jason erik lundberg
writerly ramblings

writerly wrap-up
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"Most Excellent" came back from Alchemy a couple days ago with a form rejection. Maybe it's that I have very high hopes for this story, or that I've had some moderate publishing success now, but I was kinda pissed about this. I mean, shit, I think it's the best thing I've written so far, and it got a fucking form letter? Though I imagine the editor's very busy, but he couldn't have written one nice thing about it? Maybe the style wasn't his cuppa tea, though it's close to the style Amber van Dyk used in the last issue. I guess I can't take it personally, but damn.

This came about two hours before I was to read the story (or at least an excerpt from it) out loud to an audience of my peers, faculty, and whoever else happened to wander into the Helios Coffee Company at that time. I was first to read on Thursday night out of thirteen people, so I was a little nervous anyway, having to start the show off with a bang, as it were. But as Janet reminded me, my work wouldn't be measured up against anyone else that night because I wasn't following anyone, and in fact, everyone else's readings would be measured up against me. That enlarged my head enough that my hands weren't really shaking anymore, so when my name was announced, I stood up, approached the microphone, took a deep breath, and started.

If I may say so, the reading was most excellent (huhr-huhr), and I got compliments from several people the following day, including three faculty members, one of which used to be the head of the department. So I know this story's got some punch to it, and maybe Alchemy just wasn't the right market for it. On Monday, I'll send it out to someone else.


This past week was my last week of classes for the semester. More importantly, since I'm only taking thesis hours in the Spring, it was the last week ever for my Master's career. *sniff* It was an amazingly good semester for me, with perhaps my favorite two graduate-level classes (Wilton Barnhardt's fiction workshop, and Barbara Baines' Shakespeare class) since I started my MA. This was a tribute to the professors, but also to the students in both classes; a lot of really great discussion came up in both classes, mostly due to the students involved. I was very intellectually stimulated this semester, and it was a lot of fun. And just because I haven't posted any pictures in a while, here's one of my workshop:

ENG 588, photo by Wilton Barnhardt
fig. 1: ENG 588 Fiction Workshop
left to right
back row: Colin Hickey, me, Paul Koning, Tim Coffield, Tom Sowders, Roger Cordes
middle row: Chas Schmidt, Kristine Forrest, Louise Dolan, Lisa Ward, Sarah Boone
front row: Melinda Shail, Christa Gala, Michael Biesecker

Good lookin' bunch, eh? I'll post close-ups of both sides in the comments.


One of the many things I'm doing this weekend is getting information ready for my thesis committee members for doctoral recommendations. Most of the programs just ask for a rec letter, but some actually have a form to fill out, so I'm trying to gather all this together so that I can hand it to John Kessel, Jon Thompson and Wilton Barnhardt on Monday or Tuesday.

I've narrowed down my search to these seven schools, in relative order of preference:

  1. U. of Illinois at Chicago
  2. U. of Hawai'i at Manoa
  3. UNLV
  4. SUNY at Binghamton
  5. U. of Missouri at Columbia
  6. U. of Nebraska at Lincoln
  7. U. of Denver
Chicago is by far my number one choice, and I really hope I get in there.

After class Tuesday night, Wilton invited us all out for a drink at Mitch's on Hillsborough Street, where part of Bull Durham was filmed. We were all talking around a crowded table, trying to be heard over all the conversations in the bar, and the two TVs blasting a basketball game. I only stayed for one beer, then got up to leave and tell Wilton good-bye and thank him for a great class and let him know when I'd be dropping off rec stuff, when he dropped this huge bomb on me.

He said that he wasn't sure continuing on for a PhD was such a great idea, that I could make a decent living teaching Freshman comp with my MA and a published novel. Before I could argue how incredibly hard it is to get a novel published and that I didn't want to make a living teaching Freshman comp, he went on to say that if I had to go on for a PhD, that it would be better to do a straight Lit program, like what John Kessel did.

I came home, visibly upset, and Janet asked me what was wrong. I told her what Wilton had told me, most upset that he decided to tell me this only weeks before I had to mail all my application materials to the various colleges instead of months ago when I originally emailed him with my plan. Most of the programs listed above offer either a PhD in Literature with the option for a creative dissertation, or have a creative writing concentration, which is what I prefer.

Janet said, "What are you getting so worked up about? You've already made the decision to do this."

Me: "Yeah, but I don't want to have to go through four or five more years of schooling and find out it was all a big mistake."

Janet: "Do you think getting an advanced education at one of these schools is a mistake?"

Me: "Well, no..."

Janet: "Then it's not. With a PhD, there's a very good chance you'll find a job, and we can worry about your marketability later."

I love my wife.

The next day, I met up with Wilton quickly, and he said he didn't realize Kessel has done the creative dissertation for his doctorate, and he forgot that I was in the MA program instead of the MFA, and he recognized my desire to teach at a university level. He said there are two kinds of writers - one can go off by himself alone and crank out the words, and the other needs more structure and deadlines to get motivated to write - and that people in the second camp would probably benefit from more school. I admitted that I was kinda of in the middle, but that I definitely lean more toward the latter type of writer.

He also mentioned that some people he knew burned out in their PhD programs, and never finished them, but that those people went straight from BA to MA to PhD with no stops in the real world first. I reminded him that I worked in the real world for six years before starting graduate school. So in the end, he agreed that what I'm trying to pursue is a good idea, and I feel much better about it now.

But one thing he said makes a lot of sense: getting a novel published. I plan to write a novel for my PhD dissertation (and have since realizing I wanted to continue on to a PhD program), and have it in good shape by the time I'm done. Mary Anne Mohanraj also recently offered some fantastic advice along these same lines. It's a nice reinforcement to find out that what I'm thinking of doing is a good idea.

Now Reading:
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Stories Out to Publishers:

Books Read This Year:

Zines/Graphic Novels/Fiction Mags Read This Year:

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