Denver AWP 2010

Here’s what looks good to me. * = where I’ll most likely be during that time period.

12-7 Register

R106. Reading, Writing, and Teaching the Literary Fantastic. *
(Sarah Stone, Joan Silber, Melissa Pritchard, Doug Dorst, Sylvia Brownrigg)
We’ll explore how fabulous or numinous fiction can be meaningful and believable: from completely alternate worlds to literary ghost stories to essentially realist stories that depict characters’ beliefs about the supernatural. We’ll consider great examples and describe ways for writers and their students to unlock their own inventions and move beyond genre cliches. The panel will include handouts with reading lists and writing exercises.

R118. The In Sound from Way Out: Submission to Publication.
(M. Bartley Seigel, Margaret Bashaar, Aaron Burch, James Grinwis, Jennifer Pieroni, Roxane Gay)
Editors from five eclectic little magazines—Bateau, Hobart, PANK, Quick Fiction, and Weave—unpack their editorial projects and processes, quirks and anomalies, across genres, and invite questions to initiate dialogue among panel and audience members.

R143. Shameless Book Promotion: Squad 365 Rides Again! *
(Marisha Chamberlain, Margaret Hasse, Jon Spayde, Todd Boss)
Last year, we drew an overflow crowd for an AWP panel on creative book promotion. Participants called us “educational, generous, warm, and funny.” Collaborating, blogging, and presenting as “Squad 365,” we’re two poets, a novelist, and a nonfiction writer with books out from Norton, Nodin, and Random House in 2008, and from Soho Press in 2009. In 2010 we’re back again with another lively discussion about simple and innovative ways to win readers, promote a little on a regular basis, and enjoy marketing.

R163. What’s Your Platform? What Agents & Editors Are Looking For in Writers. *
(Christina Katz, Jane Friedman, Robin Mizell, David W. Sanders, Sage Cohen) Yes, the quality of your writing still matters. But becoming visible and influential is more crucial to landing a book deal than ever, according to agents and editors in every facet of the publishing industry. Aspiring authors need to develop a platform in order to get noticed. Fortunately for emerging writers in all genres, there are more affordable, accessible tools available for platform-development and building, which make this important responsibility a pleasure and not a chore.

1:30-2:45 (a TON to see)

R177. Following the Paths to Publication: First Books and What Happens Next.
(Dan Wickett, Seth Harwood, Anis Shivani, Shawna Yang Ryan, Lowell Mick White) The first book is an important, joyous event in the life of any writer. Yet the process of achieving the first book is rapidly changing, largely through accelerated technologies and increasingly fractured demographics. How can writers successfully react to these changes? What constitutes ultimate success? On this panel, five debut authors will discuss their varied paths to publication, the impact the book has had on their lives, and the larger implications of change in publishing practices.

R184. How to Start Your Own Online Literary Magazine: Five Editors Tell All.
(Rebecca Morgan Frank, Michael Archer, Thom Didato, Gregory Donovan, Ravi Shankar) Have you dreamed of starting your own online literary magazine? Join the editors of Blackbird, Drunken Boat, failbetter, Guernica, and Memorious, five longstanding and respected online journals, as they share the ins and outs of developing and sustaining a literary journal on the web. Come hear about the unique advantages and challenges of editing in this expansive medium, and learn pointers for financing, marketing, and managing the technical challenges of a web-based journal.

R185. Best New American Voices 10 Year Anniversary Reading.
(David James Poissant, Dani Shapiro, Christian Moody, Ted Thompson, Laura van den Berg) Best New American Voices, Harcourt’s annual anthology series, features short stories from emerging writers enrolled in writing programs across North America. After ten volumes, the series is drawing to a close, but not before celebrating its 10th anniversary! Series coeditor Natalie Danford will discuss the impact of the book on American fiction in the 21st century, while Dani Shapiro will discuss the stories she chose for the 2010 edition. Four contributors will read from their works.

