Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Revision Breaking My Back

Oh this rewrite may put an end to my streak. It is not going as smoothly as the other revisions, but to be fair it is the newest story. Grrrr I will get through this revision. I am back to writing between 500 - 1000 words a day. This is not terrible but I'd grown into an average of 1500 words a day at least weeks before. The end is near. I will push on. Updates soon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

News on the Eve of Family

This past month has moved extremely fast. I have completed all my coursework to graduate and have madly be working on my thesis. I was not able to complete everything I set out to do this semester, but I still feel accomplished. Taking a full course load and working diligently on my thesis turned out to be almost impossible. This was mostly due to the work load of one of my classes in particular. It was a Lit Theory class, I admittedly tried to opt out of. However, we had a terrific group of students that made the class fun and interesting when we covered some of the most dry material. I did walk away learning more than I expected and got a pretty decent creative project out of it at the end. Thank you Carrie Brecke.

But since the semester ending I have gone into a deep writing coma. I've been able to revise and turn around four of my six stories within a week and half. I hung a huge desktop calender on my wall and marked out deadlines I insisted I meet. And I did. Not having anything else to disrupt me now because the semester was over helped me immensely. But I would like to contribute the majority of my success to my new puppy, Maverick. I don't like posting personal things on my blog because they are often unrelated to my writing or me as a writer. However, this little guys is like my writing buddy. He gets me up out of bed to start my writing day. He makes me take breaks and walk around the block to recharge my inspiration, and he keeps me from distraction by giving me a serious dose of guilt if I crate him too long to leave my apartment. I've done more work on my thesis in this last month than I have all semester. And its a good thing too because I'd really like to graduate this spring!

Other news, I receive two more rejection letters for my fiction this month. I have since revised the story and prefer the new revision to the one I sent out and feel less phrased by these rejections. I am still waiting to hear back on a job I interviewed for in early fall and feel very positive about the outcome. In the meantime, I committed to a part-time teaching internship at College of Lake County and am excited to work with the students there. The director of the English program was one of the most interesting and enjoyable people I've had the pleasure to converse with. I have also secured a part-time development internship at Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. I am thrilled to be involved with this organization and branch out into the development field. Thus, the spring is looking very hopeful and I cannot say enough good things about this December.

I'm glad things have been falling into place so nicely.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I received a "rejection" notice for the first fiction piece I ever sent out. Maybe because I was tired, I didn't have the energy to be upset. And yet, in the morning, maybe because I felt reset and neutral, a fabulous side affect of sleep for me, I didn't get upset then either. Then just a short half day later, I received another "rejection" notice, the last of the first batch of poetry I seriously sent out. It was mid-day at this point, around 2:30pm to be loosely exact,and I took a moment to reflect. The insight I ended my reflection with was that I was excited. Excited about rejection, what?! Yes, I am excited because my work is being read this holiday season. And I'm not worried that it may not be exactly what the editors want to unwrap this season, because I know it will be soon enough. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Side note: I'm glad I could spin these rejections for the positive because if not, the serious over-eating that would have been available to me would have just been silly.

Friday, November 19, 2010

For Certain

The only thing that can be for certain is uncertainty. This is a daunting realization and admittedly does not apply to everything in life, but many things. It was also a big part of the message Heather Sellers shared at Roosevelt University's Reading Series this past Wednesday. Ms. Sellers was an undergraduate professor of one of my MFA classmates at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. My classmate always talked about her great love for Ms. Sellers as a person and teacher. Upon meeting Ms. Sellers at the reading I soon realized how engaging she could be. She was exuberant and spilling with energy and love of writing. Her discussion of her life and recent memoir You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know was exceptionally honest and inspiring. Her condition, face blindness, she claims has trained her to live the uncertain of a writer well. She says her condition requires her to live in uncertainty constantly and has translated into her ability to let go of the aghast that sometimes accompanies us writers in our lives.

Having Type A tendencies I allow for very little uncertainty, but I've been quietly and admittedly with slight hesitation letting it into my life. After about two or three weeks of this I surprisingly feel a little more happy. That's not to say I haven't or don't have spells of relapse where repressed anxiety takes over for a few minutes, but then it goes away. What a wonderful discovery. Another thing Ms. Sellers talked about was practice. This tid bit had a hint of humor as well as truth to it. She shared that her best students are the athletes and musicians because they know what means to practice. This is such a simple observation, but very true once reflected on for awhile. She playful made fun at the whiny writers that "just can't drag themselves to the pen and paper" and praised those that just do the writing. For anyone with a slight competitive bone I'd think this would spark a nerve with you. Myself, I felt like "wait, I'm the writer this is my sport. I need to keep my game on point." Anything you can tell yourself to get your writing done that day is worth saying.

Friday, October 29, 2010

October Closing

It has been several weeks now and I have been in a serious long-term relationship with The Instructions, by Adam Levin. I had an ambitious goal of reading about 100 pages a day to be mostly finished with the 1030 page novel in time for Adam's reading at Quimby's Book Store. I didn't make it past day two. It was very sad. I did continue reading though. I even tried to stay committed to my goal by carrying the book with me everywhere I went. Ben Fountain laughed at me when I told him I wanted to read the book as I traversed around Chicago. (He really did) And I thought, oh Ben Fountain, it will be better than you think. Alas, Ben was right, it was a very trying and annoying thing to whip the book out on buses and trains. It became a constant dilemma of what to take each day given the limited space in my purse and the soreness of my shoulders. (The actual book is lighter than it looks - just 3lbs)

This of course does not reflect the quality of the book. I have been enjoying it. I will say it is very thick in material. This becomes frustrating when I want to stay in scene and am taken out for a stint of background information that will become important a few scenes over. But the stints typically have golden nuggets of information in them that make me smile and carry me along in the book.

