Critique survived!

September 3, 2009 at 10:59 am (editing, education, Writing)

Last night was my first critique for the Advanced Fiction Workshop in my grad program. Wow! Talk about pressure and intimidation. There were several points leading up to the critique where I was just sure that everyone was going to hate – absolutely disdain – the story I had submitted. All these fellow graduate students, all literary and knowledgeable and high-brow, picking my piece apart. MY piece, that I had spent HOURS on, that I felt was one of the better works I’d done. The night was destined to end badly.

Ok, so I was a bit overly-concerned. But still, it was stressful.

In the end, the comments were both encouraging and helpful. They seemed to generally like the characters, flow, plot, and structure of the story. Some of their suggestions hit on things I hadn’t even thought about, but most of them will be quick fixes (as opposed to a full “scrap-and-start-over” revision). After all my worry, it ended up being a positive night.



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Over and over

September 2, 2009 at 8:44 am (editing, Writing)

While I don’t mind editing, after awhile it becomes nearly impossible to accurately judge my own work. After reading and re-reading and then reading a piece again, I can no longer tell what sounds right and what doesn’t. Or what dialogue works and what doesn’t. I’m too close to the writing as is, and after overexposure it usually all starts to sound either really good (which undoubtedly it isn’t) or really bad (which hopefully it isn’t). I try to set a piece aside for a week or so and then come back to it fresh. This helps, but still, a few more reads and I’m back to editorial blindness.

I suppose this malady isn’t unique to me. Thank goodness for wives (and mine at least loves to be the first person to read something I’ve written), friends, and grad school classes. Tonight, as a matter of fact, my Advanced Fiction class critiques my story. I’m excited (and nervous) to hear what they have to say.

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150 pages later…

August 31, 2009 at 7:49 am (education)

So, 150 pages of Critical Theory textbook reading later, I actually have some idea of what’s going on in my Intro. to Grad Studies class. All these theories about how to interpret literature is heady stuff. I didn’t even know this discipline existed before last week and now I’m waist deep in it.

Apparently, some critics think that when reading a text, its only the reader’s response that matters; in other words, the words on the page have no meaning until the reader gives it one based on his or her own response. It’s called – ironically – “Reader-response criticism.” My description is oversimplified in the extreme, of course, and there are lots of divisions even within this theory. Overall, though it seems to make some good points about outside influences that can affect our reading, I think it has quite a bit of bogus, post-modern mumbo-jumbo. Not a big fan.

New-critics were much better, though they at times actually focus too much on the text, ignoring salient points like the author’s background and intent.

While this is all very – sometimes very – interesting, it makes for lousy blog posts. I won’t worry too much about critical theory popping up here too often:-)

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Lookout Joe’s

August 28, 2009 at 9:26 am (cafe', Job search, Writing)

Found an excellent Coffee House in Mt. Lookout (Cincinnati). Basically, it’s a hometown Starbucks, but much more comfortable and less…refined. They do their own coffee roasting – as is evidenced by the imposing roaster, looking like an Industrial Age steam engine, sitting in the corner – and must do pretty good business. The place was packed.

If you’re wondering, “why does he keep talking about cafes?” I’ll tell you. A good coffee house, full of the proper atmosphere and caffein, is my ideal place to write. Sometimes I just have to get out of the house, and it is well worth the $3 I’ll spend to get four hours in a stimulating environment. As a matter of fact, if I were ever to work up the courage to start my own business – something with a probability similar to that of the proverbial flying swine – it would most definitely be a place like Lookout Joe’s.

But then again, if I was working, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it nearly so much.

