My Writing Process: Blog Tour

 

First, a word about the writer who nominated me for the blog tour.

I’ve known Vanessa Blakeslee (blog here) for almost a decade now, which is a little bit insane to think about. (Side-note: can something be a “little bit insane”? I don’t know. Anyway.) Vanessa was finishing up her Masters degree at the University of Central Florida, just as I was starting my own. I remember that–just as I had the wide-eyed, over-eager, over-idealistic look of a first-year writing student–she had the exhausted look of a student neck-deep in thesis work, in bureaucratic bullshit (formatting guidelines, graduation forms, etc.), in freshman composition papers that still needed grading…So we met in 2004, I think, but she probably hated me back then because my desk wasn’t yet overcrowded with the crap that ultimately overwhelms most grad students.

I don’t know whether Vanessa had yet published any of her work back then, but I do know that–as a young grad student, and then as a young teacher in the creative writing classroom–I was able to follow along as her career blossomed. Back in 2005 and 2006, we didn’t follow a young writer’s slow build toward success through Facebook status updates or author sites…we followed mostly through hearsay, gossip, grapevine talk, a smile on the face of a professor as she sat down to our workshop and told us about a former student’s latest publication. So I’d hear about Vanessa’s short fiction, and her acceptances at various colonies and writer’s retreats, and I was able to see the career take form in the same way that a little brother watches an older sibling slowly master a sport, going from first lesson to starting pitcher.

Vanessa Blakeslee is now a superstar, of course, one of those writers who makes a lot of internet lists that tell us which writers to watch. Her first book, the short story collection Train Shots, has garnered all sorts of acclaim (as well as a gold medal in the IPPYs), and she’s now got a two-book deal with Curbside Splendor, a Chicago-based publisher that I’ve also been following since they published their first book (Victor David Giron’s Sophomoric Philosophy), which I purchased on a whim during a vacation to Chicago…Vanessa has arrived, in other words, so if you care about the future of literary fiction, you should start reading her now.

So here are the questions for this blog tour that I’ve been tasked with answering. After my responses, I’ll introduce the three authors I’ve “tagged” to keep the blog tour rolling along.

1) What are you working on?

Right now, I’m driving myself “a little bit insane.”

I’m in the final revisions of a novel that I’ve been working on since 2009, I think. It’s a book that’s changed in shape quite a bit (though not in concept) and has grown progressively weirder and more epic in scope. This seems to be the case with everything I write…it’s impossible for me to develop a tiny perfect idea, to write a 150-page novel…no, no, my ideas start multiplying, reproducing, until the 150-page novel is 500 pages and spans cities, states, continents, decades.

Anyway.

The book is called Bright Lights, Medium-Sized City, and it’s my “Great Orlando Novel,” a personal description that has (ultimately) forced me to constantly consider new angles and new approaches. If I hadn’t started describing it that way, maybe it would’ve stayed 150 pages, and it would’ve just been the intimate portrait of an investor at the end of the housing bubble (2009) who finds himself losing everything he’d “earned,” while at the same time Orlando finds itself losing the momentum it had built for four decades on its explosive climb to becoming the nation’s next major metropolis. That’s the story at the heart of the book: this one character, and this one city, experiencing the same downward spiral. And how can they recover? Hell, can they recover, or are they both going to become Detroit? What happens to Orlando if the tourist industry dries up, after all?

But when I started considering the possibilities for this book beyond just this single character, the novel suddenly became a much richer and more compelling experiment. It’s written in the second-person POV, just like Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, but because this is Orlando, I also allowed myself to play around with the idea of the 2nd-person POV being a “gimmick” (what could be more gimmicky than Orlando, except maybe Vegas?), and I looked at the many uses of this POV. I also researched the city itself pretty heavily, and while the main story takes place in 2009, with the backdrop of the Orlando Magic’s NBA Finals run contrasting with the overall tone of despair that we saw in the foreclosed neighborhoods inside and outside of the city, I also zoom in to take a look at several other time periods in the city’s history. We see quite a bit of the Land Boom of the 1920s, for instance, which mirrors the housing bubble of the 2000s. And, because this is a city novel in the Tom Wolfe sense, we get to visit with a large cast of Orlando characters, from Dwight Howard to Mayor Carl T. Langford, and we get an incredibly comprehensive list of set pieces, from the Orlando History Center to the golf courses of Metrowest to the perfect perfect houses of Avalon Park.

