Friday, February 28, 2014

Don't call it a comeback.

Months of radio silence. Though, it hasn't been because I am opposed to updating this blog. No, I've been busy finishing the novel. I haven't been doing much else besides the continual polishing and shaping of what is now known as, FLAT BLACK. But now that the manuscript is finished, I'll be back on here.

For the foreseeable future, I will be posting about my experiences with finding an agent, including query letters, novel excerpts, etc. The whole nine. I want a record of this process, because I'd like to look back at all this, no matter the outcome, with fondness. And maybe the occasional grimace.

Here's my new goal: I hope to receive 100 rejection letters from literary agents by April 1st. I just got my first—a short, kind "no, thank you"—which I aim to print, frame, and hang next to my desk. I'm looking forward to the coming months, and hope that anyone reading will enjoy following along with me as I navigate the treacherous terrain of the publishing world.

Also, watch True Detective. That's all.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Red Flags of Elodie Lane.



Since my folks moved to the Florida panhandle four years ago, my mother walks to the end of the driveway every weekday morning at eleven to get the mail. After their respective retirements, the hustle and structure of their previous lives has been replaced with the shifting white sand of the gulf coast. Besides bible studies and doctors' appointments, the only constant, really, has been the mail. In their little town, you could set your watch by it.
Gulf Breeze is a small suburb of Pensacola with a population of just over five thousand. People know most of their neighbors. They know the high school kid bagging their groceries. They wave to the sheriff as he cruises the boardwalk. They know their postal driver's name. On Elodie Lane, the woman who always came bumping around the corner every morning, the back of her white, boxy truck filled with bundles of magazines and credit car pre-approval packets and pizza coupons, was Carol. In their neighborhood, the one thing that changed the most, my mother said, was the style of Carol’s hair.
Three weeks ago, my mother pulled into the driveway a little before noon and walked down to the grab the mail. The box was empty. She saw that the other mailboxes on the street still had their red flags waving. Carol must have been running late. She began running through scenarios as she went back up the drive: engine trouble with her mail truck or a late delivery at the distribution center in Pensacola. Or worse, trouble at home. A fight with a boyfriend or husband. My mother knew Carol enough for the pleasantries if they happened to be at the mailbox simultaneously, but it was my father who talked with her more often. He was always outside waxing the car or mowing the lawn and he would undoubtedly hold up her route as they conversed. Maybe he’d have some insight about her delay. She planned to ask him when he returned home. 
As she closed the garage, the sound of a siren crawled under the door and echoed off the posters of cars and vintage aircraft my father had mounted all over the walls. A fire station is within earshot of their house, so sirens weren’t unusual, but for a moment she had a feeling this particular call had some knowledge of her husband. He was, after all, getting older and this was something she had to consider. But it couldn’t have been for him. He was at the VA hospital anyway, he’d taken the scooter up to see the doctor about his gall bladder. So, if there was a problem, he'd be in good hands. There was no reason to think the worst. She let go of the feeling while she changed into a swimsuit. When he got back from his appointment, they were going to the beach to look for seashells. But my father, like the mail, was late that day.
And then the phone rang. A young male voice asked if her husband was Bruce, and when she confirmed this, he informed my mother that my father been admitted to the emergency room with serious injuries. The clerk had no further knowledge other than my father was alive, the stability of his condition was unknown. She was backing down the driveway again in a matter of seconds.
As she turned onto Midway, the main street out of the housing development, she saw yellow tape crisscrossing the next intersection. A line of waiting cars and a firetruck blocked the view of whatever lay beyond the tape. My mother pulled over, tires against the curb, and got out. She left the motor running. 
When she ducked beneath the yellow tape and came around the side of the firetruck, she saw three things at once. Like a simple formula. (A) = Late model Suzuki Scooter, or what was left of it. My folks used this hog for solo trips to the beach or to buy milk at the Publix a mile away. (B) = Ford box truck swathed with flaking red, white and blue, pulled at an angle on the sidewalk. The sliding side door stood agape. A plastic bin was overturned, its contents strewn out onto the asphalt. A few envelopes lay in the grass nearby. (C) = A man in Post Office blues sitting on the curb, arms wrapped tightly around his legs, face burrowed between his knees. His body hitched with sobs. 
(A) + (B) + (C) = the red flags of Elodie Lane.
“Did you hit my husband?” my mother asked. 
Her voice must have broke him free of the spiraling train of thought, because he jerked his head back like someone had a handful of his hair, and he squinted against the sun for a moment, straining to make out her face, before he could respond. And when he did, he made no excuses or justifications. He didn’t blame the blind spot of the sun or the brakes of the Ford. He said simply, “Yes, ma’am. I did.”
My mother took this is, and absorbing it she looked around at the scene again. From (A) to (B), then back to (C). The sheriff’s deputies had left their notepads and conversation on the hood of the cruiser and had turned in her direction. They made no attempt to block her from the area, to push her back beyond the yellow tape. It was as if they knew.
There were a hundred questions in her head, begging her to scream at the folded man, but she quelled them and asked, “Did you kill him?”
“No, ma’am. I don’t believe I did,” the man said and dropped face face between his knees again.
She turned from him and got back into the car, the same Kia my father had spent the morning cleaning while she was at bible study, and drove to the hospital. 