I have regathered my momentum and drove back into the book recently. I am just past the 200 page mark. But because I know this relationship is going to be long I want to cheat. Meaning I want to read other books too. This is not an uncommon thing, reading multiple books at at time. However, my type A tendencies make it so I prefer to read one book at a time. Mostly because I do not want to get so far away from one of the many books I might juggle that I have to start over in any one book. (School book not included, yet they are apart of the juggle) I will stay strong. I will make it through all 1030 pages with pleasure and only then will I pick up another "for pleasure" book.

Beyond Book Drama -

I am deep into my new story. I had some trouble getting past a writer's block and fear I would bore my readers with the plot. However, a nice writerly chat with a friend help me see a way out. Her advice, try writing the story in a different medium ie if its fiction your writing try it as a poem etc. Now I'll admit I didnt do that quite, however, I did write some poetry which opened my mind up to where my story could go. I had been thinking about doing different perspectives with this story, but thought it would be too difficult. And she suggested changing perspectives too. And when I finally got some poetry on the page I figured out how the perspective changing could work for me without being too difficult. Now I've been a slave to it and couch sitting. Sometimes I wish the writing process was a little more sexier.

Lastly, AIC volunteer training starts this Saturday. On the list of things to do at training - a museum wide tour. I am excited for this because although I have toured most of the museum myself, having someone go with you that knows everything there might be to know about what your looking at makes it way better.

Now I must part, goodbye October 2010. Never will we meet again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October Notes

For Starters -
October has been brimming with appointments and deadlines. My first poetry publication came out this month at Please navigate accordingly to enjoy my short list poem "If She Had Lived I Would."

Also, I turned in my first workshop piece this month. I received what I thought to be my best feedback on any workshop story. The consensus was I had a definite beginning that had promise and an end that was poignant, however, the in between did not connect the two well. Endings are half the battle in my opinion and a beginning is never really what you think it is, so I felt comfortable knowing the middle (a seemingly safe spot) is where the work needs to be done. Time will tell if I change my mind on this, as a little voice says writing towards a determined end always has it's pitfalls.

Moving on -

I have become very interested in winning The New Yorker caption contest at least once. I leave the picture open on a web page for most the day just banging my head against my desk for wit. I haven't made the short list yet, but a new opportunity comes every week so I have hope.

A confession -
After I turned in my workshop story I feel off the writing wagon for about a week and half. It felt so good to finish the piece I basked in the satisfaction perhaps too long. I could protest with a of number excuses as to why I dragged my feet for that week and half, but I won't.

Redemption -
I have began working on the second story for workshop this semester again. Also, I completed my second draft revision for one of my thesis stories. It did not expand to the length I wanted, but the story is complete. I will take a complete story over page count any day. So with some tweaks to my first workshop story I think I will finally be ready to submit to my thesis adviser for the first time this semester. The goal is to frantically (with care) revise my other two stories to give to him by the time he hands my first set back.

In Other News -
I am now a proud volunteer of the Art Institute of Chicago. I will be working at the information desk in the Ryan Education Center Tuesday afternoons 1pm - 5pm. Please come visit.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Put Down The Controller and Pick Up A Book

Thomas Spence, President of Spence Publishing Company in Dallas, Texas, writes in the Wall Street Journal Online Opinion Journal his suggestion on How To Raise Boys Who Read. Spence states that the decreasing number of boys that enjoy reading is due to excess playing of video games and Internet use. He supports his theory with a randomized controlled trial performed by Dr. Robert Weis, psychology professor at Denison University. The trial focused on the effects of video games had on academic ability. The results confirmed boys with video games at home suffer academically because they are gaming more than studying. Spence then goes on to questions whether the current solution to attract boys to reading is the right one. Presently, the attempts to lure boys in are made through books in the "gross-out market." This idea is supported by those that believe the problem is that boys are not given books that are interesting to them. Spence claims the problem with this thinking is "if you keep meeting the boy where he is, he doesn't go very far." As a father of six boys, Spence's analysis of the problem seems to be backed up by sufficient "field research."

Reading this article, I wonder what other people's experience or thoughts are about Spence's claims. Video games having an adverse effects on academics is not new thinking. However, I did not expect it to cause gaps between girls and boys reading scores on national standardized tests. My own brother was a video game junky. He would hide out in the basement day and night until he conquered whatever happened to be the game of the moment. This pattern went on throughout his high school career. Yet, at twenty-three my brother is an avid reader. His top reading choices are business and current event books. Perhaps because my sister and I read a lot he eventually picked up the habit too.

I know everyone's different and I guess that is why I posted about this article. I want to hear other people's opinions and what other suggestions they have on raising boys that like to read.

Now discuss.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Step Forward

When I was probably a junior in undergrad, I went to listen to one of the many guests invited to speak on campus. I forget why exactly I went to this event, but I know it was required that I go to some event similar to that one for a class I took. The speaker's name was Gregg Michael Levoy. I cannot recall the name of the presentation or even too many specifics,however, his presentation stuck with me for several reasons. For starters, I won his book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life in a drawing at the end of the presentation. I never win anything so I was shocked. But also, the heart of what Levoy talked about truly resonated with me. Levoy, as discussed in his book, promotes the searching for and following of one's true passion or nature. He gave the example of seven different, very successful CEOs. After interviewing them he said there was one uncanny commonality between them all. Before they began their path to great success in their respective fields they all admitted to being very scared. I can't account with certain accuracy all the different levels and reasons for being scared, but I remember that one reason was the risk of failure. Levoy went on to further talk about his own experience and more about what a true passion or calling may look like. I remember leaving the event very inspired. This feeling has stayed with me and has been my most influential push towards doing the things I love, which is to write.