R186. Ecotone 5th Anniversary Reading.
(Ben George, Robert Wrigley, Benjamin Percy, Kathryn Miles, Cary Holladay, Reg Saner) Ecotone, the award-winning semiannual magazine published at UNC Wilmington, celebrates its 5th anniversary in 2010. In its short life, the magazine has already had its work reprinted in several annuals of the Best American series and in the Pushcart Press anthology, among others. Ecotone seeks to bring together the literary and the scientific, the personal and the biological, the urban and the rural. Please join us for a reading by six of our outstanding and widely acclaimed contributors.

R187. Byronic Vampires and Melancholy Green Men: Harnessing Genre for Literary Use. *
(J.W. Wang, Mark Winegardner, Stephen Graham Jones, Tom Franklin, Leah Stewart, Julianna Baggott)
Perhaps no word can be more anathema to literature than genre. Yet, in the postmodern world the dividing line is often blurry, or even nonexistent, and we see more and more authors making use of familiar genre elements for their literary pursuits: vampires, the mafia, romance, etc. This panel explores the notion of genre versus literature: what the dividing lines are, how one informs the other, how one goes about bringing the two together, successes and failures.

3:00-4:15 (none – bookfair?)

4:30-5:45 (none – bookfair, local, dinner?)

NIGHT: Chabon Keynote at 8:30-10 and Keyhole Party

FRIDAY April 9

9:00-10:15 (none – breakfast?)

F138. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, & Writers in the Field. *
(Abby Beckel, Randall Brown, Kim Chinquee, Sherrie Flick, Robert Shapard, Lex Williford)
Join five of the twenty-five contributors to this ground-breaking anthology for a roundtable discussion on the history, cross-cultural influences, reemergence, and current practices in the field of flash. These authors also will offer exercises and read examples of stories that will be of use and interest to anyone who writes, teaches, edits, or just generally enjoys the short short form.

F150. Indie Mags: Publishing Outside of MFA Programs and Other Institutional Support. *
(J.W. Wang, Aaron Burch, Dave Clapper, Mike Young, Jennifer Flescher, Blake Butler)
Independent journals provide an alternative to the established journals affiliated with universities and creative writing programs, and they frequently serve as pioneers in the world of literary publishing. Join editors from Tuesday, An Art Project, Hobart, NOÖ Journal, Juked, Lamination Colony and SmokeLong Quarterly for a roundtable discussion about the workings of independently-published literary journals, what it takes to keep them going, and what these journals mean to potential contributors.

F164. The Future of Book Publishing: How Authors Should Navigate the New Market.
(Mary Gannon, Dennis Loy Johnson, Jeffrey Shots, Michael Reynolds, Lee Montgomery, Julie Barer) Editors and agents will discuss the changes that have occurred in the practices and policies of literary publishing—from acquiring books, producing them in all of their incarnations, and marketing them. They will also offer timely advice on how authors should best navigate the changing industry and the new market.

1:30-2:45 (none – bookfair, late lunch, exploring Denver)

F197. What We Hate: Editorial Dos and Don’ts. *
(H. Emerson Blake, Katie Dublinski, Andrew Leland, Denise Oswald, Daniel Slager, Rob Spillman)
You won’t find this in the FAQ. Get it straight from the source. Six distinguished magazine and book editors speak candidly about what they love and loathe and everything in between. What do editors really want from writers? What do they absolutely not want? If you’re positively sure you know the answers to these questions, then don’t come to this panel featuring editors from The Believer, Graywolf Press, Milkweed Editions, Orion, Soft Skull Press, and Tin House..

F215. The Road Less Taken and the Ivory Tower: Getting Creative about Creative Careers. *
(Laura Valeri, Andrea Dupree, Margo Rabb, David Rothman, John Brehm) Poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers with different degrees and career tracks discuss the skills and strategies that helped them succeed, including why we should look beyond the MFA vs. PhD argument into the roles of writing programs today, what academic searches really value, how academic careers interact with creative careers, and why finding alternatives that keep us prolific, creative, and advocating for the art is an essential strategy for success.

F229. Navigating Chaotic Changes in Literary Magazine Publishing.
(Melanie Moore, Maribeth Batcha, Carolyn Kuebler, William Pierce, Stephanie G’Schwind) Join publishers and editors from American Short Fiction, One Story, AGNI, Colorado Review, and the New England Review for a discussion of the opportunities and challenges in the current “publishing crisis.” As more readers come to expect free content on the internet, how can literary publishers continue to pay writers, sustain their operations, and build their audiences? As paradigms shift, learn how these magazines are adapting their business models and their magazines to succeed.

