- Probably the best way to get a feel for short stories is to read short stories. They are actually very odd constructions.
- Observe the world. That's it!
- Pay attention to the world around you.
- Imagination is very simple—it's just looking at something and asking, "What if...?"
- So—see things and then apply imagination--
- You rely on your memory and your observations of other people.
- You've been sad, right? You remember what that was like, and paste it into your character.
- This is what actors do! This is how writing is like acting—you are inhabiting a character.
- Please do!
- Too many students sadly end up taking a very bland approach to their writing and end up writing about...nothing....
- Funny odd bizarre openings. (Please see the story "Chango" in the Casares book).
- Oh, writing a short story is much much harder!
- Short stories have to be really super focused. Novels can spread around all over the place....
- I'm very happy when students are deeply engaged in the real world and write about all the problems that arise from the real world.
- I got some great pandemic stories last semester! I'd really like to see MORE!
- Try writing longer sentences—70, 80, 100 words....
- I don’t forbid writing serial killers in my classes—I just say it is really hard to do, and I discouraged it.
- But sure—why not murder? In the past five years, I've received 59 stories that had murders in them....
- Life. The world I see around me. I write to understand the world.
- OMG—dissertation time! Ha!
- I'll ask you a question. How do we see the world differently than in, say 1900? (You weren't around in 1900, but you can guess....)
- The class is "creative writing," and I have long felt that CW classes don't spend enough time on the creative aspects.
- Criticism as in people hated it?
- Depression and grief. These are deeply interior emotions that are hard to describe. How to display them? Have a secondary or teriary character interact with the depressed protagonist and make them—do something.
- Anger, is, interestingly, apparently difficult for some people to write. Very often written depictions of anger turn out as sarcasm or snark.
- All three emotions are difficult, maybe, because our society disapproves of their open display...?
- I just sort of visualize what happens in the story, then I make a quick outline—bullet points for the title and character names and the basic action. Then—I write. I assume the beginning will be bad, but I know I can make it better with revision.
- For many stories, it's best to start as close to the ending as possible.
- I guess I still have a soft spot for the novels of James Michener, who had huge bestsellers in my youth and is much forgotten today (except for his charitable contributions, which last on in his name). I liked a few of the techno-thrillers of Tom Clancy before he got too right-wing political.
- I like Stephen King a lot, though by now he's such a part of our popular literary culture that he transcends high/middle/low culture formulations. The crime novels of Elmore Leonard are in a similar cultural position.
- He's my advice: don't feel guilty about any work you take "pleasure" in—music, film, books, food, whatever. Pleasure’s often hard to come by in this world. Take it when you can.
- But we can go over them if you want!
- Transitions between scenes are important. When revising, take a pass focusing just on transitions.
- For the how-do part of your question, look to our readings. They all do this really well, especially Jennifer Egan’s "Found Objects."
- Please be careful with some writing software! Students in the past have had trouble producing properly formatting stories (and, yes, that is something I notice!)
- But you should always know the tools you use.
- I was mainly talking about length and complexity. But movies of any kind differ from prose stories in that they are totally external—they're visual, and unable (even with a voice-over) of getting into a character's thoughts
- Or you can get really close inside the character's head. Don't write the story—live it through the character's awareness....
- I've been writing in first person a lot recently. I am interested in voices, and how we communicate.
- I often push students toward first person also—it's easiest....
- Background in a short story can be dangerous. It's easy to get carried away!
- Try to stay in the story present as much as possible.....
- A short story outline need only be a few bullet points—a title, character names, a few bits of action that will happen in the story.
- Novel outlines are more elaborate. The outline for my work-in-progress is at 24 pages and will be longer....
- Why people give up so easily.
- There is always peer pressure to like certain artists. You can always focus on their craft, if not their content....
- By using a world that's already created—like the beautiful world we are lucky to live in.
- Also—try writing about action—about people doing things. Not about abstractions.
- Too many metaphors and similes. They get in the way of the narrative.
- An engaging character (usually). The threat doesn't have to be overwhelming....
- It's important to remember that Europeans had no idea what they were looking at when the first arrived. Almost everything was new and outside of any context.
- She was interested in nature and the world around her. Simple as that.
- Well, just about everyone who doesn't live in a dome has to deal with weather. But the weather is different in different places.
- The themes will be about the usual English class stuff--race, violence, climate, power....
- Yep, she was out there in the desert paying attention to the world....
- Not so much. But it's always good to keep in mind....
- I think the ending is perfect.
- Wealth and power almost always do win out, sadly!
- But I really do think that where we live affects how we live, and so geography is important....
- They sure will!
- I'd advise you to just read everything....
- They probably have the same effect. But it's interesting that artists build off of one another, and are influenced by one another. No one works in a vacuum.
- No, not really. (The crew in Blood Meridian is out to make money, but it's not treasure!).
