Thursday, January 31, 2008
Mark your calendars - the next fiction dinner will be with Steve Goodwin on Sunday, February 10 at 6pm. Because of space constraints we have to cap this one at 20 people, so the first amazing 20 people to respond to Priyanka will get on the coveted invite list (because we're totally checking your names at the door and everything).
It will be potluck, so please be sure to also include what you'll be bringing when you email. Directions will be going out on the listserv.
The oh-so-awesome 20 are:
MacBride - Hummus/Veggies
Conner - Brownies
Heath - Veggie Soup
Scott - Chicken
Young - Side dish
Vawter - Casserole
Loiaconi - Dessert
McGill - Bread/Cheese/Wine
Ford - Veggie dish
Friday, January 25, 2008
So a quick note before we get started - this interview with Jessica took place last semester. We began emailing in October, and then things sort of fell off over the holidays. The delay worked out though, as I'm happy to be able to post this now, in 2008, which should be a good year for Jessica.
Could you talk a little bit about the process leading up to your first novel's being accepted for publication? Am I right in saying that McSweeney's Books will publish it this coming spring? Basically, how has the whole experience been so far?
Do you mean the writing process or the publishing process? The publication date hasn't been set in stone, but the book will appear "sometime" in 2008.
Oh yes, I mean specifically the publishing process: finding an agent, submitting the MS to editors, etc. How has that worked out for you so far?
My third year, the Mason faculty awarded me the fiction thesis fellowship, but not for the novel I had proposed about a female bullfighter. They essentially said they were giving me the time, but wanted a different story. I had written a short voice piece for Susan's class that I liked, so I just kind of kept going with it, turned the bullfighter proposal into a short story, and submitted it, along with the first 40,000 words of the "new" book, to McSweeney's for the Amanda Davis Award. After I won, my agent found me, and McSweeney's published the bullfighter story. So I think I was extremely lucky. Not only to have been given the time from the Mason faculty, but then to have so many things fall into place. Of course, then there's the small task of actually finishing the novel. All said, it took four years to write and research, so we were on hold for a while, then last spring my agent sent it out. I received a couple of offers, but in the end went with McSweeney's, not only because they have a truly amazing editor who I felt really “got” the direction I wanted the book to go in, but also because they have a relationship with Grove, who will publish the paperback.
I think McSweeney's Issue 11 was one of the first issues of theirs that I read as an undergrad. I remember that call for submissions about the Amanda Davis Award printed inside the front cover, and later, when I began worrying about the MFA admissions process, I saw the announcement that you had won and that you went to Mason. Now that I think about it, for an impressionable young writer who pretty much only knew McSweeney's writing and nothing else at the time, that had an effect on me.
I want to jump away from the book for a moment (though we'll come back to it I hope) and ask you about how you came to study at Mason? Was there a particular "thing" that drew you to the program?
That is hilarious.
You know, I ended up coming to Mason because I met Richard Bausch at Breadloaf, and he gave a lecture on the short story that totally blew me away. I went up to him after the talk and he encouraged me to apply to Mason. I did, was accepted, and was offered a teaching assistantship which made it a no brainer. I also spoke with Alan before I came, and he was incredibly helpful. I loved that all of the faculty liked each other, and spent time out of class together. Plus, the fictioners in my class were truly amazing, and I still keep in touch with many of them. I don't regret a second of it.
What was your favorite aspect of that long writing process? The research? The initial creation? The revising?
I think you're right about the freedom Susan's voice class delivers; it's a model I've used for my undergraduate students, and they're always surprised by how well they can write.
For me, writing a novel is like solving a puzzle, and some of my favorite moments were when I figured out some connection that had been apparent the whole time, just waiting for me to figure it out. I went to some writers' residencies which give you time to write. I would spend whole days just reading and thinking, which was invaluable. Before I'd never really understood or appreciated why it took so long to write a novel, and now I realize that it's the space and time when you're not typing that you really need. Novels need to breathe. You need time to sort out what the hell is going on, to allow the innate, subconscious connections of the novel to present themselves to you, otherwise you just end up typing into an abyss.
