Salvatore Pane

Tag: Susquehanna University

Rivercraft Launch (feat. SALVATORE PANE) *AIR HORN*

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HEY. If you want to see me this Monday in Pennsylvania, I’ll be at Susquehanna University for the RiverCraft launch. The event begins in Isaacs Auditorium at 7:30pm, and I’ll be reading from Last Call in the City of Bridges. Hope to see you all there.

Success After Susquehanna Interview

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In 2006, I got my finger stuck in a Molson bottle. In 2014, I was interviewed as part of the Success After Susquehanna series.

Started from the bottom.

Spring 2013 Graphic Novel Syllabus

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I’ve been trying to get a comic book survey course off the ground since spring 2010. It’s finally happening in the form of Contemporary Lit & Culture: The Graphic Novel, and I could not be happier. The majority of this syllabus is my own design (the essay topics and many of the readings), but I took cues from the graphic novel survey course I took as an undergraduate at Susquehanna University led by Dr. Laurence Roth. Please let me know what you think. I’m still tinkering with details.

ENGL 415: Contemporary Lit & Culture

University of Indianapolis

Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane

Office Hours: 12-1 MWF, 3-4 MW

Credits: 3.0

The Graphic Novel

Syllabus

Course Description

In Contemporary Lit & Culture, we’ll survey a vast array of graphic novels. Students will read and analyze texts from a number of different genres. We’ll discuss the deconstruction of the superhero genre in Watchmen alongside the story of a young Iranian woman coming of age in Persepolis among many other seminal works of sequential art. Students will familiarize themselves with the terms and structures of the comic book.

Welcome to Contemporary Lit & Culture: The Graphic Novel

 

What are comic books? What are graphic novels? What is sequential art? And what is their connection to us as students, scholars, and citizens of the globe? Together, we’ll close read and analyze a number of texts to answer these very questions. We’ll examine the complicated history of the comic book medium abroad and right here in America. We’ll look at comics that examine global politics as diverse as the Holocaust and the Islamic Revolution. We’ll question the reinvention of superheroes and how creators have used those familiar tropes to say something larger about our burgeoning humanity in the post-atomic area. We’ll discuss critiques of the military industrial complex and global imperialism. And finally, we’ll study the so-called “new masters” of comics and try to understand the limits and potentialities of the graphic novel as a recently legitimatized art form in the 21st century.

Each student will be asked to write two research essays totaling 17 pages of polished material. You will add to the ongoing discussion of the course and participate in a group presentation. By course’s end, you’ll be able to display a thorough understanding of a burgeoning medium that combines both prose and art using a scholarly vocabulary and framework.

Required Texts

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

The Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

Persepolis I: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

The Manhattan Projects: Volume 1: Science Bad By Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

Criminal: Volume 6: The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Course Objectives:

 

  • To develop our skills as critical writers, readers and thinkers, and to understand the interdependence of these three skills
  • To improve our writing skills in several genres, including the research essay
  • To develop our appreciation for literature and the thoughtful discussion of texts and ideas through multiple theoretical perspectives.
  • To discuss the rise of the comic book as a “new” art form that marries both prose and art.

Readings

It is your responsibility to bring the books and readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. If you do not bring the books, I will mark you absent.

Grading

You will be asked to write two papers, to participate in one group presentation, and to add to the class discussion every single class. The grading breakdown follows:

Essays                                                                                                                                     70%

Class Participation                                                                                                     15%

Group Presentation                                                                                                     15%

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.

All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch margins. 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 Watchmen.”

Attendance

If you miss class five times, you will fail. 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 class.

 

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

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 / 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.

 

Presentations

 

During the first week you will sign up for one of four presentation groups each with its own topic. Your group will be responsible for leading one class over the course of the semester. You will be asked to give an overview/history of your assigned topic. Lead us into territory that you most care about. Feel free to be creative. Use technology, come prepared with a game, discussion questions, or whatever you feel is necessary to best serve the material being presented. We’ll talk about this more as we get further into the semester.

