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L.A. Fields
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Stuff I've learned in grad school:

L.A. Fields
My father's email updates sound a lot like Hemingway stories: "Spring is here. Dogwoods are blooming. Just got back from Cumberland Island Ga. A national seashore site. The largest undeveloped barrier island on the east coast. 18 miles long. Warm and buggy. Wild horses, and live oaks."

I do not take even the whitest of social lies well. Being lied to makes me feel like the liar thinks I'm an idiot, and telling lies exhausts me and my (potentially finite) creative resources. Lies like, "This only needs a little bit of work," or, "Sure I got something out of this assignment."

Nothing impresses beginning writers who haven't done drugs like stories about drug addicts.

Haterade Brigade on Parade

Booze Time
I followed some bread crumbs back to a Ph.D. program for writing, half the faculty only have MFAs. Explain to me how a Ph.D. in Creative Writing justifies its existence without using the words "worst job economy since the Great Depression." You can't do it, can you?

I've also found a job opening for any of you "betches" out there, amidst the AWP website's job postings (of all places). I know a lot of girls who would be perfect for that if only they weren't so busy working at the outlet mall for the rest of their lives because they got pregnant in their teens (twice). But at least they can all read at a 7th grade lolspeak level, so they'll just be fans instead. Circle of life.

The sister of someone I know is a self-published "author"--the main character in her book is named MC. The dedication says: "I built this novel. I would like to dedicate its completeness to all you individuals who have been successful on your own, whether or not someone along the line gave you some help." Desperately hope this is satire, know in my heart it is not.

I feel as if there is nothing I couldn't hate today (especially after another spring snow last night) and [UPDATE] my plans for tonight didn't work out. Introspective pacing in the dark it is!

Whimsy and Malice

L.A. Fields
- Two agent rejections within 5 minutes of each other (the synchronization of the rejection process is really beautiful sometimes).

- No cohort hangout this past week because everyone is all busy with grownup stuff.

- I'm trying to sub out my thesis for a different manuscript I think can get passed with less work (sort of a tall order since it's already April, but guess who is a self-important grad student and doesn't take no for an answer?). I've got to be ready to gtfo of grad school if by some strange mercy someone gives me a job for next fall. I'm working on getting a class substitution on one of my required courses so I can work more closely with my professor on the thesis during my final class this summer.

- What I really want is a blind pass on my thesis material. I realize that's not supposed to be the point of school, but guys: four books published with two different presses, stories all over the damn place, can I get like one Special Snowflake Exemption from writing school, at long last? After thirteen years of loyal service in K-12 I got one teacher to give me a pass on an exam I didn't even take (she filled in the scantron for me as a graduation present). If grad school had any respect for what is clearly a lifetime of dedication, it would put a rubber stamp to anything I set in front of it and let me go seek my not-fortune!

- This helps me feel legitimate though: there's going to be a Chicago-area Lambda Lit Awards Finalist Reading! Wednesday, May 14, from 6:30-8:00 at the Sulzer Branch of the Chicago Public Library. There's a chance my mug might make the poster. I'll have books to sell (this is the first time I've been able to do that). This is the sort of thing I can write home about.

- Also I got a royalty check of over $150 today, and my author copies of Countrycide. It has a blurb in it from Keith Banner that I didn't know I was getting (yay, here, look):

L.A. Fields' Countrycide is a startlingly beautiful and unsettling magical mystery tour of some of the alleys and bypasses first claimed by Jean Genet. Her characters are lean and mean, but also somehow startled by their own powers. Fields pushes boundaries effortlessly and artfully, and also locates a sort of crazy whimsy in ferocity and malice. - Keith Banner, O. Henry Prize-winning author of Next to Nothing and The Smallest People Alive

- All things considered, not so bad. Homework for the week is almost done, I'm in spitting distance of finishing up chapter two of the Leopold/Loeb book (the longest goddamn chapter of my life--I want it to exist but I just do not want to sit here and write it), and outside of the fact that I'm convinced I have an enlarged spleen/am dying/will never have a job, stuff's looking okay.

All over the map.

L.A. Fields
I got a weird first review for Countrycide. My writing is praised ("These stories are well-plotted and well-written") but the tone of the review is unfavorable because the guy didn't think the stories were as sexy as the cover ("a volume whose cover blurb promises rough trade but instead delivers lightweight sort-of erotica").

First of all, that's subjective, because I bet my dad would find these stories insanely pornographic if he were ever to read them (and he won't). Second of all: is this to be my lot in life? I write good books and good stories, and everyone agrees they're good, but as they don't match what people thought they were going to read, no one wants to like them? Sigh.