- Our old friend J. Frank Dobie wrote a couple of books about lost treasure—but he was presenting it more as folklore than as fact....
- I had a great uncle who moved out to the Mojave Desert when he retired. He got water trucked in--once a week a big tanker would come and fill up his cistern.
- So—if I had water delivered, sure, I'd be fine. Otherwise I'd be reduced to dust....
- It might come up. Aridity always lurks in the background in the Southwest....
Haven't posted for a while because of late semester exhaustion. Everyone around me is traumatized. I'm traumatized. A disaster!
And yet the CDC announced loosened mask recommendations. I don't know. I'm fully vaccinated but I don't trust the wheezing coughing people I see around me! So I will continue to mask indoors around the virus-laden public. Indices are mixed.
Yes, still BYOQ....
Look! I made a little graphic of where I started the pandemic, and where I am now….
Zero to Boom. A year.
I got my teaching schedule for the fall—I will be teaching classes face-to-face. A mistake!
Rage—up! Terror trending...down....
I started making covid graphics a little over a year ago. This is the first one:
I started making them daily March 29, the date I also started keeping a written covid diary. Right? I thought—I’m in a world historic crisis, and I might die at any time, so I need to document it all. Also—that first week, I had a weird sore throat and a cough. Was I sick? Maybe! (Probably not). But it all caught my attention, and I began documenting. The diary now runs to about 42,000 words—a compendium of rage and terror and heartbreak. I began making blog posts of it all some 23 weeks ago, whenever that was. I’ll keep posting about covid until this sad shit is over….
This week! I got my second shot on the 19th and was pretty darn sick for four days. Terror is trending down. But—Rage is trending up! The Provost announced this week that we will be teaching face-to-face this fall. An incredibly unwise decision….
As always, BYOQ....
I missed posting last week because of more pandemic exhaustion. (This is common! I have noticed that my students are physically and mentally stretched very thin. And we don’t have spring break this year, so the exhaustion will be worse next month).
Some good pandemic news: I got my second shot—today! Terror is leveling out—it may even drop in the coming weeks.
Rage still up, though. Trumpism/Racism is too fucking prevalent in our society….
As always, BYOQ...
I missed posting last week because I was fucking exhausted.
The pandemic wears us all down.
Positive: got my first shot of the best available Moderna!
Negative: our stupid governor has removed the mask mandate, an active of passive eugenics. His withered hands will be covered with bloody sputum.
Fuck that guy.
This blog is a mask-mandated zone.
All goddamn indices are up. Rage leads the way.
AS I age I’ve become aware that I’m in danger of becoming one of those old-timers who go “Well, now, back in my day….” while the eyes of people trapped anywhere in the vicinity glaze the fuck over. I’ve always been especially and unfortunately fond of saying to my young trapped students, “You think it’s cold now? Ha! It snowed TWICE in Austin in 1985!”
But! Now it’s gone and snowed twice in College Station in 2021, so I have something more contemporary to bore people with.
The first snow was on January 10 and it was fun! It was slushy and soft, perfect for snowballs or snowpeople. I went for a couple of very pleasant walks.
The second snow, just this last week, pretty much sucked. I just saw a blog post that said the storm was unexpected. Maybe—if you weren’t paying fucking attention. The weather models were showing something big two weeks out and they weren’t wrong. When the storm arrived Sunday night, it got cold first and then windy and then the snow came. I went for a quick walk just after midnight—the snow was dry and hard and gritty. Too cold to fluff up. Pretty as it blew swirling past the streetlights, but unlovable.
About 230am Monday, the power went out. This was also not unexpected, and I was ready with battery lamps and extra device chargers and pre-cooked food. The indoor temp by morning was down to the low-50s, but I could dress warm—and cold is a state of mind, anyway. (That’s an ancient Bud Grant reference).
By midday, the power came on and then started to cycle in and out, half-hour on, half-hour off, and stayed cycling that way throughout the week. On Wednesday a second wave of weather brought an ice storm, which I was too wise to venture out into (I’m still pissed at fucking Pittsburg State for not clearing ice off the goddamn sidewalks fuck you) but from my doorway looked grim and bleak. (Perhaps I was projecting my emotions onto the innocent ice). So I stayed inside and I did stuff in my power half-hours, ate and charged devices and whatnot, and then I could contentedly sit in the dark and read on my tablet.
So I had it pretty easy! The power situation was annoying but endurable. But the suffering elsewhere in the state is immense and ongoing. It's a Texas Chernobyl. The snow and the cold and the mid-week ice storm were natural events. But the power situation (and water situation, and sewage situation) are man-made, the result of crazy-ass libertarian anti-government sentiments that have dominated Texas since forever through gerrymandering and voter suppression and general fucked-upedness and ignorance. These people (I use that term loosely) don’t think there is any role for government in American society. This shit has got to stop.
Don’t mourn—thaw out and organize.
What would Lyndon Johnson do?