Year Two: COMPLETE

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My empty office, which will be torn down this summer.
Reading my short story,
Reading my short story, “Those Peculiar Galaxies” for UNH’s Graduate Research Conference

My second year of my MFA is over (in case you weren’t able to pick that up from context clues in the title of this post.) There’s one more semester left, another writing workshop, a form & technique class focusing on putting together a story collection through the lens of recent successful collections, like Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk and Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn, among others, as well as teaching another section of freshman composition.

This summer will be spent, between feminist science fiction conventions (Wiscon!) and Quaker-Marxist weddings, putting together my thesis, that collection of short stories that’s supposed to prove I learned something here, or that, at the least, I was productive at putting words on a page. It’s actually pretty close to done already—125 pages of the required 150, so my main goal is to get everything in order and write another two stories.

One, I already know and have started. The other, I know what story I want to write. The question is, can I figure it out, make it compelling, and not feel contrived—it needs to do a lot of things, first and foremost, fulfill all that was promised by the opening story and echo and illuminate everything that was built in the subsequent stories. Tall order for a story of whose shape I only have the fuzziest shadow.

Dorm life is caput.
Dorm life is caput.

And so I look forward to a new semester in the fall in a new office, teaching a new batch of freaked-out freshmen, in a new apartment somewhere around seacoast New Hampshire with a whole new host of weird issues to contend with. It’s almost as if two years isn’t really long enough for an MFA, but simultaneously, I can’t wait to be done. Some chapters are short, some are not?

Ultimately, it’s that odd combination of end-of-a-good-book sad and end-of-a-good-book excitement, and I’m trying to savor the end of said good book, but I’m already starting to think about what book to read next.

The Ultimate in Refinement

If I understand this correctly, for some writers, the revision process is like a dog eating its own poop.  Because there’s still nutrients in it. So then they poop out an even more refined poop.  And the dog will keep doing it until there’s nothing left to get out of the poop or until its master tells it to stop. That master is publication. That’s when you stop eating the poop.

This also sheds an interesting light on literary critics, who would then be likened to scientists who use the microscopes and mass spectrometers of literary theory to figure out what the poop is made of.

Gross.

The Voice Will Not Whisper

I’ll be doing my first public reading tonight for the Read Free or Die, A Free Monthly Reading Series Created and Hosted by Students of the UNH MFA Program.
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Negative Space—The Art of Critiquing

As a fiction writer, you’d think I’d be good at lying. My whole job is literally just making things up. But no, I can’t lie. Or rather, I can, but it is physically uncomfortable. It’s less uncomfortable to say uncomfortable truths. Which can make it seem like I lack tact, diplomacy, social graces, or that I overshare, or am just a plain jackass.

This character trait is particularly problematic in writing workshops and the solution of which is probably the greatest skill I’ve learned in workshop. Basically, I have had to learn how to spin “This sucks” into something constructive. Instead of “Holy shit, look at this ugly fucking hole in the ground,” I’ve learned to say “A big beautiful skyscraper would look fantastic right here.”

And I’m realizing it’s a fantastic skill to have. It’s incredibly easy to be a negative person, to see failure and deficiency everywhere, to see only the shits and the sucks and the ohmygodfuckthis’s. Instead, if in every failure, you train your brain to see potential, you can sound like a motivational speaker.

Jesus, that’s what I just did. I just independently invented motivational speakers.

Fuck positivity. Good art uses negative space. Feel free to suck as much as you want and when you want my opinion, I’ll tell you exactly how much it sucks.

But I’ll also tell you how much it’s awesome, so deal with it.