So yeah, that’s what I’m working on. And I’m in that desperate phase of final revisions where I just have to stop the self-doubt and believe that what I’ve got is pretty fucking good. Self-doubt, self-doubt: always there on a writer’s shoulder.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Like so much of the work that I enjoy reading and watching, my work is a sort of blending of genres, a fusion, if you will. Think Star Wars and Firefly, the fusion of western/ science fiction. Think Game of Thrones, the fusion of fantasy/ political thriller. I love this sort of blending, because I think it keeps both the writer and the reader on their toes, while also maintaining some of the things that we love about a specific genre.

In the university setting, there’s been a long-running debate about what qualifies as “literary fiction,” and what is “genre fiction,” but it’s a stupid debate, really, because “literary fiction” is its own genre. It’s got its own tropes. There’s a certain type of character who would appear in a work of literary fiction but would never appear in any other genre, and–in fact–would never appear in the real world. Books of literary fiction have their own super-literary covers, their own super-literary titles. Break it down further, and you can look at alt-lit as its own genre, Oprah lit as its own genre, etc. Genre is unavoidable, and any writer who argues otherwise is mostly just trying to stake a claim to their very own genre classification (which might be true…maybe you wrote the very first thing of its kind…but if it’s successful, it won’t be the last, and then boom: you’ve got a genre).

So my work, I hope, can take some great strategies from the best of the “socially realistic fiction” genre…I’m thinking of social novels (those that attempt to show a specific place/time, and the conflicts that matter in that specific place/time, and that can offer us some social commentary on that particular moment and place) like The Jungle and Anna Karenina, but also Then We Came to the End and White Teeth and The Corrections and Angry Black White Boy…I’m also thinking of the genre of the “city novel” that Tom Wolfe champions, because I love the idea of books that try to characterize a city and its many different facets (or even just one specific corner of that city), books like Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full, but also Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex and Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero and Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude…these books that just leave you feeling like you know this city better somehow, like you got a tour that no one else has ever received.

I love those types of books, but also love books that play with and twist around “genre” tropes. Horror. Science fiction. Fantasy. So…Ryan Boudinot’s Blueprints of the Afterlife, and Ron Currie Jr.’s Everything Matters! and Stephen Graham Jones’ The Last Final Girl. Even some of the Jennifer Egan work that sort of takes on the “spy thriller” genre. And Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Books that acknowledge how fun the non-realistic genres can be, and don’t shy away from them.

I don’t think that’s the type of writer I’ve always been. American Fraternity Man, my first novel, is much more socially realistic. The story would’ve been weakened by incorporating some other magical element. But more and more, this is where I see myself going: socially realistic fiction, fused with something completely bizarre and perhaps unrealistic, some genre elements completely unbefitting of (pretentious voice here) “literary fiction.” Sounds like a recipe for a lot more self-doubt, right? And a lot of rejections from lit mags.

3) Why do you write what you do?

This is a quick one to answer: because it’s fun.

Reading is fun, and enlightening, and emotionally compelling. And I want to create the same feelings that I have when I read something I love.

Why the specific genres? Not sure. Because that’s what I’ve grown to enjoy reading, no different than someone who loves Mexican fare and Californian fare, and wants to create a Cal-Mex menu. I love what I feel when I read these types of works, and so I feel drawn to continue in their tradition, and build upon them, and to ask the question “What if?” and see what happens.

4) How does your writing process work?

I feel like I talk about “process” a lot. In my classes. In conversation with other writers. In my own head, with myself. But I don’t know if I’ve ever committed my “writing process” to print. In other words, I don’t think I’ve ever written these conversations and lectures down in tangible form. Because the crappy part about talking about writing process is that, once spoken/written, it almost feels like you’re committing yourself to this one particular process forever.

Maybe that sounds dumb. But this is what I mean: the more I talk about process, the more I find myself using that same process just because I’ve told others that this is my process. I don’t want to make a liar out of myself, after all. And so I start to feel weird about stepping outside of that mold. Because this is my process, I can’t use any other process.