I quit my first job after six months to go back to graduate school for an MFA in Creative Writing. I was still considerably young so quitting a job and going back to school didn't seem as scary. Rather the scary part of that situation was my choice of study. An MFA in Creative Writing does not seemly have a clear career path after graduation. Many people might even argue that if you wanted to write you don't even need to go to school. My doctor at the time even responded to my news with a "Huh, I guess you can go to school for anything nowadays." I have since switched doctors.

In the past two and half years I have worked part-time and pursued my MFA. It has at times been very tough and not always beneficial to the work I turn in at school. But I have worked since I was 16 years old and like the reliability of having some sort of cash flow coming in even if it is minimal. This semester however, should and can be my last if I finish my thesis. I am taking a full course load and still searching for a new job. My present job, however, seem to be complicating my desire to move forward with my writing and search for an arts administration position. Applying to jobs is sometimes more consuming than doing my homework for Lit Theory. Therefore, after much painful internal debate I did the thing most scary to me. I put in my two weeks.

I have no other job lined up just yet. Or I could argue I've finally committed to my job as a student. Whatever way you look at it, I've made a conscious decision to throw all my energy into my writing and living and working in the arts community. I was very unsure of my choice and had several moments of panic since. But then something wonderful happen. I woke up the next day and got the best email ever. One of my poems was accepted by an online journal. It was my first acceptance for a piece of literary work. I was through the roof and felt I truly made the right decision concerning work. Its amazing how motivating the acceptance makes me feel. I am still getting use to actually having the time to write and using it the best I can. But I know and feel there are only great things to come in the near future.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Five Points for Short Story and Poetry Collections

You know how life is already too busy to fit anymore commitments and "things I need to do" into your schedule? Well, as writers it’s a never ending battle to stuff more and more of these additional elements into our lives. Such elements include social networking, marketing of our written pieces, blogging, and etc. However, as we stuff more elements in the time for the essential responsibilities as writers - reading and writing - dwindles faster and faster. This of course is not always true for everyone, but I'm betting it is true for a good majority. One way I like to fight back against this ugly truth is by reading short story and poetry collections. They are the perfect "bite-size" reading snack that fit into small chucks of time.

Because what often happens when life gets busy unexpectedly and you're maybe half way through a novel? Most often the novel gets dropped for days, weeks, or months at a time. Then when you try to go back, it's hard to get back into the flow of the narrative and/or you may have to start over. Conversely, short story and poetry collections have ample start and end points for readers to choose from as their reading times allows. And leaving such collections to sit for extended periods of time is not as difficult to pick up again once life calms down. True, the reader's overall sense of the collection as a whole may be weaker but their sense of the author's style and voice will be stronger. The reader's exposure to the multiple complete stories/poems by the author will give them a good variety of what the author is able to accomplish.

Lastly, short story and poetry collections that feature different authors is a wonderful way to expose oneself to new authors. Below I've included a list of short story and poetry collections I've enjoyed this past year.

Telling Tales, edited by Naine Gordimer

Civilwarland in Bad Decline, by George Saunders

Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger

The Pajamaist, by Matthew Zapruder

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Catching the New Wave

My sister and I were recently talking about what we should get each other for our birthday (we are twins). Naturally, she asked me for some shoes. I am a shoe-a-holic. (However, I'm much better than when I was younger) In turn, I had a difficult time trying to give her some ideas. It seems this year there is nothing that I am in dire need/want of. This is a strange occurrence. I was trying to think of something I might need but was to cheap to buy myself. Like a microwave, but I already knew I might get that from someone else. My sister than suggested maybe she could get me a Kindle. She admitted it was something she had thought about getting me for our birthday or Christmas, but was unsure how I would like it.

If you know me well enough, its common knowledge I am the least "techy" person in a group of twenty-somethings. I am a strong advocate of the printed book. The emergence of the new e-reading technology was something scary and evil. However, (pause) I am an open-minded person and do accept change - very slowly. This past fall/winter National Book Critic Circle's Critical Mass - Blog asked numerous guest posters their opinions on the future of book publishing. As expected many had strong opinions about the e-technology. Among the grips and cheers I peeled back some of my own apprehension. This is what I walked away thinking:

I will always love the feel of reading a printed book. There is something special about holding a tangible object someone poured love/hate into. But I cannot be afraid of change, especially, if that is where my generations of writers/readers are headed. Thus, I welcome the exposures I may have to the future of book publishing and reading/writing experiences. So, if I were to receive an e-reader device as a gift I would be more excited than I would like to let on. After doing some basic research on the options available to me, I believe the Kindle is the my choice. I tend to read in high light and/or outside. Also, as impressive as the Ipad is I already own a desktop, laptop, ipod, and digital camera. It is my understanding, the Ipad can offer me all different variations and features that these products currently give me. And although it may be convenient to have all these in one system, I already bought and paid for each individually. Thus, the Ipad has much more gadgets than I really need or will use.