At the end of the course, you will be required to give a much more informal presentation for no more than five minutes. You will be asked to purchase and read one brand new comic book (they’re usually less than four dollars) from a local comic store here in Indianapolis. I will provide a list of stores and transportation options. You will then be asked to describe the store, the book, the publisher, and whether the comic was new reader friendly or not. This feeds into your participation grade, not your presentation grade.

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 Sequence

 

Week One

Monday January 14

Syllabus

Action Comics #1

Wednesday January 16

Understanding Comics “Introduction” “Setting the Record Straight” “The Vocabulary of Comics” “Blood in the Gutter”

Friday January 18

Understanding Comics “Time and Frames” “Show and Tell” “The Six Steps”
Week Two

Monday January 21 MLK

The Comics Book History of Comics 7-20, 27-56

Wednesday January 23

The Comic Book History of Comics 79-115, 163-186, 199-216

Friday January 25

Skype with Fred Van Lente
Week Three

Monday January 28

Outside Material – Superheroes in Real World Crises

Wednesday January 30

Outside Material – Superheroes in Real World Crises II

Friday February 1

Group Presentation 1 – Web Comics
Week Four

Monday February 4

Watchmen Chapters 1-3

Wednesday February 6

Watchmen Chapters 4-6

Friday February 8

Watchmen Chapters 7-9

 
Week Five

Monday February 11

Watchmen Chapters 10-12

Wednesday February 13

Watch Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods

Friday February 15

Watch Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods
Week Six

Monday February 18

We3 Chapter 1

Wednesday February 20

We3 Chapters 2-3

Friday February 22

Outside Material – The Second Image Revolution

Midterm Due
Week Seven

Monday February 25

Persepolis 1-53

Wednesday February 27

Persepolis 53-102

Friday March 1

Persepolis 102-153

 
Week 8

NO CLASSES SPRING BREAK
Week 9

Monday March 11

Group Presentation 2 – Manga

Wednesday March 13

Maus Chapters 1-3 Book 1

Friday March 15

Maus Chapters 4-6 Book 1
Week 10

Monday March 18

Maus Chapters 1-3 Book 2

Wednesday March 20

Maus Chapters 4-5 Book 2

Friday March 22

Outside Material – Comics as a Legitimate Art Form
Week 11

Monday March 25

Group Presentation 3 –Archie

Wednesday March 27

Outside Material – #MakeComics
Week 12

Monday April 1
Criminal: Last of the Innocents Chapter 1

Wednesday April 3

Criminal: Last of the Innocents Chapter 2

Friday April 5

Criminal: Last of the Innocents Chapters 3-4
Week 13

Monday April 8

Group Presentation 4 – Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project

Wednesday April 10

The Manhattan Projects Chapter 1

Friday April 12

The Manhattan Projects Chapters 2-3
Week 14

Monday April 15

The Manhattan Projects Chapters 4-5

Wednesday April 17

Skype with Nicholas Pitarra

Friday April 19

Individual Comic Book Presentation 1
Week 15

Monday April 22

Individual Comic Book Presentation 2

Wednesday April 24

Student Conferences

Friday April 26

Final Due

Assignments

 

Midterm

 

As we’ve seen time and again, comic book creators continually drop their superheroes into the hearts of real world crises. Whether it’s Captain America punching out Hitler, or Dr. Manhattan blowing up the Vietnamese for President Nixon, or even Dr. Doom crying at Ground Zero, superheroes always seem to get drafted into our real life struggles. Goofy Peter Parker bully Flash Thompson loses his legs in Iraq. Tony Stark builds his Iron Man suit in response to an attack during the Korean War. President Reagan sends Superman to end the Batman problem once and for all. This trend has existed throughout the entire history of superhero comics.

