Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Interview (but nothing to do with James Franco and/or North Korea)

This is it, family and friends—Lions in Winter is coming to Charleston. The literary event promises to be the cultural extravaganza of south-of-Chicago Illinois, and we at Bluestem could not be more excited.

I will be interviewing our featured speaker, the horrifyingly talented Stephen Graham Jones, for the magazine. In preparation, I’ve been watching Charlie Rose spar with some of the best writers out there, and I’ve also listened to the BBC’s interviews with Zadie Smith and Kazuo Ishiguro. In my younger days, I wrote for some small Pacific Northwest newspapers, so I’m fairly comfortable asking strangers a series of questions.

Below, I have written my interview battle tactics.

Be Prepared:

This should go without saying, but after watching one painful interview, it needs to be said. When interviewing an author, you’re going to want to read the author’s work. Or, if you work for a really important company, you’re going to want an intern to thoroughly brief you on the author’s work. You should also read other interviews with the author, in order to avoid asking repetitive questions. How many times was David Foster Wallace asked about the footnotes? Does that number justify the bone-marrow level annoyance of having to use two bookmarks when reading Infinite Jest?

 Don’t Ask “Craft” Questions:

You know what Charlie Rose rarely does? He rarely asks authors questions about how they write. He asks questions about what they write, and who they are, and how what they write and who they are converge in ways concordant and not.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but hearing writers talk about the specifics of their craft has some strange, pornographic pull to it. For young writers especially, there is a mindset of “If I just read enough about how other authors write, I will suddenly become an actual, living and breathing writer.” Which isn’t true. You have to develop your own process, and becoming a writer has nothing to do with whether you write in the morning or in the afternoon, in a Moleskine journal or on a manual typewriter. You become a writer by writing. A lot.

So let’s stop asking authors about their personal craft during interviews. Send the author an email. Or tear out a page from the back of your Moleskine, write down your craft question, and mail it to her.

Keep it Corralled:

Here’s what you don’t want—three hours of an awesome conversation between you and one of your favorite authors that you then have to transcribe, word by one-thousandth word. You’re going to sit down at your computer and think, “Man, for how nervous I was, I was really pretty articulate.” And by the second page you’re going to think, “HOW DID THAT PERSON NOT SLAP ME FOR SOUNDING SO STUPID?”

As the interviewer, say enough to keep the conversation interesting, and that’s it. Don’t be the guy at a Lit-Studies Conference who uses the Q/A period to explain his thesis to a room of strangers. Allow the author enough space to work out intriguing responses to your well-prepared questions, but don’t let the author ramble. An interview is a ramble-free sort of situation.

And there we have it. Make sure to register for Lions in Winter. And, of course, please keep submitting your fabulous fiction/nonfiction/poetry to Bluestem. We can’t wait to read it.

–Sean Towey

On Internet Writing

In thirty years, an entire section of the MLA Handbook (20th ed) will be devoted to Internet Writing. What are now considered cultural faux paus, like favoriting your own tweet, will become immortalized in the granite block of official style. Future English professors will reminisce to their students about the halcyon days when the internet was fun.

Unfortunately, the MLA’s internet writing guide does not currently exist. After I agreed to write regularly for Bluestem’s blog, I searched the interwebs for tips on internet writing. The experts say to put the most important stuff at the top and cut out any extraneous content. Keep the article short and the paragraphs shorter. Add lots of links to other pages.

Most importantly, internet writing has an audience not of readers, but of scanners. On the internet, the audience does not fully commit to a piece of writing. The reader is not sitting down in an armchair with a magazine she has spent the time and energy to locate and purchase. The internet’s greatest boon for writers, its ability to generate an unbelievable amount of content, serves also as its most pernicious bane. After reading a paragraph or two, our potential reader might prefer to do something else, like click on that link beckoning on the far right of her screen promising endless videos of baby goats playing on a sheet of aluminum.

Strong writing has always hooked and maintained a reader’s interest. However, prior to the internet, a piece of writing only had to be more interesting than other pieces of writing, television programs, or playing Solitaire on Windows 3.1–the cards invading the screen after a successful game. Now, a piece of writing has to be more interesting than Youtube. A Herculean task, indeed.