When I was five, my father was in his first motorcycle accident. He was barreling down the highway with Los Angeles in the rearview. He was heading home. Something caught his eye from the side of the road, a reflected light or maybe a broken down car on the shoulder and he turned his head to look for a only a second. When he refocused on the fast lane ahead of him, a car was at a complete stop in front of him. He didn’t even have time to grip the brake or let go of the throttle. Investigators judged that he hit the back of the stalled car at roughly 80mph and was airborne for roughly eight car lengths. He broke his arms and his legs, his ribcage and collapsed both lungs. He spent months in a full body cast and I spent that time next to his bed, drawing on his cast with magic markers.
Twenty-one years before I was born, my father spent a year in Southeast Vietnam. He was a door gunner on a Huey, with the burn mark on his neck as a reminder. During that year, he was assigned to three different birds. The first two were shot down. In each, my father was the only survivor. 
Today, my father is back home on Elodie Lane. His foot is broken in three places and his pelvis in three. He has bruised kidneys and a significant stitches on his scalp. His left shoulder remains separated, hanging on by tendons and ligaments. Fading road rash covers most of his body like a tattoo. In his words, “As the test results clearly show, the unprotected human body is no match for the Ford built U.S. mail delivery vehicle.”
But he has, once again, survived. My folks attribute this to God’s love and protection. His continual survival truly is a miracle. Someone or something is looking after my father, and if it really is the hand of the divine holding on with a tight grip, then right now, I’m thanking God for protecting him.
I still have no idea if there is a creator, and I’m not sure I ever will. I went to bible study while growing up and I thought of myself as a Christian, but it didn’t stick. I came back to the church when I hit bottom on my own and tried again. I still can’t say I believe in God above, but after my mother found the empty mailbox, I was absolutely certain about the one thing: the faith I have in my father. In his courage and in his strength. His love.
He is a man that, no matter what happens, I will never stop believing in.





Friday, July 26, 2013

Repost: Retweeting Hawthorne (Blog Post from Spilt Infinitive)

Repost from Spilt Infinitive.