This is all subconscious, by the way…lest some snooty internet troll happen upon this and declare me to be an idiot, I’ll just defend myself by saying that we all follow subconscious routines that have been dictated by what we think we’re supposed to do, or what we’ve decided we’re supposed to do. And the more you follow a specific habit, the less likely you are to break that habit (unless you’re aware of it, and really try). And “writing process” is, I fear, a little bit like that for me. I’ve talked about it so much that I now find myself wondering whether this “process” is truly the best process for me, or if I’ve just convinced myself that it is.

Well. Self-doubt aside: here it is, written out for maybe the first time, though it’s been delivered in oral form a half-billion times:

I draft by hand. (Mostly: I draft blogs on the computer, and I draft student critiques on the computer, and emails, etc., but when it’s a manuscript that I really really care about (not that I don’t care about those other things, or this blog, but you get the idea) it’s got to be drafted by hand. I need to unplug from the computer, first and foremost, because I am easily distracted. If I hear the ding of my email, or see a little red notification on my Facebook tab, I’m on it immediately. No matter if it’s an urgent email, or a piece of junk mail, this toggling winds up killing my rhythm. It takes valuable time away from my writing, too…Let’s just say that I give myself an hour of writing time. That’s all I’ve got. Add up the emails and other internet distractions, and I’ve just taken away fifteen minutes from the meager time I’d allotted myself. Not cool.

I draft with a black liquid-ink pen. The kind of pen that I would never use if I was a server at a restaurant, because customers would always be stealing it. I want the pen to glide over the page, and I don’t want to have to be concerned about ink flow, about scribbling the pen until the mark shows, about having to press down extra-hard to leave a mark, or even (later) about the ink fading or seeming too light when I have to reread what I’ve written. I use a dark black ink pen, and I try not to lift it from the page…keep it there, keep it moving.

I use the little half-sized lined notepads, not the full legal pads. I try to write at least ten pages in a single sitting, and the little notepads help to make this a reality. They’re a psychological boost, let me think that I’ve written more than I have. Maybe it’s only three pages of typed text, but ten pages seems like a really productive day. I want to feel good when I’m drafting. When I’m revising, I’ll feel frustrated, discouraged, but I want to have fun while I’m actually writing the story for the first time…if it’s not fun for me, how’s it ever going to be fun for the reader?

I like to draft my work at coffee shops. Outdoors in the winter and spring (it’s Florida), and indoors in the long hot humid unbearable summer (it’s Florida…there is no Fall). I need human activity around me. I need to be reassured that the world is still going on, because that’s a feeling that disappears when I’m stuck indoors revising on my computer. Oh, and I also need caffeine. Lots of it. More. More.

I like music, but I like it when the music disappears. Give me acoustic rock any day of the week, the type that could be happy or sad depending on the particular moment in the song, or even the type of day you’re having, the type that doesn’t get too loud and intrusive, but (again) the type that reassures you that you’re not the last person on earth…the way you sometimes feel when you’re stuck indoors revising on a computer.

And revision? That’s a different process entirely, and unless I want this blog to go on forever, I’ll end it there. Let’s just say that revision can be endless, awful, and that it’s always my goal to find some way to make it slightly more enjoyable: so, for instance, I’ll print out each new draft after I’ve typed, and I’ll take that draft to the coffee shop, and I’ll handwrite my notes and edits and insertions onto that typed-out page with my trusty black ink pen…trick myself, in other words, that I’m still drafting.

The head games I play with myself.

My Tagged Authors:

Next up on the “Writing Process” blog tour are three of my Orlando literary cronies, three writers and gentlemen with whom I’ve shared many a literary conversation, many a craft beer or cocktail. And all three have blogged for John King’s The Drunken Odyssey site, too, so I figured this would feel like a real community conversation, just a bunch of dudes talkin’ ’bout writing, you know?

Mark Pursell is a lifelong geek and lover of words.  His publishing credits include Nimrod International JournalThe New Orleans Review, and The Florida Review, where he also served as poetry editor.  His work can be seen in the first volume of the 15 Views of Orlando anthology from Burrow Press.  He currently teaches storytelling and narrative design for video games at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. I’ve known Mark for almost a decade, also, and we’ve both entrusted one another with our writing on more occasions than I can count…when it comes to writing/viewing interests, there are few writers with whom my own interests align more than Mark Pursell.

Teege Braune is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf. Teege is also the reigning “Best Bartender in Orlando,” according to Orlando Weekly, and will always be the man just off camera in my own author photos.