But I also loved researching the story, so much so that I had to limit myself to 15-30 minutes of research a day. Half of it takes place in present day Virginia, and the other half in a farcical 9th century Hungary, so I spent a long time reading and thinking about stories and myths about the early Hungarians and the barbarian cultures of the late ninth, early tenth century. I'd just want to read all the time. I found a couple of great primary texts, some in Latin, which had been mercifully translated, and also interviewed medieval historians and Hungarians to make sure I wasn't way off base with the culture and the language. That was a blast. Did you know that the early Hungarians really liked buttons? Buttons are cool and everything, but imagine a whole tribe of proto-Hungarians who really dug buttons. I liked that. They also wore pointy hats and mustaches. So it's true that the life is in the details.
I did not know about the Hungarian fascination with buttons. The pointy hats do seem familiar to me, though I don't know why.
So aside from having a first book deal, what are the details of your life right now? You're teaching in
I've been teaching in some capacity since graduation; comp, lit, intro to creative writing, the fiction workshop. I've been teaching mostly for the
That's interesting about the rented office - it made me think about that Guardian special feature on writers' rooms. I don't know if you've seen it.
What convinced you to move the writing out of the house? And how's that different than writing at home?
That's a great list of writers at the Guardian—I hadn't seen it. The writing space is always kind of amusing to me. I left home to write a while ago. See, I got this dog because sitting at my desk all the time is pretty lonely. I had these very romantic notions about writing with a dog asleep contentedly by my side. What happened, though, was that the dog, being a dog, just wanted to go out all the time. She sat next to me and watched me, and every time I started typing, her eyebrows would lower, darkly. I felt horribly guilty. So I guess you could say that it was because my dog was watching me that I had to get my own space. I love being in a locked room to write knowing that no one knows where you are, and there's no phone or internet. I'll see people sometimes scribbling away in their journals or laptops in cafes and it bewilders me. I can't help but feel like these are people who would rather be seen writing than to actually write. To actually write for me is to disappear into the fiction completely, to deal with the problems of the story in solitude, without having to listen to someone else discuss the temperature of their double macchiato on their cellphone—cafes are great places to read, but not to write.
I think the trick you describe, I mean, establishing your own space, can also be useful for student writers juggling numerous responsibilities. I'm thinking of MFA students working jobs, teaching first-year comp, volunteering at animal shelters, whathaveyou. And a writing space could mean anything from a particular office, right, to that certain time of day when only writing matters.
I mean this as an ideal - I still struggle with managing my time. So when I say I'm thinking of MFA students, I'm actually just thinking of me, in a selfish sort of way.
As far as cafe writing goes, I agree with you in the sense that I'd rather be on my own, alone at the desk, with headphones on, away from distractions, etc. I do know a few writers in the program, though, who regularly meet at cafes and such to write, and that has worked well for them.
Do you have any plans to visit George Mason any time soon, either to read your work or to teach a few workshops as a visiting writer, etc? Have you done that already?
Hey, don't get me wrong! Whatever works is great. If you can write a short story while enjoying a nice hot double-espresso in a cafe or whatever, while standing in line at the grocery store, or while taking a bath, then by all means, do that. I have a friend who can only write when her entire house is clean. She is forever scrubbing grout. I think the point is that I don't know a single writer who doesn't struggle with the time or money problem—and I would advise anyone in the MFA to cherish that amazing time! I'm currently teaching anywhere from 3-6 classes a semester, and working 20 hours for a women's health website, writing about things like Restless Leg Syndrome and hot flashes. So however it works is how you should do it.
I do envy the poets, however. I am suspicious that they have more time than the fictioners (Is that a word? If not, I like it), whose thinking time is always curbed by the necessity to type, or whose thinking is discovered by the typing. I have to say I never felt pressured about my writing time at Mason, and I was a T.A. with 2 classes, read for Candid Yak, edited for Phoebe, and was a participant of an abundance of other fun, important writerly gatherings. The fact that the faculty wants you to be writing above all else is a huge strength of the program—but I also enjoyed the fellow writers I met there so much. My year, 2004, was a great class. There were some really dynamite writers there. People who genuinely loved it.
