “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” 3X33

Tobias Wolff “The Liar” Blackboard

Dave Eggers “After I Was Thrown in the River but Before I Drowned” Blackboard

Thurs January 13

Antonya Nelson “Naked Ladies” 3X33

James Alan McPherson “Why I Like Country Music” Blackboard

Donald Barthelme “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning” 3X33


Week Three

Tues January 18

Gary Shytengart Super Sad True Love Story

STORIES DUE


Thurs January 20

Workshop 1

Workshop 2

Week Four

Tues January 25

Workshop 3

Workshop 4

Thurs January 27

Workshop 5

Jonathan Lethem “Super Goat Man” Blackboard

Week Five

Tues February 1

Workshop 6

Workshop 7

Thurs February 3 – Guest Workshop w/Travis Straub

Workshop 8

Workshop 9

Week Six

Tues February 8

Workshop 10

Workshop 11

Thurs February 10

Workshop 12

Andre Dubus “The Fat Girl” Blackboard

Week Seven

Tues February 15

Workshop 13

Workshop 14

Thurs February 17

Workshop 15

Matt Bell “His Last Great Gift” Blackboard

Week Eight

Tues February 22

Workshop 16

Workshop 17

Thurs February 24

Workshop 18

Richard Yates “The Best of Everything” 3X33


Week Nine

Tues March 1

Workshop 19

Workshop 20

Thurs March 3

Workshop 21

Workshop 22 (IF NEEDED)

A.M. Homes “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” Blackboard

SUNDAY REVISIONS DUE

Week Ten

Spring Break

Week Eleven

Tues March 15

Lorrie Moore A Gate at the Stairs

New Stories Due

Thurs March 17

Workshop 1

Workshop 2

Week Twelve

Tues March 22

Workshop 3

Workshop 4

Thurs March 24

Workshop 5

Workshop 6

Week Thirteen

Tues March 29

Workshop 7

Workshop 8

Thurs March 31

Workshop 9

Workshop 10 (IF NEEDED)

ZZ Packer “Dayward” Blackboard

Week Fourteen

Tues April 4

Workshop 11

Workshop 12

Thurs April 7

Workshop 13

Workshop 14 (IF NEEDED)

George Saunders “Sea Oak” 3X33


Week Fifteen

Tues April 12

Workshop 15

Workshop 16

Thurs April 14

Workshop 17

Workshop 18

Week Sixteen

Tues April 19

Workshop 19

Workshop 20

Thurs April 21

Workshop 21

Workshop 22

 

Do You Trust Someone With Crappy Taste in Music/Movies/Etc When It Comes to Writing?

This is literally my top 25 list on iTunes. BEHOLD!

I have shitty taste in music. You have no idea how long it’s taken me to admit that to myself. In high school, I spent hours reading reviews on Pitchfork and putting band names into Amazon to see who else their search engines would recommend. I listened to Weezer, Saves the Day, Ozma, Texas is the Reason, the Pixies, the Ataris, and all kinds of bands (good and awful) that nobody gave a shit about in Scranton, Pennsylvania (or at the very least, my shockingly unhip Catholic school). If my plan was to get laid based on my extensive knowledge about the recording history of Weezer’s 1996 magnum opus Pinkerton, it backfired miserably.

In college, I tried to keep up with what was popular with the cool kids. I listened to Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, but what I discovered pretty quickly is that I don’t really like concerts that much. Whenever I go to one, I get bored and start hoping for the whole thing to be over. None of them can ever match the way I felt seeing Weezer in Wilkes-Barre at 16, and I think that’s kind of my problem. Musically, I’m completely stunted. I listen to most of the same garbage I liked in high school peppered with a handful of bands I saw in college and a whole mess of Kanye West. That’s about it. I’ve given up on knowing what’s hot, and most of my friends think it’s hilarious (not to mention sad) when I unironically listen to Offspring’s Smash.

My point: can you trust someone to have good taste concerning literature when you don’t respect their other entertainment choices? For example, if you were exchanging stories with someone who told you their favorite movie was Bad Boys II, would you be able to take their criticism on your short story seriously even if it was totally sound? I’ve been thinking about this a lot ever since Inception came out. Almost everybody I know in Pittsburgh claims to dislike it, but I found it pretty enjoyable (look at me defend it in this Rumpus comments section!). The same thing happened when I pulled out Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey after a Mad Men watching party. I claimed the movie was outright David Lynchian during the sequence where Bill and Ted play board games with the Grim Reaper in hell (only moments before they ask aliens in heaven to build them good robot versions of themselves to fight evil robots versions of themselves at a battle of the bands), and the entire MFA community stared at me like I was a drunken moron.

