Friday, August 31, 2007

How did the first week go?

Too much reading? Not enough time to write? If you're a first-year, what do you think so far?

Have a good long weekend everyone -- I'll be on a grassy knoll somewhere, reading Pride and Prejudice.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reminder about The Fires

We've just mentioned Alan Cheuse's new book, The Fires, which The Santa Fe Writers Project will officially release on September 1st, but I want to talk about it again because Alan has been out west on a book tour for a while (I think), and he returns home this coming week to read at Politics&Prose on the 8th of September at 7pm (then he's back on the road).

In a way, this is how we show that we miss him.

For the Mason writers out there, I believe there's a party after the reading...if anyone has the details in an email, let me know.

Some links for you:

  • Alan's page dedicated to the new book

  • The Politics&Prose event calender

  • To order the book, you can go here

The Fires: Two Novellas - the Barnes & Noble Discussion Page

Barnes & Noble online now offers book discussion pages for readers to share thoughts and opinions with each other and with the author. This month, they are featuring Alan's latest work. It looks like readers are a little hesitant to begin posting - definitely check it out and maybe help get the conversation started.

The Fires discussion here.

And here's what Alan says in his Welcome message to online readers/posters at the B&N site:

"It's a pleasure to become part of this good enterprise, both as a writerand a reader. For as long as I can remember, I've been a reader, and a certain point in my adolescent years tried to become a writer. But as good as I was as the former, the latter goal eluded me for decades. It wasn't until I was approaching my fortieth birthday that I sold my first story, and I've had some success at it ever since. But I've always been a successful reader, and that's just as important to me as writing. Borges, in his poem "The Reader", says that he's not as proud of the books he has written as he is of the books he has read. I agree. I haven't written Shakespeare's Tragedies, no one else has, but we bask in the warmth of that triumph, and in the triumph of every good book we approach and take in, dwell in, and become part of.

I hope these novellas--always an orphan form--will have some good effect for you. Not a story, not a short novel, the novella is something I have written at during the past decade. I published half a dozen of them, in several little magazines, from The Idaho Review to the Reading Room. Here are two of them in "The Fires".

What are they about? Human beings under stress, in torment, in love, and misery, and triumphant, somehow, at the end. Or perhaps you'll see these in another light. I always remember what my dear late friend Bernard Malamud used to say. After he finishes the work, the writer becomes only just another reader."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Susan Shreve's Latest: A Memoir

Before the rush of the beginning of the semester, I wanted to send out some information about faculty member Susan Shreve, who recently had her memoir published by Houghton Mifflin. The book, called Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven, has been getting some very good reviews this summer, though I haven't had much time to read all of them. This follows after the publication of her most recent novel, A Student Of Living Things, which came out more than a year ago with Viking.

And this should be no surprise to everyone, but Susan is right back at work on, not one, but two novels.

Some links:

Review by Carolyn See at The Washington Post

Review by Gail Caldwell at The Boston Globe

Brief Review by Amanda Miller at The Washington City Paper

Review by Abbot Combes at The New York Times

MFA fiction alumni, Colleen Kearney Rich and Art Taylor, have an interview piece with Susan online in The Mason Gazette as well.

Susan's son, Porter Shreve, has a few more links and such at his website. He will probably know more than I know, so you should visit him there.

Good day.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Upcoming Readings

WaPost's City Guide is a great resource for metro area readings. Click on "Events" (left of calendar) then "Book Events" (right of calendar).

Some promising-looking readings before Fall for the Book:
Junot Diaz at Border's at Baileys Crossroads, September 7;
• Our own Alan Cheuse at Politics and Prose, September 8 (also at Fall for the Book); and
• Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones to talk about New Stories from the South anthology (he edited). Politics and Prose, September 10.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Place To Find Agents

Many of you already know about this site, I'm sure, but I thought I'd pass it along for those who don't. Mediabistro is mainly for nonficiton writers, but there's a lot of crossover stuff, too. Among other things, the site runs biographies of agents and what they're interested in, though you have to join (I think it's $50 a year) to get that.