Retweeting Hawthorne

HashtagThree years. Four drafts. Enough revision that I could feasibly switch the suffix of the word from re- to de-. I’ve lived and breathed the same story before and after work, during the course of an MFA program, and through the tumult and pleasure of getting married. Yet, I still can’t see the finish line. But something’s been running through the back of my mind, a notion that’s been powering me through nearly as much as the desire to write itself: with enough of myself poured out onto the keyboard, my novel will undoubtedly be on the shelves within my parents’ lifetime. And glean me all the adoration I’ve ever dreamt of.
It just has to, right?
Wrong. Unless you’re one of the select few who’ve found the path to publishing as easy as emptying your trash folder (and I’ll refrain from namedropping because, let’s face it, our jealously of their barometric rise knows exactly zero bounds), then completing your book is only half the battle. Getting published isn’t about hard work anymore or the near fictionalized, serendipitous moment when your heavy childhood memoir or zombie love story lands on the desk of some hapless intern reader at Penguin who just happened to get laid the night before and felt generous enough to send it upstairs. No, these days, the world of success and publication starts with your name. More specifically, it’s about your online brand.
A fellow writer opined that the propulsion of your literary career is based on the italics, what your name carries around like the frilly streamers on a girl’s bike. Ex:
 JACKSON Q. McPUBLISHME
“Sweet, Brainy Short Story,” Published in Prairie Schooner, Nov. 2011
“Equally Enthralling Literary Think Piece,” Published in Tin House, Jan, 2012
“Clinically Detached Personal Essay,” Published in Crazy Horse, May. 2013
Agents and readers take note. This writer has got some impressive notches under his belt, based mostly on the quality of his writing. With these credits, he may deserve a second look. Now, tack these on:
 Regular Contributor / Blogger at Gawker, TheMillions, ESPN
2,147 Twitter Followers
1,793 Blog Subscribers
This burgeoning new novelist has gone from a noteworthy literary voice to a sellable literary voice. The followers of this author’s many cyber handles already supply a potentially multi-thousand strong fan base that could not only buy the debut novel, but promote, tweet and tumble every word of the prose. And let’s not forget the benefit of a reliable Instagram account where a well placed semi-colon could be photographed, slapped with an artsy filter then shared, liked and hash tagged until well after the first pressing sells out.
The emergence of this pseudo-cyber self-promotion is of course recent, a healthy twenty years after this new pixelated reality, but the reliance on such viral hype has become paramount. A strong, collated SEO (Search Engine Optimization, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Google) carries more weight than a state driver’s license. The successful writers are doing it. The less successful writers are doing it. Gone are the days of writing on parchment next to candlelight and having that be enough (but while we are on the subject, imagine if Hawthorne had a Twitter: @NattyIceHawthorne “Check out this sweet sentence I’m working on: ‘No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude…’ #thescarletletter  #page20). Readers aren’t satisfied only with what you create; they want a glimpse of who you are. But what does this mean for all of us introverted misanthropic literary types who refuse to let even our significant others read the paragraph we labored over for a week? It means that as the times change, so must we. There’s only one Cormac McCarthy allowed per generation to deactivate his Facebook account and stay off the grid.
When Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero hit the shelves in 1985, it spoke to a generation: the zombiefied consumer culture of the cellphone-less 1980s. But that book hasn’t been forgotten today, and not because it’s been hailed as a classic of American Literature and taught in high school classrooms across the country, but because Ellis has kept himself in the shiny glow of every young American’s laptop screen. Sure, not every tweet has to do with his writing (though he does keep fans updated on the status of his current project), and he’s continually in the headlines for his brash, offensive statements (one tweet of his compared watching the show “Glee” to stepping in a puddle of HIV) but his online persona, his SEO, is unparalleled.
Ellis’ image is as controversial as those he creates in his fictions. More importantly, he is talked about. Any insider would be hard-pressed to deny that the clamoring of the many activist groups outraged over the content of Ellis’ work hasn’t contributed to his sales. Today, American Psycho has gotten dangerously close to sixty pressings. Sure, the grotesque thematic content has something to do with that, but I would contend that the nearly half-million Twitter followers Ellis currently has plays a large part in his continued relevance. His last book, 2010’s Imperial Bedrooms, a sequel to his debut, wasn’t met with the same success as its predecessor, nor the few books he has published since the MTV decade, but he’ll still have a bevy of buyers for his next tale. Why? Because he’s still got the world talking, and the more people talk (retweet), the longer his name is remembered. In turn, Ellis’ work stays in print. And the line grows for his next release.
I’m not advocating we go out and put hashtags around a hundred and forty character slur in an attempt to get the internet repeating our names like a mantra, but I am suggesting that if any of us, however deeply introverted we claim to be, want to draw attention to the writing we’ve spent years obsessing over, then we have to start working this online angle, and doing so much louder than the blog, Tumblr or Twitter that’s waiting just one track pad click away.
An instructor of mine, Frank Gaspar, once offered this advice: “Touch it everyday,” the “it” referring to the project you are currently consumed by. Be it a new chapter, some 500 words, or merely moving a comma around the landscape of the page, the idea is to keep your brain and fingers engaged in the work, a sort of holistic immersion. This advice got me though a few rough patches (and by patches, I mean nuclear fallouts) where all I could do was move a comma. But I contend Frank’s sound advice should be expanded to include all the rivers and valleys of your online persona. When those nagging questions that fill the disquiet before falling asleep arise—Did I write today? Did I move that comma? Did I cut that hack sentence I’ve grown so attached to?—consider adding a few more: Did I tweet today? Did I post a blog? Did I share the links on my Facebook? Am I getting my name out there?
Now that I’ve gone on about the importance of the internet, I have a confession: As of today, I have a mere 35 Twitter followers and this right here is the first blog post I’ve written outside of the ramblings I sporadically post on my personal blog. So, whatever advice might be gleaned from this post should be followed first by its author.