So here is to the electronic generation and me slowly opening my arms to embrace it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Window Inspiration

Before traveling home this past weekend I rearranged my apartment. It was something I planned to do when I got back. However, I had several hours to kill before my travel partner was off work and the anxiety got the better of me. It took awhile to figure out an acceptable layout. My couch has a chase segment on one end of it. This small (but rather enjoyable feature) of my couch makes it difficult to position it aesthetically in my small apartment. The one detail I knew I must change however, was moving my desk into the corner surrounded my windows. Previously, it was tucked into an opposite corner with no natural light. It made sitting at my desk for long periods of time difficult. Thus, you can imagine writing at my desk was even more difficult.

So I decided I must move my soon to be (hopefully) wage-making station (that is my desk) to its most optimal position. Which I believe to be near the windows. And as I sit here the first day of change - I am thoroughly satisfied with my decision. The layout in my apartment is not as efficient perhaps as it originally once was, but I am loving the fresh air and out-of-window inspirations I can see as I pound away at the keyboard.

Friday, July 30, 2010

On A Roll

Really adding to the word count on my children's project. Yah! Got my boss to agree and let me work less this fall semester. This means I have an actually shot at finishing my thesis on time. I am getting excited about the fall semester. And I am looking to add to my volunteer opportunities - hopefully making more contacts in the arts community. ALSO, I have been submitting. It has been a proactive week for me. Hope it keeps rolling, rolling, rolling...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Look

In case you haven't noticed, my site has got a fresh look. Thanks must be given to my sister for her vision and insight to my taste. The bright colors make me feel more alert and aware of the creativity mounting in me. A good jumping off point for my last semester towards my MFA.

Additionally, changes to my website have help me reevaluate where I am currently with and in my writing. As my MFA winds down I've decided to focus mainly on those stories and revisions. But it also has allowed me to give more attention to my children's book project. I know, I have been talking about this project for way too long. However, to be fair it is something I want to do well and have great success so I do not want to rush it. I have given much thought to it since beginning many months ago. I think I've got a good angle to complete a new story line. Some of the story lines I started in the past never jumped off the page enough. To further help me build this new idea I've created brief character descriptions for Charlie's best friends Finley and Amaya. Hopefully, we can get their picture up to accompany these on my site.

I've got some more features I plan to implement on my site that will be up, with some luck, before the fall semester. Keep tuning in. As a last note, I decided to reclaim some of the time I devote to reading. In the past two months I have used that time ONLY to catch up on my New Yorkers (which I am still at least 5 issues behind). This has meant my books have been very neglected. However, no more. I am now dividing my time between my New Yorkers and Nadine Gordimer's The Late Bourgeois World. The book is very small, but when you fall off the path, all you need is a place to begin again.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Creativity or Stability?

So you think you have talent. You practice, everyday at your talent. But you also have other obligations to think of and take care of - if your not still living at home with mom and dad. It's simply a question of balance you tell yourself. But if your paying bills and trying to make a name for yourself - on your own - how many pep talks on average do you give yourself a week. Disappointment and becoming discouraged is nothing new to any type of artist. For me, I struggle with this more and more lately (especially with my MFA winding down).

As a little girl I pictured myself as the boss, the person in charge of some fantasy corporation. I was confident and the go to person that held things together. Maybe its my Leo nature to portray myself in such a light, but I still keep that picture in the back of my head today. What do I really want to be when I grow up? My knee jerk answer is an author/writer. Then I met a girl at school who said to me, "being published doesn't certify me as a writer. I am already a writer because I write everyday." Touche.

So I'm a writer. I am devoted to that. And I'll admit, I still want to be published (soon) for others to believe in the writer in me too. (For those that need to see to believe) And I know by heart the things I need to do to get there and I make time. But there never seems to be enough time. At times I do feel caught in a circle of too little, not enough, and almost. Would having a full-time career in an arts organization (something I aggressively pursue everyday) make me more fulfilled? I don't know but I'm hoping. Would a publication credit make me more fulfilled? Probably, just momentarily I assume. But everyday I think, this struggle is worth it, I will reach my goal of accomplished writer.

Yet, my path is very unclear. I understand writing takes time. But I want things now. I like to shop, to buy books (obviously), to go out with friends, and writing is not footing this monthly bill. So can I have it all the little girl dream and the big girl ambition? I'm definitely trying. These economic times are not helping me explore my options. Do I play the starving artist role and patiently await my dues? Do I try and make it in the arts culture anyway I can? How do you get into the arts culture (beyond being an independent writer)? I volunteer at the public library and would do more but my day job does not allow me extra time for it. When will the economy bounce back and put a strong wind in my wings?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Play and Pain

I have emerged from the holiday weekend with lots of thoughts about my summer stories and a minimum of fifty mosquito bites. I have now become the artist going mad - or maybe I am just going mad. But my current condition has made my word count rise as I try to keep my fingers from away from scratching my bites and on the keyboard. I would never recommend this method to anyone but it seems to be working for me.

I did not hit my June story deadline. I didn't have high hopes for that anyway. The good news is I still kept writing regardless. I just didn't rush to get it done. Now I'll be working on both stories at the same time. Probably, good for when I get writers block on one I can switch to the other.

For my second story, I am thinking of writing about a girl who loses her memory. The story will open at the moment she regains consciousness and can't remember a thing about her past. She will not have any recall of the past whatsoever. Thus, she will have to cope with starting brand new knowing nothing of herself or those she once knew. I am worried however, this can turn out to be a tricky story and end disastrously. So I need some help avoiding the possible pitfalls of a story like this. Any suggestions of what to steer clear of?

