Kaitlyn Davisio, an undergraduate radio journalist, DJ, and social justice advocate at the University of California Irvine, asked me to do a short interview with her on KUCI about the NRA.Read More
Matthew Salesses runs and directs an awesome column at Pleiades about workshop craft and workshop pedagogy and I'm happy to say that my essay "The Velocity of Flying Objects" about my own workshop methodology will be published soon on the magazine's website. Stay tuned.
Every time I meet up with Tom, it invariably becomes this dope riff session on writing, culture, and music. We end up talking about our favorite writers, our MFA days, our different views on craft, SoCal cultural mythology, East Coast/Midwest nostalgia, famous writers we've worked with who changed our life, a short bitch session on literary agents, random Rock'n'Roll references, followed by a short Q and A where I ask him questions about reading for the New Yorker Festival and going on tour in Europe and his revision process. Today, more than ever, I felt like we were two friends in two very different stages of our literary career, just kicking it for a half an hour. Some of the highlights of this convo included:
1. Tom gave me some love for "The Invisible Dress," a chapter from my debut novel, The Amnesia of Junebugs, that he read as part of the Writer-in-Residence deal at USC. He said it was one of the best things he's read of mine in a while, but then he stopped himself and said, "but you've written a lot of great stuff, so . . . " I laughed when he said that
2. After he said that sometimes he likes to "rewrite" classic short stories like The Overcoat, we began crooning about the Russian masters like Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky, all of whom I read voraciously in college. Diary of a Madmen, The Nose, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Possessed, Notes from Underground, The Idiot, War and Peace, The Kreutzer Sonata, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, were some of my most treasured novels back then. And for Tom too, a connection I didn't even know we had
3. Tom told about his experience being an editor for the Best American Stories 2015, which honestly, sounds totally fucking exhausting. It was especially interesting to hear him talk about how he picked thetwenty stories for the collection
4. Tom talked about switching from Viking to Ecco, his sadness about leaving one editor and his happiness about working with another
5. Tom said he thought this was gonna be my year. I told him I hope he's right.
6. Tom asked me how things were going at UCI (very good). Then, he asked me if I was applying to tenure track jobs this year, which I am. I explained that I'm applying to every decent, great, and awesome, tenure track job out there located in or near a major metropolitan area, even jobs out of my league, because you've got to. Someone will get those jobs, why not me? He replied, "Now, you just need a book contract and everything else will fall in line for you with your PhD." In his own sweet but indirect way, Tom implied that he's waiting to write a blurb for me and honestly, I can't wait for that. In fact, sending him, Aimee, Percival, Valerie Sayers, Frances Sherwood, and Steve Tomasula emails for blurbs will be one of the sweetest parts of finally getting a contract because I'll get to thank them for all of their support, advice, and insight over the years
7. Tom talked about his days as the fiction editor at the Iowa Review where he basically picked the stories he liked the most, and then sent his recommendations to Robert Coover who picked from Tom's shortlist all the way from London
8. Tom talked about how fucking slow McSweeney's is, even with marquee writers like him. They bought one of his stories a million years ago and still hadn't published it yet, which eventually made his agent, Georges Borchardt, badger them a little bit. "I really don't care," Tom explained, "because they already bought the story." Must be nice to have such an illustrious publishing career that you actually don't give a shit when McSweeney's gets around to publishing your short story.
9. Tom and I agree that Tobias Wolf's Bullet in the Brain is one of the gold standards by which other short stories should be judged
10. I feel like now, more than ever, Tom is waiting for me to make it big. I feel like my time is coming. He feels like my time is coming. I know he believes in me as a writer with talent and stubborness to burn, which is an amazing source of confidence and support for me, but now I have to go out and slay this dragon myself. I'm the only one who can do it. I know he'll be cheering me from the sidelines, which I feel blessed about
This post is written from a place of privilege to a certain degree. While my lecturer position isn't as good as a tenure track job, my workload, bennies, and pay at UC Irvine, are a hundred times better than that of my friends adjuncting their hearts out, hoping and praying (just as I am) that one day they'll get the ideal academic gig. So, I write this post with a tiny amount of guilt, understanding that things could be so much worse. That said, I was lucky enough to have my first paid summer off as an academic and It's honestly shocking how busy I was in like a good way. Yes, I wrote the fuck out of this summer, completely restructuring and rewriting my first and second novels multiple times. Yes, I sent out query letters for AMNESIA to a few agents that I thought might be good matches. Yes, I sent out several different manuscripts to several stellar indie presses, including my experimental memoir. Yes, I read more than a few novels and several graphic novels too. Yes, LB and I traveled to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Tallinn, which was honestly, one of the most amazing vacations I've ever had (I'm completely broke right now and I don't give a shit because it was completely worth it!). Yes, I got to see both our families, which was amazing (not to mention insanely draining). And yes, I played the shit out of my PS4 because I finally could after teaching for 9 months straight. For the record, I was especially captivated by The Last of Us, Final Fantasy X, Infamous Second Son, and The Walking Dead. In so many ways, I had one of the best summers of my life and I don't say that lightly.
