Archives for the month of: February, 2011

I want you to work on the stories you started in class on Friday and please bring a draft on Monday for to workshop with your group. Typed, double spaced please, for your readers’ sake. Basic guidelines I went over in class:

  • 1 to 3 pages (up to 5 if you must)
  • Use at least 2 and up to 5 of the characters you received from your groups
  • Put them in a compelling setting
  • Give them an obstacle to overcome
  • Think about your characters motivations
  • Write something beautiful and interesting

As for reading, I will give you until Wednesday to comment here, but here’s what I want you to do: Go through the past posts and read something I’ve linked on the site that you haven’t yet read. By Wednesday, come back here and tell me something interesting about the reading. Here’s a brand new story called An Elegy for Dust and Flight, if you’ve read everything on the site. Although how can that be?


Correction: The link to the reading is broken I’ve heard?  Try copying and pasting this!

We did that weird thing in class with the randomly generated characters, remember? As far as I can see everyone was in class today so everything should go smoothly for Friday. You will have shared contact information with the members of your group. Make sure you email your group your character sketches by tonight (today is wednesday.) This will give everyone time to print off descriptions to bring to class for more writing on Friday.  Make sure you don’t forget: you will let everyone down! The moon will freeze! The plants will die!

Read this tiny little piece by David Foster Wallace called “Assett.” No response required at this time, but beware, I might randomly point at you in class and ask you telling questions about the work, which is to say, read it.

Have you sent me your profile information? If you haven’t, or if you did, and your profile is still not up in the people section, please do that soon. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, that’s what I say?

See you on Friday, friends.


This email is to inform you that the deadline for your students to submit to The Oval, UM’s Undergraduate Literary Magazine, has been extended to next Sunday, Feb. 27th because of blah.

Undergraduate students may submit up to three pieces to each of the following categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry, Art/Photography.

They must be undergraduates currently enrolled at UM.

Submissions can be sent via the following link:

Students may contact us via email at:

Blah blah blah, it would be greatly appreciated. We’re excited for this year’s publication!

Have a great day,

Some Great Man
Business Editor, The Oval

Look at this picture my brother took and posted on facebook. I love it. Just stare at it for hours and think about your life and art and whether or not there’s a God and if so what does she look like and stuff.

Now onto the business at hand. I gave you a hard copy of the story “Congress” by Joy Williams.

Comment/question of the day, to be posted before our next class on Wednesday: Consider the four principle characters of the story. There is Miriam, Jack, Carl, and the Taxidermist whose name I forget. I want you to choose one of these people and give me a character sketch on them. What are they like? What are some of their traits? What do you imagine they look like or does it matter? What do they WANT? (This is an essential question an author should always ask: what is my character’s motivation?) I want you to make inferences here, and by that I mean say stuff about them that is not explicitly stated in the text. Example: “I think that Jack loves jazz and has a complicated relationship with his father.” The more out there you get, the better. Be as creative or as boring about it as you want.

Here’s a few other stories for you to read over the weekend if you get bored. To Build a Fire, by Jack London. This is a boy story. I can’t get through it. I would love for somebody to read it and tell me what it’s about in the comments and see if maybe I should make the rest of the class read it. I think there’s a dog involved. I love dogs.

Here’s a story I wrote for thumbnail magazine called Look Out. I also do blog posts for them about writing. It’s sort of depressing.

Next, I’ll give you a link to Franz Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis which is an absurd thing to do because it’s like 60 pages long, really more of a novella. If you’re really interested in reading the whole thing I would check it out from the library. But even just reading the first few pages online will give you a sense of what a nutbar he is, and when I mention him in class you can say “oh right, that guy who turned into a bug.” He can’t turn the doorknob cuz he doesn’t have hands anymore! It’s a metaphor for something!

Have a good weekend! Do lots of reading and writing.

I gave you a copy of “Chef’s House” by Raymond Carver. I know last time I told you I was going to put stories in my mailbox and then didn’t, but this time, I assure you, I already did. LA133, before 5pm. Be there or be square.

You can also, if you prefer, listen to the story on the now famous New Yorker Fiction Podcast. Follow le link. You may want to listen to this just for fun, as there is interesting commentary before and after.

Comment Question of the day regarding this story: What does the narrator mean by the very last line? What do you think the couples’ future looks like? Cite specific things in the text that leads you to this conclusion.

Raymond Carver teaches us about this “conversational language” thing I keep talking about and have the hardest time explaining. His language is sparse, simple, and to the point. People have said there is no art in it. I think those people are stupid but I suppose it’s up for debate. If you love Raymond Carver and want more, here’s something he wrote later in his career, after he got sober. Much like Aerosmith and other rock legends of our time, I think the work suffers a little in sobriety. That story is called “A Small Good Thing.” Feel free to tell me what you thought of that in the comments as well, if you choose to read.

Also Due Friday: Assignment #3: Dialogue

It’s really simple, just write me something compelling that uses a lot of dialogue. You can use any of the prompts/writing exercises we did in class, you may develop your found transcript, or you can turn in something else entirely, as long as dialogue is featured. I have restricted you to 1-3 pages typed. Be sure to also make this double spaced, properly formatted, beautiful and excellent, with page numbers and a glorious title. I am really looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Please also turn in your original “found dialogue/transcript” along with the assignment. I would really like to see them just for my own edification.

Let me know if you have any questions on this assignment. Just try to relax and have fun with it, whilst simultaneously incorporating the many, many tips and writers do’s and don’ts I layed out for you in class today.