NIGHT: Tons of receptions including Tin House from 7-8:15; George Saunders and Etgar Keret reading at 8:30-10, Velvet/OWC/OWP reading from 6-9.


S109A. Insider Strategies for Getting your Books Published.
(Jeff Herman)
Learn proven insider techniques for getting commercially published.

S115. Crime, Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy… Seriously. *
(Anthony Smith, Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, Tod Goldberg, Mark Smith, Seth Harwood)
Six writers of genre fiction who also teach and/or have graduated from university creative writing programs dicuss how they approach genre fiction as a serious literary pursuit rather than as a lesser form of fiction. In addition, they discuss attitudes towards genre fiction in the university and how those attitudes have changed over the years.

S125. CLMP Panel—Life on the D-List: Digital Publishing. *
(Richard Nash, Chad W. Post, Ivory Madison, LeAnn Fields, Leslie McGrath)
Panelists savvy in the ways of zeros and ones—from University of Michigan Press,, Drunken Boat, and Open Letter Books—talk about the hows and whys of this next phase of the published word.

S152. Harper Perennial Presents: A Reading by Kevin Sampsell and Justin Taylor.
Harper Perennial presents Justin Taylor and Kevin Sampsell reading from their newly published books. Justin Taylor reads from his debut story collection, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, a collection of prophetic, provocative, and dazzlingly written stories that explore the ways our everyday delusions invite pain, disappointment, and even joy into our lives. In A Common Pornography, a memoir told in vignettes, Kevin Sampsell intertwines recollections of small-town youth with darker threads of family history and reveals how incest, madness, betrayal, and death can somehow seem normal.

S160. Conflict vs. Chaos: Workshopping the Violent Story.
(Robin Romm, Daniel Stolar, Eric Puchner, Andrew Altschul, Darrin Doyle)
Narrative fiction requires conflict in order to function, but student writers often equate conflict with violence. Writers like Paul Bowles, Junot Diaz, and Flannery O’Connor have used brutality to great effect. But simply parroting the action won’t produce literary fiction. How do we teach our students to turn violence into complex, literary conflict? How can a student learn to avoid gratuitous gore? This panel will focus on practical methods and strategies for critiquing the violent story.

S163. Evolution of the New Media: Online Literary Journals and Websites in 2010. *
(Dan Albergotti, Dan Wickett, Jeremiah Chamberlin, Terry Kennedy)
This panel examines the evolution of online publishing and literary promotion via digital media in the 21st century. Dan Wickett and Jeremiah Chamberlin will discuss ways their sites have developed an extended literary community for emerging writers, while Dan Albergotti and Terry Kennedy will address how aesthetics of online journal design and presentation have evolved in recent years.

S172. Weirding It Up: How and Why to Deploy Unusual Points of View. *
(Kyle Minor, Benjamin Percy, Christopher Coake, Lauren Groff, Holly Goddard Jones) Most craft discussions of point of view are heavy on the basics: single and double voiced first person narration, the central consciousness and the close third, omniscience and the free indirect style. But what happens to point of view when, say, a story demands the writer tell it backwards from end to beginning, or shift the point of view at a story’s beginning or end, or enter into the mind of a monster?

S194. Demystifying the Hiring Process: Inside the Search Committee.
(Laura Lee Washburn, Jeffrey Thomson, Amy Sage Webb, Amy Fleury)
Panelists will share extensive experiences with searches, explaining what committees look for and the constraints they’re under. We’ll offer practical advice from how to do a presentation to the “Don’ts” of the interview process. We’ll focus on the committee’s perspective at universities of a variety of sizes to help candidates see how minor details make major differences. This panel continues the conversation from AWP in Chicago with more time for audience participation and questions.

S201. Thirty Years of Mid-American Review: An Anniversary Reading.
(Matt Bell, Matthew Eck, Karin Gottshall, Jeffrey McDaniel, Michelle Richmond, Alison Stine) This reading celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Mid-American Review, the literary journal edited and published by students and alumni of Bowling Green State University’s program in creative writing. MAR is proud of its tradition of featuring work by contemporary writers of eclectic voices and styles, and the five presenters have all contributed to the magazine’s pages over the years.