Friday, August 24, 2007


A headline from The Onion and a headline not from The Onion:
  • "Electronic Books With Musty Book Smell Launched"
  • "Hard To Tell If Wikipedia Entry On Dada Has Been Vandalized Or Not"

Here and here.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Welcome Parties

Faculty poets Jennifer Atkinson and Eric Pankey will again host the Welcome Back MFA party at their house from 6:30 until 10:00 pm on Friday the 24th. They've got food, but if you've got something you absolutely need to drink, bring that along (at least that's what they say in the invite).

Later in the evening, the party will move to the Friendship House (where Danika, Corey, Rachael, Moriah, and Ethan live) for more things to do "before the semester starts and things get dumb."

Check your email for directions, phone numbers, and other specifics; if you haven't deleted anything, the invites are probably somewhere in your inbox. Otherwise, ask around. People will know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Somewhat Recent Faculty Publications

Anyone interested in reading some faculty work? We've got a few publications that we can list from this past year. I've been meaning to put this up for a while, but I keep forgetting:
  • A not-as-recent publication: Courtney Brkic has a story in the Winter 2006 issue of The Missouri Review. I'm not quite sure if they get this in the library; I checked the online database, but nothing came up, and I'm too lazy to walk over there right now.
  • Helon Habila has a story in the Spring 2007 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review. You can read it online here.
  • The most recent publication I found is from Alan Cheuse, who has a short story in the Summer 2007 issue of The Southern Review.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Brief Pre-Semester Checklist

For you folks just coming into the program, M. Ramirez Talusan has a short list of advice over at the MFA Blog.

Some of them may be a bit obvious (like #7), but I think it's a good start towards getting in that mindset (and may be valuable to anyone, not just incoming writers, just now getting back into the semester). Maybe?

As for her #4, I couldn't agree more. That's one thing I wish I'd done earlier in the program. Make an effort to get to office hours; if you're working off campus, say 9-5, you may have to sacrifice a bit and come in early one day so you can leave early another day in order to make it to the university for some one on one time with a professor.

DC Bookstores Profiled at Maud Newton

Maud Newton is running a series of posts about bookstores, and two stores in DC were recently featured: Books For America and Kramer's. The posts are kind of funny to read one after another; apparently critic Chris Lehmann has a pretty bleak view of the bookstore situation in our nation's capitol, though he seems to have found a good non-profit store to satisfy him. Local writer Sean Carman was a bit more forgiving in his post. He says, "Kramer’s is like the city in which it resides: flashy on the surface but still a nerd at heart."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Things We Wish We Knew IV

“1-3 things, in no particular order of importance:

1. That you should get all your books a month or more ahead of the first day of class if possible. (If they switch the books, chances are you'll want to read them anyway, yes?)

2. That you should first formulate your ideas about writing from reading, and it is best if you throw into the mix of reading a heavy dose of writers that have withstood a significant test of time (a criterion intentionally left vague).

3. That you should listen to and consider all thoughtful criticism with an open mind--hell, give it all a try. The MFA program is an excellent opportunity to tinker. Just save often ("To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering," says AldoLeopold). And if in doubt, as no one knows the one true way, refer to #2.”

Things We Wish We Knew III

“1. I'd like to have known the TA selection process before having enrolled (hell, even now it would be nice to know)

2. I think it would have been extremely valuable to have been offered e-mail contacts for current students upon acceptance, so that I could ask about various faculty's teaching processes/styles, how the reading/workshop workloads are balanced, etc. But this new mentorship should take care of that.

3. Re: the program, I would like to see *some* sort of writing/publishing business-oriented course or seminar offered so that students are not 100% on their own to find this information when faculty is obviously already well-acquainted with the publishing industry. This could be as simple as bringing in an agent/editor or two for a Q&A at Fall for the Book, or maybe including an optional "Visiting Editor" day in the Visiting Writers series.

