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Residency day 5

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Another full day. It began with Stefan Kiesbye giving a seminar looking at blurred boundaries between fiction and CNF. I was reminded of James Tadd Adcox saying that, to him, CNF was just fiction where the protagonist had the author’s name. Kiesbye looked a number of works, talking about the controversy around the publication of Robert Coover’s The Public Burning, fake movie reviews which allow the piece to comment upon its own narrative, something otherwise only possible in a post-modern omniscient POV. We also looked at Stefan’s fake travelogue, “Vanishing Point”. He views it as an exercise in language, how we decide what’s real and what’s not. “It’s not about truth, it’s about sounding true.” He noted that when he first subscribed to The New Yorker he would start reading from the back (where the movie reviews are), and then page forward to the front. He would read pages not knowing what they belonged to but the fiction was always instantly recognizable as such (I noticed this myself while reading Jennifer Percy’s Demon Camp which I started knowing nothing more than the title, and immediately realized it was narrative non-fiction and not a novel purely by the tone of the prose). There’s something especially apropos in this since I’m currently working on a short piece which does this sort of thing.  

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After workshop and lunch, we had the first round of student seminars. I attended an excellent pair of seminars from Bradley Woodrum and Gregg WIlhelm. I’m really looking forward to what’s to come.

The final seminar of the day was Alan Michael Parker with “A book is a thing.” He focused on structuring collections of stories or poems. He defined something as literary if it caused the reader to read forward through the text but backwards through the subtext, that is reading a story will cause the reader to reinterpret the stories that came before. 

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Residency day 4

The reading/writing day of the residency. I got a fair amount of work done, although there’s always more to write. Our workshop time was spent looking closely at “Paper Lantern” by Stuart Dybek (which is finally coming out in a Dybek collection in June) and “Differently” by Alice Munro.

Our lone seminar of the day was entitled “Cobbling together a living in the arts” and was presented by musician/writers Wesley Stace (perhaps better known as John Wesley Harding) and Joe Pernice. Some of the themes which emerged out of this included the fact that the publishing world is rather gentlemanly and civilized while the music world is cynical anIMG 0202d cutthroat. Both Stace and Pernice have moved self-releasing their music, but are currently under contract for their books (Pernice actually commented that he was hoping that Penguin would turn down his next book so he could self-publish it). One of our MFA students, Greg Wilhelm, asked about the difference in perceptions between self-released music and self-published books. While both Stace and Pernice were relatively positive about self-published books, I don’t think that they really addressed what Greg was asking. So, Greg, here’s my own take on it: The barrier to entry to writing is relatively low. Everyone (thinks they) can write. And with print on demand and e-book publishing, there is little financial barrier to putting out a bad book.

Music on the other hand has a number of barriers to entry. First, there’s the basic technical ability required to perform a song, let alone write one (my early attempts at writing music were plagued by unintentional plagiarism). Not everyone can sing and fewer can play a musical instrument. Even though every Mac comes with a copy of Garageband, there is still a fair amount more needed to actually make a reasonable recording: instruments, microphones, headphones, etc. And what’s more, while it’s possible, few people have the ability to make a recording without at least some collaboration, if only someone to hit the record button.

And then of course, there’s the whole business IMG 0204 ulture difference that was mentioned earlier. Few successful writers feel that they would do better on their own than with their publishing company. The publisher not only provides useful services, but it treats those as its own expenses, not the expenses of the author, and the author retains the moral rights to their work. In music, on the other hand, the record company take ownership of the master recording, but makes the musician cover all the costs of creating it. Small wonder that so many recording artists who aren’t in the world of superstardom have moved to self-releasing their own work.

The evening “reading” was Stace reading from his forthcoming novel followed by Pernice and Stace performing their songs, in an alternating format, great banter, and Wesley occasionally looking like he was about to join in on Joe’s songs but never actually doing so.

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Residency day 3

We began the day with a seminar on revision with Jennifer Vanderbes. There were some nice resonances between what she was saying about specificity and yesterday’s fiction genre workshop.

Today was my day to be workshopped, which gave me some excellent feedback on my first chapter of the novel. I’m inclined to do a complete rewrite of the chapter now, possibly deleting large pieces of it. Some of this might end up being spun off into a stand-alone story. Or perhaps I will split the chapter into two chapters.

The afternoon seminar was the return of Robert Olen Butler. More than a few of us had been put off by Butler’s tendency to regurgitate From Where You Dream to receive it very positively.

This was followed by the last of the graduating student readings. The quality of the readings continued, much to my delight.

IMG 0200The day is closing with a late-ish screening of Hal Hartley’s Trust at the Tampa Theatre. It’s a beautiful old building with most of its 1920s-era fixtures in place. It’s a great example of classic movie palace architecture with the Spanish rococo decorations surrounding the stage/screen and the theater organ on its hydraulic lift still operational. 

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Residency day 2

IMG 0104The day began with a seminar from Erika Meitner and Mary Biddinger on literary taboos. Between the reading that was assigned beforehand and the handout for the seminar there was a lot of food for thought. One student was a bit concerned about “earnest Christianity” being among the taboos so I directed him to Robert Boswell’s The Half-Known World which has a good chapter on ideology and writing fiction.

