Tagged with tibor fischer

“An Outsider”: The Story Behind the Story

This is another story which has been kicking around for a while before it finally was published, Back in the ‘90s, I submitted this to Story, received a hand-written rejection letter and didn’t realize that was a sign I was onto something and didn’t do anything more with the piece for years.

This story has gone through more rounds of revision than anything else I’ve written (other than my ill-fated and now-trunked  novel). For a while it began with a dodgeball game, the count of players in which I was never able to get right despite my best efforts. Then one workshop participant pointed out that the story really began a bit later and that “I don’t know how the story about the witch began” would make for an awesome opening line.

I was on the verge of putting this story aside one more time when the call for Dear America came in my e-mail and I decided I’d toss this one out to see if maybe with such a specialized call it might find an audience and it finally did.

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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 1

And I’m back. Today I inaugurated a new tradition for the first day of the residency. Unlike past residencies, I managed to make it to the meet and greet not only on time, but a bit early. There was the usual mix of greeting the old and familiar and meeting the new and the strange. Between the meet and greet and lunch, I managed to say hello to most of my critique group. This time around, I have all of my workshop critiques finished although I am doing a pair of gratuitous critiques because, well, why not? There was a bit less open time than last term since I had to attend the seminar on the critical essay although I did get a better sense of what I needed to do this week to be ready to start. I’ve already begun work on the essay proposal, which I should get finished up early.

The evening readings were Brock Clarke and Tibor Fischer at The Oxford Exchange. But not only were no Oxfords exchanged in the course of the evening, but the beer and wine were inadvertently locked up and unavailable early on, much to the distress of many. 

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Beautiful sentences

They should teach you the important things at school; the Battle of Hastings, that’s not useful, or not the way it’s taught. If they pointed out that life was all about getting your arse kicked by more successful, better-dressed people, that might be a help.
Tibor Fischer, The Collector Collector.


Beautiful sentences

Teacher: not a good sign. Few people go into this profession because they want to. They’re failed somethings—bank robbers, conductors, pilots, people who never found the way out of the educational system. A teacher of English to foreign students; even worse. Someone whose only employable trait is having been born in a country where the language happens to be in demand.

Tibor Fischer, The Collector Collector.


Beautiful sentences

The mind needs rules. Rules are the true rulers.
Tibor Fischer, The Collector Collector.


Residency day 9

Courtesy of MFA scheduling and my own travel plans I had a short last day of the residency. The afternoon workshop was optional for all but first term students, I’d already taken care of my contract consultation and flying out Friday night meant that I would miss the closing reception.

The morning workshop was Amy Hill Hearth talking about using oral history as a source of voice. It was as well-organized as her reading the night before. I arrived a bit late and yet managed to not be among the last to arrive.

We had our final workshop before lunch, looking at the Dostoyevsky pastiche that Tibor had us work on, with one of the other students writing an incredible piece of work beyond anything else I’d read of his work.

We had a final lunch with Tibor, with the table filled with many of his mentees from the previous term as well as the current term. For an added bit of entertainment, a socially awkward young man who had made a habit of coming into our lunches illicitly (late, after the first time, so at least there was little chance of him depriving anyone of their food), was removed by campus security, although it did seem a bit pointless to go through the trouble of removing him at the end of the last lunch.

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Residency day 8

Our day began with Jason Ockert teaching about writing the Short Short Story. Notably, I thought I got something actually usable out of a writing prompt. Then morning workshop.

In the afternoon, we had synthesis. A diagram that we drew to draw connections between seminars and common reading was well-received by the synthesis group. I had one participant say that from what he had heard, we had the best of the synthesis groups which was a bit flattering.

Later in the afternoon, I met with my mentor (Tibor Fischer) and mapped out my semester plan.

The evening readings were Amy Hill Hearth, who seemed to talk about her story more than she read from it and Tibor who really annoyed me because I realized that I’m going to have to read all his stuff.

There was a bit of depressing news as well at the reading: This will be Tibor’s last term with the program. I had hoped to work with him for my thesis term, and this dramatically changes how I’ll approach mentor selection next term.

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Residency day 6

It’s beginning to feel like the time is coming to an end. We began today with Tibor Fischer who talked primarily about the pre-Richardson/Fielding novel, with some examples from The Satyricon, Callirhoe, The Unfortunate Traveller and Amadis of Gaul which is apparently a bit of a pre-occupation for him.

We had workshop in the morning and then after lunch, the return of the “wildcard” workshop. This time around, I was with Jessica Anthony, who centered her workshop around the short story “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff. 

Our afternoon seminar with Enid Shomer had the grand concept of creating word collages, first collecting phrases from magazines and then assembling them into some sort of poem or narrative.


After a stimulating dinner with some students and faculty from the MFA (along with a student’s wife and child), we had the evening’s reading from Mikhail Iossel and Enid Shomer.

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Residency day 2

This was really the first real day of the residency. I’ve decided to not to continue with Tampa Review Online, so I had some open time in the morning which I dedicated to some last-minute critique work. And thence to the first workshop session. No details about the work, but Tibor follows the Iowa format in which the author remains silent until the end of the discussion of her work. We also had an interesting discussion about some of the financial and logistical aspects of the writing life (agents, publishers, being the lead title, etc.)

After lunch, we had the first of the genre workshops. In fiction, with Jason Ockert, Jessica Anthony and Maile Chapman, we talked about genre as in sci-fi/romance/vampires/etc. The discovery of “Bonnet Romance” by some workshop participants sparked a bit of mirth and curiosity.

One of our exercises was looking closely at the openings of The DaVinci Code (as an example of bad writing) and Carrie (as an example of good writing, although I wonder whether some of the humor there was unintentional).

We also managed to get the great quote from Jason, “We wait for the sex, we wait for the elves.”

The afternoon seminar was another visit to the book arts studio, although I managed to instead space out during my opportunity to see paste paper made while watching part of a documentary on the Linotype machine. I’ve been thinking about writing something about the Linotype getting into some of the design choices that it forced on the type designers as well as talking about the mechanics of the great beast. As much as I saw of the documentary focused on the mechanics and seemed to gloss over the aesthetic limitations of the machine.

The evening readings were from Erika Dawson, who read a few of her poems, and Karen Russell, who read an extended excerpt from Swamplandia! Given that we looked at a different excerpt from Swamplandia! in the last residency, if I don’t get around to reading this book, I might end up having the whole thing read to me by the time I finish my MFA.

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