Monthly Archives: October 2007

Readings, more readings, and a book review

 A brief “Hi Mom,” moment to my Uncle Tom, who I found out is reading my blog.  And a real “Hi Mom,” to my actual mom, who probably sent him to it.

My colleague, poet and fractal artist, Terry Wright, gave an astounding reading at the Clinton Presidential Library Sunday.  Terry’s readings are always a great example of audience awareness, as in, he’s aware that there is one and he’s got to keep them entertained.  He reads one of his poems with the gusto of a Shakespearean actor and keeps you riveted to the content. 

He also kept us on our toes by handing a poem to an audience member after he read it.  It was the artsy equivalent of being at an Arkansas Travelers game and wondering if that fly ball is going to come to you.  Very cool.

Last night, I went to a fantastically well attended reading sponsored by the Vortex, our literary magazine.  Students read some great stuff while Nosferatu played on the Jumbotron in the background (they wanted to do this last year but were rained out).  We may have witnessed a first too–a student read a poem from his cell phone!!! 


78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might
Pat Walsh

***** out of 5 stars

As you might guess from the title, Pat Walsh is not about cozying up to the reader.  In fact, it feels at times as if he’s chewing you out.  But that’s not exactly a criticism–I stayed riveted to the book and I’m not a masochist.  Walsh, an editor at McAdam/Cage, just wants to save us from making all the mistakes that writers who’ve submitted to him have made over the years.  And give us LOTS of excellent advice for navigating the often-mystifying world of publishing.  Seriously folks, this is a top notch book, in fact, perhaps the best insight I’ve read on publishing so far.  Read it when you’re ready, really ready, to start thinking about publishing.  But not till then.  Till then, work on your writing because that’s all that REALLY matters.


Monday and Tuesday passed without wardrobe incident (the rents are beginning to clue in on the value of plain ol’ sweat pants).  However,this morning I held my breath as Will pulled on the new, tres cool (I thought) shirt I’d gotten him last week.  Sigh.  He appeared in front of me with his hands on his hips.
“Mom, this is, like, for a nine year old!” (he’s seven) 

Ok, it was a tad big (I got it at a garage sale and you can’t exactly choose your sizes).  But just a tad.   You could roll up the sleeves a bit and it was fine. Really.  I wouldn’t send my kid, especially this one, out in public in a shirt five sizes to big for him.  It was one of those “he’ll grow into it” decisions, and it really was a nice, current-style skateboarder shirt. 

  Took some convincing but he finally agreed.  Then he moved on to the cargo pants.  Unfortunately, these actually/accidentally were his brother’s and about six inches too long and they were simply not going to fly, I could see that.  So out came the old standbys, the gray sweatpants.  And all was well.  Phew. 

But tonight is Halloween.  Lots of opportunities for sartorial angst.  We shall see.



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Adding a Sixth Book

Doing Creative Writing–Steve May

As it happens, the day after I posted about the five books that should be on every undergrad creative writer’s bookshelf,  Steve May’s Doing Creative Writing arrived in the mail (thanks, Steve!).  Now, bias alert, I consulted on this book, providing the American perspective, and wrote the foreward –but that’s how I know it’s an essential book.  It’s also the only one of it’s kind.  Steve May is the Head of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, an experienced writer who’s won lots of awards in fiction, drama and poetry.  In this book he offers “advice to help get started,” as well as “advice about how to get the most out of the [major] as it progresses.”  In some ways, it can be seen as a pre-cursor to Tom Kealey’s book, and no less important.  Ordering online is probably your best option (it’s available from most online venues); I will no doubt be requiring it of my students soon.

And in other news. . .

No wardrobe issues this weekend.  I’m beginning to see a connection between school anxiety and clothing anxiety.

Great writing project workshop this weekend on Heart Mapping.  Afternoon pumpkin carving and then an exciting UCA Homecoming game against Nicholls State which UCA won in overtime.  Go Bears!