4:30-5:45 (none – bookfair?)

NIGHT: Nothing major – Velvet/WC/OWC/OWP/Cult dinner?

Annotation on Will Christopher Baer’s Phineas Poe Trilogy – KMJ, PD and HHA

This was something I did for my MFA at Murray State. My professor, Lynn Pruitt, really liked it, and in fact, I’m bringing down a copy of KMJ for her, she was so intrigued. I don’t know if any of you die-hard WCB fans will get anything MORE out of this, you’ve probably all come to similar conclusions, BUT…maybe it will be an interesting read anyway, and something to do until we get Godspeed. I hope you all enjoy it, and let me know your thoughts.

Copy the link to get to the .doc:


OR READ IT HERE (pardon the formatting):

“Use of Unreliable Narrator in the Phineas
Poe Trilogy by Will Christopher Baer”
by Richard Thomas

Perhaps one of the strongest voices currently out there in the world of neo-noir, Will Christopher Baer weaves a disorienting, compelling, and layered story through the three books in his Phineas Poe trilogy: Kiss Me, Judas, Penny Dreadful, and Hell’s Half Acre. Poe is an unreliable narrator from the moment we start Kiss Me, Judas. Baer uses many different devices, themes, and techniques to show us the shadow worlds that Poe inhabits, but the main executions involve Poe’s love/hate relationship with Jude, his questionable sanity based on events in his past, the extensive use of drugs and alcohol, the game of tongues in Penny Dreadful, and the use of a script and snuff film in Hell’s Half Acre.

The novel opens with a rich depiction of a blurry scene, a vision, uncertain but vivid nonetheless. We will later realize exactly what has happened here, which only adds to the altered perception and richness:

I must be dead for there is nothing but blue snow and the furious silence of a gunshot. Two birds crash blindly against the glass surface of a lake. I’m cold, religiously cold. The birds burst from the water, their wings like silver. One has a fish twisting in its grip. The other dives in again and now I hold my breath. Now the snow has stopped and the sky is endless and white and I’m so cold I must have left my body.
— Kiss Me, Judas, p.1

At this point in the story we don’t know anything. But later, we will realize that we have just witnessed the extraction of one of Poe’s kidneys, by the organ thief, Jude, his soon to be nemesis and lover. The silver birds are the tools she uses to slice him open and extract the kidney, and the cold is a bathtub of ice that he is sitting in, close to death.

Quickly we see how he wavers back and forth between his love and lust for Jude and his hatred for her, his fear of her, this assassin in a lace bra and black boots. Witness this conversation between Rose White and Phineas shortly after he has realized what has happened, and has vowed to track Jude down:

I’m weak. I need to be strong when I see Jude.

Let me help you.

No. I need to do this alone.

What are you going to do?

I’m going to take her to a hotel room.

I don’t want to know. I really don’t.

I’m going to drug her and fuck her senseless.

Phineas. That’s enough.

Then I’m going to kill her.
— Kiss Me, Judas, p.40-41

We are introduced early to the questionable morality of Poe, and see how he is both attracted to Jude, and at the same time, focused on erasing her.

One of the most succinct and extensive examples of this complicated relationship comes late in the trilogy, in a section about halfway through Hell’s Half Acre, the third book, where Poe contemplates his feelings for Jude, and the validity of pursuing her:

I used to watch her sometimes, when she was painting her toenails or brushing her teeth or yawning on the floor in her underwear, flicking through a glossy woman’s magazine. I loved her. I didn’t love her. Once, I watched her take the television apart in the middle of the night because she was bored. I watched her reduce the television to a scrap heap of apparently ruined fuses and wires. Then I watched her put the television back together and was not surprised when the reception was improved. I thought I loved her, then. I watched her smash the same television to bits two days later because she didn’t like some snotty actress and in that moment, I thought I loved her. But there was fear between us, truly. There is always fear but when two artists, two liars, or two killers occupy the same house and sleep in the same bed, rage runs rampant and becomes entangled with mistrust and doubt and alcoholic despair. The love between them isn’t safe in the bones, the marrow.