I would love to come to Mason, as soon as Bill Miller invites me! When the book comes out, I'm hoping to come down and give a reading, visit a workshop, or even just hang out with the MFA-ers.
This was sent through our listserv and I thought I'd put it up:
Spring Visiting Writers:
Linda Gregerson is a poet, recent Guggenheim Fellow, and a member of faculty at the
Reception: 6:30 – 7:30pm, Grand Tier III, Concert Hall
***Workshop: Thurs., Feb. 7, 4:00 – 6:00pm, Fri., Feb. 8, 10:00am-12:00pm, Robinson A483, English Department Lounge***
Peter Gizzi is an award winning poet whose books include The Outernationale, Some Values of Landscape and Weather, Artificial Heart, and Periplum and other poems 1987-92. He has also published several limited-edition chapbooks, folios, and artist books. His work has been translated into numerous languages. His honors include the Lavan Younger Poet Award from the
Reception: 6:30 – 7:30pm, Sub II, Rooms 1 & 2
Workshop: Wed. & Thurs., April 9 & 10, 4:00 – 6:00pm, Robinson
A447, English Department Conference Room
Jennifer Egan is the author of three novels, The Invisible Circus; Look at Me, a finalist for the National Book Award; and the bestselling The Keep; and a short story collection,
Reception: 6:30 – 7:30pm, Grand Tier III, Concert Hall
Workshop: Tues. & Wed., Feb. 19 & 20, 4:00 – 6:00pm, Robinson
A447, English Department Conference Room
Liam Callanan is the author of The Cloud Atlas (2004) and All Saints (2007). He teaches and coordinates the Ph.D. program in creative writing at the
Reception: 6:30 – 7:30pm, Sub II, Rooms 3 & 4
Workshop: Mon. & Tues., Mar. 17 & 18, 4:00 – 6:00pm, Robinson
A447, English Department Conference Room
Blanche McCrary Boyd is the author of four novels, most recently Terminal Velocity (1997), which Publishers Weekly described as "a rollicking, kaleidoscopic trip through the drug-tinged lesbian-feminist counter-culture of the 1970s." Her other novels include Nerves (1973), Mourning the Death of Magic (1977), and The Revolution of Little Girls (1992), which won the Ferro Grumley Foundation's award for the best work of fiction written in 1991. It was also nominated for the Lambda Award, for Quality Paperback Books' New Voices Award, and for the first Southern Book Award for Fiction. Boyd also has published The Redneck Way of Knowledge (1982), a collection of essays, autobiography, and journalism. The reviewer for The Nation called it "impressive. . .superb. . .the best kind of social criticism." Boyd has been a staff writer at the Village Voice and a contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
Reception: 6:30 – 7:30pm, Grand Tier III, Concert Hall
Workshop: Wed., & Thurs., Feb. 6 & 7, 4:00 – 6:00pm. Robinson
A447, English Department Conference Room
Mark Levine is the author of F5: Devestation, Survival, and the Most Violent Tornado Outbreak of the Twentieth Century. He is an award-winning magazine writer who has contributed to The New Yorker, Outside, and Men’s Journal among others and whose work has been included in The Best American Magazine Writing, The Best American Sports Writing, and The Best American Poetry. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine and he teaches poetry at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is also the author of three books of poetry.
Reception: 6:30 – 7:30pm, Reception, Research I, Room 163, Lobby
Workshop: Wed., & Thurs., Mar. 26 & 27 or Apr. 2 & 3, 4:00 – 6:00pm,
Robinson A447, English Department Conference Room
- "Will cellphone novels kill the author?" The latest doomsday story, all the way from Japan. I particularly like this bit: "As the genre’s popularity leads more people to write cellphone novels, though, an existential question has arisen: can a work be called a cellphone novel if it is not composed on a cellphone, but on a computer or, inconceivably, in longhand?" Huh?