3.5. Maybe along with acceptance materials, a list of D.C.-area literary resources, from the Folger/Pen Faulkner (with info on faculty Board seats) to Politics & Prose, Poets & Busboys, Olsson's & other venues where readings regularly take place.”

Things We Wish We Knew II

“I wish I knew that there was such little emphasis on publishing, or getting information on publishing. It's been that way for me, anyway. I've gotten most of the good advice that's come my way from Ryan (thanks Ryan), and that's about it. I wouldn't want publishing advice and goals to take over, but I think it's important to hear about that, and also to be pushed to apply for fellowships and given information about summer writing conferences, etc. I wish I'd known that the Poetry kids have more of a core community (the Poetry House, lots of love and involvement from Eric P and Jennifer A) and that fiction lacked that. I would have tried earlier on to get something regular going with fiction people. I also wish I'd known that there were so few good readings and reading opportunities in DC. I wouldn't have moved there instead of to Virginia first, and I would have been better about going to Candid Yaks and meeting people.”

Things We Wish We Knew I

Before getting this together, David and I asked current fiction writers at Mason the vaguest of questions: What are 1-3 things you wish you knew before you got here?

The next few posts will include what we received in response to our email. We've split them up so anyone can comment on them, whether to ask further questions or to give their own answers. I think these posts should give you (incoming writers, current writers, and prospective writers, whomever) a sense of some of the concerns we have with the program, as well as an idea as to some of the aspects of the program for which we’re grateful.

We realize that these responses are based on each writer’s experience here at Mason and will vary as a result. But based on the bigger trends we see here, I think this is a good thing to put out there for everyone to think about. We will try to fill in the holes as we go along (for example, we’ll post Northern Virginia, Mason, and DC literary events as much as we can), and we’ll try to address some of the bigger questions as well.

“The things I wish I'd known:

What classes fiction students typically take
Some insight into the different teaching styles
Best place to park
That it's possible to do independent studies
What different students have done for their master's projects

Also I think it would be really nice if fiction students had a lounge or something. As a non-TA, I feel quite disconnected from campus life.”

Friday, August 3, 2007

Introduction to the George Mason MFA Fiction Blog

Welcome to the fiction blog: "A few years' experience will convince us that those things which at the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have proved our greatest blessings."

The primary vision for taking up even more precious space of your ADD-addled brain is to put an end to the historical practice of requiring every new class of MFA fiction students to have to figure out on their own how this writing/student life thing works. By establishing a repository for the experiences and resources of current students and alumni, we hope to create stronger writers, stronger students, and a stronger George Mason MFA fiction program/community (since no one ever leaves the program). We would like to see this blog used in conjuction with the official MFA website, providing more of the informal thoughts and experiences to flesh out the skeleton of the program.

Here are some of the things we could see added to this blog:
  • Stories on how to be a grad student
  • Advice from current and former Mason MFA fiction students
  • Stories/updates about your own writing process
  • George Mason MFA Fiction gossip
  • Contest announcements, including deadlines, how to submit, costs, prizes--extra points if you've submitted to this contest before and have feedback on the process and whether its worthwhile to submit or not
  • Journal information, including submission guidelines, links to journal websites, interesting stories or articles--extra points if you've submitted to this journal before and have feedback on the process
  • Fiction program event announcements
  • Literary reading announcements in the DC area (including roll calls of who is going)
  • MFA Fiction program requirements--what they are, how to meet them, how people have been meeting them
  • Information about what classes to take, favorite professors, what to know before you get to the class
  • Braggings
  • Interviews with alumni, faculty, famous authors, agents
  • Information about agents
  • Information about conferences--and roll calls of who is going to what
  • Your own pieces of fiction (be forewarned - we claim no responsibility to what might happen to your pieces of fiction. You may want to upload it as a PDF file.)
Make sense? Ready to begin? Let's turn the page...