Jude doesn’t belong to me and never did. I don’t belong to her because our love is unsafe in the marrow.
— Hell’s Half Acre, p.186

That says it all. This vivid reflection shows us the reader the constant dilemma that Poe is in, and how deeply he is effected by Jude, how much she effects him. We know what lengths he has gone to in the past to protect her. He questions everything about their relationship, and yet, seems unable to get free.

The second example of utilizing this unreliable voice has to do with Poe’s sanity. From the second page of the first novel, Kiss Me, Judas, we are shown that he has a sordid past, and is unstable in many ways. Here we find Poe and Jude in a hotel bar, before she steals his organ, as Poe tries to adjust to his new life:

Are you a tourist? she says

I’m not even sure what city this is.


I’m a salesman.

That’s funny. You look like a cop.

I’ve just been released from a mental hospital.

Perfect, she says.
— Kiss Me, Judas, p.2

In fact, Poe IS an ex-cop, and he has been recently released from a mental hospital after the questionable death of his wife, Lucy. There has been talk that she killed herself, and talk that Poe did it. Out of anger, or vengeance, or simply to end her misery, end the cancer, or finish the unsuccessful suicide attempt, we never really know.

His wife was dying of cancer, but there was drama towards the end, there was hope for a child, there were young boys involved, and her death in a row boat was questionable, all of which would later contribute to Poe’s mental instability:

We tried different positions that might improve the sperm’s ascent. I fucked her underwater and upside down. We used leather and dogs and vegetables and ice and cellophane and handcuffs to make it interesting. I fucked her fully clothed in the rain. Her face was ever a grim mask. She couldn’t enjoy it, she said. She had to concentrate. I fucked her until I had nothing left, until my penis shrank at the thought of her. None of it mattered because I was sterile and when the doctors told us so, her face became a death mask.
— Kiss Me, Judas, p.38-9

I told her I didn’t care about the boys. Lucy borrowed youth and time and strength from them, things she couldn’t get from me. I told her I had problems of my own and I wanted her to be happy. I told her she wasn’t dead; the doctors were wrong and she had years to live. I told her I loved her and I didn’t smile, because I wanted her to believe me.

The boy in the bedroom had asthma and later I would sit in the dark and listen to his terrible wheezing on my headphones.
— Kiss Me, Judas, p.71

The guilt for not being able to give her child, a lasting image of herself, after she died, it would weigh heavily on him. The boys, as much as he tried to convince himself it was okay, upset him deeply.

Throughout the trilogy, Poe uses a wide variety of drugs, sometimes of his own free will, but other times, he is not told the truth or the full details about what is in a drink or syringe. While not an exhaustive list, he did at various time ingest beer, vodka, gin, whisky, tequila, champagne, absinthe, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, morphine, and ecstasy. Poe readily admits he has issues with drugs and control. Often he has a festive attitude, simply looking to use drugs in a social environment, like the drinking of the Pale, in Penny Dreadful, an important component in the game of tongues. Other times, for example, when he takes a shot to alleviate the pain after having his kidney cut out, it is to help him cope, to numb the pain, and function:

[With Crumb, an ally, pornography shop owner, as well as amateur doctor.]

What kind of shot was that? I speak slowly. The words pass my lips dense and textured as meat.

A mild speedball. Morphine for the pain. A touch of methamphetamine to give you energy
— Kiss Me, Judas, p.27

[On a bus with Eve/Goo.]
I bounce around in my seat, manic and juiced. My skin doesn’t feel right. It feels rubbery and stretched, as if two people are sharing it. Soon it will come apart. I’m stupidly high, of course. Jude could have slipped me something. Or Pooh might have lied. Perhaps those little blue pills were not muscle relaxers at all…
— Kiss Me, Judas, p.58

[Trying the Pale with Griffin/Major Tom.]
I sipped at the Pale and it shivered down my throat like mercury, cold and thickly sweet.

What is this? I said.

Wormwood and licorice, said Griffin. With a drop of cyanide. Don’t ask.

Absinthe? I said. You are full of shit.