John King’s work has appeared in Palooka, Gargoyle, Turnrow, and others, including 15 Views of Orlando.  He is a reviewer for The Literary Review and Shakespeare Bulletin, and is a regular contributor to Celebrations magazine.  In 2010, he finished his MFA in creative writing from New York University.  He hosts The Drunken Odyssey, a podcast about the writing life. At one point, I shared an office at UCF with John King, and on another occasion, I shared a pizza with him. (Replace the word “shared” with “stole,” and the word “with” with “from,” and you have a more accurate picture of what happened when John King sat down to order a pizza and enjoy his dinner in peace.)

 

Speech and Consequences

For your afternoon reading, here in May, my final personal essay for my year-long stint on the UCF Forum (a group of eight faculty and students who wrote a syndicated column every week on an alternating basis). To read a little more about the UCF Forum itself, check out this article in the Central Florida Future.

My final column, which has a different name depending on which publication chose to pick it up and run it, was one of my favorites from the year, and actually surprised me by getting republished in the Ocala Star-Banner. At the start of the year, the columns were getting syndicated and picked up mostly by online publications (Huffington Post, notably), but the last couple have appeared in print newspapers as well. Below, you’ll find links to a few of the publications that have run this final essay. Let me know what you think, and if you haven’t read any of the other essays from the past year, head over to the “Publications” tab at the top of the page, select “Nonfiction,” and you’ll get a rundown of them all.

This is What Happens When We Forget That Speech Has Consequences.” At the UCF Today web site.

This is What Happens When We Forget That Speech Has Consequences.” At the Huffington Post.

When We Forget That Our Speech Has Hard-Hitting Consequences.” At Ocala Star-Banner.

This is What Happens When We Forget That Our Speech Has Consequences.” At ContextFlorida.

You’ll also be able to find it in the print edition of the Brevard Business News, but I’m not sure that’s out yet. They republish online as a pdf edition, and here’s a link to the pdf where they published my “Digital Decluttering” column.

The most interesting part of this experience has been the online feedback and reader response that I’ve received. The past few days, especially, after I was published in the Ocala newspaper, I’ve gotten emails from a very different set of readers than I’d initially expected when I signed onto the project…these were newspaper readers in Ocala, not UCF students and faculty/staff who just happened to be reading the UCF Today web site online. I’d never expected to have a column in a newspaper, and yet there I was, there I am, and it’s been pretty damn cool.

Thanks to everyone for reading. Now: back to writing fiction.

UCF Book Fest

The UCF Book Festival schedule is out!

Check it out here, and be sure to visit my two panels/events.

The first is: How Fiction Writers View Orlando with Burrow Press, at 11 AM on Saturday, April 5 (on the UCF Arena main stage).

The second is: The Life of an American Fraternity Man with Nathan Holic, at 1 PM, in Room Cypress B.

All is free to the public, and copies of my book will be available (for sale by the UCF Bookstore). Yes, I’ll obviously be signing copies.

Other Notes:

I unearthed another review of my book. Check it out here: Quite Spectacular.

And I wrote another column, which is currently up at the UCF Today web site: it’s called “The Anxiety of ‘Read It Later.'” I’ll post links when it goes to Huffington Post and Context Florida, also.

Oh, and finally, I’ll be leading a workshop called “Revising Your Novel” on April 1, at the Orange County Public Library. More specifics on this very soon.

Ahh, January

Start of the year. Time to clean out the closet to make room for all the new crap you got over the holidays (including the new, larger pants you’re now forced to wear after having torn through the bottom of the last pair).

In the spirit of Spring-cleaning and de-cluttering, check out my latest column, “The Struggle of Digital De-Cluttering”, here at Huffington Post, and here at UCF Today. You can also download the podcast version and listen to me read at WUCF here. There is an ALF reference, and a Boyz II Men reference. So.

And in the spirit of starting the year off right, and positive, and excited, let me share with you some upcoming dates that, should you be interested in hearing me speak or read, you might want to jot down real quick-like.