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Advanced fiction writing

August 27, 2009 at 7:11 am (education, spiritual growth, Writing)

Began Advanced Fiction Writing grad class last night. It’s going to be great! I did get to submit my story for critique – the first in the class – and I’m looking forward to hearing what people think of it. I’m feeling a strange mixture of “its so good they’re going to be blown away” and “its so terrible I’ll be humiliated for the next three months of class.” Yes, that would be pride and the fear of man, both rolled up into one. Looks like its going to be a spiritually stretching class as well:-)

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A hesitant, reluctant, uncharacteristic knock on Starbucks…

August 25, 2009 at 5:01 pm (cafe', Writing)

I love Starbucks. As a matter of fact, I am on record as saying that there is no drink quite so perfect as a Starbucks’ mocha, and I love writing with its goodness coursing through my veins. However, I have to say that rather than paying $4 for that esteemed beverage and then sitting in an often crowded, noisy, uncomfortable setting, today I found a better way. My $4 at Panara bread got me a Jones Soda and a huge chocolate cookie; it’s quiet, comfortable – leather chair! – and I’m not paying a dime for the wireless connection I’m using to make this post.

I’m not saying that the Siren song of Starbucks caffein won’t capture me next time…but for today, contentment was found elsewhere.

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Back into academia

August 25, 2009 at 9:12 am (education, Writing)

The first class of ENG 600 Introduction to Graduate Studies was a head-first dive back into the world of academia. It was, however, a dive and not a belly-flop; I had prepared myself for the intimidating syllabus and large workload. Still, reading such enthralling titles as Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms and the ever present MLA Handbook will certainly be a challenge.

Thankfully, my second class this semester is Advanced Fiction Workshop so my creativity won’t be totally squelched beneath the weight of heady theory and fifty-dollar words. I’ve just prepared a story which I may actually be distributing the first day of class (this wednesday). I am both excited and nervous about the prospect of putting my hard work out for the critical eye of graduate students. I’m hoping that my bubble – however inflated – will not be totally burst. We shall see!

PS I love college campuses. Love them. But I have to admit that NKU’s campus is ugly. Every building is concrete, foundation to rooftop, like a great three dimensional parking lot. Not very inspiring.

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Morning joy

August 21, 2009 at 11:04 am (Job search, Writing)

Here’s a news flash: “Job searching is no fun.”

I’ve been spending between 2 and 4 hours every weekday looking for a job. Perusing websites. Checking job boards. Applying for jobs that, I’m ashamed to say, I would be ashamed to get and for others that I’m not even qualified for. Watching in amazement as positions I am qualified for – high school teaching jobs – get posted and filled sooner than I can even find them.

Even in the midst of this, and the Lord is certainly teaching me through this experience, I must say that writing is a breath of fresh air. Every morning, before the daily grind begins, I write fiction of an hour or so. I create and edit and polish and rewrite and love it. Love it, love it. It hasn’t gotten old and it’s wonderful to know that each day I’ll have that hour of peaceful, joyful work.

By God’s grace, I’ll have a job soon. By God’s grace, someday it’ll be to write.

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Grad School…

August 19, 2009 at 6:51 am (education)

Had orientation for my grad school program yesterday. I’ll be pursuing a Master’s of English at Northern Kentucky University with a focus on creative writing. Can’t wait to be back in the classroom! Can’t wait to be taking classes that I’m actually interested in; Advanced Fiction starts Wednesday!

Looking back on college, if I’d have known then what I know now, I would have gotten so much more out of my classes. Grad school’s going to be great!

Northern Kentucky University

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Michael Chabon

August 17, 2009 at 7:11 am (authors, books, Writing)

I just began reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. It’s the third Chabon book I’ve read (Gentlemen of the Road and Final Solution were the others), and thus far it has not disappointed. If you haven’t read anything by this master writer, grab a dictionary and settle in as soon as you possibly can. He’s brilliant.

Surprisingly brilliant. If you look at his work analytically, from the bird’s eye view, there is much to condemn it. His sentences are way – way! – too long. He fits more aside phrases in one sentence than most authors do in an entire book. He is overly descriptive – which accounts for the long, rambling sentences – and uses vocabulary that is far above even the average, well-read person. Some of the words he uses I’ve never even seen before, and occasionally I wonder if he’s just made them up. His paragraphs are also excessively lengthy, and from chapter to chapter he skips around in time like a man whose time-machine dial is malfunctioning.

And yet…. every word is so carefully chosen, so perfect, that I am continually blown away by the art of it. It’s like reading a famous painting; The Last Supper put down in black ink. No author makes me despair so quickly of ever being a successful novelist while at the same time demonstrating to me exactly what I want to do.

I can’t wait to read more.

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