Website: drewattana.com

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Scrapped Novel Title: "Does This Rag Smell Like Chloroform?"

Yesterday morning, bleary eyed from the night before, I took a long walk. I do most of my best thinking walking around the neighborhood, headphones in, cigarette lit. I sometimes come up with character names from cross-streets and childhood histories from the weathered plastic jungle gyms in the backyard. Conversations heard from patios and bus stops often give me fuel for possible plot devices and dialogue. Graffiti provides relevance to this world. And for some reason, I never think to bring a journal, so I'm always feverishly typing these notes into the notepad of my iPhone. But the thing is, yesterday's notes were filled with horrible, horrible ideas.

Here are a few of those ideas:

1. After snapping a photo of a soiled, beaten teddy bear lying on the porch of an even more soiled and beaten home in deep SE Portland, a notion came to mind. I should write a young adult novel about a, wait for it, TEDDY BEAR who makes his living as a hit-man. But hold on, he's got back story—Charlie (yeah, that was the name I also came up with) is a recovering addict who botched his last hit without his snow, and is both on the run from his employers and his own demons. Bestseller?

2. I also came up with a title for another novel, not the content, characters nor the plot, just the title. And for some time, I was sure that title was the best thing I'd ever come up with. This was, until my wife just shook her head at me and repeated the title slowly back to me. "Does This Rag Smell Like Chloroform?"

3. For a good ten minutes, I convinced myself I should write romance novels. Enough said.

What did I glean from these amazing ideas? I should be spending more time in front of my keyboard, banging away at my current projects. So here's to following through (::raises coffee mug to laptop screen::), and getting the work done.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Road Ahead.

This whole "readjusting to normal life following a ten day residency which represented the culmination of a two year MFA program" thing is tougher than I thought. More than simply drying out from the copious celebratory drinks, it's all on me now. I'm without a faculty member approved reading list, free from weekly reading commentaries and annotations. I've got zero deadlines. I have no one to answer to except myself.

I am an eternal student who has suddenly found himself without mandatory homework. Bitchin', right? No way.

This writing thing is all me now. Getting pages written and revised, books read and studied, and meeting deadlines is solely my responsibility. That whole structured support system (sans those wonderful friends and colleagues I have been blessed with--they're coming with me) is in my rear view. And of course: I'm terrified.

But I'm willing to do the work. I'm in this for the long haul.





Tuesday, January 15, 2013

More Than Zero: MFA Critical Introduction


This week I finished up the last few days of my Low Res. MFA program at Pacific University. One of the requirements for graduating was to read from my thesis, "Written on the Walls," as well as deliver a critical introduction to a large group of my friends, peers and faculty. It was wonderful, humbling conclusion to a long, beneficial road. Below you will find the transcript of that introduction. Thank you for reading! And thank you everyone in my life who have supported me through this journey. I couldn't have done it without you.


More Than Zero

When he was eighteen, my father was in the skies above Vietnam, a door gunner on a Bell 205 Huey. Before his nineteenth birthday he’d been shot down three times, and twice had been the only survivor. Beyond these few facts, I know little about his time in the war.  It’s not a story he has shared with me. Though I do know that no matter what he saw there, what horror he’s carried with him, he never  turned from the military, his chosen pursuit. After his tour, he left the Army and joined the Air Force. For the next twenty-five years, he logged over ten thousand hours in the cockpit of various aircraft and embarked on missions so far removed from the world than I—that most of us—can imagine. He spent Christmases in the theater of Desert Storm and Thanksgivings in Panama. After he retired, he worked with Boeing as a flight instructor contracted by the Air Force. My father, like his before him, his grandfather and great-grandfather, is a military man. The same goes for the men on my mother’s side. They’ve all served.  These men knew, really knew, what they wanted to do with their lives. Today, as I near the completion of earning my MFA in writing—my own sort of mission—I am struck not only by those who have the nerve to answer the call to action, but by the very act of hearing it in the first place. 