Why? Think of other fantastical genres. Sci-fi. Fantasy. There are always examples to the contrary, but these other speculative characters rarely encounter real life crises like 9/11 or World War II. What is it about superheroes that writers keep trying to use them to solve our real life problems? For as easy as it is to imagine Captain America fighting in Iraq, it’s as difficult to imagine Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter doing the same.

For this paper, you will explore why superheroes are continuously dragged into the real world to solve our actual problems. What separates characters like Superman and Dr. Manhattan from Master Chief and Frodo Baggins when it comes to their ability to enter our worlds? Over seven pages, you will come up with an answer to this question. You are required to use AT LEAST five sources. One must be Watchmen or The Comic Book History of Comics. Two must be comic books or graphic novels you find on your own. Another two must be critical sources. We’ll discuss in class how to find these sources. Make sure that when you’re discussing comics you’re using the language and vocabulary put forth by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics.

Final

Over the course of the semester, we’ve discussed a wide variety of sequential art, everything from textbooks that explore the very limits of the medium to a book where Robert Oppenheimer leads a rag tag group of Nazi-murdering super scientists. We’ve seen the reworking of the superhero, comics as memoirs, war fables, and even the prestige graphic novel. Yet there is always that lingering doubt: are comic books valid? Are they worthy of study in the same way that a masterpiece of a novel is worthy of study?

For this paper, you will form an argument for how/if sequential art can be a viable tool for various disciplines within the university. Comic books have only been seen as entertainment suitable for adults in the last few years. Can they be as useful to the university as prose books? Are the works of Ed Brubaker and Art Spiegelman proof that graphic novels should be covered more thoroughly in English departments? Does Persepolis make a good case for allowing the graphic novel entry into journalism classes? Would the referential works of Criminal: Last of the Innocent and The Manhattan Projects function better in a Pop Culture seminar?

Limit yourself to a single discipline. There are many educators and thinkers who believe that comics books have no place in the university. There are many that do. Find their work and choose a side and develop your argument over ten full pages. For this paper you will need AT LEAST six sources. Three must be books we read in the second half of the course—everything post-Watchmen. And another three must be critical sources you find on your own. As always, make sure that when you’re discussing comics you’re using the language and vocabulary put forth by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics.

Selinsgrove Lit Events or Party In The City Where The Heat Is On/All Night In The Club Till The Break Of Dawn/Welcome To [Selinsgrove]/Bienvenido A [Selinsgrove]

On Saturday, September 17th I’ll complete a huge personal goal of mine by returning to Susquehanna University to do a reading! It’s the 15th anniversary of the Writers Institute and to celebrate, there’s going to be a reunion and reading at 5pm in the Degenstein Gallery during homecoming. Gary Fincke will be there! Tom Bailey will be there! And the lineup is extremely impressive.

Jay Varner
Nick Ripatrazone
Shanna Powlus Wheeler
Sarah Turcotte
Alexis Czencz Belluzzi

I’m so humbled to be reading with this group and at Susquehanna no less. So if you’re around Central PA next month, definitely make it a point to drive down to the gorgeous campus. There will be readings. There will be homecomings. There will be mayhem.

The Summer of Third Person

Third person doesn’t come easy to me. I’ve always written, or at least, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t write–my favorite “toys” as a kid aside from my Nintendo were my collection of notebooks where I’d write novel after novel, most of them bad continuations of video game plots. But like lots of idiots and jerks, I didn’t SET OUT TO BE A WRITER OR WHATEVER until after I finished Cather in the Rye in high school and thought, shit yeah, I want to do what this Salinger dude did right here. So I saved up money from my job in the mall at KB Toys and I spent a week that summer at Susquehanna’s Writers Camp where I met Tom Bailey and Gary Fincke and that pretty much put me on the path that led to SU and then Pitt and then teaching. And in those early years, I mostly wrote first person stories. Pieces that aped whatever writers I was biggest on at the time, be it Ray Carver or Richard Yates or Bobbie Ann Mason or DJ Pancake or whoever.