What's funny is that I've put some of these stories through grad school, and there "lightweight sort-of erotica" is apparently considered literary fiction (like, the characters are having sex, but they're unattractive in body and/or mind, so that's how you know it's secretly literature). It's almost as if the context in which one encounters a story shades the perception of it. I don't know why people who sit down to write reviews of books don't fight that influence or at least take it into consideration, but... eh. At least my complaints are strangely positive: too well done to be porn, too well researched to be fun (in the case of My Dear Watson), so I guess I'm just too good for my own good.

However, I do like the phrase "all over the map" especially with this collection: lots of road trips!


L.A. Fields
The Midnight Disease says that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while on a week-long cocaine adventure. I cannot tell you how much I hope that's true (I'm having a hard time nailing down a credible citation), because that would make my mentions and uses of it in My Dear Watson incredibly, intuitively correct (which would make me right about everything).

Some are saying cocaine, some say he was just sick, others say he was sick but being treated with cocaine, no one is speaking from any real documentation. Whatever. I know from experience that when you're truly sick, you don't really enjoy "benders" with your drugs, no matter how much fun they might be to someone in the pink of health (see: my appendicitis posts regarding dilaudid). I myself have a velvety, luxurious cold brewing in my upper neck area right now and guess what? I get no pleasure from even alcohol when I've got a head cold. I still have a nice light-headed, fevered focus for work though. I'm applying to jobs from a highly pressurized distance right now.

When my professors hear that I'm applying for teaching jobs all over the country they say, "Great! You'll definitely get one." I value the confidence but I just do not have any room to believe them. Hubris! Only plan for rainy days, never sunny ones! You have no idea how many people don't like me, but I've got an inkling, dummies!

Some people do like me though. One of the undergrads in my morning class wrote an in-session scene with a character who looked like me and had my name and was referred to as looking like a real-life princess (thank you, thank you, noblesse oblige). Every time I talk to a certain type of guy about science fiction I get his phone number, in real life and online (you boys are so easy). I'm going to be done with classes and my thesis by the end of summer ("defense" and official degree grant happens in the fall semester, but that's just red tape stuff) and some folks think that's impressive. Y'all are suckers.

Workshopping is actually pretty useful when it comes to editing. Get enough college students together to read my stuff, and somebody's been to whatever state I'm talking about, or knows how to correct a foreign phrase, or catches a missing word. Excellent use of crowd-sourcing, would recommend. People also keep finding foreshadowing I didn't realize I was creating, which is always a good sign that I'm whole-assing a manuscript.

The most common description of my writing (from editors, reviewers, and students alike) is that it has a lot of authority. Something about my tone makes it clear that being wrong makes me want to die, so I go pretty far out of my way to know what I'm talking about. Case in point: now I'm stuck reading someone's academic chapter about The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde--research for the thesis I completed four years ago. Because it's that time in the degree-earning process where I start to regress. Happens every time.


Gary from L.I.E.
My normal-ish upcoming week...

Tuesday - Thesis meeting, make sure I can graduate at the end of summer.
Thursday - I'm critiqued in class again, then going to some comedy thing in the neighborhood (with free beer, is why).
Friday - Cohort birthday party thing.
Saturday - Second annual cohort-founded reading series.

... after my spring break of applying for jobs...

- Are you kidding with wanting me to mail a physical application? The job is online, why isn't the hiring committee hip to that?
- Are you kidding with a 40 page graduating thesis for students in your program? You guys know that's not the size of a complete book, right?
- Are you kidding with wanting to see my undergrad transcripts? Can anyone even pretend you're going to look at those? (Joke's on you anyway, we didn't have grades, just pages and pages of narrative evaluations.)

...and time spent hating stuff...

I lose a lot of application time to sitting in judgement of how many writing faculty members working today have NOT published books of their own. Four short story publications in journals run by alums of your program? No wonder you're employed full time teaching writing, with all that wisdom and experience, wow.

Oh, and first books where the main character is in a writing class, or working as a writing teacher, in the city where you went to school/teach? Let's never hang out; I might try to spit on you, and I think that's technically a form of assault.

And authors who publish under two or more pen names, I dislike that too, especially when it's done along gender lines (one lady-sounding name for ladygirl books, one dude-sounding name for everything else). I chose to publish as L.A. Fields because those are my real initials and real last name and they sound too cool together to waste, but everything I do happens under the same name--authors contain multitudes, I think everybody can deal with that, so just pick a name and let it all hang out. Unless you're famous and trying to lose expectations, or hiding smut from conservative relatives, why? Save the fictions for the inside of the book. Otherwise it smacks of 'establishing a brand,' which is gross as hell when we're talking about art.

