New baby…

October 14, 2009 at 6:08 pm (Family, spiritual growth)

Whoohoo! New baby has arrived! My wife delivered our first child on Monday at 11:42am. Coming in at a whopping 8 lbs. 11 ozs., Ivy-Jane Sommer Southworth is healthy and happy (usually:-)

I’m not usually a really emotional guy, but I just have to express my overwhelming thankfulness for God’s mercy and provision. Neither Kyna nor I deserve the grace He has shown us in the whole pregnancy, labor, and delivery process; I am truly awed by His sovereign, free love towards us. We are also blown away by the friends and family who have stood faithfully by us: their love is also overwhelming and their help indispensable.

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Example:

October 11, 2009 at 5:15 pm (books, education, philosophy)

In my last post I talked about literary theories and how sometimes it seems like literary criticism has little practical use. Here’s a perfect example of academics producing academia for other academics for the purpose of furthering academia. This quote comes from an essay by Seamus Deane entitled “Imperialism/Nationalism” in the book Critical Terms for Literary Study.

Culture is, indeed, an amorphous term, especially when it is routinely and with every appearance of benignity locked in with its comparably ill-defined cousin “tradition” in the ideological cell of nationalism. The subsequent isolation is deceptively pure for it breeds all sorts of promiscuous fantasies that are as formless as the natal pairing might lead us to expect. The consequence is that such enclosed and hermetic national formations actually become caricatures of the unawakened communal consciousness they replace.

Ummm…wha?

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What is “learning” anyway?

October 10, 2009 at 11:28 am (education, philosophy, Writing)

I love my NKU (Northern Kentucky University) grad program. I really do. I’ve told everyone who will listen how great it is and how much benefit I’m getting from it.

I preface my post with that because I’m about to bring up a complaint, and I don’t want it to seem like I’m just grumpy about homework and research papers (I’m not – I actually LIKE doing the homework!). My concern has to do with the critical theories we’re learning about in my Intro. to Graduate Studies class. The class itself is a great overview and I’m thoroughly satisfied; it’s the theories themselves – and by extension English Studies in general – that seems flawed.

There are many ways in which literature is analyzed and interpreted: New Critical Theory, Feminist Theory, Structuralist Theory, Queer Theory, New Historical Theory, etc. Each one looks at literature in a different way and comes up with their own – sometimes widely separated – interpretation. Their own “take” or “point” you might say. Some theories don’t even care what the author had in mind when he wrote. Some care very much. Some theories look very carefully at the text (this is called “close reading”) and other put more value on the reader’s response to the text. And so on.

While there are plenty of problems with individual theories (I’ll save that for another day), an equally large problem is with the bigger picture: Most of these theories (and their theorists) do not claim to be correct. We’re not taught to search for the exclusively “right” way to interpret. Nor to look for what a text really means. The value in these approaches is the diversity of perspective that they bring. Such diversity is touted as beneficial for the variety of viewpoints it opens us up to, but after several weeks of this I get the impression that much of theory (and I’m not condemning theory, by the way, just how it’s carried out) is just an academic exercise or a way to push a certain agenda.

So what are we “learning?” If there is supposedly no “right” or “correct” way of reading a text, but just the benefit of a diverse perspective, then what truth or knowledge are we actually gaining. Diversity for the sake of diversity, variety for the sake of variety, and perspective for the sake of perspective seem empty if there is not hard truth to be found at some point.

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The waiting game

October 7, 2009 at 9:58 am (Family, time)

I think I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I are expecting our first child. Well, we’re still “expecting.” The baby was due last Thursday and, as of today, still seems to prefer the warm confines of her mother’s belly.

It’s a weird feeling, this waiting. We obviously know that we’ll never be returning to “normal,” but we’re still caught in a kind of holding pattern. We’ve done all the reading and preparation we can do for the delivery; the nursery is all ready; family has come and will be coming to help out; my wife’s all ready for her maternity leave. And yet…we can’t move on to this next exciting life stage just yet.

