Achievement Unlocked: Mastery of the Craft

After three years, I am a master of the fine art of creative writing. According to George Mason University, anyway. Anyone can proclaim to be a writer, sure, but self-proclaimed masters are usually full of it. I proclaim nothing myself.

Anyway, as I take stock, reflect, and prepare for the transition into a new phase of my life, I thought I’d take a minute to update the blog a little. Three years ago, I essentially vanished to go find more time to write and otherwise grow as a writer. Today, I look back on those three years and realize I found a mixture of things I expected and things I didn’t. I went into the program with the goal of coming out with a finished novel. That didn’t happen. I have a decent start on one, but progress has been slow on that front. I also had the goal of coming out of the program with enough short stories for a collection. That didn’t happen either. I have several I’m extremely proud of, two of which were published last summer. However, the last three years of my writing life have been about quality over quantity.

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Two New Shorts Out This Summer

Bringing to an end this long drought of new stories in print and plentiful rejections, I have two new shorts out this summer. One is the previously mentioned “I Am Emergent,” a story about two computer scientists, their life’s work in artificial intelligence, and the lengths to which we’re willing to go to save someone we love. This one is out now in the anthology WHAT REMAINS from Inked In Gray Publishing, which you can find here.

The most recent one is a story I’m particularly fond of. “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” appears in vol. VIII of Deracine Magazine. It is one that I set out to challenge myself with in every conceivable way. From perspective to tense to narrative voice to narrative distance to character perception and beyond, virtually everything in this story is something I’ve never even attempted before. And after everything, I think it works, and it moves me powerfully. I hope you check it out and agree.

Of note, I think, is that I don’t think “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” would have come out of me if not for the MFA program I’m currently in. We often talk about the value of MFA programs, and I think, in those conversations, they’re viewed as whether they’re necessary or whether they produce writers of greater caliber. After two years in one, I think that’s the wrong way to look at MFA programs.

The value of my MFA program, to me, is in this story. It provided me the environment to experiment and take risks. It offered the support structure that held me up when I took those wobbling steps. If I hadn’t pursued an MFA, I’m confident this story wouldn’t exist, because I wouldn’t have pushed myself in ways I needed to push myself for this one to come out.

That isn’t to say I think MFA programs make better writers, that they’re always good, or that they’re even necessary. It’s just to say this is a story that came out of my MFA program that I’m proud of and demonstrates how my writing has grown, broadened, and evolved.

Thanks to both Inked in Gray and Deracine. I hope you check them out.

Story Coming in What Remains, an Anthology

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything in print, but very soon, I’m going to have a story in the upcoming anthology from Inked in Gray Press. Recently (yesterday), they unveiled the cover and opened the Kickstarter and preordering.

You should check this one out. It’s going to be a cool book, yes, but I like what Inked in Gray is doing. They understand the future of publishing is in community, and they work really hard to build that through the celebration of stories. There’s a purity in what they’re doing, I think, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Any of you fellow writers out there would do well to follow them on social media and submit some writing in the future.

Also, my story, “I Am Emergent,” is one that I’m very fond of. It’s about two scientists working on an artificial intelligence named Vic and the lengths we’ll go to prove to ourselves we’re the hero in our individual stories. This one is about the dark side of love, what we would sacrifice in its service.

I hope you contribute to the Kickstarter, preorder, or check it out when it’s available. I’ll let you know when it is.

Demagogues

I’ve been thinking and reading about demagogues a lot this summer. Demagogues are political leaders who appeal through pathos rather than logos. For the non-Greek, feelings rather than logic. Most commonly, demagogues manipulate our fear and anger, and they generally direct those emotions at an other or a “them.” Demagogues require opponents as scapegoats. They require division.

We’ve seen their kind many times throughout history, yet I’m optimistic about them. For every one that has risen to power, I like to think many failed to gain any traction. Recognizing them is simple, something I expect any American should be able to do instinctually, yet if you find yourself caught by their influence, it may all seem a bit vexing and complicated. That’s because some of what they’re saying, on some level, makes sense and is, on some level, true. They require reality distorted.

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On ‘Salute to America’ and Questionable-at-Best Leadership

Despite his country continuing to face a historic pandemic and unaddressed racial tensions, Trump is proceeding with his “Salute to America” celebration tomorrow, and that tracks, considering the kind of questionable leadership he has exhibited not only throughout these crises but also throughout his term.