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Top Five Books For Undergraduate Writers

pile_of_books.jpg picture by steph_vanderslice


 Why only five?  Well, I consider myself somewhat of a connisseur of books about writing and believe it’s my responsibility to stay up on what’s out there.  Fortunately, I also enjoy reading these kinds of books.  However, there are only five that I consider absolutely essential to the undergraduate creative writer, to someone dipping his toe in the creative writing world and deciding whether and how to take the plunge.  Five that you MUST read.  So, undergraduates, beginning writers, if you haven’t read these, get thee to a independent bookstore, chain bookstore,, library, whatever your preference, asap.

Page by Page: Discover The Confidence and Passion You Need to Start Writing and Keep Writing (No Matter What)–Heather Sellers

Sellers knows how to encourage and enlighten new writers and how to lay it on the line at the same time.  Plus, her graphics are great.  I wish I had this book when I was a young writer and I hand it to every aspiring wordsmith I know.  Lucky us, she now has a blog, Word by Word.  A good companion to this one for novelists:  Chapter by Chapter.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life–Anne Lamott

For the writer who has been hemmed in for years by all the myths and lore about writing, in addition to whatever arbitrary rules Miss Grundy drummed into your heard, reading Lamott will be nothing short of revelatory.  From “Shitty First Drafts,” to “One Inch Picture Frames,” to the real meaning of writing (psst: it’s necessarily publishing), this book has it all.  I’ve read it several times since it first came out and am always astounded at the new things, the new relevancies, I find in each read.

The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students –Tom Kealey

You may or may not be want to get an MFA after you graduate.  But this book will help you decide.  It will also serve as a no-nonsense introduction to the writing life and to a lot of the realities of undergraduate creative writing.  Another book I recommend so much, you’d think I was getting kickbacks from Mr. Kealey.  But I’m not.  My student’s eternal gratitude is more than enough (snip).


The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students–Heather Sellers

A revolutionary, concept-based method of laying the groundwork for enhancing any genre of creative writing.  Despite it’s “text-booky” format (well, it is a textbook, technically), it’s immensely readable and enlightening.  I’m really picky about texts for my creative writing class–hadn’t used one for years until this one came out.  Now I plan to make it a standing order. 

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers–Betsey Lerner

Another look at the writing life from the editor’s side of the desk.  Highly entertaining and enlightening, Lerner is also a writer herself, with an MFA from Columbia, so she can really see the big picture.   A read you definitely will not regret.

And in other news. . .

WIOTD (Wardrobe Issue of the Day)


The inseam, oh the inseam.  The inseam of his jeans was hanging a bit too low.  We tried several belts but ended up adjusting those red elastic things they put on the inside of jeans these days so that they’re well, adjustable.  This was deemed a tolerable solution, though just barely.

It was also sunglass day.  Dad’s sunglasses were nowhere to be found.  After much cajoling and assuring that Mommy’s sunglasses were just as good, since she got from the gender-less sunglass rack at the dollar store, they were accepted.  But his last words as he got out of the car were, “You’re sure these aren’t girl’s sunglasses?”


Backwards day.  First, the bright yellow pokemon t-shirt was refused, without justification,  for the umpteenth time.  This one’s going to have to go Goodwill (which may have been where it came from).  John asked, “What is wrong with the shirt, since there is obviously something wrong with it?”  But apparently, it is something that cannot be put into words, because we just got a frustrated–“if you don’t know I can’t tell you”–huff. 

Pants really seem to be our main problem.  We ended up with a heap of rejects before plain gray sweats were agreed upon.  I see a trip to Target for about 5 pairs of gray sweats in our future.


Bumps under the shirt.  Bumps “everywhere.”  So, we trudged upstairs for a “bumpless” shirt.  Then the cargo pants were rejected out of hand.  Back upstairs.  Fortunately, there were a pair of innoculous blue sweats that fit the bill.

Also, not so wardrobe related, we went through the “my stomach really hurts.  I might throw up,” scenario.  Duly got out the thermometer, but when you’re hanging upside down on the sofa with the thermometer in your mouth, you kind of give your health away.