In grad school, I attempted a third person novel during the summer between my first and second years. This was back in 2008 I guess, and I’ve referred to it a few times on this blog, and it’s pretty much the most terrible thing anyone has ever written ever. If I ever get too cocky–which is frequent because I have a monster ego–I open that file on my computer and am reduced to protoplasm by just how bad practically every piece of it is. Cathy Day will now tell you otherwise (and I love her for that), but at the time, when she was reading what was most likely the 85th draft of that beast of a book a few weeks before my second year of grad school came to a close, she suggested that I just start fresh and write something closer to my own experience, closer to the kind of ludicrous first person voice I was then using on overindulgent facebook photo albums.

So I followed her advice and for the next two years worked on Last Call in the City of Bridges, formerly The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist, formerly The Digital Graveyard, a first person novel. So that’s done. And it got me an agent, the super smart Jenni Ferarri-Adler, and it’s pretty obvious to me that Last Call is the wellspring from which everything good in my life has emerged from if that makes any kind of sense at all.

At this point in my life, my development I guess, I feel like I can handle first person, or at least a very specific breed of first-person fairly well. I understand how it works and how to manipulate it. But during the revision process of the novel–pretty much the entirety of 2010 and a few months immediately before and afterward–I really wanted to spend some time trying to master third person, to add another tool to my writerly toolbelt. I attempted this through short stories.

Here, here, here, here, and here. These are the most successful ones though there is still a ton of room for improvement–like there always is. But I really wanted to use short stories during this period as a time to develop a third person voice with the idea in the back of my mind that once Last Call in the City of Bridges was truly finished and sent off to publishers, I could begin a third person novel.

Finally, that time is here. And I’m really happy to say that I am in a new novel, that I’m past the 50 page mark–I’m superstitious about novels and won’t even admit I’m doing one until it’s past that mark, otherwise I’m afraid I’ll jinx the whole thing. And it’s in third person! That’s not to say that everything’s great. I’m pretty good at keeping to a schedule where I write every day 9-12 or so and then edit in the afternoons, and often there are times when I’ll reread what I’ve written and just feel like every paragraph, every description, every sentence, every word is dead, dead, dead. But then there are times when I feel like I’m onto something, when I sense that flicker of a heartbeat that this book, this thing is growing with strength even though I’ve abandoned a mode of writing–first person again–that I feel so utterly comfortable with.

Recently, I came to a decision that for the rest of the summer–and maybe even awhile afterward–I’m only going to read third person novels. I’ve just finished Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply and I’m planning on Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater and then Egan’s A Visit From the Good Squad next (I know it’s not all third but I really want to read it). There are some collections I’ve agreed to read this summer for review purposes, and I’ll do those too, cheat a bit I guess. But this all kind of goes back to being superstitious about novels. I don’t want to read any first person while I’m in this book. I don’t want to disrupt the third person sensibility in my head that for me is so difficult to cultivate and maintain. But what I’m really curious about is if anyone else does weird crap like this? Do you ever avoid books that are totally unlike what you’re working on right that minute? Or are most writers the opposite, are you trying to get out of your own head/world when you’re reading? Secondly, third person novels! Recommend that shit to me. I always keep a big reading list on my computer but a lot of that is currently null-and-void thanks to the temporary first person/second person/short story ban. Tell me what I need, damn it!

Corium Magazine Showcase!!!!!

It’s official. A few days ago, Corium Magazine Editor-in-Chief/doomsday prophet Lauren Becker invited me to join her staff as Short Fiction Editor. This is especially exciting for me as Corium was one of the first journals to publish my work, and it’s actually a position I inquired about many, many months ago.  People who knew me in the long, long ago of my MFA days know that I was once Fiction Editor of Hot Metal Bridge and then later Editor-in-Chief. Even in college I took nonfiction editorial positions for a few of Susquehanna’s journals. I’ve loved literary journals ever since that day Tom Bailey took our intro to fiction class to the library and passed around dozens of the little magazines. And it’s always been a goal of mine to be part of that vibrant community.