Friday, February 14: Blank Pages Conference at the University of South Florida

Reading and Book-Signing (time TBA)

Saturday, February 15: Florida Writer’s Conference at UCF

1:00 PM – Panel and Book-Signing with Vanessa Blakeslee and David James Poissant

Wednesday, February 19: Bentley College, Boston MA

12:00 PM – Guest Lecture

Friday, February 28: AWP Conference

10:00 – 1:00: Book Signings at the Beating Windward Press table (Table K12)

1:30 – 2:45: “Building a Space For Comics in the Creative Writing Program” (panel)

3:00 – 4:15: “Writing Comics the AWP Way” (panel)

April 4 – 5: UCF Book Fest

Panels and Book-Signings (times TBA)

 

Oh, and I’ve been remiss about posting various book reviews for American Fraternity Man that have popped up across the inter-tubes. So here are a couple links to articles and reviews, if you’d like to read what others have written, or if you’re still on the fence about whether to invest the paltry sum of $15 into my son’s college savings account.

Orlando Weekly suggests AFM as a great holiday gift idea (I’m a little late in sharing this, but hey, Valentine’s Day is coming up, right?)

Dudette Reads (book blog) reviews AFM, says that: “As a graduating senior at university, a lot of the very pressing issues were raised, so I would definitely recommend this book for university students. At the same time, I think anyone can benefit from reading it for the laughs but also for the heavy inspection of fraternities that shows that no matter how well stereotypes hold up, things aren’t always as shallow as they might seem to be to outsiders.”

TNBBC (The Next Best Book Club) contributor Lavinia Ludlow lists 15 Views of Orlando Volume II: Corridor as her top selection for the year 2013. Hot damn.

There were a few more here and there, so I’ll post links when I remember. Until then, happy January 16th, everyone!

Award Nominations

Really excited that  two of my short stories this past year have been nominated for awards.

The Adventures of an Elderly Couple…” was nominated by Barrelhouse Magazine for the storySouth Million Writers Award.

And “Submission Guidelines” was nominated by decomP for The Best of the Net 2013.

Now that I’ve written this blog post, I’ve doomed myself, of course. Don’t talk to a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, and all that. But whatever. It’s fun to share good news.  Heck, if you’re an Orlando writer and you stumble across this blog…feel free to share your good writing news with me anytime.

An Open Letter to List Articles

So I’ve joined the billions of other writers in the world who have helped to make the “open letter” the most popular thing since, like, internet porn.

Except my “open letter” is not directed at a celebrity, a la Miley Cyrus open letters. Instead, mine is directed at the other online article genre that is currently multiplying Gremlin-like to invade our monitors: the “list article.”

Here’s my “Open Letter to List Articles,” originally published as part of the UCF Forum at UCF Today, and then re-published at Huffington Post and Context Florida.

American Fraternity Man – A Halloween Excerpt

AFM Cover Spread-WEB

In honor of Halloween, a short excerpt from my novel American Fraternity Man (with some never-bef0re-seen “deleted” material that had been left on the cutting room floor, but which I’ve recovered for this extra-special blog posting), in which the narrator (Charles Washington) enters his ex-girlfriend’s sorority house on the evening of Halloween. Ever seen a sorority house on Halloween? It is indeed an experience. Here you go:

 

A girl named Elizabeth Safron answers the door, recognizes me, puts hand to mouth. “Oh my God, Charles.” She’s wearing a bright orange t-shirt with a black screen-printed jack-o-lantern face smiling wide and gap-toothed, the shirt three sizes too large and sweeping down over her black leggings like it’s a skirt. “What are you doing here?”

“Hoping Jenn was home,” I say.

“Well,” Elizabeth says. She closes her eyes, likely searching her mind for an alibi, somewhere Jenn can be instead of right here, but she wasn’t prepared for this.

“Can I come in?” I peek my head through the doorway. There are plastic pumpkins lining the hallway, each stuffed with Lemonheads and snack-sized Snickers, each pumpkin painted with the letters of a different fraternity. Beyond the hallway is the living room, and from this angle it’s all hair spilled across couch cushions, legs on arm rests, flashes of denim and cardigan.

“Um. Sure,” Elizabeth says, but I’m already inside, not even waiting for her to walk me to the living room and the couches and the TV and the girls.