Lastly, I have joined twitter. I pains me to say this because I promise to never join. I already did not have enough time in the day to keep up with the current networking I already do. However, I find it an interesting "community board" of sorts. Its a nice quick method to get out there what I am doing currently and checking in with others. So I'm warming up to it, however, I'm not full throttle on it just yet. But follow me at bturski.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hiatus Over

The best intentions always seem to fail us. However, my writing hiatus is over. Well I never truly stop writing, that is the good thing. I just was not writing the stuff I wanted to. Time to play catch up. My last post was about AWP. Here are the best items I took away from that conference:

Marya Hornbacher nonfiction book Madness
Matthew Zapruder (Poet)
Panel Careers in Literary Arts that are not Teaching
Panel The Future in Book Publishing

As previously stated, I was working on a review of Hornbacher's book. However, after having a trusted friend tell me the ugly truth about my review, I realized its not always easy to break into new fields of writing. I was about to dig back in at it when I was offered a freelance job I could not pass up. A job is a job is a job. When someone wants to pay you to do what you like - write - then I suggest you take it. Freelance is tricky. There are too many times the artistic visions of the artist and client do not match up or at least need a "merging" period before a beautiful and agreeable project is produced. My client was a very hard working woman whose only problem was she did not have enough time for all her ambitions. A problem I run into on a daily basis. This is really a good problem covered under to many projects that are not completed. It was terribly difficult to get a hold of her making it difficult at times to communicate about our on-going projects together. When I did get a hold of her however, she was always willing to jump right in and work. Overall, it was a pleasant experience reminding me of the challenges that can come with writing.

My Hornbacher review is now back on the table competing with several other projects I always seem to have going on. However, I am not in a rush to finish it. Trust me, I want to get it up right away, but I feel my speedy ambitions may have been a part of the original downfall of the review. I think I will spend a day reading other people's longer reviews to get a better feel of what mine was missing before taking another pass at it.

Other projects include getting at least one of my fiction stories to a FINAL version so I can start sending it out. I feel pretty good at where I have it now. Awhile back I had one of my other trusted friends (who has had VERY GOOD success) read it. Her comments helped me look at the story with new eyes. She encouraged me to flush out areas where I relied on summary dialogue or general paraphrasing too much. She also reminded me of something my Fiction III professor often repeated - every move has a reason and exact intent behind it. This is difficult to think about when you sit down to write your first draft - the reasoning behind every word. I must learn how to not think of it that way or I may never write another word again because of the weight of thought behind it. The advice makes sense, yet, its hard to apply. I will have plenty of time to practice however, with all my revisions I need to make before turning in pages for my first thesis two session.

Which brings me to other summer project - writing more stories to finish my thesis by December. I want to graduate in December and be done with school. However, I have had small hope of having my thesis finished by this deadline. Nonetheless I have a plan. I need to write at least two stories this summer in order to have (possibly) the bare minimum of pages. If I can complete this I will at least have the two stories I need for my workshop class in the Fall and can focus on producing more to meet the page requirement. The good news is I finally thought up some new story ideas. With some amo in hand I told myself I will write one story in June and one in July. Today is June 24th and I have not yet written the first paragraph of the story. I am not worried. During the school year I wrote a story in a week. (I also had more time to think about it before hand). To my credit I have attempted at starting and adding lines to the story several times. It just has not taken off yet. Pray for me. More to come.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


I have finally rounded the corner of the AWP Conference and entered the homestretch. The past two nights I've felt a great surge of motivation, excitement, and ambition. Despite listening to the five panelist at "MFA Thesis to the First Novel" all tell me it took them eight years to get their books to print. I'm convinced, by a feeling of a coming break through and absorbed good writer vibes, mine will not take that long. The panels at the conference have been good for the most part. It is always overwhelming to receive the 200 plus page schedule and try to narrow my trip down to four panels a day. All too often I hear patrons leave panels greatly disappointed and let down because the amazing description and title failed to live up to their expectations. This happens for many reasons, the panelist focus on plugging themselves or their work too much, the topic is too narrowly or widely discussed, people abuse the Q&A segment to get on their own soapboxes, or the patron had too high or unrealistic expectations. Fortunately, I have not had that experience this year. Lots of the panels I have been interested in are focused on the current state of the publishing and literary world. I am graduating this winter and have been looking for a job since last September. It's slightly daunting and frustrating to listen to each panelist introduce themselves and tell a little bit about their history because I'm still not happy with my place in the literary world. Sure I am a writer and I am working on everyday making that my main occupation. However, when the bills roll in throughout the month I get anxious and rethink how many hours I should be working at my part time job. It's really a delicate balancing act I am still trying to navigate.
Today there is a panel on "Careers in the Literary Arts" that focuses on occupations that are open to people who do not want to teach. This is a panel I have to reassess my expectations. I must remind myself it is not the end of the rainbow with a pot of golden open positions waiting for my acceptance. More to come.
What I have appreciated most about this trip to AWP is as Dennis Johnson of Melville House Publishing says I am "getting to know my industry." So many times I have had conversations with people about lit magazines and editors etc and felt I was still far at the edges of this world. I rarely knew the "it" people that could make or break a writer's career. It seems like every industry has these "god" like figures with ambitious minions fighting each other off to get noticed by them for their big discovery. While I haven't met the woman or man that I think will make me a best seller (in reality that is really only myself) I have learned tons of names in the business and been able to get a snipit of their personality making them much easier to recall later. This I believe has been invaluable to me as an ambitious writer. Something I did not take into consideration before coming to AWP. Off to more panels.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Ritual" by Heather Cox

Please visit Dark Sky Magazine to ready Heather Cox's poem "Ritual." Cox is one of the first Serif members to be published.

Also, appearing soon at Dark Sky Magazine, two of Alex York's, poetry genre lead for Serif, poems. More to come later.