The only times I’ve fired a weapon the target was a soda can in the deep woods of Oregon or the flat plains of the California desert. But when my first semester at community college wasn’t working out as I’d hoped, I met with a military recruiter. We talked enough that the details were hammered out. I knew where I’d be going to basic and when the plane was leaving. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line. I never showed up. If I had, I wouldn’t have been doing it for myself. I would have because I thought that’s what my father wanted: A son who followed his path, who put down the pot, the video game controllers, and served his country.

The thing was, I had no idea what to do with myself. I was eighteen, stocking appliances at Lowe’s during the week and getting arrested in Tijuana on the weekends. In the eleven years since, I still haven’t finished much. I’ve worked upwards of twenty jobs. From sitting in a cubicle designing multi-million dollars homes for aging rock stars to selling tacky polo shirts at a golf store in a strip mall. For a time I even assembled the timing boxes for sprinkler systems. I’ve started classes at community colleges all up and down the West Coast. In Sacramento, I fancied myself an aspiring Philosophy major until I discovered how much Philosophy I’d have to actually read. In San Diego, I spent two weeks in classes to get my “GPS Technology” certificate. I still don’t know what that is. Nothing stuck.  Restlessness kept me always on the move.

The only thing I’ve ever felt real passion for, the one title I wanted to follow my name in newspapers, was Writer. But two obstacles have stood in the way of that dream. The first was that, without fail, I’ve been told it’s not a real job, seeing as there is no money, and therefore no future in writing. Pursue this life, and I was bound to end up being a bartender or worse. The other issue was that I was approaching the writing life from the wrong direction. I wanted to be a writer, just be one. I never considered that I actually needed to learn how to write.

During the days of smoking pot out of aluminum cans and trying unsuccessfully to learn the guitar, I came across a paperback in a thrift store. The cover was polychromatic, a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses lay in the center with the grainy patterns of MTV logos on the lens and beneath was the title: Less Than Zero. I didn't know the author at the time, Bret Easton Ellis, but I sure as shit knew who Elvis Costello was and anyone who would name their novel after one of his songs was fucking right on in my book. It was the first thing I read cover to cover without stopping. I was enveloped in the world he created, as well as the life he was leading. I wanted to be a writer like him. I wanted the sequel to Less than Zero to have my name on the cover and to live his Hollywood life style. Releasing titillating best sellers, snorting drugs. Sleeping around simply because my words made knees weak. 

My head was in the wrong place. But the basic tenet was there, so during my first stint at community college I signed up for a Intro to Writing course. There was nothing glamorous about Creative Writing 101. There were "prompts" and "dangling participles" and that little concept my high school teachers had kept droning on about when I had bothered to show up to class: grammar. I didn't even make it through my first semester. Instead, I went in search of the life in Ellis's book.

I found the bad crowd. The drugs, the streets. I found the death in his version of Los Angeles. And to spare you, I’ll say that I found more than Ellis let on and it came very close to destroying me. Something had to change. Restless still and this time more than a little scared, I took flight. Eight years after that first attempt, I took another Intro to Writing class, this time in Portland, Oregon. And all those pesky writing concepts, the grammar, the punctuation, the dialogue tags, they had followed me a thousand miles north.  Flash forward again to my semester with Mike Magnuson and will have I discovered the I still hadn't learned shit about them. But more on my time with Mag later.

The syllabus in this course hadn't changed, free writing on Mondays and workshop on Wednesdays. And the prompts, the "write about your earliest memory" and the obligatory “craft a two page story with the following ten words placed in the prose," were the same. The difference was in my instructor, Susan Reese, a graduate of this very MFA program. She saw, and helped me to see, that maybe, just maybe, I wanted more than the image of being a writer. Maybe I wanted to write. 

Susan became my mentor even when I wasn’t in her classes. I changed my major from botany or pottery or whatever the fuck I was fooling myself into thinking I'd be happy doing with my life to English, with a minor in creative writing. I became passionate about creating worlds, fabricating characters, recording my imagination. And a funny thing happened. I actually started showing up to class. I joined clubs and writing groups. I became the president of the English honors society. I’ve never been president of anything, nor had I wanted to before that point. My GPA inched its way up from negligible, from being less than zero. Like my father, I had discovered what I wanted to be.

So, this time two years ago I hopped on a bus with a suitcase, a few short stories that had garnered some recognition and an inflated ego that was just begging to be stomped into dust. I figured, I did so well in my undergrad, this program would just confirm that I was the shit and send me out into the glittering world of upscale literary hit-makers with a meal ticket made out to cash. 