Oh, I stink of it.
— Penny Dreadful, p.72

[Later, with Griffin/Major Tom]
You want to tell me what’s in that Pale beverage, now?

Griffin shrugged. It’s mostly herbs, vitamins: ginseng and ginkgo, various algaes and concentrated wheat grass. And the wormwood, of course. It’s really pretty fucking good for you.

It’s a fucking smart drink? That’s what you’re saying?

I said mostly herbs. There’s also a mild dose of Ecstasy and a touch of synthetic heroin.

That sounds…great…
— Penny Dreadful, p.126-7

Whatever his reason for choosing to partake in the various pharmaceuticals, the outcome is a distorted reality, and a vision of surroundings and events that we the reader can’t take at face value. It also allows us some of the most vivid, surreal, and revealing passages in the trilogy.

The game of tongues is a dominant aspect of Penny Dreadful. This real world role playing game has a caste system filled with Freds, Tremblers, Mariners, Exquisitors, Redeemers, Breathers and the Gloves, the masters of the game. For some of the characters, we only start out knowing their real name – Poe, Detective Moon, Griffin. For others, we only know their name while gaming, such as Mingus, Chrome, and Theseus the Glove. For a select few, to further distort our perception, we know both, as with Eve/Goo. In time, Poe becomes Ray Fine, Griffin is Major Tom , Detective Moon is revealed to be the elusive and destructive Jimmy Sky, and Detective Lot McDaniel, Moon’s partner in the real world, is the master of the game of tongues, Theseus the Glove. These plot twists help to add a depth to the novel, and a blurring between reality and what is seen when in the game:

[Jimmy Sky, the alter ego of Detective Moon is thinking to himself, talking about his life.]
Then he got sucked into this game, this game of tongues. Which was interesting for awhile. A nice, harmless fantasy ripe with vampires and magic spells, with medieval weirdness and good drugs and a fair amount of nudity. The drugs were a concern, though. Moon had got himself hooked on this sweet narcotic potion called the Pale. Or Jimmy did, as Jimmy Sky was his name within the game. Jimmy was a rare self-aware Fred, who was angling to hook himself up as Redeemer.
— Penny Dreadful, p.118

We are constantly unsure of what is real, and what is part of the game. And when Chrome crosses the line and actually starts taking tongues, and killing cops, not pretending with blood packs and illusion, the story takes a dark turn.

The final aspect of deception comes in the form of a snuff film, kidnapping, and script that fills the second half of Hell’s Half Acre, the third book in the trilogy. Jude and Poe have found each other after a several year separation, and things are complicated, to say the least. When they get lured into a snuff film, we the audience don’t know what is for the camera, and what is for real. Is that blood on the kitchen floor or is it syrup? We are as much behind the camera as we are in front of it, and that leads to further confusion, including the format, in the novel, as an actual movie script:

Fade in.

Exterior, house of Miller. Day.

Wide angle of yard. Long shadows stretch across a gravel driveway. Two white men, fat and thin, struggle under the weight of a large, black metal case.
— Hell’s Half Acre, p.211

Poe turns his head to the right and looks directly at the camera. Now he glances back at Jeremy.

Poe- If you call me brother again I will eat your fucking heart.
Huck- Oh man, this is gonna be fun.

Poe approaches the camera.
— Hell’s Half Acre, p.213

Poe and Molly exchange glances.

Jude- Come on. You can’t tell me that’s not funny.
Molly- I hated that movie.
Jude- Don’t even think of fucking with me.
Molly- Yeah, well. I just kept wishing the English guy would die, already.
Poe- Where is the boy, Jude?
Jude- I can’t tell you.

Jude begins to laugh. Molly chews a thumbnail, worried. As Poe exits the room, Miller opens his eyes and draws a thumb across his throat.
— Hell’s Half Acre, p.217

It is extremely effective in recreating the feeling of disorientation, and the paranoia that goes with not knowing what is going on, what is part of the script, and what is the real world, what is going on behind the scenes, and what is for the camera.