Kozol and Networking

For my Cultural Capital class I read Shame of the Nation, by Jonathan Kozol. The book details the widening gap in the different types of education being received by white children and minority children using poignant stories and statistics over the last thirty plus years. Immediately, I was uncomfortable with how the language of the book was very black and white. That is to say, Kozol spoke of race aggressively, without qualifiers, and honestly from page one to page three hundred and fifteen. This was a style of writing I had not come across in any of my academic texts. I was uncomfortable not because he talked about race but because he did it without trying to "sugar coat" his position or the true position of the educational situation for majority of minority children. Thus, I think my uncomfortablenesses was something Kozol was hoping to achieve. Something I believe he was hoping would sit badly with me enough to cause me to react. In this, way I believe the book is successful because I did find I was asking myself afterwards what can I do to change this reality in America. A reality that lets elementary children go to schools infested with rats, high school students forced in to vocational classes and education paths because a lack of open and over crowded classes, and misappropriated state funding that does not work on a need basis. Our class was assigned to read this book in preparation of Roosevelt University's One book One University event. Our first class back after spring break, we attend this event in which Kozol spoke to a large group that filled the 2nd floor lounge. Kozol used many stories and statistics from his book in his lecture. However, I found he predominantly used the stories to highlight points in this lecture and tended to add on many comic asides to entice a laugh from his audience. I think I would have liked to hear him speak more to the current state of affairs since his book was published in 2005 and what changes if any he saw happening under the new President. This "what now" "next step" element was not a large enough component of his argument. Which I think would be O.K. if he only wanted to create awareness but I do not think that is his primary goal. He did speak of some solutions that worked in the past, such as busing, and what leader in education thought needed to happen in order for change to occur. Another movement is thought to be the answer to ignite the momentum behind the original verdict of the Brown vs Board of Education case. If that is true, the awareness Kozol does succeed in raising plays an important role in educating those may be interested in devoting their time to such a movement. His best piece of advice was in answer to a woman's question of how everyday people can help dissolve the apartheid education in America. Kozol says to hold Obama accountable. Something I think we as a nation may be doing already too prematurely on his overall performance a year after his Presidential victory.

Now the fun part of the story. After the lecture Kozol stayed and refused to leave, though threat of missing his plane by the event coordinator was ever present, until he signed every last student or attendees book that waited in line. I was toward the back of the line and when I reached him I happen to mention I was a writer. His first question - Who is your favorite poet? This is where I cursed myself for not reading the poetry anthology my good friend gave me for Christmas and so graciously highlighted all the major poets and poems any good writer should know. I dodged the question by saying I am actually a fiction writer and unfortunately do not read enough poetry because of it. He then told me to hang out a bit we should compare notes when he was done. I was very excited at his very unexpected request. Because contrary to the belief that I do not like to network, because I do and want to, I am just very bad at networking. So to have a very accomplished writer and scholar ask to compare notes with me I was besides myself. Because he was in a great rush the meeting was brief and it was me mainly walking him to his airport car out front. However, in that short amount of time we exchanged contact information, shared our favorite writers, (he like Faulkner and Graham Greene), and he told me it was a shame I did not live in the Cambridge area because he had a house a bunch of writer types liked to hang out at. Damn! I was hoping he may have had a similar house in Chicago since he made so many friends and contacts all over the nation but he did not. So with a small hug, travel safe wishes, and promises to be in touch I ended my night on cloud nine.

That was one of the few nights I was able to say I say I successfully networked with a fellow writer and scholar of the arts. Though he may write about different things than I, we both shared a love of literature and the power of words.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Inspiration and Celebration

February was rough. The job that pays the bills didn't seem to let up and I barely caught any breaks. However, that did not mean I didn't do lots of writing and re-writing, in my head mostly, but that should count on some level. And in reality it did. When I sat down to write my next story the words came very easily. I read CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders in preparation for writing this story. It was suggested to me by my first thesis adviser when I told him my premise for the story. However, I am approaching my story from a complete different angel than Saunders does with his stories in the book. Yet, his stories helped me seriously consider the setting and atmosphere in which my story would take place. I think this influence might help some of the realities ring more true without having to explicitly state them. I will admit it has been one of the most easy stories to write that has no personal parallel to anything in my own life. That accomplishment in and of itself was something I never thought I would get too in any near future. Though I now feel slight anxiety because I do not have a complete story idea after I finish this story. The one I am working on now I have been thinking about since last September. I like to mull it over for awhile.
I do however, have what I think can be a short short completely out of my style. Lately, going over the details of that possible short short keep me up at night. Ironically, it was something I wrote in bed by the light of my phone on a night other anxieties were keeping me up. I still sleep more than any person might at my age, no worries. Thus, I feel compelled to do something with the story, yet, it's not a piece I think will fit into my thesis. Not that that is a bad thing, only that I promised myself to stay focused. But who am I to not to let inspiration lead my astray when so many other times inspiration leaves me high and dry. More to come on that.