We began workshop after that and I’m looking forward to working with Jennifer Vanderbes this term. She and I seem to have a lot of common ground on process which should lead to a good relationship as I work on my thesis.

After lunch, we had out first genre workshop, today with Kevin Moffett. There were some interesting notes on writing around objects and I turned out 134 words which might stand alone as a bit of microfiction.

Then we had the first round of graduating student readings. Some really excellent stuff from our first graduating class.

The day concluded with the opening reception which featured a conversation with Robert Olen Butler, who managed to almost exactly quote his book From Where You Dream in his answers. Afterwards we adjourned to the ninth floor of the Vaughn Center for a reading from Butler and dessert.

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Residency day 1

So today (and yesterday) turned out to be quite the odyssey. The original plan was to take a The view from my plane as we waited a couple hours before departure 7.25p flight from Midway to Tampa, arriving at 10.50p. After a lot of delay, the flight was canceled. At 2a. I was able to get a seat on an early flight to Orlando (which was then delayed for two hours after boarding) and rent a car from there to get to Tampa (stopping at TPA to pick up my luggage), but ended up getting only four hours of sleep: two on the floor of the airport and two on the plane.

Apparently my late arrival was to make up for showing up on time for the first event last residency. I arrived just in time for the seminar on the thesis. Not a whole lot of new information provided.  The abstract frightens me. Writing a statement of artistic intent will be a challenge given that I’m not entirely sure what my artistic intent was in writing this novel, beyond telling an interesting story, and telling it well.

The evening’s readings were poets Mary Biddinger and Erika Meittner. Their work reminded me of what I remember of our directory Steve Kistulentz’s poetry.

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Residency day 9

And we’re pretty much done with the residency. A morning seminar with Jeff Parker on his place-based narrative project (I sent him my story earlier this week. It’s interesting to write something in the place where the story is located and that will be read in that same place. This was followed by a final workshop and then lunch. My afternoon is completely open (heading to the pool shortly) and this evening will be the closing reception/party.

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Residency day 8

We’re just about done with the residency. We started with the genre workshop with Tibor Fischer and Corinna Vallianatos talking about beginnings of works. We workshopped a new piece that I wrote this week and despite it being relatively rough in my opinion was well-received by everyone else.

I went for a walk after lunch and nearly forgot to go the synthesis. I remembered just minutes before it was meant to begin.

The afternoon was largely empty until I had my contract consultation.

The evening readings consisted of Stefan Kiesbye who read a chapter from Your House is on Fire Your Children All Gone. It was spooky enough on its own, but Stefan added a backing soundtrack for added eeriness. Jessica Anthony read from a novella in progress and Jeff Parker finished off the reading series with a short story which concludes with a character (probably) disappearing into a sinkhole. Damn it, that was a story that I wanted to write.

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Residency day 7

The pacing of the residency is such that it kind of feels like it’s all coasting from here on. The morning seminar was “Anthology” with Denis Johnson in which we contributed poems that made us want to be a writer. I, being a fiction person, lied and chose “These Poems, She Said” by Robert Bringhurst. If I were honest I would have chosen T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” but someone else picked it so all was good.

Workshop was dedicated to new five-page stories that we brought in. I managed to get a new piece finished last night before going to sleep, but it will apparently come up tomorrow.

The first afternoon seminar slot was dedicated to book arts in which we did a simple pamphlet stitch. Having studied bookbinding back in the 90s, it as a bit unexciting for me. This was followed by Josip Novakovich talking about creating stories out of anecdotes, something which had some resonance later during the question and answer session after Denis Johnson’s reading.

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Residency day 6

The seminar slots today were the conclusion of Heather Sellers’s three-part pedagogy workshop dealing this time with syllabus planning and interviewing for academic jobs. There were a number of good ideas offered up. Overall I found Heather’s seminars far more helpful than her books.

Also on the docket today was the “wildcard workshop.” The idea behind this is to give students a chance to interact with a faculty member on a sort of trial run for a future tutorial. I went with Brock Clarke even though he only teaches in the fall and thus I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with him since I only have one more term after the upcoming term. It was more a chance to get some face time with the best known of the faculty (purely mercenary on my part). As it turns out the entirety of the attendees at the wildcard workshop were third and fourth-term students so none of us was going to be a future mentee of Brock’s.

The evening reading consisted of Don Morill reading some of his poetry and an excerpt from a memoir that will never be published, Steve Kistulentz reading from his poetry (which really blew me away and made me likely to go ahead and buy one of his books) and Heather Sellers who broke the poetry streak by skipping her own poetry and instead reading a couple excerpts from her memoir about face blindness.

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Residency day 5

The mid-point of the residency and the traditional morning-time reading and writing period. I got a bunch of work done including some work on the novel. After lunch we had first synthesis (it was interesting to see someone else’s take on the time). Interestingly, it seemed that most of the synthesis groups finished up early. If I recall correctly, we used the full time last year.

The lone seminar of the day was Pedagogy I, the first of three pedagogy seminars led by Heather Sellers. There was a wealth of good information in the seminar. My big takeaway was the idea of having colleagues review syllabi and lesson plans, something that I rather wish I had done something along these lines back when I was teaching.

Evening readings were Josip Novakovich and Terese Svoboda.

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