So I make plans in case I have to miss a day of class for Grad School (depending on when the baby comes). My wife tries to continue working (some days) so as not to use up all her sick days. Her sister patiently waits as her week of vacation wiles away here at our home.

“Come on, kiddo! Let’s get this party started!”

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Literary or entertaining

October 5, 2009 at 7:55 am (education, Writing)

Had an interesting conversation in my Fiction Class about literary short stories and their popularity (or lack there of) with the general populace. Historically, some of the most popular and well-known short-fiction writers – Poe, Twain, O’Henry, and others – were enjoyed by those outside academia. Like novelists, they were well known and widely-read. Somewhere along the line, however, writers of “serious” fiction, those stories published in literary magazine and the like, seem to have increasingly left the mainstream and often circulate mainly in the world of academia. In class we’ve commented many times on the unique style of this modern, literary fiction: it often lacks a plot and/or action and leaves the reader with a very ambiguous taste in their mouth.

As I’ve thought about this, two things strike me. One is that it’s very unfortunate that the “best” of narrative fiction is so often unattractive to the common reader . It seems that many of these stories have forgotten what a “story” is. Human beings are enthralled by good stories, captivated by them, and when a work is so obtuse that only intellectuals can enjoy it – and I use “enjoy” fairly loosely here – it has wandered from the latent power of narrative fiction and has in some ways ceased to be a “story.”

Secondly, I have realized that I have little interest in writing this brand of literary fiction. In the past – recent past – I’ve been very intimidated by this “high-brow” writing and felt that my work was far below many of these literary publications. But I’ve realized that the reason I love writing, the thing that has drawn me from childhood to put stories down on paper, is just that: STORY! To create, imagine, to build. To enthrall my reader, to take them somewhere new. I want those who read my stories to love the characters and the plot; to be entertained on the surface and be caused to think about life – their life! – at a deeper level.

That’s why I love writing. And if I’m never published by those in academia, so be it.

NOTE: Obviously, I’m making some broad generalizations here about literary fiction. This post is meant more as an expression of what I’m learning and thinking through as a writer than as a real analysis and critique of literary short fiction.

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Literary Event

October 2, 2009 at 11:32 am (education, Writing)

Attended a literary event for one of my grad school classes. It was pretty interesting and very informative so I thought I’d post my review here.

Literary Event Review

Speaker, Jeanne Leiby, editor of the Southern Review

The first presentation of the NKU Honors Program Distinguished Speakers Series welcomed Jeanne Leiby, editor of the Southern Reiew, to give a talk entitled: “Straight-Shooting from the Top: Editing Literary Works in the Post-Feminist World and Bottom-Line Economy.”

Summary: Ms. Leiby gave a charismatic and informative talk that began with her background and wound its way naturally to the specifics of her job as editor of the Southern Review. She read a short selection from one of her own fiction pieces that gave a fictionalized account of her school years in Detroit and then moved on to describe her winding career path and the importance of a mentor in leading her to where she is – and who she is – today. The descriptions she gave about the realities of current editing and publication included the editorial and selection process current at the Southern Review, explanations on what editors are looking for in writing, and pitfalls – including plagiarism and inaccurate content – for the writer to avoid.

Reaction: I found this talk both very encouraging and – paradoxically – disheartening. On the discouraging side, Ms. Leiby pulled no punches in her description of the current state of fiction publication in America. It is driven not by quality writing as much as by market trends and, of course, profit. Publishers are interested in what sells  – right now! – and often engage in sloppy or nonexistent fact-checking on the manuscripts they approve for publication. She also described the overwhelming amount of competition in the fiction market, citing the 17,000 submissions that the Southern Review receives every year and the paltry 1-2% that are actually accepted. Her own short story, the one she read an excerpt from, was rejected over 60 times before finally being accepted and published.

However, it was not all doom-and-gloom. Especially if one applies a optimistic spin – one that would make the White House proud – to Ms. Leiby’s information and personal story.