Finally: I put the photo prompt from today in a separate blog post under this one. Don’t be all “I didn’t see it so I didn’t do it.” Scroll down. There he is.

That’s all! Do all that. See you Friday!

Please leave your stories/captions/ideas regarding this photo in the comments field. BTW, I have nothing against hipsters. I don’t mean to pick on this poor kid; I was just looking for a picture of a dude on the Internet in an outrageous outfit. Voila.

As for “Hills Like White Elephants”: It’s an abortion, people. She’s going to get an abortion and it has ruined their relationship. They drink too much. The hills are probably metaphors for something but I’m not sure what. Also, in Citizen Kane: Rosebud is a sled. It’s just a sled. It doesn’t mean much. If you haven’t commented on this story yet, go back and do so.

Please read “Blue Boy” by Kevin Canty and comment by answering the following questions. Please get these responses up by Wednesday before class. I will leave extra photocopies of this story in my mailbox in the english department office, LA133.

Blue Boy questions:
1. What is the story trying to say about class? How does it do that? Give at least one example from the text.
2. How does Kenny change during the story? Do you think the change is permanent? Why or why not. See if you can’t pinpoint a specific scene wherein he discovers something and takes action.
3. Look back at what we’ve learned about narrative modes. Identify how “Blue Boy” is told in terms of: view, voice, structure, and tense.

Okay everyone? Please email me if you have any questions.

For the weekend:

Please read the paper copy I gave you in class of “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway. What on earth are they talking about? How does it make you feel? Leave a brief comment discussing the process of discovery you went through reading this piece.

Writing Assignment 3.a

Like I said in class:
I want you to eavesdrop/overhear/try to remember a conversation and dictate it to me. Just use a standard format like so:

Person A: I am talking to person B
Person B: Yes, you are. And we are having a lovely time of it.

Give them better names than that. Think “Pumpkin” and “Honey Bunny.” Just a page is fine. We’re going to be using these in class and you will be asked to share them so keep that in mind.

And finally, here are some of the clips we watched in class featuring great dialogue/monologue, and a few we didn’t get to.

husbands and wives first scene

hannah and her sisters

crimes and misdemeanors

the last temptation of christ

out of sight trunk scene

pulp fiction diner scene

synechdoche, new york

I gave you a paper copy of the Denis Johnson very short story “Steady Hands at Seattle General,” in class today. I have three hard copies left; if you are on campus today (thursday) before 5, or if you come by early Friday morning, you can pick up one of the copies from my mailbox in the english dept, LA133. Have the nice secretary help you find my mailbox if for some reason your eyeballs can’t find my mailbox. It’s really short and you will be a better person for having read it.

Friday we’re watching clips from films all day that showcase dialogue, because dialogue rules.

Here’s some elective reading I’ve been meaning to pass your way. They are all written by my esteemed peers.

Doesn’t Rock, by Ted McDermott
Turns out “doesn’t rock” is a double entendre but not a sexual one. Do entendres have to be sexual? I just checked, and wikipedia says no. Look at how much work this story does in so few words.

Our Own Flesh and Blood, by Becky Margolis
I hope you like palindromes!

Green Room, by Kristen Gleason
Kristen is a word wizard. Don’t look for traditional narrative/storytelling in this piece. Approach it like a poem. Kristen might really hate me for saying that, but I think it’s good advice. The story’s meaning lands in your stomach subconsciously rather than unfolding through action.

Let me know what you think of anything you read here. They are all very short and wonderful in their own way. You needn’t compare and contrast them, although you can.

There will be a reading assignment for the weekend, but what? I don’t know! Stay tuned.

Writing Assignment #2

prompt: Famous first sentences OR Immediate action.

For your second writing assignment, I want a 1-5 page story (word processed, double spaced, blah blah blah. Do NOT go over 5 pages or else something really bad will happen).  Think about traditional narrative, think about character, setting, scene.  Give your characters a motivation, an obstacle to overcome.  Make them richer for the experience, or not. Try to entertain your audience.  Use crisp, economic language.  Do your best.

On Monday, we will be pairing off and sharing our initial drafts in class.  Bring something legible and fit for consumption by at least one of your peers.  Typed would probably be preferred.  If what you have on Monday is not complete, be sure to come with questions/ideas for where to take the story next.  I want you to get used to sharing your work with others and receiving feedback.

You’ll be turning in a draft to me on Wednesday, February 9th.

First sentence prompts from class:

  • A screaming comes across the sky.
  • This is the saddest story I’ve ever heard.
  • All this happened, more or less.
  • It was the day my grandmother exploded.
  • Elmer Ganty was drunk.
  • It was a pleasure to burn.
  • It was love at first sight.
  • Joey felt his romance with Daisy might ruin his life, but that didn’t stop him.
  • Miss Brook had the kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
  • The first thing I remember is being under something.

If you have any first sentence prompts of your own, please to share them in the comments.  Here’s a link to some more.

Weekend reading / Listening

“A & P” by John Updike

A nice, innocent, heroic story.  Think about language when reading this piece.

“Two Men” by Denis Johnson

This is an audio link to a story about a man of questionable moral character.  I want you to challenge yourself by attempting to, if not relate to the character, at least try to understand his motivations for doing things.

Leave a comment by Monday. Discuss your emotional reaction to both pieces, briefly, succinctly and beautifully.

Sorry, no, this is next week. Apparently there’s a football game on tonight…. ?
Finally: Second Wind Reading, This Sunday @6:30 at The Top Hat. My friend and great writer Becky Margolis is reading fiction, and then there’s some poet who I don’t remember.  I’m going to keep asking you to come to these things, whether it turns out fruitful or not.