Monday, August 27, 2012

End of Summer Romances

Books for Summer's End

I have to admit, I was very flattered when my buddy Bobby asked for my opinion about a book recommendation. The back story? Well, Bobby and I have spent a few afternoons together talking about poetry and literature, mostly of the Irish variety. And for Bobby, the book recommendation was not for him, but rather for an acquaintance of his who was on her way somewhere. I suspect that this acquaintance was something of a future promise of romance, but at the time he needed this recommendation, the allure of a liaison was nothing more than a vague hint. What did I recommend? Well, I was on the move when he asked. He asked via text message. He was already at the bookstore. And I had to think on my feet.

There are some people in my past who I really admired because of their ability to think on their feet when it came to books and writers. Kyle Bass was quick. He was quick in many, many ways. And I did admire him greatly too. I can think of two such conversations I had with him in the summer of 2007 when he changed tracks and recommended books and stories because of what I was doing. He recommended Frank Conroy's Stop-time and not because I was writing memoir. He recommended Jerzy Kosiniski's The Painted Bird for a very similar reason. When we talked about dialogue in fiction and the associated attribution he was quick with Raymond Carver's “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and William Faulkner's “That Evening Sun.” I suspect that Kyle was able to come up with these things because of his experiences in life, as a reader, as a writer and also as a teacher. Yes, I admire him greatly.

This is probably why I was so thrilled when Bobby asked for my opinion. We spent a few text messages hashing out what the book should be by discussing what the message should be, the relationship (current, past, and future hopefully) between Bobby and the girl. I also wanted to know where the girl was going.

We came up with this: something light and profound. I would not, and I cannot recommended a book such as The Prophet or The Alchemist in any sort of serious way. I feel the same way about a book that was big time in the 1990s and all but vanished now: The Celestine Prophecy. I feel this way because these books are too canned, too obvious, too something not personal or subtle. I enjoyed The Alchemist very much, and the others are okay too, but they are generic when it comes to “here, I bought you this book for your trip, please think of me when you're drinking wine, eating cheese, and smoking late night cigarettes in the south of France.”

I ultimately recommended Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams. I guess I just figured that this book is light enough to read on the beach, beautiful enough to make an impression and not overtly preachy or philosophical. It's the kind of book I think the promise of becoming a future lover should gift to a potential beloved.

Which leads me to the next stage. What do you say when at the end of the summer and your new lover is going away on a trip without you? Or worse still, what about when your new lover is about to leave you and go home to a far away or foreign place?

I don't know why I would think of such a thought today. I don't know why I recall the likes of my friend Bobby, or my former instructor Kyle. I don't know what it is other than the light outside today which sort of looks like the end of summer. And the end of summer light to me makes me nostalgic for the end of the teenage romances I never had because I was too busy washing dishes or fighting the war. The end of summer light is the sweet goodbyes wrapped in future promises of love affairs to come and wit and wisdom that becomes good reads on the coming autumn days. And before I give you my list, let me just say that it is good for you on an end of a potential love affair or on a shortening end of summer lighted day or as a recommendation to a friend who might be on her way to France. Those things, yes, but these are some of my highly coveted reads.

Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine
Etgar Keret The Busdriver Who Wanted to Be God
Alan Lightman Einstein's Dreams
Eduardo Galeano The Book of Embraces
Richard Brautigan So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away

Monday, August 20, 2012

Last Licks: Remember Your Audience, Remember Your Editors, Embark on a Writing Life

Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine

I chuckle every time I think about the character Milton from the movie Office Space. It makes me laugh because how much the entire office seemed to torture the poor guy. His bosses kept pushing him from one office to the next, and eventually put him in the basement with the junk and cockroaches. “I told them if they move me one more time I'll—I'll burn the place down, take my stapler and traveler's check to a competing resort.” Hell of an image, right?

I wonder how often Miltons exist in workplaces? And even in my workplace at Umbrella Factory Magazine, I wonder if this “Milton position” may be at the nonfiction desk? What? Did I really just equate the work at the nonfiction desk with working in the unlit basement with storage boxes and cockroaches? Yeah, I did.

I began this series “Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine” at the beginning of June. It's now the end of August. I have not read a single nonfiction submission in that whole time. Sad, isn't it?

I still think that there may too much mystery around this business of nonfiction. As a somewhat experienced editor new to the nonfiction desk, I do not see why there is such a lack and lackluster response to nonfiction. If anyone can tell me why, submit it to Umbrella Factory Magazine.