Holy fuck was I deluded. 

My first semester with Claire Davis I refer to as my semester of missed opportunities. This isn’t to say the semester was a wash. No. Quite the opposite. I couldn’t now imagine having  started  this program with anyone else. During our first meeting, I ran the idea for a novel I had by Claire and she encouraged me to go with it. I didn’t waste any time. By the the first packet I had fifty pages written, and by the second I was pushing close to one hundred fifty. And that, I soon learned was not a superpower, but a big problem. I was going too damn fast. I wasn’t taking the time to explore the worlds I was creating. Everything was stock, cardboard set pieces. My characters would walk down a “dark alley.” That’s it: an alley, and it was dark. With her urging, I began to see these superficial descriptions as missed opportunities. I missed the slickness of the rainwater on the bricks, the pungent scent of mildew, the audible squish of vomit beneath the narrator’s sneaker. 

I was missing the ability to explore the world of the my story on a basic level, which in turn would have made the place a character in and of itself. This isn’t anywhere, U.S.A. This is Portland, Oregon. This is Los Angeles. And this is the filthy underbelly you never get to see, but your characters do and become, to the reader, so much more rounded as a result. But this only comes from revision, from reworking and pulling out the innards of a specific passage seven, eight, twenty times and there in that pile of worked over intestines lies the beauty. Claire said it better than I can: “That’s the best part of this whole business.  Not the publishing (though, yeah that’s pretty cool as well) but the discovery of how much you are capable of discovery. And each work pushes you to be smarter, to be more observant, to think more deeply on what it means to be human, and forces you to face how complicated that task is—being human.” What Claire gave me and will be forever in the back on my mind was the drive to explore, to dig in and engage my reader, by engaging myself.

I spent my second semester with Mike Magnuson. A name we are all familiar with. You’ve heard the stories about Mag. And if you’re new and haven’t, just wait, you will. And if you’re crazy, nay, brave enough to work with him: You’ll find out first hand. I’m here telling you today that every single thing you have or ever will hear about Mike Magnuson is absolutely true. He’s harsh, he doesn’t pull punches. He loathes the abuse of language. He’ll bring you to the verge of tears again and again. He will, I say without a doubt, make you dread opening emails from him after the second packet. Mike Magnuson will make your wife seriously consider booking a flight to Wisconsin just so she can fight him.

But why? Why is he so harsh? It isn’t because he is a mean person. He’s a saint, really. It isn’t because he wants to force aspiring writers to tears. He doesn’t have a thing for getting into fisticuffs with 110 pound significant others. No, it’s because every damn word he writes is dead on. During our time together, I had to face numerous problems with my work on a nuts and bolts level, with my grammar in every single packet. I saw the words “clunky” and “comma” in my sleep. He wrote once that the particular words I had chosen were, “Good enough, but perhaps not the most original use of English in the history of English.” He hammered me so hard about these issues that even today when I put down a sentence, I think “What would Mag do?. But really what Mag taught me was the importance of life in my writing. About caring for, and loving my characters.

This is what he wrote after I decided it was a swell idea to submit to him a brand new story about vampires, and keep in mind, I’ve paraphrased: “I think this story is bullshit vampire garbage devoid of human emotion and humanity. The problem you have with your writing is difficulty with characterization, with creating round characters with complex backgrounds and complex emotional contours - In other words, you are in general having trouble writing human beings. So the WORST thing you can do is write stuff like this - where human life means nothing and where the only intellectual foundation for it is some crap you've read in comic books or seen on TV.  Next time: real world, real people, and by God be an artist who values human life.”

Remember, my template for what good writing was when I came into this program was Less Than Zero, a book where true compassion for human life is equivalent to the novel’s title. If it wasn’t for the full on assault of Mag’s approach, the constant wax-on, wax-off of who I have dubbed, Mr. Mag-ogi, I might still be crafting throw-away characters. I might still be embracing death, rather than life. 

Over the last two terms, I had the pleasure of working with John McNally. After a few short stories, John encouraged me to get back to the novel. Our exchanges became primarily about the scope, direction and thrust of my novel. Most of the ideas, the concepts of that original draft I worked on with Claire and Mag found their way into the trash, but the bones remained. John helped me to discover where the prose was falling short, where my voice lacked strength and believability, where the plot and characters came apart. Even through the novel isn’t fully finished, the first ten chapters are, without a doubt, eighty plus pages of material I could not have more pride in. John encouraged me to keep digging until the pages were the absolute best they could be. And deeper than the page level, John insisted on another type of believability, the sort where I believe in myself. Not the ego I came into this program with, but with the same humble and passionate conviction that everyone in this room has. We are writers, and will continue to hone and practice our craft not for the fame or the money but because it, like my mother has always said, makes our hearts sing.