- If you don't know yet, The Atlantic has opened up its online archives for free. Go there and read things.
- Arist Olafur Eliasson has somehow fit his house inside this very expensive book - using lasers and probably some algorithms or something. Thank you Ron Hogan at Galleycat for finding this and posting it.
- I've told some of you about this already: recently I received a form rejection email from Backwards City Review, a magazine I really like and will continue to submit to; unfortunately, the editors made the small mistake of copying every author they rejected (instead of blind copying, you know?) onto the rejection email list. Chaos ensued. Anyhow, for more rejection stories/reactions, you can read this blog, or this blog, or you can read this silliness. Am I wrong to say that there is something addictive about all of this?
- Mike has shaved the beard.
- And finally, there is hope: "Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book." From The Onion.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
A special thank you to Brooke Braun, Director of Communications, College of Humanities and Social Science, who initially contacted us about hosting the interview online. And also thank you to Katie Clare, who conducted the interview. Katie earned her MFA in Poetry from
I've gone ahead and added a few links to the interview, but otherwise the text is unchanged.
Ten Questions with Danielle Deulen, MFA Poetry ’05
By Katie Clare, MFA ‘05
As a recent graduate of Mason’s graduate creative writing program, people often ask me, “What are you going to do with that?” or “Your parents must be thrilled with that career path, right?” After all, in today’s culture we equate happiness and success with fancy cars and big houses. How could someone choose a less certain and more creative path? Frankly, what it comes down to is the uncertain earning potential and the need for an employer. After all, who will hire someone with an MFA? It might be a cliché to consider Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” yet it’s worth mentioning. The poem is a commentary on the choices one must make and where those choices lead. Frost’s point is that one road is not better than the other, it’s simply different.
While there are some PhD programs in the arts, the MFA provides the norm for the field. As a terminal degree, an MFA is a serious undertaking that requires significant time and attention. Mason’s nationally recognized creative writing program is no exception. In addition to craft classes, the program has a substantive literature component designed to provide students with a set of strong examples to work from in their own writing. Whatever the degree requirements of an MFA in creative writing, the degree prepares students for a variety of careers by building skills in reading, listening, communicating, and creative thinking. These skills are useful in almost any field, and one cannot deny the utility and importance of the written word as a communication tool. Furthermore, as David Fenza, executive director of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, housed at Mason, writes, “We turn to literature to make our lives bigger.” Indeed, through literature of all sorts, readers expand their world by learning of different travelers, roads, and possibilities, and this, inevitably – or shall I say hopefully – leads to new ideas and fresh perspectives. Again, an ability to locate, respect, and respond to innovative ideas and fresh perspectives is a skill valued by many employers.
The Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, promotes the importance of the creative path. The institute offers six fellowships each year to young, emerging writers, and the competition for these prized fellowships is fierce. As in previous years, hundreds of applications were submitted, and as in previous years, a Mason alumna has earned one of these coveted spots.
Danielle Deulen completed her MFA in poetry in 2005. She taught as a graduate student and an adjunct, and served as the graduate programs manager in the English Department before heading off to
Q: What attracted you to Mason’s MFA Program?
A: Ah, the question everyone loves to ask. At the time I applied to Mason, I was miserable in my job as a receptionist in
Q: Overall, what was your experience as a Mason student?
A: Mason’s MFA program has a reputation as one of the more academically rigorous programs in the country, especially in poetry. As you might guess from my previous answer, I wasn’t quite prepared for this, so there was some initial scrambling. Even while scrambling, I realized that this kind of rigor was important to understanding my craft. By my final year in the program, I felt I was on solid ground. I suppose this is always the way learning happens for me: a headlong dive followed by great confusion or frustration, and then, finally, illumination. During this process, I found brilliant and engaging faculty who were wonderfully generous with their time and support.
Q: What did you think of Mason’s graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) program? Has teaching played a role in your development as a poet?
