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November 29, 2007

OPTIONAL: "The Dead"

  • Re-read the first paragraph. Whose voice is this? Whose point of view? Why does he open it like this? Where does the initial movement come from? What’s the hook?
  • Lily is not just herself, but also an echo of other characters from earlier stories. Remind you? Also, other characters reappear...Kathleen Kearney, for example. To what effect?
  • We sit in expectation of Gabriel, and then—-almost forgotten—-Freddy arrives. Then, instead of seeing Freddy, we move to Mr. Browne. Why? What effect?
  • Why so much description of Freddy? Why a “young man of 40?? Why don’t we hear any of Freddy’s words here in direct speech? Why is there so much and so little of Freddy Malins? To what effect? Does he counterpoint Gabriel? Or does it seem so for part of the story?
  • What’s the effect of the conversation with Miss Ivors? How is Gabriel continually thrown off his balance? Why might that be?
  • How does Gabriel’s speech function dramatically (to move the plot)? To echo themes?
  • What is the role of nostalgia? Why so much?
  • What is the function of the last part, after Gabriel understands about his wife's love for Michael Furey? How does our understanding of Gabriel grow/change? How do we feel about him at the end?
  • Does Gabriel fall under authorial criticism in the way that other characters in Dubliners seem to? If there's a change, what is it?
  • What is the function of the final image? What does it leave you with?
  • Who are "The Dead"?

November 28, 2007

Tony's Presentation - Kafka

Tony will present a short-short story from the man who inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Read it below.

An Imperial Message
by Franz Kafka

The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his death bed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, a tiny shadow which has taken refuge at the furthest distance from the imperial sun.  He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his bed and whispered the message in his ear.  He thought it was so important that he had the herald speak it back to him.  He confirmed the accuracy of verbal message by nodding his head.  And in front of the entire crowd of those witnessing his death—all the obstructing walls have been broken down, and all the great ones of his empire are standing in a circle on the broad and high soaring flights of stairs—in front of all of them he dispatched his herald.  The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man.  Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd.  If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun.  So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else.  But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite.  If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvellous pounding of his fist on your door.  But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts.  He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through.  And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved.  He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved.  He would have to stride through the courtyards, and after the courtyards through the second palace encircling the first, and, then again, through stairs and courtyards, and then, once again, a palace, and so on for thousands of years.  And if he finally burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the centre of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment.  No one pushes his way through here, certainly not someone with a message from a dead man.  But you sit at your window and dream of that message when evening comes.

Justin's Presentation - For You Eggers Fans

Justin will present an Eggers story you can read below.

About The Man Who Began Flying After Meeting Her
by Dave Eggers

When he met her and they liked each other a great deal, he heard things better, and in his eyes the lines of the physical world were sharper than before. He was smarter, he was more aware, and he thought of new things to do with his days. He considered activities which before had been vaguely intriguing but which now seemed urgent, and which must, he thought, be done with his new companion. He wanted to fly in lightweight contraptions with her. He had always been intrigued by gliders, parachutes, ultralights and hang-gliders, and now he felt that this would be a facet of their new life: that they would be a couple that flew around on weekends and on vacations, in small aircraft. They would learn the terminology; they would join clubs. They would have a trailer of some kind, or a large van, in which to hold their new machines and supple wings folded, and they would drive to new places to see from above. The kind of flying that interested him was close to the ground - less than a thousand feet above earth. He wanted to see things moving quickly below him, wanted to be able to wave to people below, to see wildebeest run and to count dolphins streaming away from shore. He hoped this was the kind of flying she'd want to do, too. He became so attached to the idea of this person and this flying and this life entwined that he was not sure what he would do if it did not become actual. He didn't want to do this flying alone; he would rather not do it than do it without her. But if he asked her to fly with him, and she expressed reservations, or was not inspired, would he stay with her? Could he? He decides that he would not. If she does not drive in the van with the wings carefully folded, he will have to leave, smile and leave, and then he will look again. But when and if he finds another companion, he knows his plan will not be for flying. It will be another plan with another person, because if he goes flying close to the earth it will be with her.

November 27, 2007

Nick's Presentation - "Untitled (Gum)"

Nick's presentation is on "Untitled (Gum)."

Untitled (Gum)
by Aaron Burch

A kid took something out of his mouth and overhanded it at the side of the portable classroom. The ball of I-didn't-know-what hit the gray-orange wall and splattered, a swatted bug or pancake batter hitting the grill. I overheard someone say it was just some gum that he had been chewing all day. Whatever it was, it looked so cool, so defiant.

Whenever I was bored, I went through multiplication tables in my head, trying to make them come instantly. We had math tests every week, full sheets of numbers, rows and rows of them, one on top of the other, this times this equals ____. I was always the first to finish, first to get up out of my chair, first to set it on the teacher’s desk.