In conclusion, we see that Baer runs a thread through all three books, tying Poe and Jude together, while pitting them against each other, to see what will survive. Will they kill each other, or run off into the sunset together? At the end of each book, we have been given a certain amount of information, and that information is twisted, confirmed, destroyed, and altered as each new part of the trilogy resumes, and then finishes. But by the end of the three books there is indeed a clarity, and a sentiment of everything aligning, and ending up at the only conclusion possible. Baer takes us for a wild ride, keeping us constantly on our toes, eager to turn the page and see what happens next. By utilizing such a flawed and unreliable narrator, and by distorting the vision and emotion of Phineas Poe to such a degree, we the audience are allowed to share that imagery, and the gamut of human emotions


Wandering across the campus I am transported 18 years to the past, memories of long wool coats, sauntering to class, full of questions and a hunger to learn. Today, getting our FREE coffee (thank you Squire) I bring my briefcase and the fear that I do not belong. Most of the students are half my age, but I have found a few veterans to align with in my pursuit of publications, teaching credentials, and of course, fame and fortune.

The week will be a long one. Very little sleep. Staring at the concrete walls, lying in the strange bed, the heater clicking on, the blinds rattling, footsteps above me. In the distance, is that a moan? Pain or pleasure? Good Lord. What have I done.

I will be enlightened by guest speakers, writers I did not know.

A poet, with a long list of awards. Words like Guggenheim flitter about the art gallery. MacArthur grants. I am impressed and then she reads, explaining the history of her work and I am moved. Linda Bierds.

Scott Russell Sanders. An essayist. That doesn’t convey much. Sounds dry. But he is anything but. Filled with emotion and history his work fills the room. Again, am impressed.

The fiction writer turned creative non-fiction. Whirlwind is all you need to know. Heather Sellers. Tall, striking, full of energy and stories that make me laugh out loud.

Beyond that, each day, the applied practical methods and tactics, inspirations and sources, to us in class, so that we might glean something from their life lessons.

It continues but for now, their voices are what I hear.


Arrived, made it here in one piece. The ride down was rather introspective, but unfortunately I have had no internet since getting here. My laptop power cable died. Nice. So no time to expound on the prison cell dorm room, the moist air of the brick and mortar campus, or the small group of writers and characters from all walks of life.

More to come.

So it begins

A hug and kiss to the wife and kids, loaded up, gas, car washed and a fresh supply of crack in a cup, Starbuck Venti Mocha, and I am wanderlust.

Not bad. 178 miles from Mundelein to Champaign. Baymont hotel? Eh. Ok. But nice free wifi, so I can’t complain too much.

Lots of thoughts ran through my head as I cruised down here. Memories of college at the nearby Bradley University flash before my eyes, fast cuts of frat parties at DU and chasing girls. I pass fields of grass and wheat and corn. Or whatever it is they grow here. The road ahead darkens and I’m reminded of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and as always I wonder what life is like in these small towns. Been there. You’re terminal, or you want out. Fast.

Listening to the Sherman Alexie tale “The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian” as I cruise a straight line south. Very funny. Supposed to read it for classes. Behind. Between the magazine I’m editing at Colored Chalk, my job and family, and other writing commitments, I’m not done with the reading. Stupid book from Amazon didn’t get here in time, so I’m screwed on that one. Out of print. And the Poe? Ugh. Unreadable. Gonna surf for the cliffnotes, or wikinotes, and pray that is enough.

Well, short stories to read, the best of 2008. Awesome collection. If you don’t read this series, do it. Keeps you in touch as a writer with what is happening in the world of short stories, and pubs, and has been pretty good so far. TC Boyle, AM Homes, and others make this a good read.

Look forward to meeting my prof and mentor. I hear good things about the lady Pruitt, so I’m optimistic.

USC vs Penn on tv. I mean, my books to read. And I see a Taco Bell out the window. It is calling me. I am rather immune.


MFA Here I Come

I head down to Murray, KY from Mundelein, IL on Friday.  Wish me luck.  Should be about a seven hour drive.  I’ve got some audiobooks, six CDs in the console, including Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” and every gadget, tool, and creature comfort I could stuff in the trunk.  Will be in the dorms.  That’s a hoot.  Haven’t done that in about…oh, 18 years.  Looking forward to wandering around the campus.

More to come.