If some of my favorite “films” include Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Santa Slays and Camp Nowhere, can you really trust my thoughts of A Gate at the Stairs? If I enjoy reading comic books where a crazed statue of Abraham Lincoln ravaging downtown DC can only be stopped by a statue version of John Wilkes Booth, can you still listen to my advice on your story? If I have 57 Kanye West songs on my iPod, can you ever take me seriously again? Or is literature so far removed from these other mediums that they’re not even comparable, just like how not knowing about feng shui doesn’t imply that you can’t be a wine critic?

THEY DON'T EVEN MEET THE ANTAGONIST UNTIL THE FINAL SCENE!

Thoughts on Plot

I’ve been reading Lorrie Moore’s most recent novel A Gate at the Stairs. It’s enjoyable, and if you like Lorrie Moore (which I certainly do), you’ll enjoy this book. The voice is strong. The descriptions are surprising and unique. But there’s one crucial element missing: plot. I made a complaint about this on Facebook and certain people (ahem) complained about said complaint. I’ve been wondering a lot about why this is. Why when someone criticizes a literary novel for not having plot, many thoughtful readers will rise up and say literary novels don’t need plot. But that would never hold true for dialogue or characterization or any of the other fundamental building blocks of fiction. Imagine someone critiquing a novel’s characterization and a reader saying, well, literary novels don’t need characterization. 

By plot, I don’t mean melodrama. I mean tension, an inciting incident, anything that grabs readers’ attention and forces them onward. It could be something as monumental as a mother having sacrificed one of her children to the Nazis and dealing with the aftermath (Sophie’s Choice) or something as subtle and quiet as finding out how the final night of a closing Red Lobster plays out (Last Night at the Lobster). Plot is an absolutely necessary component to any work of fiction for me, but at some point, it became a dirty word in hoity-toity literary circles. In MFA workshops, it’s often thrown around as an insult. This story’s too plotted or too plot heavy. Again, can you even picture a reader who would say that a story has too much characterization? But what is a story without a plot? A quirky observation? A rant? 

Tension! A Plot!

 

When I think of really strong plots, I think of books that have elaborate underpinnings that are hidden from the reader. I think of Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. On one level, not much happens. A married suburban couple is unhappy. They think moving to Paris will solve all their problems. The wife becomes pregnant and the husband uses that as excuse not to go. What will happen? But if you reread that book, you can see thematic seeds planted throughout. References to April wanting an abortion appear in the first 50 pages, before she even gets pregnant. Characters talk about how people are more alive in Paris before the trip is ever brought up. Rehearsals for Frank’s eventual failure of the soul occur again and again and again. Each scene is necessary, and pulling out even one would destroy the book as a whole. In that sense, it’s structured like an elaborate end-game Jenga tower. But upon first reading, none of this is apparent to reader. Everything is organic. This is an instance where plot is as important as dialogue, characterization, empathy, and all the other elements of fiction of the traditionally dominant aesthetic set. 

I can’t say why exactly I’m so drawn to plot, but it definitely has to do with my odd inclination towards structures. Maybe it goes back to my fascination with genre storytelling as a boy, and subsequent return to comic books as an adult. I’m not sure, but it certainly explains why I prefer Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Cloumbus (a tightly plotted coming of age novella) to his more celebrated Portnoy’s Complaint (a long, first-person rant directed at a psychoanalyst). One uses plot effectively while the other does not. Both are great books, but one plays more towards my preferences in literary fiction. The same holds true for Lorrie Moore. I love her short stories (the characters usually want something and try to achieve those goals, or else their inaction and stagnancy are the “point” of the story). But I’m not loving this novel as much as I’d hoped because the protagonist (though wonderfully vivid and defined) is given little drama or tension to play off of. She is adrift. That is all. One scene follows another but only a handful feel vital to the book’s movement and soul. Of course, I’m only 150 pages in, so maybe I’ll have a very different opinion by novel’s end (although I’d be hard-pressed to see a reason for the first aborted adoption meeting at Perkins). All these years later, and I’m still a believer in Tom Bailey‘s second rule of fiction: story happens when shit hits the fan. 

As advertised, a LOT of complaining.