I know this house almost as well as my own, remember when the wallpaper was stripped away and the walls were re-painted lavender, remember when the plantation shutters were installed in the new cafeteria. I remember each couch, the way they feel when you’re the only man on them surrounded by a dozen sorority girls. I remember evenings after date nights, watching Eight-Legged Freaks or Scream 3, and I remember the drunk girls who would walk into the house late-night, coming home from the bar with boys they didn’t know, douche-bags who’d plop onto the couches and make comments like, “This is what a sorority house looks like?” and “What’s it gonna take to get some three-some action, eh?”, the other girls on the couches going nervous until I said, “He tries to get past the stairwell, I’ll tackle him,” and then the relief. Charles to keep us safe. Charles the good boyfriend. Charles the Protector. I remember the boxes of Cap’n Crunch that seemed to appear magically whenever the girls sat down and turned on the TV, conjured from hiding spots behind the couches, Goldfish too, and Oreos, the accompanying “I’m such a fat-ass” remarks while girls stuffed face with Crunch bars. Other comments, too: “Ahh, these panties give me such a freakin’ wedgie!” and “Oh my God, Dana is passed out naked on her bed upstairs! Can someone go wake her up or something?” Days when they forgot a boy was present, days when I was transplanted into the sorority world, followed by nights when Jenn faced the same at the NKE house: dozens of dudes watching Monday Night Football and throwing Doritos at one another and farting and wrestling one another in the grass of the backyard, comments like “I’m soooo gonna fuck that Ashley girl. Oh, shit. Forgot you were sitting there, Jenn.”

The living room—the long sweeping couches, the HDTV mounted to the wall but still surrounded by a massive and unnecessary espresso-colored entertainment center, shelves and cabinet lined with stuffed animals and framed photos. This feels more like home than anywhere I’ve been in the last six months.

When I turn the corner and enter the frame, there are only three girls seated before me, and all three gasp.

“Charles,” Jenn says. She might be the last to see me, to register that it is me, as she was looking down at her cell phone and typing out a text. Her hair is shorter, so light that it’s damn-near platinum, bangs falling over her black headband and slashing down her forehead like icicles. “What…what are you doing here?” she asks.

“In town for the day,” I say. “Not glad to see me?” I force a sheepish shrug, my posture and face suddenly like the Monopoly Man when forced to pay his poor tax.

“Charles, I…”

The other girls are still staring with the same faces they’d have if someone came into the house and told them that Florida had split from the continent and was now drifting on a collision course with Cuba. Ten minutes before, they were thinking of Halloween parties. Spread out on the empty cushions are the bits and pieces of half-costumes, a tall pair of clear heels, a Hooters shirt, a pair of bunny ears. Ten minutes before, they were timing the exact moment they’d need to leave the living room and head upstairs to start getting ready for the night’s parties, cramming their tight bodies into fishnets and long white gloves and three inches of glittery top or bottom. They were thinking, “How will I be able to walk across campus in these stripper heels?” and “Can I even sit down in the short leather skirt of this Sexy Cop outfit?” They were thinking, “Why do guys get to dress up as whatever they want, but I’ve got dress like a slut?” They were also thinking, “Is my costume slutty enough?” And then: Charles Washington appeared.

The Reviews Are In…

I’ll be flying to Chicago tomorrow to say goodbye to a much-loved uncle. I write a great deal about the struggles and difficulties that we face when attempting to be “the right kind of man” in a culture that’s tugging us in a thousand different directions, a thousand different conceptions of manhood, and I should say that my uncle was definitely one of those guys who epitomized everything you’d want in a man, a family member, a father, and he didn’t even make it look tough. Great man, and we’re all going to miss him.

I’d planned to write a couple posts over the last two weeks to spotlight some different Nathan Holic links and interviews, etc., but the virtual world of my blog has to take a back seat to the real world. I figured I’d gather these links into a single blog post, and post them into various pages throughout this site, and boom: you’ll have them all in one place, and I’ll still catch my flight.

So what’s happening? What’s new for me?

“Don’t Critique Me”: I read with Chicago author Lindsay Hunter at Functionally Literate in downtown Orlando this past Saturday. The video should be available soon, and I’ll post it when it’s up (Lindsay was freakin’ awesome). We were old grad school cronies, too, so in anticipation of the event, I wrote an essay for the Burrow Press blog in which I found my old fiction workshop critiques for her stories, and then critiqued my own critiques. Check it out here. If you’re a Lindsay Hunter fan, you should also check out The Drunken Odyssey’s podcast interview with her, which was recorded directly before the Functionally Literate event.