Please remember your audience before you submit this “let me tell you why,” nonfiction piece to UFM. Perhaps it's important to remember your audience before you even sit down to write. Remember that a piece of memoir that has no pertinence on anyone else except for you has no place outside of you. I'm not saying that it lacks merit, but it lacks an audience. When you write for an audience, your purpose is just as important as your writing. In this series we've discussed the interview, the review, investigative journalism and the essay, if this doesn't give writer of nonfiction fodder for the next conquest, I don't know what we've come to. At least there's ample work at the fiction and poetry desks.

Your editor thirsts for something good to read. Your editor longs for the delight of a piece of well conceived, well researched and pertinent expository writing. Remembering that the editors of nonfiction at literary magazines see very little good writing should be incentive enough to write and submit some nonfiction. I'm willing to bet that many nonfiction editors are will willing to help writers with their work by providing copy suggestions, content organization and style considerations. I'm also willing to bet that if a writer of nonfiction writes solely for the editor, the rest of the audience will follow. Think of it like this: write something to delight an editor, and that editor will find an audience to read your work.

Whatever you choose to write whether or not it's nonfiction, you must commit to it. Whatever it is, write it down. Write it again. And again. And again. I write fiction. I write novels. Ten novels, in fact. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I've really written the same novel ten times. When you embark on the life of a writer, it's just what you're going to do. And when it comes to the nonfiction portion of your work, write for an audience, write something pertinent, and keep at it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Writer and the World

I took a walk down SW 3rd Ave the other day. It was a bright day, mid-morning. There was no breeze and the air hung still-life heavy.

What I noticed: angry drivers honking and threatening pedestrians. I saw panhandlers, sidewalk sleepers and street kids. I saw the handsomely dressed business crowd rushing off this way or the other. I saw coffeehouse residents sipping lattes under parasols. I saw mall crawling shoppers and I saw street musicians. In short, I saw life.

At a distance of about 8 blocks from home, I saw my workplace some 8 blocks away. It crippled me: I was about to engage in a double shift at work, something roughly translating to 10:30 Thursday morning until 12:30 AM Friday. And what's crazier still is that by the time of this realization, I had already worked a shift at my writing desk for three hours before I left the house.

I missed Mark Dragotta suddenly and intensely. I often miss Mark. In the old days of writer's purgatory of Denver, Colorado, Mark and I may not have known how good we had it. We worked on our writing each morning while nursing our hangovers. We got together sometimes in the afternoons for an Umbrella Factory shift. We went to our vacuous gigs as waiters each evening where we talked about books and writers and life. After work we went honky-tonkin' or boozing only to end the night at the pizza joint—a tongue burning, whiskey absorbing end to another day.

But those days are done, buried and long ago.

Mark is there, and I am here.

And walking down SW 3rd Ave one sunny morning, I missed him so badly because of anyone who could understand how I felt at that moment, it would have been him.

The writer and the world.

I'm an introverted person and I'm forced to mix with people. I have enjoyed a life of popularity. I have always had many friends and acquaintances. I'm grateful for them. Also, I work the service industry and I live downtown in a moderately large town. I'm around people constantly, some by choice and others not. Truth is, I'm tired by the end of the day. I'm tired of the world by the end of the day.

And all I want to do is read novels and write and think. In a perfect world, I'm under a tree with my coffee, my notebook, a paperback and a trusty pen. But the world, unfortunately for me, does not work that way. Sure, it could. But if it did, where would the conflict be? Without conflict what is there to write?

I miss the company of a trusted friend and writer, and in Mark's case, a confidant who is another tormented waiter.

Along SW 3rd Ave that morning, I realize that wrapped in love, warped in a city's fold; tormented by a profession or overwhelmed with people, it's all part of life, part of the world. And the writer' place in it? Well, that's really the question of the hour, isn't it?

I bet Mark would have an answer.   

Monday, August 6, 2012

Is Grad School Worth It? Part 2

I attended Goddard College from January 2007 until I left with degree in January 2009. Two years. Now, after months of thinking about it, I realize that graduate school went on longer, much longer than my tenure at Goddard College.

The end of graduate school just happened. It happened in recent days. I mark the true end to grad school this month, August 2012 because I paid off my grad school student loan. Wow, impressive, is the response I usually get when I tell people that I paid off my $30,000 student loan in three years. But, and I can tell you, it really isn't all that impressive. I took out the minimum loan amount for the first three semesters, I paid the last semester with cash. And of the 38 months I spent paying down the loan, I was in deferment for six, I paid the minimum payment for just over a year. When I got serious about the loan, it was June 2011 and I owed $26,500. In short, I paid off the entire thing in 14 months. Sadly, I did not pay off the loan with the money I earned as a writer or as a teacher, the two job opportunities available for those who hold the MFA in writing. I paid this loan off by working as a waiter, limiting my expenses and living well under my means which is somewhere below the poverty line. Why? Because this is what a student should do, and up until this loan was paid in full, I considered myself a student.