For example: Her piece, a quality piece and worthy of publication, was rejected multiple times before someone finally saw its value. Translation: Just because a story I’ve submitted has been rejected by a few journals doesn’t mean its not good or won’t be accepted somewhere down the line. Press on! Keep trying!

Another example: Ms. Leiby has worked at a variety of jobs – including that of a horse groomer – and taken a rather winding road to get where she is today. Translation: Being a good writer, a successful writer, takes time and experience. You can’t expect immediate success. Press on! Keep trying!

One more: The fiction marketplace is filled with successful writers who plagiarize and use sloppy – or nonexistent – research in their work. Translation: I don’t plagiarize and can do great research. I can compete with these guys. I just need to press on! Keep trying!

You get the idea.

Aside from these rather emotional reactions, I found the practical information that she shared helpful as well. I didn’t know how important fact checking could be for a literary journal. Nor did I know much of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at a literary publication.

Conclusion: This was a great night that combined good information with entertaining speaking and I’m very glad to have been in attendance. Bravo to the Honors Department and to Ms. Leiby for this beneficial event.

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Music

September 16, 2009 at 8:52 am (Writing)

As a writer, it goes without saying that I have a great appreciation for the written word. A well constructed poem or novel or essay can be a beautiful piece of art. It can also be very powerful.

I must say, however, that sometimes I envy music’s ability to touch the heart in a way writing never will. It’s remarkable, really. With the right tune and tone and pitch (and a hundred other factors I can’t even begin to understand) music has the ability to bypass the mind and head straight for the emotions. To stir things within the human soul that have seemingly no connection to circumstances or events in the real world. Many times a song – even one without lyrics – will bring a tear to my eye, unexpected and emotion filled. That’s power.

The written word certainly has advantages as well; areas where music simply cannot compete. But there is a mystery about music that sometimes makes me jealous. I’m very glad that God included it in His creative plan and that there are people in this world who can master it for the benefit of us all.

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Every bear his cave, every writer…

September 11, 2009 at 5:54 pm (our house)

One of the great pleasures of being a writer is having your own special writing “place.” An escape where the nerves are calmed and the magic happens (or, if not magic, at least illusion:-).

Here’s mine. I like to call it my “Manbrary” but out of consideration for my wife, I’ll settle for Library.

"The Desk" "The Chair" "The Books"

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Fabulous find!

September 9, 2009 at 8:41 am (education, published, Writing)

One of the frustrating and time-consuming tasks that constantly faces a writer – especially a new writer – is finding the right market for their work. You slave over a story, enduring countless edits and revisions, and end up with a polished manuscript. But who will buy it? Who will read it?

In the past, the Writer’s Market has been the go-to guide. It’s published every year with updated lists of journals, magazines, webzines, and publishers. Though it is certainly helpful, however, it has some serious drawbacks. By the time it comes out, some of its content is already out of date (journals close, for example, or change their submission guidelines). This can lead to lots of wasted time as you follow leads from the book only to find that they do not match your needs (or no longer exist!). Also, you really need a computer to make the Writer’s Market useful; you have to double check information on the specific market’s website. Plus, the book is pretty expensive.

I’ve found a better way. In one of my grad classes last week, the prof showed us a website that does everything the Writer’s Market does, but better. Duotrope’s Digest is like an online search engine for markets. You simply plug in your criteria (“I have a short story, of the mystery genre, and I want to be paid as a semi-pro.”) and it comes up with a list of current markets. On top of the information on submissions right there on Duotrope, you are obviously already on the computer and can very conveniently zip over to the specific website to get more detailed info. The best part is, I’ve been told that they update very frequently; no more waiting for a hardcopy publication that’s already out of date.

And it’s free!

I haven’t used it much yet (I only found out about it last week) but I’m looking forward to exploring it. Gotta love anything that saves time!

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Camera!

September 7, 2009 at 5:28 pm (1)

Hey, I just got a new camera so hopefully I can start adding some pictures to this blog as well. Whoohoo!

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