Tagged with terese svoboda

“Bartholomew L. Bartholomew”: The Story Behind the Story

“IImage result for headphones once held the position of Technical Lead…” this part of the story is autobiography. The rest, modulo the occasional detail that I borrowed from my years’ experience in tech, is fiction. The obvious inspiration is Melville (the short title I used for filenames and the like for the story was “Bart LB” and I had this short title before much of anything else).

So many of my employers let process and bureaucracy drive things while I found myself repeatedly having to affirm that things like “story points” have no objective meaning and exist to serve us rather than the other way around until, it would seem, that the only reasonable reaction would be to declare, “I prefer not.”

The first version of this story was workshopped at my third MFA residency with Terese Svoboda, Christina Del Rio, Tiffany Knowles, Chelsea Wait and David Weissblatt. At AWP2016, I won a manuscript critique from Slush Pile Magazine, so I gave them this and got a handful of ideas I liked and a handful I didn’t.

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Beautiful sentences: Terese Svoboda

At least we have our own cell to settle in. At least the baby doesn’t die of the shot the way he could have, with all the cell fleas and a flesh wound and no mother. He is used to Sharon more anyway is what I suppose, what with the mother no doubt seeping milk out onto the plow handles whenever she came close enough to wave instead of feed him. At least the fleas here keep him so miserable he couldn’t find eternal rest if you laid it in front of him,

Terese Svoboda, Bohemian Girl.

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“Thy Neighbour’s Goods”: The story behind the story

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Some background on my story, “Thy Neighbour’s Goods” which appears in the Spring 2014 issue of The Southampton Review.

The story began with a conversation with my wife about language. We were discussing the lack of distinction between singular and plural second person in English and I told her that actually the English “you” is plural and the singular second person is the effectively abandoned “Thou.” She had been asking me to write something in the second person, but I was unwilling to go diving into Jay McInerney territory. And it occurred to me that using “thou” for a second-person piece would give me a new take on it.

The only problem was what the story should be about. Then, while reading Raymond Carver’s “Menudo,” I had one of those moments of reading off the page that yield the best ways to be influenced. Carver had written a story about a man who had had an affair with the neighbor’s wife. I found myself imagining what would happen if it the watcher had had the affair with the neighbor rather than the neighbor’s wife. From there, things began to flow. The structure of the story emerged midway through the first draft; I picked up the statue from one of my MFA classmates and Terese Svoboda made the suggestion (glaringly obvious in retrospect), that the goods should be arranged to make the story chronological. A King James Bible I filched from a hotel room while in college helped me in creating the language of the story.

Thanks to Christina Del Rio, Tiffany Knowles, Chelsea Wait and David Weisblatt for workshop commentary on this piece.

Illustration courtesy of wikimedia commons.

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Beautiful sentences

She looks down at the playbill. She looks down.
Terese Svoboda, Bohemian Girl.
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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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Residency day 3

Today started with a conversation with agent Chris Parris-Lamb.  It was a fairly well conceived presentation, although most of this was things that I already knew. A few choice quotes:

Most important thing is to make the book as good as possible. Wait and take your time.

Your query letter needs to be as well-written as your book.

Keep query short but be able to talk about what writers you’re in conversation with/read alongside/inspired by.

I honestly don’t read query letters that carefully. What is the book about? Does the writer tell me what the book is like and what kind of writer they want to be seen as? I see a lot of impressive bios on top of really bad books.

Chris handles mostly fiction which is a somewhat rare thing in the agenting world. His list of journals that he reads looking for new talent includes: McSweeney’s, Tin House, n+1, Ploughshares, Granta, Paris Review and New England Review. Publications like Zoetrope, Harpers and The New Yorker rarely if ever publish new authors.

He commented that the big publishing companies are skewing towards blockbuster model of publishing, and while he is willing to handle people published by small and independent presses, there is only so much smaller press stuff he can afford to do.

We moved into workshop from there. Terese is a bit more directive in how she runs workshop than most of my workshop leaders in the past have been, but it does mean that things are also a bit more instructional. I rather enjoy it and I can see this doing a lot to counteract my own tendencies as a writer to be lazy and impatient.

In the afternoon, the first session was a Q&A with Miranda July followed by a workshop with Chris Parris-Lamb. It seemed a number of people were a bit disappointed in the workshop which had the entire first cohort on stage doing a critique of the two stories to be discussed with Chris as discussion leader. Many people, myself included, thought we’d get more of an insight into how Chris evaluates a work.

The evening reading had Miranda July return to read a story from No One Belongs Here More Than You, an excerpt from It Chooses You and the opening of the novel that she is working on which she unveiled for the first time.

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Residency day 2

Don Morill’s seminar was “Sentences & Paragraphs as Aesthetic Performance.” There were some interesting thoughts on linguistic structure and how it can be enhanced, although perhaps the most interesting part of the seminar came early when he produced Su Hui’s “Star Gauge”

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Courtesy of some aspects of Chinese linguistic structure the above can be read in a variety of different ways, with over 3000 poems possible here. A sort of prefiguring of Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes. Also of note in the seminar for me was the introduction to me of William H. Gass’s Life Sentences, a book that I now feel compelled to read.

Workshop with Terese Svoboda began with a freewriting exercise, on the title of “How did I get Here.” I managed to come up with a somewhat entertaining piece of 600 words which I think may get some refinement and submission.

Genre workshop was with Mikhail Iossel and Jessica Anthony. While nominally about transforming personal experience into fiction, it was largely about some expansion and compression of time and space looking at two short pieces from The New Yorker: “Getting Closer” by Steven Millhauser and “Going for a Beer” by Robert Coover.

The afternoon seminar was Stefan Kiesbye on “How We Cannot Say What We’re Talking About” which was largely about dialog, looking at some masterful uses of dialog and concluding with a bit of a teardown of some of the bad writing that is the output of Dan Brown.

Our evening reading was a triple header. First we had John Capouya reading from an unpublished essay on a soul singer which he says will appear in print in the year 20never. Corinna Valliantos read the first chapter of a novel in progress about a girl who had been raised by dogs. Some of the lines seemed earily reminiscent of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Finally, Kevin Moffett (who is also Valliantos’s husband) read some selections from The Silent History. I realized just yesterday that Moffett is the author of one of my favorite stories from Best American Short Stories, “Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events.”

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Residency day 7

And now it’s really flown by. Only two more days on campus. The opening seminar of the day came from Jessica Anthony who talked about articulation in fiction. She had us look at a collection of twenty first lines and pick first our top five, then our favorite from those. The obvious choice to me was the opening of Mrs Dalloway: “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Another part of the seminar involved writing a continuation of one of the opening lines.

The morning was completed with workshop time, then after lunch we had genre workshop with Jeff Parker, Stefan Kiesbye and Tony D’Souza. We spent time looking at scene. 

Then the afternoon seminar: Parker is proposing an interesting place-based collaborative fiction project. Similar to the Field Notes of The Silent History, but without the app requirement. Instead readers would have to find the story texts hidden in caches around the world. One of the substories revolves around a terrorist plot to blow up the Republican National Convention by sending a manatee stuffed with explosives up the Hillsborough River, a plan that left some potential contributors concerned about the possibility of getting on a Homeland Security watchlist.

Finally we had our evening reading with Tony D’Souza and Terese Svoboda. D’Souza was especially interesting for his willingness to move from behind the podium when he read.

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