(And you thought I was exaggerating about the whole WIOTD thing.)

 Other than that, it has been a cold, rainy, uneventful week.  At Parent Teacher Conferences, every time we began with “Hi, we’re Jackson Vanderslice’s parents,” we were greeted, good naturedly, with “that child just cannot sit down, can he?” Little do they know we’ve been hearing since this kindergarten!  In fact, it’s almost up there with, “Vanderslice? How do you spell that?  (Pause while we spell it)  Oh! Just like it sounds!”

However, we must say we are very grateful for understanding teacher’s who are tolerant of the fact that our son seems to need to think on his feet.


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This Ain’t Your Mother’s Creative Writing

If you needed proof about the ways the creative arts are changing, look no further than The Machine if Us/ing Us .  If you’re reading this, you probably know all this stuff, or have some inkling about it.  The walls are coming down, folks, and more and more content is in the hands of the everyday artist.  There’s a reason why they call this Generation C, or the Content Generation. 

What does this mean for creative writing?  Well, as in any art in general, teaching it is more important than ever.  And teaching it well.  We teach a savvy generation for whom a laizzez faire workshop with the sage on the stage just isn’t going to work anymore.  Our students demand more because the world they are heading out into, the world they exist in already, demands more.   We can’t predict where it’s going to go next (who could have predicted you tube a few years back) but we can give them the tools they need to succeed, tools with which they can “monitor and adjust,” to any given situation.

I’m teaching Intro Creative Writing with a great new text book this semester, Heather Sellers’ The Practice of Creative Writing.  And let me tell you, if I tell my students one more time, “I wish someone had taught me this when I was your age,” they’re going to start keeping a tally.  Maybe they already have.

The problem is, I wasn’t taught any of this.  Not even in grad school, not much of it anyway.  Sure, there’s a lot you can learn in a workshop where the wise published writer leads and the rest of the group gets a chance to weigh in on  your work.  And learn a great deal I did. That’s why I wouldn’t take the workshop out of a creative writing class, even out of an undergraduate class, but why I would add to it.

The thing is, I could have learned so much more.

Sellers approaches her class by teaching creative writing concepts. I’ve done this for years and even wrote an article about it, but I like her concepts better.  Concepts that will help any beginning writer take her work from good to great, concepts like:  energy, images, tension, pattern, insight and structure.  Concepts that work on the premise that there are many aspects of creative writing that can actually be taught.  Moreover, concepts that give students, even beginning students, a language in which to talk about their writing, so as to enrich their workshop experiences.

The revolutionary thing about saying outright that creative writing can be taught, inasmuch as painting or music composition or acting can be taught, is that the onus is then on the teacher to actually teach it.  To think about her practices as a teacher, to do more than wing it, which some creative writing teachers have been doing for years. 

Fortunately, the times are changing.  The wingers are marching toward social security while the teachers are beginning to make themselves known in greater numbers.  But we can’t rest on our laurels just yet.  We have a lot more to do.  More that I’ll be writing about here on this blog, more that I’m saving for the book I’m working on right now, working title Burning Down the Garrett: Transforming Creative Writing Programs in the Twenty-First Century.  But it should be interesting.  And thinking about this stuff on a regular basis will enhance our own writing in the process.  I promise.

In other news. . .

It’s Red Ribbon or Drug Awareness Week in the schools.  It was pajama day for my youngest.  It may well have been a something day for my sixth grader too, but he’s generally fairly oblivious to such things, so unless we’re on top of it, he’s not with the program.

But the elementary schooler was.  Clothing is a big deal for him.  When I came home from a meeting last night, he greeted me with a monologue about what he’d wear, “his guitar pajamas,” with a black bathrobe, although by the time I picked him up today, he’d ditched the bathrobe, even though it was freezing.  Not “cool” enough, even though his lips were practically blue.