Review in Scene Sarasota: Sarasota’s arts & culture magazine, Scene Sarasota, just ran a great review of 15 Views of Orlando in their September issue. They wondered if there would ever be a “15 Views of Sarasota,” to which I can only tell the online world: if there’s a demand for it, we’ll do it. But you’ve gotta let us know. And you’ve gotta get Stephen King on board.

Interview at Knightnews: I spent about an hour talking with the folks from Knightnews.com, the online news hub for University of Central Florida students. It’s an attractive site, very multimedia heavy, and I got the chance to talk about American Fraternity Man, the culture of the National Fraternity, the hazing and alcohol culture at campuses across the country, and my own thoughts on both student and administrative successes and failures. It’s a video, so watch on the device of your choice.

American Fraternity Man reviewed: the first reviews of AFM are in, and while I’m always nervous/anxious for each one, I’ve been really happy with what folks are saying about my book. Here are some quick quotes and links:

“This book is hard to put down…It is a reminder of the complexities of this system, but most importantly a reminder that, at the core, relationships and influence are the most important and most effective tools we have when developing students. American Fraternity Man is everything you love and hate about fraternity life. It is a great story for anyone who knows what it is like to be miserable, challenged, and still love their job.”- Association of Fraternity/ Sorority Advisors, “Essentials” Newsletter
“American Fraternity Man is many things at once–funny and tragic, pro-Greek and anti-frat, bildungsroman and travel narrative, indictment of whiney millenials and the adults who made them that way. For GDIs (I’ll let you read the book for a translation of that abbreviation), the novel is a window into a world that is often misunderstood, even hated, but whose inhabitants are no less human, whose stories are no less worthy of telling.” – Dianne Turgeon Richardson, Sundog Lit
“I feel that all college students should take the chance to read this book…This book was an eye-opener to me…” – Books With Bite
Okay, so that’s the link round-up for this week!
It’s awesome to get great reviews, but I’ve gotta tell you: it’s just awesome that people are reading the book. So if you’ve been to any of my readings lately, or if you’ve picked up the book, or if you’ve finished plowing through it: thank you so much. I don’t take any of this for granted, and I appreciate any support you’ve given me.

When We Say We’re Bored

I’ve got a new column up at the Huffington Post (it was originally part of UCF Today‘s “Forum” series, and it’s also been re-printed at Context Florida).

Follow this link to get to Huff Po, and give me a like/share/comment if you dig the column. Here’s the opening:

“When We Say We’re Bored, What Are We Really Saying About Ourselves?”

In late August, three teenagers in Oklahoma targeted and killed a random jogger for no other reason than because they were bored. The story is heartbreaking, maddening, and chilling, and it’s made even more so by their explanation: boredom.

 

Were these kids really saying that their own entertainment was the most important thing in the world, more important than other lives?

The more I thought about the story, the more I moved beyond my repulsion at just these three teens and considered the word “boredom” itself, how quickly we all employ it, but how little we deserve to use it.

Read more

Consider the Milkshake

A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a “literary collaboration” at the Orlando Museum of Art’s “First Thursday” event. (These are basically the new thing, by the way. (Maybe they were also the old thing, too?) Museums/ aquariums/ science centers that open up for monthly “culture and cocktails” events…basically turning the museum into the world’s coolest bar for an evening.)

oma(picture from Wikipedia)

As part of our reading at the museum, I had to draft a story that took place at the I-Drive McDonalds here in Orlando, and because it was an “exquisite corpse”-style collaboration with five total authors (Susan Fallows, Jared Silvia, Tod Caviness, and Jonathan Kosik), I had to take the final sentence of the author who came before me, and (without seeing any of the other stories) attempt to write my story based entirely on that final sentence. Tod Caviness gifted me with the sentence, “Honey, I think your son wants a milkshake.”

So I wrote a story called “Consider the Milkshake,” which takes the McDonalds milkshake to some pretty bizarre places. I won’t spoil the story by revealing any of that here. (It was also an obvious homage to David Foster Wallace, who–despite my problems with the novel Infinite Jest–is probably the best damned personal essayist I’ve ever read.)

The story was just published online at Monkeybicycle, which–about a year ago–also published another Orlando story of mine. That story, “Fire in a Used-Car Lot,” also focused on a famous Orlando roadway: Orange Blossom Trail (or OBT, as the kids call it). So…two stories, two Orlando roads, one lit journal that’s awesome enough to publish my weirdo fiction. There you go.