A: Mason’s GTA program prepared me for work in the classroom in a way I don’t think a lot of other programs do. I’ve had friends in programs at other schools who complained about being thrown directly into the classroom their first semester. Between classes, such mentors as Terry Zawacki and Zofia Burr, and discussions with MFA faculty about pedagogy, Mason provides the training necessary to becoming a successful teacher. I took my training very seriously – and it took over my life. Learning to temper my impulse to spend all my time and energy on teaching – and none on my poems – has been difficult. Teaching made me a better reader of poems. It has also affected my subject matter, as students show up in my poems quite a bit.
Q: When you were in
A: I’ve always loved reading and the different worlds it allows you to inhabit, so it seemed obvious that I would try to write myself. To be quite honest, I don’t know if I’m more attracted to poetry than any other genre; it’s just the genre I found some small amount of success in…. If I believed I could write a beautiful novel, I’d give it a shot. But it seems disingenuous to think I could write a novel out of nowhere.
Q: Everyone is familiar with the idea of writer’s block. What do you think about this? Where do you find inspiration for your work?
A: I don’t really believe in writer’s block; I believe in incubation. Writers have periods in which they are less productive in the quantitative sense; that is, they’re not producing anything they could show someone. But the mind is always at work. When you’re not writing, you’re gathering or just listening. Eventually, you put these pieces together, and they become something. Personally, I’m inspired by what I read.
Q: So, you’re the recipient of one of the prestigious writing fellowships from the
A: There are many similarities between the English departments of Mason and the university of Wisconsin-Madison. They are both large departments in large universities – many kind and brilliant people all in one place. The biggest difference, I would say, is in the atmosphere of Madison itself, a small college town of about 300,000 people. Outside
Q: Is there a specific component of the
A: I like that there is a teaching component. All fellows teach one creative writing class a semester, which keeps us in touch with a community of learners. The program’s directors are concerned with this – inviting us into the community. Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to reading. Before I received the fellowship, I was working full time and teaching one composition course at night. Between my weekly schedule, commenting on students’ work, and planning for class, I had little time or energy left for reading. I have a long list of books to read and reread, and I’m happily going through them.
Q: The fellowship is designed to give young writers the opportunity to work on a manuscript for publication. What’s your manuscript like? Did it grow out of your graduate-level thesis, or did the thesis simply play a developmental role?
A: I feel as if I’m starting over. I’m focusing more on producing new work than I am salvaging old poems. Who knows what I’ll have by the end of the year. The manuscript I’m trying to pull together is currently titled “Dangerous Fruit.” I’m interested in the biblical story of Genesis, mostly in the role woman plays and how it affects our understanding of the story. For better or worse, at least for the time being, there’s a feminist slant to the manuscript.
Q: Where would you like to be in five years?
A: My main aim is to have a book published; everything else is secondary. Before that, there’s not much of a possibility for any career in the literary world.
Q: I know this is an impossible question, but what role do you think the arts should play in contemporary society? How do you think the general public feels about creative writing?
A: This is an impossible question, and any answer might come out sounding idealistic or pretentious. In my classroom experience, though, it seems students often have some misconceptions about poetry that I’m constantly working against as soon as I enter the room. They seem to believe that poetry is and should be confusing, esoteric, and autobiographical. While it’s true that poetry condenses and plays with language in a way that colloquial speech does not, this is what makes it a pleasure to study. Some poems require more study than others, but that doesn’t mean they are intentionally confusing. Whether a poem is difficult or accessible, it’s important to understand the aesthetic and the time in which the poet is working. This is why we have literature classes. It does no good to read out of context. For example, without a background in physics, you can’t walk into the middle of a physics lecture and expect to understand it. Poetry is the same way, but it seems people don’t apply this logic to the study of poetry.
*Previous Mason recipients are Juanita Brunk MFA '85, Rebecca Dunham MFA '01, Cynthia Marie Hoffman MFA '03.
Monday, January 7, 2008
The latest issue of Hobart is out, with Ryan's iron lung story. Definitely support Hobart and Ryan by purchasing the issue (or a subscription) at Hobart
Keep me posted if you're getting published, online or in print!