...which hopefully makes me seem colorful in a still-employable sort of way.

Marketability and the Muse

L.A. Fields
Keith Banner's got an interview up that mentions ME (so it's clearly AWESOME) and talks about his new collection, his inspirations, his motivations in making art, etc. Here's the part with me:

It has been ten years since The Smallest People Alive was published. Did it take you a long time to assemble the new collection, or did you have trouble finding a publisher? You seem to place a lot of your stories in literary magazines, journals, and newer sites online. But do you meet resistance even in those realms?

I have to be honest. It’s been hard as hell to find a publisher for this new book. The agent I work with tried every place possible, and mostly they said it isn’t marketable. Which is probably true. But you know what? You just keep trying. And I wrote a blog post about my frustration, and LA Fields, a great writer who likes my stuff, read it and said she could put me in contact with Steve Berman of Lethe Press, and he graciously said Lethe would publish it. So here we are. The main thing is to keep writing. You can’t let marketability become your muse. Jesus, what an awful thought. I write because I have to. I don’t really publish because I have to. I try to publish stories because I want to share what I write. If you get those two impulses tangled up, you’ll be hurting yourself in the long run. [...]

One of my professors this semester said that when he starts a book, he looks at the NYT bestsellers list and tries to write like what he sees there, and it was the most disheartening thing I'd heard throughout all of grad school so far. I've read one and a quarter of his books and they are painfully, intentionally bland pablum. I mean I guess the world takes all kinds, and without people writing to please intellectually toothless book clubs you wouldn't appreciate all the authors who write for themselves from their own thoughtfully developed point of view, but like... ew.

I'd rather get a real job than write to please anyone but myself, it's one of the most Artistic opinions I hold. I'm extremely gratified when someone I've never met likes my writing--it lets me know that I'm not alone, that I've communicated something with some truth in it--but it is never, ever what motivates me to first sit down and write. What does motivate me is when I want to read a specific sort of story and can't find what I'm looking for in someone else's book. That was very much my mission in writing My Dear Watson, and it's my mission now with my Leopold/Loeb book; everybody else is being so goddamn basic, I've just got to put my own version out there. Sure, the vanity in that is off the charts, but it's what I've always responded to as a reader, so it's what I aspire to as a writer.

Presents for Me

Next To Nothing by Keith Banner--I bought one, so did this prick, you should too. I'm so gay for Keith Banner's writing, his clean and loving portrayal of real, crappy, wonderful life. One of his short stories made it into the library near my house when I was sixteen and made the whole place worth building. His writing is 1/3 of the reason I'm a writer today (right up there with Poppy Z. Brite books and Harry Potter fanfiction). Part of me hopes I never meet him because I think he's so cool and I don't want to know for real that he is just some guy from Ohio that I'm allowed to talk to. A greater part of me wants to meet him so he can sign all his books that I own with XOs and hearts and inside jokes because we're besties now that I introduced him to my publisher. That's something I shouldn't have had to do since he had an agent, but he got dropped because he was clearly casting pearls before swine, but this isn't about how many people don't deserve Keith Banner's work--it's about how I wanted it, how I got it, and how you can get it too.

I also got The Midnight Disease because we read some of it in one of my classes, and I liked it, so I'm going to invest in it.

I also started reading another faculty book (assigned by a different member of the faculty). I'll do a big post about faculty books I've read as soon as they can't take back my degree.

It's cool that this exists for My Dear Watson and you are probably jealous of me (just admit it):

If someone out there really wants to give the audiobook another bitchy low-star rating, make sure you put the low stars on me and not on the voiceover performance by Melissa Hearne, which is lovely.

Spring Break (wooooo)

Booze Time
I had a dream last night where I almost got everyone I love killed because I was laying on a rock in a cold ocean reciting a poem and refused to move until I was done.

Why do so many teaching jobs conflate fiction and poetry? Study, write, publish fiction for years, now teach poetry. Cool! I mean, every time I've taken a fiction class run by a poet who needed a job and didn't care what flim flam they had to sling to get one, it was a depressing waste of time that made me stop taking creative writing classes all together for a while, but... I'm sure when fiction writers teach poetry everything just falls into place.

I managed to find a university English teaching job in South Korea that requires your Christian faith just like a bunch of schools here at home. That was a goddamn bummer right there.

The internet found an old high school English teacher of mine and reintroduced us--apparently he always knew I was special and is impressed by all the novels and stuff. I always knew I was special too, I'm glad my shameless quest to prove it to everyone else is working so well.