“Cool” really matters to this child and has since preschool.  We have a “wardrobe issue,” just about every morning, to such an extent that I am considering posting the WIOTD ( wardrobe issue of the day) on this blog because I never thought I’d be saying things like, “What do you mean those jeans are too “heavy”?”   Or, minutes before we are due at school,  studying his tube socks, mystified, trying to figure out why he refuses to wear them; they are too “bumpy,” inside.  We’re not even within shouting distance of adolescence with him and mornings at our house are rife with fashion dilemmas and clothing malfunctions. 

You’ll see.  Just check back in.


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Wordamours unite!

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Like many of us out there, my to do list seems to stretch on into infinity, and yet here I am.  Writing my first blog entry.  Since I’ve decided to give it a shot, I’ve got to be true to another promise to myself:  for everything I add to my plate I’ve got to take something away.  Problem is, I haven’t figured out what–yet the lure to blogging was irresistable.  Suggestions are welcome. Related to this is the fact that even though I’ve got a pretty full plate, with a few non-negotiable exceptions, I love everything on it.  The only thing that was easy to give up was coupon clipping. 

 We just had fall break, which for professors means time to work on other stuff besides class.  I’ve been working on a power point I’m giving Tuesday about a new Creative Enterprise course we’re proposing for seniors at UCA.  It would be a way for senior College of Fine Arts majors–be they musicians, writers, film students, visual artists–to execute a project of their own design that would put them in closer contact with the creative arts community, helping them forge the ties that will sustain them, literally and figuratively, after they graduate.  A music major might set up a downtown lunch hour concert series and learn how to work with city government, musicians, publicists, and so forth, to make it a success.  A writing major might decide to publish a magazine.  The students are really limited only by their imaginations. 

 It’s based on a similar course I saw at Bath Spa university when I toured there last year, the brainchild of writer and teacher Mimi Thebo.  We need to show our students that there is a middle ground between becoming the next Amy Tan or Steven Spielberg and flipping burgers, and that’s where they’ll probably find their careers.  It’s never too soon to start showing them how to find this place and begin to establish themselves there.

Michael Cunningham was here earlier in the week, and his visit was entertaining and inspiring.  He read from The Hours and some new work, dished about the actors he worked with on his movies, and talked about adapting Susan Minot’s novel, Evening, which I’m now dying to see.  He talked about writing as an endurance sport, which our students really needed to hear, and he talked about the fact that novelists should aim to be writing novels just a little smarter then they are, which I really needed to hear.  He also left his glasses behind.  I can’t tell if they’re of the “oh, I have dozens of those, I buy them at the dollar store,” kind or of the, “they cost me a fortune, can you send them Fedex?” kind.  They look pretty nice to me but we can’t send them to him till we have his address.

In other news, in spite of my considerable to do list, I managed to fit in a lot of fun over the past four days.  I manage this in general largely by putting fun things on my to do list.  Things like, “Read magazines.  Go to garage sales.” And yes, by the way, I enjoyed both, savoring, especially, the delicious new Victoria magazine (yes, she’s back!) that appeared in my mailbox Friday just when I’d given up all hope of having actually been put on the subscription list.  I also baked bread, watched Little Man Tate, taught my sons how to vacuum (which, of course, they turned into a competetive sport, as in “Nyah, nyah, I was able to get the cheerio that you couldn’t”), ironed, had my usual Saturday night date with my husband John,  (he cooks a gourmet meal, the kids keep themselves busy and/or go to sleep, prime couple time) and watched John and my younger son, Will, sledgehammer a wall surrounding an old Conway mansion (the owner is renovating and invited all the locals to “tear down these walls”). I also spent a couple of hours with my kids in the Faulkner County Library.  Nothing like Saturday in the library.  In spite of the fact that some parents seem to use it as a drop off babysitting service, you gotta love a library. Especially if you’re a wordamour. 

Until I think of a witty sign off line, I’ll just say bye for now and end with a promise not to regale readers with the woe is me to do list any more.  That would be pretty boring regular reading, now, wouldn’t it?  And no way to celebrate words. 


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