While I’m seeing talk about how much the event is costing us and the wisdom of holding such an event right now, I’m wondering why more people aren’t more outraged about the principle that he’s once again co-opted our most sacrosanct holiday for personal and political gain. Independence Day used to be a day of unity for all of us to set aside our differences and come together to celebrate the best ideals of America, but Trump has turned it into a divisive campaign rally to highlight the worst of America at our expense. Regardless of politics, this should set off even the most adamantly self-proclaimed patriots among us.

It’s not right, and it’s just one more of the countless reasons you shouldn’t vote for him in November. Of course, it is far less compelling of a reason than the thousands of Americans who have died from Covid-19 due to his poor leadership; his woefully inadequate response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the far too many others, and the social movements clamoring for change; and the countless other indicators of his ineptitude and harm; but I digress.

Healthcare in America

Tonight, I went to the ER because I thought I was dying (I wasn’t, and I’m following doctors’ recommendations; I’ll probably be fine). For anyone who has been to a doctor in America, I don’t have to tell you this was a miserable experience. However, maybe you’re super healthy or have just forgotten how bad healthcare in America is (or maybe you’re one of the about 60 million Americans who can’t really afford access to healthcare). In any case, I feel it’s important we all consider the state of healthcare in America this year because we have a really important vote coming up in November.

I felt inspired to write something about this because it’s something I care about. I felt compelled because I’m a writer and that’s what I do. I care because the flaws in the U.S. healthcare system have harmed me and my family, because we call ourselves the greatest country in the world and can shoot a rocket down a brown person’s throat from halfway around the world using a remote-controlled airplane, but we can’t provide adequate healthcare for our own people.

Coincidentally, John Oliver’s first feature story of the new season, which aired last night, does a good job covering some of our healthcare system’s failures and the potential for a medicare-for-all system. And it’s funny. And you can watch it instead of reading it. You don’t like John Oliver? I’m sorry. Maybe it’s his accent, or maybe it’s his personality, or maybe it’s because he’s often right and persuasive and nobody likes to be proven wrong. My advice is to get over that because, if you can’t accept being proven wrong, you’ll never learn anything or grow as a person. Like our president. Maybe you aspire to that. Maybe there’s something else entirely we need to talk about.

Anyway. Personally, I’m skeptical of medicare for all because it would be a big change, and there are a lot of uncertainties, and that’s scary. But I think one of our primary goals as a society should be to reduce and minimize suffering wherever and whenever possible, and there’s a lot that just doesn’t make sense in our current healthcare system, which necessarily has to balance profits with the wellbeing of people, and no matter how you try to make sense of that, it is and always has been cruel.

Maybe there’s some bitterness in the above. That’s probably because I am bitter. There are many reasons for that, but for tonight, I’ll stick with this one. Maybe I’ll talk about more later. Yay, 2020.

Holiday 2019 Update

My first semester in an MFA program has come to an end. I wrote a lot and liked some of it. I read a lot and liked some of that, too. I tutored a bunch of students and think I even helped some of them. I did some work in selections and layout for a literary magazine. I found every writer in this program is brilliant, and I think some of them even like me.

It’s been good, is what I’m saying.

Creatively, I came to George Mason University wanting to push myself into trying new things, and not only do I feel I accomplished that, but I think the teachers and other writers helped open doors I wouldn’t have been able to open on my own. The first semester was difficult but a success, and even though I’m off for winter break now (a prospect that still seems bizarre to me), I’m eager to keep pushing forward.

But first, happy holidays, everyone! I hope your celebrations are merry.

‘So you’re a writer? Let me ask you, where do you get your ideas?’

When you’re a writer, one of the most common questions you get is about where your stories come from. I don’t know about other writers, but in my experience, stories begin like a loose thread you one day notice on your shirt. Smarter people will get the scissors, cut it off, and toss it aside, but not you. You’re compelled to pick and tug at it because there’s something satisfying about drawing it out.

The more you work it, the more your shirt unravels. Before long, the seam is open, and you can see something of what you look like underneath. You keep pulling, and eventually, the sleeve is in tatters. You keep going, and often, the thread jumps off the seam. That’s when it becomes grueling work.

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I Have Some News

The short version is I was accepted into George Mason University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. I’ll be starting this fall with full funding, including tuition remission, a stipend, and a GTA position. For the next three years, I’ll be taking classes, writing, reading, and teaching full time.

So that’s pretty neat.

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