But what does this shocking development mean for you? It means that if you’re reading this, you should probably submit. Length’s 1000-4000 words. But wait, you ask, what type of work does Corium publish? Below you’ll find a list of some really notable Corium stories. That isn’t to say that they’re not all notable (which they are), but linking to every piece Corium has ever published seems a tad counter-productive. So here are the ones I love the most. Keep in mind, I’m not a big poetry dude. So this is pretty heavy toward the fiction side.

“Sisters” – Amelia Gray and Lindsay Hunter

“All the Imaginary People are Better at Life” – Amber Sparks

“Retention” – Ravi Mangla

“One More Beneath the Exit Sign” – Stephen Elliott

“Mirrorball” – Carrie Murphy

“Girl, Luminous” – Donna Vitucci

“Eating Heart” – Cami Park

“Bonnie Parker Visits Her Final Getaway” – Sean Lovelace

“Given the Chance” – Alec Niedenthal

“Choo and Rumble” – Kim Chinquee

“Demoiselle” – Uche Ogbuji

“Des Moines Gymnopédie” – Scott Garson

“Shiny” – Andrea Kneeland

“Still They Hear What They Want To Hear” – Kathy Fish

“Inner Geographies” – Roxane Gay

“The Gone Children They Said Tell Us a Story” – J.A. Tyler

“All Our Canoes Are Safely Ashore” – B.J. Hollars

“An Intervention” – Matthew Salesses

“Two Earthquakes” – Nicolle Elizabeth

“Something More Interesting” – Tara Laskowski

“Drive” – Curtis Smith

“Regional Keystone” – Erin Fitzgerald

“Hands to Work” – Steve Himmer

Holy fucking shit, you say. That’s a lot of badass work by so many badass writers. I sure wish I could experience the unadulterated awesomeness of Corium in person! Well guess motherfucking what! You will have the chance in little under a month at AWP 2011!

Come party with me, Lauren, our wonderful poetry editor Heather Fowler, and of course, the good folks from Prick of the Spindle and SmokeLong Quarterly (edited by fellow Susquehanna alum Tara Laskowski). And look at those readers! Steve Almond! Michael Czyzniejewski! It’s going to be better than 10 Super Bowls.

Flashback Monday II: The Single Worst Personal Statement in the History of MFA Applications

It’s an absolute miracle I got in anywhere. Abandon all hope.

Sal Pane

Personal Statement Final Draft

10/26/06

I’ve spent the last four years studying at the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University with practicing fiction writers Tom Bailey and Gary Fincke. This has not only given me the chance to take over ten workshop classes steeped in constructive criticism but also an opportunity to learn craft, be a part of a writing community, and, most importantly, discover my process. I write every day, no excuses, for a minimum of two hours or more.

I’ve become completely obsessed with writing and reading, both of which happily possess hours of my time each and every day. Any good writer must be an insatiable reader. So I try and read broadly and delve into fiction camps that aren’t necessarily my own, spending as much time poring over my Richard Yates and Raymond Carver as I do brushing up on writers like Anton Chekhov or Franz Kafka. I also think that the act of writing fiction is a way of life and an end unto itself. I don’t need to be rewarded professionally because the writing itself is the reward. My career goals are ambitious in that I want to take two more years to hone my craft and better my writing. I’m very eager at taking every opportunity to learn and become a better writer.

Aside from the actual process of writing, I’d contribute to the program at the University of Pittsburgh because I’m such a veteran of workshops. I’ll be able to jump right in and give constructive criticism aiming at helping fellow students, not hindering them. And I’ll certainly be able to take any negative comments that will inevitably crop up during my stay. I’ve found that criticism is much more helpful for my own writing than simple praise. Beyond that, I’ve also served as an editor for multiple on campus literary journals, including working as the editor-in-chief of Susquehanna University’s creative nonfiction magazine, Essay. If I was accepted into your program I’d very much like to continue working on literary journals or creative outlets in any capacity possible. That’s one of the most alluring features of the program for me, the community of writers I’d be entering into with not only the faculty, but with other students as dedicated to writing and literature as I am.