Lastly, the celebration news. Serif, my submission group has arrived! The past couple meetings have been more community building and writing focused. Not specifically submission focused but more all the things on the path to submitting. I have to thank all my friends for actively participating in the group despite their busy schedule. That may be as simple as coming to all the meeting and/or participating on the online forums set up. I truly appreciate your support and throw many good vibe wishes your way for your submission. But to the point - Heather Cox ( has received an acceptance letter for her poem "Ritual" at Dark Sky Magazine!( Heather is probably the most active of all Serif members and her enthusiasm has rewarded her. I am very proud and tickled. It reminds me why I created the group and gives me hope that it will continue to exist after I graduate. Congrats, Heather.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Serif Genre Mtgs and First Workshop

The first genre meetings for Serif were Monday and Tuesday and they went well. The fiction meeting started off slow due to a simultaneous meeting but overall it ended on a high note. There was lots of good discussion and people seems interested and invested in getting their ducks in a row to submit. The one drawback was we ended the meeting without definite magazines picked out to submit to. I understand this is a process that may require a little more time than one hour on a Monday night, but I want to keep everyone focused and committed to the end goal. Thus, part of that is to have a clear idea of where one is submitting to and the requirements of that magazine. But I did encourage active research all this week and a decision by early next week. It is not that I want them to rush into something being unsure, but I want to try and keep them on track and serious about exposing their work to the world. I have good feelings overall.

The poetry meeting, which I was sorry I could not attend even though I REALLY wanted to seemed to go very well. I heard very good feedback from its participants and that group seems very full throttle. I might ask for them to switch their meeting time so I can join because I really want to try and resubmit the poems that were just recently rejected :). My favorite thing about the meeting was I heard Alex, my poetry genre lead, brought everyone envelopes. I love it. That is a fantastic way to subtly get the message out there that we need to submit more. They decided to pick one general magazine for all to try and submit too as well as their own individual choices. I'm a little envious sure, but poetry seems to be an easier genre to turn around and submit elsewhere if rejected. I say this only based on the vast size difference between one typical short story and one typical poem.

My first workshop was Monday night and I was excited to get feedback. The story I submitted was unlike any other story I've tried to write. For one it had nudity in it. [dramatic pause] It was about a woman getting a massage. [sigh of disappointment] However, I used words like panties, which I despise and had to listen to people talk about nude this nude that all workshop. What did I expect right? I'm not a prude, but I don't often discuss these things with 12 acquaintances either. Long story short I was slight giddy and tried not to giggle like a child when people were talking. The general comments concerning my story were expected. I already mapped out some of the changes needed in the draft and nodded along as people pointed them out. Majority of the class read my main character as sympathetic. This was surprising to my professor. He read her as despicable. Though I will admit this was not my original intent.

His take on my story was very interesting and different from what I usually go for in a story. Although I do not think it will make me change my story around to make his reading of it the dominant one, I dig that he is able to go there with what I gave him. The one thing he did say that I am not sure I agree with completely is his take on associative/memory driven writing. His stance is many have tried to do this over the years and it never works out great. Then my question to him would be, how then does one write in that style well? My classmate assumes his answer is not to write in that style at all. I will soon find out in our one-on-one conference next Monday. And if he is reading my blog I guess he has a few more days to think it over. Alice Munro utilizes this style in many of her story. I have often been referenced to her after someone reads one of my stories. As far as I can tell she is a very successful writer.

His comment I think rather stems from his specific taste in writing. This is more or less something that comes through very clear in many of his class comments and story selections. I don't like to pigeon hold anyone into a category or type but George Saundars was his teacher and he mentioned liking Kurt Vonnegut. I am not arguing it is necessarily a bad thing. His taste are very different from everyone in the class. Thus, he is essentially opening our eyes to other options and giving us techniques we may not have otherwise explored to use in our own stories. However, it is yet to be determined if he will let his taste dictate his workshop suggestions and comments. My story is rough and still able to be bent down any avenue of style, theme, and plot change. I loved his take on my story. The rest is TBD.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First Story Results

The week was rough. My goals were high. The move went well but nothing has quite found it's proper place yet. A small detail that made finishing my story and keeping up with my word count difficult. It is hard to concentrate on what a character is going to do next when there is a mess waiting to be dealt with at the end of one's desk. The results of my 500 daily word count were fair/good. I was more or less about 250 words behind after the first two days. But I did make a honest attempt each day to sit down and write something even when completely uninspired. I did beat myself up over it a few times too. I said self, this is what you do, you are a writer. 500 words a day should be a small afternoon snack. I blame my type A tendencies. I often want to write scenes in order and over think what perfect word I need for a line of dialog. This time I tried to break away from those habits. I often forced myself in order to make my word count. Needless to say the hardest task about writing on such a short deadline was the climax scene and the ending. Those two areas I cannot promise won't read slightly flat in this first draft. Plus, I also worried about turning in a "polished" draft. Thank goodness for my cousin in LA who proofed my story only a few hours before it was due.

Needless to say, I liked the 500 words a day goal. With the added deadline it really pushed me to do my writing. It will also hopefully in the future help me get use to writing fast. I am going to try and keep that goal going. To assist me in that endeavor I have opted out of getting cable in my new apartment. Although I did sign up for Netflixs. I have to have something for those rainy unmotivated days. But I think this will be a good decision in the end. More writing will be done as well as more reading. Lastly, my first issue of the New Yorker came today. I probably would never seek out a subscription to this magazine on my own. The magazine actually mailed me a unbelievable deal for a two year subscription that was foolish to pass up. Thus, I now have my first literary magazine subscription. I am feeling very writerish (if that is a word). However, I've discovered its just as addicting as all the gossip magazines. I want another one. I can't decide however, if I should get another literary subscription or an industry subscription like Poets and Writers or Writer's Digest. Things to sleep on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Group Lanuch and More Rejection News

Serif's first meeting was Monday night. It went pretty well and much quicker than I anticipated. However, no one really had any questions so it was mostly just me talking. I think most people were excited about it, besides the one person who did not seem to be taking a valid interest. But perhaps he/she already submits enough on their own and thought this was a different type of group. Well wishes to them and I hope to expand the group's vision eventually but starting out I think its important to be narrowly focused. Baby steps. We have our next meetings set and I gave everyone homework. It is really something everyone should be doing anyways, I asked that they bring in a literary journal to the next meeting. I wanted everyone to suggest different magazines to submit to and use it as a launching pad to great discussions and decisions about what their focus is going to be this semester. The turnout was very good too. I think it was about 12 people give or take those who could not make it or stay the entire time. I am feeling pretty good so far and excited to get to work!