And here is my shout out to the entire faculty, those I’ve workshopped with or those with whom I’ve shared a meal. They could be spending the time, the effort and care they do on our shitty first drafts on a revision of their own work. They care. They want you to succeed, to find your voice, as they continue to shape theirs. That's the beauty of this program: nothing that is shared, exchanged or recommended has, at least in my experience, been said in a fashion that is intended to make you feel inferior. Everything is said to push you harder and further than you'd thought possible. To make you believe in yourself, in your work. We are all in the same boat. And the reason Pacific is such a beautiful beast, is that everyone, the students and faculty have all grabbed an oar and are sweating against the current of an unforgiving industry. And one more special thank you to the angels—Tenley, Colleen and Shelly—without whom none of this would be possible.

With that, here are ten of the quotes that have stuck with me and will stick with me for some time:

10. “We say first lines all the time.” Bonnie Jo Campbell, on beginnings.

9. “The first three pages to cut were easy. The next three pages were like pulling teeth. The last page to be cut seemed impossible, but I'd finally whittle it down...And here's the kicker: those are the tightest chapters in the book, the best written.” - John McNally, on revision.

8. “Ask more of yourself than this.” - Mike Magnuson, on vampires.

7. “And of course you know I’m not really yelling. But I am deadly serious, pal.” John McNally, on having to tell me more than once about dialogue tag errors.

6. “Because it’s written, doesn’t mean it will stay written.” - Claire Davis, on revision.

5. “Grr.” - Mike Magnuson, in response to me spelling “creepy” as “creppy.”

4. “I used to have an apple orchard, and I liken [writing] to pruning.  Take off the crap limbs, open its crown to the light, and the tree bears three-fold. Same with prose.” - Claire Davis, on revision.

3. “I don’t think, based on these first two packets, that you have sufficient skill with narrative to embark on a novel.” - Mike Magnuson, on the disastrous opening chapters of my novel. 

2. “Put ‘em in a bad place.” - Pete Fromm, on the Swirling Vortex and the concept of making your characters believable. 

1. “Touch it everyday.” - Frank Gaspar, on what it means to be a writer (though this can be good advice in other ways as well).

*

When he was twenty-nine, my father flew with three other C-141s to assist the evacuation of the 918 bodies from the Jonestown settlement. He had advanced far enough in his career, in his passion to be trusted with a mission so sensitive, and I am proud to know that about him.
 
I turned twenty-nine this year and turns out, I did become a bartender. But when I’m not working on new cocktails, I’m working on new stories, on new chapters for my novel. I’m writing not for the money, but because I want to write. I recently was wed to a beautiful woman who supports me, who rests easy at night knowing I’m both a writer and a bartender. She supports my passion. And I’m going to finish something, finally. I might not have the designation of Writer following my name in the papers, but I will have the MFA tag from one of the best programs in the country and to me, that means so much more. It shows that I’ve begun the work. It means that I have the true desire to continue learning about this craft.

I've finished Less Than Zero a dozen or more times since that first read. It's hasn't changed. What's changed is me. I don't want to be Ellis or Richard Yates or Flannery O'Connor. I don't want their lifestyle or to write exactly like them. I want to be Drew. I want to write like Drew, and most of all I want more for my characters than that book taught me. I want to celebrate them, their lives. However vile they might be.

I still have guilt or maybe just the capacity to imagine what could have been. Some days I do regret missing that appointment with a recruiter where I would’ve signed my life off to the Air Force. How different would I be today? Would I still be writing? Would it have been fiction? Or Journaling my own experiences? Or, would I have buried my passion? 

It isn't that I don’t have the upmost respect for these men. For my father, my grandfathers. I did. I still do. I thank whatever might be up above me in the cosmos everyday for theirs and for the countless others who have served. Who have lost limbs or their lives for my freedom. I just couldn’t imagine myself picking up a gun. But what I can do is pick up a pen. Or open my laptop. And write down his story, if he ever decided he wanted to share it with me.