Much of my work centers on my hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s an urban area with a rich history of decades of debt and failure after a promising start as a mining city. It’s even the first American town to have a functioning electrical trolley system, hence it’s nickname, The Electric City. I’d like an opportunity to devote even more time to exploring this subject of decaying cityscapes and the hard working people they produce. Right now I’m working on a novel set in Scranton, and a short story collection centered on various characters living in the town. In grad school, I hope to continue these projects and expand my horizons, thus giving me even more obsessions to write about. My tentative goal is to have a novel at least halfway finished by the time I complete the program, along with a finalized short story collection

I want to thank you for looking over my application. More than anything I want a chance to continue focusing on writing under the aide of a mentor and literary community, spending the next few years working dutifully on short stories and novels each and everyday. The ability to weave a continuous dream through fiction, a tangible world pregnant with feeling, is the greatest artistic accomplishment I could ever possibly achieve. Entering the community of writers at the MFA level is the next step in my evolution as a writer.

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Personal Statement Final Draft

I’ve spent the last four years studying at the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University with practicing fiction writers Tom Bailey and Gary Fincke. This has not only given me the chance to take over ten workshop classes steeped in constructive criticism but also an opportunity to learn craft, be a part of a writing community, and, most importantly, discover my process. I write every day, no excuses, for a minimum of two hours or more.

I’ve become completely obsessed with writing and reading, both of which happily possess hours of my time each and every day. Any good writer must be an insatiable reader. So I try and read broadly and delve into fiction camps that aren’t necessarily my own, spending as much time poring over my Richard Yates and Raymond Carver as I do brushing up on writers like Anton Chekhov or Franz Kafka. I also think that the act of writing fiction is a way of life and an end unto itself. I don’t need to be rewarded professionally because the writing itself is the reward. My career goals are ambitious in that I want to take two more years to hone my craft and better my writing. I’m very eager at taking every opportunity to learn and become a better writer.

Aside from the actual process of writing, I’d contribute to the program at the University of Pittsburgh because I’m such a veteran of workshops. I’ll be able to jump right in and give constructive criticism aiming at helping fellow students, not hindering them. And I’ll certainly be able to take any negative comments that will inevitably crop up during my stay. I’ve found that criticism is much more helpful for my own writing than simple praise. Beyond that, I’ve also served as an editor for multiple on campus literary journals, including working as the editor-in-chief of Susquehanna University’s creative nonfiction magazine, Essay. If I was accepted into your program I’d very much like to continue working on literary journals or creative outlets in any capacity possible. That’s one of the most alluring features of the program for me, the community of writers I’d be entering into with not only the faculty, but with other students as dedicated to writing and literature as I am.

Much of my work centers on my hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s an urban area with a rich history of decades of debt and failure after a promising start as a mining city. It’s even the first American town to have a functioning electrical trolley system, hence it’s nickname, The Electric City. I’d like an opportunity to devote even more time to exploring this subject of decaying cityscapes and the hard working people they produce. Right now I’m working on a novel set in Scranton, and a short story collection centered on various characters living in the town. In grad school, I hope to continue these projects and expand my horizons, thus giving me even more obsessions to write about. My tentative goal is to have a novel at least halfway finished by the time I complete the program, along with a finalized short story collection

I want to thank you for looking over my application. More than anything I want a chance to continue focusing on writing under the aide of a mentor and literary community, spending the next few years working dutifully on short stories and novels each and everyday. The ability to weave a continuous dream through fiction, a tangible world pregnant with feeling, is the greatest artistic accomplishment I could ever possibly achieve. Entering the community of writers at the MFA level is the next step in my evolution as a writer.

Cash, Money, Hoes: BABY BOY’S GOT TO EAT!