That we read on the internet differently than we read print is not new information. Which makes me wonder why so much of the writing on fantastic sites like the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, and The Millions continually refutes common wisdom regarding internet content. These sites publish great pieces, but pieces that could have easily been published on a magazine’s glossy pages. For the most part, it’s not internet writing. It’s writing that happens to be on the internet.

The type is often small and the text compressed in the middle of the page. Try as I might, I find it incredibly difficult to read through even the most well-written, interesting articles and stories published without regard to how people read on the internet. I have to really, really try to not check social media, or consider clicking the ads tailor made to my buying habits sitting to the right of my screen. And I’m a graduate student in English.

I don’t intend to argue that every piece published on the internet should easily translate into a Buzzfeed list. It’s possible to publish internet content that actively works against the “scanning” done by internet readers. For example, the site Narratively informs the reader how long a piece takes to read. Also, the story pops up on a different browser window, making it easier to concentrate on reading.

In order for writing to remain relevant, we as writers need to better match our content to the form. The internet’s a different beast, but a beast we should embrace. Instead of maligning how internet changes how people read, we should change how we write to better suit the internet. After Gutenberg invented the printing press, a lot of monks copying the Bible by hand lost their jobs. I’m sure they complained.

Let’s avoid being like the monks.

–Sean Towey

The Perils of Adjuncting

A guest blog from Bluestem contributor  in the September 2014 issue.

In my second year of teaching a 5/5 load, I started having panic attacks a few hours before I left for class. During these brief episodes, I raved to myself like a crazed woman about how much I hated my life, while wondering what the point was of my earning a Ph.D when all I had to show for it was adjuncting gigs. Fortunately, my momentary lapse into what felt like a miniature nervous breakdown was only witnessed by my dogs.

I didn’t feel better afterward, only resigned. The way a prisoner on the way to being executed must feel knowing there’s no reprieve to prevent the inevitable. Were my 80-plus students monsters I was terrified of facing spoiled brats grubbing for perfect grades? No. They were ordinary, sometimes extraordinary, young people who I enjoyed getting to work with and know. It was just that there were so damned many of them.

But why all the fuss? Was it having to grade so many freshman composition papers? Was it the frenetic pace Mondays through Thursdays, when I started working at 7am and arrived back at home by 8pm? Was it the long weekends devoted to either grading and prepping, or housework, instead of my own writing, the stuff that would get me off the adjuncting hamster wheel? What about my pride and expectations of being a stellar instructor? And how much did the routine of having to teach the same thing have to do with my state of mind?

I often forgot what my real work was because the grind of being an adjunct was an insidious fog, creeping into every nook and cranny of daily life.

Then, this past summer, I learned I would be teaching a 5/5 load of nothing but composition for the upcoming year. One of the jobs, a ¾ lectureship, wasn’t something I could give up because it provided benefits. But the other one was pure adjuncting. I hesitated to send the email accepting this second position until July when I made a decision. I said no. I jumped off the hamster wheel in order to recommit to being a writer.

Here’s what resulted from this decision: the job I kept asked me to teach an actual creative writing class at the last minute; opportunities to teach online at this school over the winter break and summer vacation appeared, making up for the money I gave up and spreading the teaching load over time; I had four pieces of fiction published from September through October; I worked on a number of creative nonfiction pieces and pitched them; I had time to revise the second draft of a novel, to submit writing, and to more carefully apply for academic jobs; I stopped having panic attacks.

Not everyone can give up a source of revenue like I did. But I can’t help but think that we are what we do. If my goal was to be an adjunct, all I had to do was keep working as one. If I want to be a writer, I need to write.

 

Relativt vitt och elfenben, bredden på axlarna och smal midja långklänning, perspektiv naken färg chiffongklänning med en hög täthet av tät konstruktion det övergripande utseendet smal sexig spetsklänning utformad i den högra delen av bröstet linjen, som  långklänning är den visuella färg strumpbyxor plats

–Angie Pelekidis