March 13th, 2009


The Cow Says, "Moo"

There's a lot of things to remember as a writer when you're working on a piece of fiction. Lot of things to keep in ol' Duder's head. There are the obvious things: characters, plot, setting, whathaveyou. And then there are the quotations listed below, no less important than the meat and potatoes any story needs.

Those quotes, by the way, were given to me by a professor I had in my second year of college, by the name of Cody Walker. Until yesterday, I'd completely forgotten the man's name, which is a damnable shame because his was the class that really stoked the flames on my now-dormant writing career. My 12th Grade High School AP English teacher, Mrs. Kyle was the first. My English 131 college professor during my freshman year, Brandy Parris, gave me the leeway and the notion that a degree in creative writing would be my preferred path. But Cody's class, that's what sealed it.

Unfortunately, I never did have a writing class that I enjoyed nearly as much after his. You know how students always say, "I never had a professor who understood me until so-and-so"? Well, he understood me ... and then no one else did. Well, probably not me, but he understood my writing, and that's all I really care about anyway.

There's something you love to do and wish like hell to be able to do as a profession. For me, that's writing. And then someone else comes along and makes you resent everyone involved in that profession. That would be one of my professors after Cody. A woman named Theo.

Derided me for my flippant style. Chastized me for not giving two shits about my characters. Actually told me, "nobody would ever think that," in response to a line I had in one of my stories about what someone was thinking. How the hell do you know what people would think about when involved in an act of terrorism? Washed-out, no-talent hag. And lo and behold, because she was teaching the class (or perhaps because my cynicism of English majors rings louder and truer than ever), nearly everyone in class saw things her way about my stories.

Is it any wonder that I sabotaged a subsequent in-class critique by secretly writing multiple stories when I had the utter misfortune of having her as a professor for a second time?

Of course, since my hypocrisy knows no bounds, I later contacted this professor because hers was the only name I could remember when I needed advice on something writing-related. Oh how I wish I would've made an acquaintance with Cody.

See, as I was rummaging through my old books, I came across three volumes of class material for that epic English 281 class. Poems and writing samples and excerpts from novels. Smorgasboard of rigamarole. Anyway, the below quotes were there at the end of volume three, and I find them endlessly useful (and just as easily forgettable).

It's hard to remember these things because they're all related to a writer's discipline. Avoiding adjectives, using greater detail, keeping things unusual (avoiding cliches), and most of all: keep it offensive. If you're not offending, you're not doing your job as a writer. Someone MUST be slighted! Always!

I don't think anyone ever told George Saunders that he should be more compassionate towards his characters. I don't think Bukowski was ever railed against for being too flippant. Some people like to go around writing depressing shit, or making vain attempts at making depressing shit funny, but the truth is, people are scum and your characters should be treated as such. And if a reader is offended by how you're creating fictional characters, so be it.

The fire in the belly, I'm trying to bring it back. But when a fire has been doused for so long, it takes some time to really get it roaring again.