A couple of great posts on The Rumpus recently focused on something near and dear to my heart: writers getting paid. Elissa Bassist–whose amazing exit interview with her boyfriend has to be read to be believed–quotes the writer Elaine Showalter who wrote:

I told… all my graduate students, ‘Learn to write so well that you can be paid for it, rather than so badly that someone has to be paid to read your work.’ Many graduate students in English deliberately make their writing so obscure and pedantic that it is unreadable. But actually getting paid as a freelance journalist demands hard work and luck, as you know, and these days the market is tighter than ever.

Elissa then goes on to discuss her decision to self-publish some of her work and implore readers Radiohead style to contribute via paypal. The second Rumpus post to deal with money is a farce about a writer answering fan mail and essentially begging for money or a job. Doesn’t seem too far removed from reality.

Compensation is something I discuss a lot with my MFA pals, but usually that conversation’s about the tiered funding system our program uses. But when I think of getting paid to write (and by write I mean publishing short stories, doing book reviews, blogging for lit websites) is it an absolute travesty for me to say I don’t think we should be getting paid, or at least not very much?

Let me back up. Many will accuse me of  having a privileged opinion, and hey, I come from Scranton. My whole family’s working class, especially my immediate family, and I have enough student debt and scholarship cash to jump start the economy all by myself. So that shouldn’t be a major issue. But something that’s always stuck with me is a scene I witnessed in a workshop at Susquehanna University, where I went to undergrad. A professor of mine, the oft-mentioned Tom Bailey, was leading a workshop of a story about an arty photographer who got really mad that they had to do day jobs. Tom got pretty angry and gave us a speech about how real artists should be willing to sacrifice for their art, that they should even do so happily.

Now I’m not saying that writers are paid 100% fairly. There’s pretty much zero way for any writer to support themselves wholly off of literary writing. But there’s other ways, right? Teaching? Technical Writing? Writing in a different field–be that screenplays or comic books or what have you? And of course, the argument is always that if writers didn’t have to do all that extraneous stuff to feed themselves, they’d be able to produce better art. Maybe. But writing is a privilege and it has to be earned (and guys, don’t forget that Chekhov was a full time doctor and I think he did just fine).

I really applaud what Elissa Bassist is doing–check out her work and donate some money here. She saw something in the system she didn’t like, and she made an attempt to change it. And maybe one day, that will be the new model, and writers will be paid for doing much of the work they now do for free. But in the meantime, I’m absolutely fine with blogging and reviewing for free and making the majority of my income through teaching or other means. But where do you guys all stand on this? Does it burn you up that writers make so little, or do you see it as a necessary sacrifice for your art (because honestly, there’s probably a billion easier ways to make better money than writing literary fiction)?

Tom Bailey and the Perfect Writing Pedagogy: In Which I Discuss Abortions, Rilo Kiley and Jar Jar Binks

I attended my first workshop eight years ago (eight years! how did this happen?). We sat around a conference table in the basement of an academic building, the type from a trillion frat movies, all brick with ivy growing up and down the sides. And in came this man wearing denim, cowboy boots, and sporting the type of facial hair that could frighten Tom Selleck. The guy sat down, didn’t say a word of introduction, and opened up an anthology he edited (on the cover is a picture of him scowling alongside portraits of JCO, Hemingway, Dubus and others). He cleared his throat, said, “In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits,” and read us the entirety of John Updike’s A&P.

Needless to say, my friends and I all lived in worship of this man, novelist Tom Bailey, a southern good old boy who openly told us, “I’m not interested in experimentation. My reading list’s mostly dead white men.” And we all hurried home after that first class and poured our hearts out into Microsoft Word, producing lackluster, predictable stories about break ups, losing your virginity, the death of a grandparent, or whatever other bullshit teenagers come up with (my story was about how much the Catholic Church blows and how awesome Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is; so in some respects, my unfortunate themes haven’t changed much over the years).

But then a funny thing happened over the course of that first semester: people started talking shit about Bailey behind his back. I couldn’t understand. We read the man’s stories, and it was obvious he had chops. But more importantly he had swagger. He was a living illustration of what we all wanted to become, a real life writer we could imitate. If he did it, so could we. Right?