But that said, this summer was also completely exhausting. Time flew by in a way I haven't seen since high school and often I felt like I was barely in control of my life. I wouldn't have done it differently and I have only gratitude for this summer, but next summer, I think I'm gonna make as little plans as possible. At the very least, I plan on living like a minimalist. I hope to do nothing except eat nori senbē crackers, drink ocha, and watch romance anime. Maybe I'll cry a little, nibble on chocolate, and then go back to revising NINJAS. That sounds like a perfect summer (for at least one week). Of course, part of being an emerging novelist and professor means conceding much of your power to other people who control your destiny (e.g., the department chair, the dean of your school, the program coordinator, the literary agent, the acquisitions editor, the fiction reader), and that's probably the hardest part of this gig: working your ass off for something that ultimately isn't in your hands after a certain stage. So, thank you universe for this exhilarating summer. But next summer, please be much more chill in the GenX sense of the word.
I met up and chatted with Ron Carlson today (the author of Five Skies, The Signal, and Plan B for the Middle Class,among other works) and I have to say, I thought he was pretty cool: smart, funny, interesting, observant, slightly offbeat. Aimee had introduced me to him being a UCI MFA grad and everything. Anyway, here are some of the highlights of our convo:
1. Unlike some compulsive fiction writers (à la TC Boyle and Joyce Carol Oates), he told me that sometimes he doesn't write for days and he really enjoys that perspective, the simple act of living, which gives him a good counterbalance to his writing life
2. He said he never wants to hate (his own) writing, which is why he never pushes himself to write when he doesn't want to write
3. He said that you can't force your writing. You can't rush your writing. And you can't quantify the quality of the work itself as if your writing operates on some point system. If you write one awesome page, that's better than say 50 meh pages
4. After I told him that I've had a bunch of agents asking for full manuscripts of Ninjas in the past year, and how Coffee House Press was still considering Atlas of Tiny Desires, my collection of short stories and how Kaya Press was about to give me their verdict on Amnesia very soon, he said: —You're busy. Then he said: —I hope you don't mind me giving you some advice (which I didn't), but don't get burned out, Jackson.
I told him I knew what he meant, but also that I tried to use one manuscript as artistic respite from another manuscript. So, for example, if I got sick of revising Amnesia again, I'd work on Dream Pop Origami, my experimental memoir. When I could no longer evaluate that manuscript effectively, I'd switch to Ninjas. It's my way to keep writing without hating the act of writing itself. So far, it's been working out pretty well.
5. I also told him that if he needs any more lecturers in creative writing in the future (it can't hurt to ask), he should hit me up. He gave me a knowing smile and then said he's got my email now, which was his way of saying "Nice way you snuck in your pitch like that but as you know since you teach here, our department is being ravaged by a Dean who just gave a bunch of lecturer positions to TA's from other departments."
6. I told him how much I'd learned from Aimee, one of his protégées, how she taught me to actually sit with my characters instead of whizzing by to the next scene and he seemed to appreciate that advice. He said that often the biggest mistakes fiction writers make aren't the obvious ones that workshops focus on, but the things they passed on up, the missed opportunities in their own fiction to let a character, a place, a moment, bloom for just a few moments.
Ultimately, there was a lot more I wanted to talk about with him, but our conversation came to a comfortable and organic lull after forty-five minutes and I was happy to leave it there.
Just as important to me, I know now that when I spot him in the bright hallways of UC Irvine in the next year, we'll recognize each other, which can only be a good thing for me in the writing universe.