Now the second part of my header today. Today at work I got my self-addressed envelope back for my poetry submission. I did not even feel like opening it. But I did! Just in case my assumption was wrong and it was a great welcome to the published world packet. Though I had high hopes I pouted for a half a second and then became excited to turn the poem around to another magazine. What magazine you ask? TBD. Perhaps I'll use my group to get the poems back out there. More to come later.

Lastly, a brief morsel about my first class this semester. The program has now hired two new fiction professors, finally! Not that I do not value the fiction professor I have taken for my last two fiction classes, but I am ready for a new perspective. And may I say I am tickled about their selection. (Well one half of the selection - to be fair I've only met one of them) Professor Levin is a quality addition to the program. He is serious, tough, and has high expectations. This is not to say he is not delightful either. He began class by matching our names with our faces he Internet stalked (self admitted). He also set some very good ground rules to our semester workshop I believe these rules will make this workshop one of the best I have taken at RU so far. First, everyone must read every piece twice one for enjoyment and one for line editing. Second, everyone must have something to say in workshop and not just "I raised my hand and spoke, now I can pretend not to listen." But he insists what we say is composed of quality, thoughtfulness, and aimed at bettering the overall piece. These all may seem very natural and expected requirements of any workshop taken, but is often not expressed out loud. It is rather left to be assumed by all involved. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the class. I am not however, excited that I have to submit the first week. Between working overtime for the past three weeks, moving, and barely sleeping, producing a quality story in one weeks time is stressful. I gave myself a 500 word count goal each day, starting yesterday, to get it finished in time. Day one - success! Day two - I am distracting myself from getting started. But I must make it!

Friday, January 22, 2010

New Endeavor

Big news. Well maybe not big but feels big. I have an active mind that keeps me wake late into the night all too often. I have started a new student-run organization called Serif. (Thank you sis for the name) It is a group focused on submitting original works frequently. Or rather, helping students to dive in and sink into the writing lifestyle. People go to grad school for all types of reasons. I went to grad school because I knew I needed structure, deadlines, and consequences to help me reach my goals of what I wanted out of life. I wanted to be a writer. But I lacked the discipline to make the time to consistently sit down and write. Grad school also gave me inspiration and information on how to and when to submit. Yet, all the presentations in the world did not help me revise with publishing purpose or get my manuscripts in the mail any faster.
So after I slapped myself on the hands for the last time, I made a plan. I wanted to create a forum where we as students can hold each other accountable for making it as writers. When one of us succeeds its good news for all of us! Plus, if more of the students in the program start submitting the chances of publication increases and so does the credibility of the program. My goals here are far reaching for everyone. Because if nothing at all comes of this the students in the program have another outlet for community building. The initial response of interest is slow coming. However, kingdoms weren't built in one day. I am happy to have some very good people in place to help me and the support of my family and friends in my endeavor. I will know if I truly succeeded in a couple years if this program is still in operation long after I have gone and if more like it have sprung up. The first meeting is Monday, January 25th at 5pm. I will be back with updates!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Round two

I've recently submitted again. Which is very exciting for me because I switched genres this time. I chose to submit four different poems I originally wrote a year ago. That kind of time in between revisions truly lets a writer get down to busy fast. All the initial attachments to the work is gone and I can see the lines, words, and images as a first time reader might. This also enables me to have a fast turn around. This might be the way I work best - fast turn arounds. All that pressure to meet the deadline narrows down and makes me expect serious results from myself. There is no "I'll get to that part tomorrow," or "I'll come back to that when I think about it more." This submission is different from the previous because it is requested to be done through ground mail. Thus, requiring a cover letter. I am not a fan of cover letters. True I am a writer and should be able to handle this without much distress, but the truth is quite contrary. It's almost as nerve wrecking as revising my work. A poor cover letter practically ruins your chances before the editor reads your work. I just keep mine very simple and to the point. One paragraph and I am done. Hopefully, that encourages the editor to jump straight to my work.

I am pretty optimistic about anything in life and so it is natural for me to feel pretty good about this submission. I am not positive about the response time, but hopefully I will be so involved in finishing my thesis I forget all about it until the good news circles back around. Cross your fingers for me.

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Did I work Today?"

Today is a rough day. It is one of those days I am reminded that I am not anywhere near where I thought I would be in life. This of course is a good and bad thing. Bad because I feel deflated and like I am running in place. Good because the playing field is still wide open and has many paths to choose from. But I still feel a little down. Then I found an old handout from one of my workshop professors Joshua Henkin entitled "Letter to a Young Writer." The letter is mostly comprised of his Ten Commandments to young writers but also gives honest advice and perspective. It reminds me to remember that any serious attempt to live and work as a writer is a very tough and beautiful thing. That the only question worth asking each day is "did I work today?" This is important because there are many days that I can't answer that question in the affirmative. That is my only failure. Where I am in life compared to where I thought I'd be will very rarely match up. However, if I can work everyday at where I want to be then I am successful. I am successful because by making time everyday my end goals can only be closer to being reached. Thank you J. Henkin. And yes, today I put in work.