Jim Shepard on Close Reading

Suggests a structured process of reading and re-reading. The first read is reading as a human, the second as a writer (marking it up), the third re-read is of the last few pages and the fourth focuses on the beginning. Finally the fifth read will hopefully unravel the work’s internal mechanics: the nerves of the story, the most urgent moments.

Ugh, re-reading stories…

Robert Coover

A History of the Future of Narrative: Robert Coover from Scott Rettberg on Vimeo.

Robert Coover came to speak with us last week. He’s a writer’s writer for sure, someone who burrows deep into text and wiggles around with it. He lectured on electronic writing, an obscure discipline he’s become an unlikely patron saint of. Unlikely in that he’s fairly old (he hit his stride in the 1960s) and that he’s a writer rather than a computer programmer or other operator. [Print is now a subset of digital literature, says Coover, since all but the print itself is produced digitally.] Coover thinks multimedia and hypertext have yet to mature as media, and made an analogy to American literature. Right now we are in the equivalent of the pre-Revolutionary America, adrift in a new medium, and just like Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine we are all amateurs cranking out our little pamphlets. It took a hundred and fifty years of American publishing to create Moby Dick, and since no one in our program had grown up completely saturated in digital media, we were doomed to flounder in the new medium.

We also got to look at Coover’s CAVE writing work — this is an immersive three-dimensional writing program that lets you have complete control over every aspect of the experience. CAVE writing is really just [x,y,z] coordinates tagged with XML, but it’s a powerful ensemble effect; albeit one beyond the limits of a single human being to create a work (such as novel or symphony) bigger than themselves.

CAN YOU REALLY RANK WRITING PROGRAMMES?

From The Economist


Right now, in faculty rooms across the country, admissions officials are trying to winnow out the next batch of Masters of Fine Arts diploma candidates, America’s presumptive writing elite….

Second Semester of MFA Begins

Takeaways from Slushpile Sifting

  • Alzheimer’s and parents’ deaths lose their force as plot devices/ emotion tweakers after the 100th read or so;
  • Plagiarizing premises’ from famous short stories dilutes their power;
  • Using graduate school as a setting or graduate students as characters seems lazy and boring;
  • Plot remains paramount – well-written plotless stories dominate slushpiles;
  • The ability to convey emotion through words is rare;
  • You get one premise free, the others you have to earn;
  • After completing a draft, figure out what the story is (the story making machinery) and then write it again;
  • Having a PhD in English/CompLit etc. doesn’t mean you can write things people want to read;
  • First Semester MFA Takeaways

  • Remove dust jackets from hardcover books before use;
  • Drafts should be completed and started over from the remembered remnants;
  • “Real writing” takes place over winter break;
  • Anxiety is normal and should be encouraged (i.e. the productive kind);
  • Workshop leaders will continue to confuse first-person narrators with their progenitors — even in graduate school;
  • Writing about one’s homeland is one’s birthright and opens the deepest, most intimate veins of narrative; (Where is my homeland?)
  • Proper literary criticism assumes an author anticipated and intended all undergraduate-level interpretations;
  • Plot problem? Have sex/a gunman enter a room/leave a room;
  • Write with AUTHORITY;
  • Telling is quicker than showing;
  • Columbia MFA work goes in the priority pile (what is the priority pile?);
  • One can assume that strangenesses that don’t quite cohere to a narrative are taken directly from an author’s life.

    More as I think of it….

  • MFA Personal Statement

    I’m including this because during the application process I couldn’t find a single example of a successful MFA statement, so here’s mine:

    PERSONAL STATEMENT

    My literary practice began as a reaction to an alien environment, and at its best retains the defiant posture of exile. I was born in London but dragged through a progression of increasingly strange, pungent countries by my parents, who were both foreign correspondents. Our last post was New Delhi, a dusty megalopolis teeming with medico-pharmacological complexes, sleek five star hotels whose clattering silverware and condensation-streaked windows conceal croaking lepers and shantytowns that look like dried mud puddles behind the tinted glass of an A/C taxi cab.

    I attended an American Embassy School in an armed compound but prowled the city after-hours, trying to assemble my own version of the crystalline future I was convinced my homeland was sliding into and I could only glimpse at through the trickle of data coming over our 2,400-baud Internet connection. I collected transistors and halogen bulbs, gobbled waxy orange spansules of dubious intelligence-expanding pharmaceuticals intended for Alzheimer’s patients, and put out an underground newspaper called The Green Banana. My stories (pastiche of William Gibson and line art traced from The Last Whole Earth Catalogue) were typed, snipped into columns, taped onto B4 paper ‘plates’ and photocopied. My largest run was 300 copies, and peculiar enough to keep me confined to the school library “under supervision” by soft-spoken, khaki-clad American strangers when the Clintons came to visit.

    I moved to the United States in 1997 for college, expecting to become a combination chemical engineer, architect and painter. The United States I found left me reeling; I drifted in and out of college, moved to Colorado, then California, then Hong Kong to intern at TIME magazine. I held jobs at casinos, in toy factories, forged bronze bells in an architectural commune in the Arizona desert, reading and writing throughout. At various moments Don Delilo, J.G. Ballard, Rudy Rucker, Jonathan Lethem, James Ellroy, Peter Carey, Martin Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Stone, and W. Somerset Maugham all fundamentally re-wired the way I thought about literature.

    Early on my “real” work was patchy, more cartoonish doodle than writing, but gradually it began to take shape, particularly after working as a freelance journalist and online editor. I moved to New York City in 2002 and completed my undergraduate education at the Columbia’s School of General Studies in 2007, where, with help of superb instructors like Sam Lipsyte and Joanna Hershon I learned to discipline myself and pin down ideas, build the story-making machinery, and churn memories into fiction. What I want from grad school is to come in from the cold, to contextualize my work within the larger discourse of contemporary writing and perfect my exile patois. I completed my first novel in May, it was an attempt to harness that angry sense of alienation I used to exist in; though the story veered off into thriller territory in the latter third, I feel I have reached the point where I am confident enough for informed feedback and that, above all else is what I am really looking for.