(Check out this creepy video where Tom Bailey cries and a younger, more vulnerable Sal gives a reading in a Rilo Kiley t-shirt and awkward sports jacket.)

I didn’t figure out why all my friends got so sick of Bailey all of the sudden until I was about to go up for workshop. I printed out my masterpiece about the anointing of the May Queen and a twelve-year-old obsessed with Playstation and left it in Tom’s mailbox. A day or two later I went to talk with him about it. His office was lined with books, most of which I had never heard of (up until that point, I’d only read comic books, sci-fi, and the respective catalogs of J.D Salinger and Chuck Palahniuk).

Tom told me that he really liked one specific line (it took me awhile to track it down, but it’s “The nuns were supposed to pick the purest girl in the school, but they didn’t want any trouble, so they decided to pick a name out of a hat.”). I nodded, took notes in my little notebook and asked him about the rest of the story. He said he didn’t like it and thought I should cut it (all 22 pages) and start again with that line. He handed me a book by Breece D’J Pancake (a writer who blew his brains out in graduate school; great encouragement, Tom) and told me to get cracking.

I’m bringing this up because (years later) now that I’ve finished grad school and eight continuous years of workshops, I’m trying to figure out what kind of criticism I got the most out of. I remember how so many of my fellow students in Bailey’s class were completely shut down by his tell it like it is method which is designed to teach you the value in cutting your work and never being attached to anything you write. And that skill’s proven absolutely invaluable to me (especially in ’08 when I threw away a completed novel I now refer to as The Abortion). But some writers are absolutely crushed by this level of criticism.

This is a CGI representation of what my first attempt at a novel was like.

Justin Taylor recently posted a critique he received from an undergrad poetry teacher. To me, it seemed perfectly in line with something a writer might say to an undergrad. But in the comments section, people were split on whether the commentary was actually helpful or just cliche-ridden and destructive. I have to admit, this kind of reaction always surprises me.  Are writers so thin skinned that honest criticism is too much for them to deal with? And if so, is this really what they want to be doing with their lives? Submitting to hundreds of journals only to get a handful of acceptances? Because, let’s be honest, any criticism in the real world is inevitably a trillion times harsher than what people receive in workshop.

There’s something to be said for the, “This is good; keep going” route of writing pedagogy. But I think it’s more appropriate when workshopping novels than short stories. If someone writes a flawed short story, isn’t it the duty of instructors and fellow workshop students to make the author aware of said flaws and point out potential solutions? On the flip side, I’ve seen writers a third of the way into a promising novel put up a first chapter and become completely debilitated by the laundry list of suggestions.

After sixteen workshops, I’ve gone through a lot of feedback. And what I remember most are the harsh critiques, the honest critiques. Those made me a better writer. What I never remember is the false flattery, the praise, and all the unearned bullshit writers sometimes feel compelled to give apprentices. Case in point, a few years back when I was really wrestling with The Abortion (the aforementioned novel, not a reincarnated Chuck Palahniuk creation), Cathy Day took me aside and gently (maybe not in so many words) told me I should put it away for awhile. At the time, I wasn’t ready to hear this and sulked for a few days, but the key here (just like in the Bailey example where he plucked out a new first line from the wreckage) was that Cathy gave me something to build on. I was spending a lot of time back then creating Facebook photo albums with long, elaborate captions that went on for entire paragraphs. And Cathy told me how much she liked that voice and how little she saw of it in my novel writing. Why not write in that voice?

Well why not? So I aborted The Abortion and began writing something completely different, all the while imagining myself captioning pictures on Facebook. Is that an absolutely bizarre method? Yes. But it worked for me, and Cathy helped me find that. She didn’t worry about my feelings. Just like Tom and a gazillion other amazing mentors I’ve had, they were honest. They weren’t afraid to tell me something I wrote was terrible.