At a garage sale, I found an antique metal ruler that folded in thirds and came sheathed, like a sword. My parents didn’t understand why I wanted it, but it was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen. Another garage sale, I got a workbook of math equations. I read about negative numbers and was the only one in my grade who knew they existed.

That was the year my parents sat me down and showed me pictures and diagrams with words that didn’t sound real. They said they didn’t want me to learn the wrong info elsewhere. I couldn’t figure it out; none of it seemed real or like anything I needed to know. I’ve spent years trying to chew gum to the point where it curdles, held together like papier-maché, but it never does. I don’t think that was gum that kid had thrown at the wall, but I still don’t know what it was.

November 25, 2007

Publication suggestions for emerging writers

Good publications for "emerging" writers are in the "extended entry" below.

  • Smokelong Quarterly accepts "flash" fiction pieces under 1,000 words. Submission guidelines are here: http://smokelong.com/sub_guidelines.asp. Smokelong has excellent editors, a quality pub, and accepts submissions online.

  • I like the Big Ugly Review for their prompts and their under-500 category. See them here: http://www.biguglyreview.com/.

  • Pindeldyboz is good, even if you never learn to spell it. They showcase short-short fiction from writers that range from beginning to established. Their website is here.

  • I like FRiGG because they're reliable and good and you can trust Ellen Parker. Submission guidelines..

  • Of course, the Ivory Tower is local, local, local.

  • I'll keep adding suggestions if you do, as well...

  • Dubliners: Public Life

    "Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

    This story, in many ways, resembles a play. It is very dialogue-centric, and people's comings and goings are often indicated abruptly, with something like stage directions. How does it change the story to have so much dialogue? What are the characters "saying without saying"? Do we look beyond their words? Are there things they say on the surface, and then a more "real" content to their debate? What are the benefits and risks of having so much in dialogue?

    "A Mother"

    • Why is this in the section called "public life"?
    • In the end, is there a character who is the “bad guy? and one who is the “good guy? here? What do you think of Mrs. Kearney? How is her character balanced (if it is) so she is not insufferable nor the victim?
    • The perspective shifts frequently here. How does he shift fluidly (for example, the first paragraph is about Mr. Holohan, the second about Mrs. Kearney)?
    • Does it trouble you, as a reader, that a sister is mentioned and then disappears? What do you think this achieves, if anything?
    • What are YOUR questions about it?

    "Grace"

    • Why is it titled “Grace?? (Note that we begin the story with a "Fall,? down the stairs of the pub.)
    • Why in these three sections? The Fall, Purgatory, and ...?
    • Why does it end as it does? What is the effect? How would you describe the ending? Does the story achieve a “wholeness?? Why might you (or mightn't you) structure a story this way?
    • What is its most interesting aspect?
    • What are YOUR questions about it?

    November 18, 2007

    OPTIONAL - Setting

    How do you make decisions about setting? Does it need to be integral to the story? Can your stories take place "anywhere," or are they rooted in a particular place?

    Do you want "setting for setting's sake," and beautiful descriptions? What is the role of setting in the stories and books you like best? How much is too much? How much is too little?

    How do you know if there's too much or too little? What problems might either extreme pose to your story and, by extension, your reader?

    November 15, 2007

    Jamie's Presentation - "How to Set a House on Fire"

    Jamie's going to teach us "How to Set a House on Fire."

    How to Set a House on Fire
    by Stace Budzko

    Before you light the gas , light a cigarette under the old red maple in the front yard, under the hunter’s moon, and take a last look. Before this, walk through the ranch house with a miner’s lamp and pesticide sprayer topped off with high-test racing fuel. Before it was your house it was your father’s house and before it was your father’s house it was his father’s too. Before foreclosure on the family farm, before the new highway. Spray the gaps in the oak floorboards and get into the heating ducts, hit the horsehair plaster and take out electric sockets, then run a heavy gas line out to the barn. There is the combine. That is a backhoe. At one time chickens lived here. Before leaving, make sure the hay bales drip with fuel. This was feed once. On your way toss your house keys into the water well. Before doing anything else, make a wish.

    After filling the birdbath next to the old red maple with the remaining octane, call Herm up at the fire station. After he gets on the line tell him to come over and bring a truck or two– with a crew. There’s not much to see now, really. After he asks why, tell him. Tell him how the fire line went from where you stand to the well and then zigzagged to the barn, and after the farm equipment blew to the sky tell him how the furnace did the same. A chain of events, explain, a chain of events. After the windows kicked out there wasn’t much anyone could have done. And after Herm asks if you would do it all over again, tell him you would. But come anyway, Herm. Tell him that.

    November 12, 2007

    Zoe Wicomb Stories

    “A Clearing in the Bush?


    • How does she create setting? Is setting important? Why/how? When do you notice it? When is it there, but you don't notice it?
    • Where does the motion come from?
    • Why do we switch perspectives to Tamieta? Why not just make it Frida’s story? Are they counterpointed or compared? Or both?
    • Why Tess of the d’Urbervilles? What does this bring to the narrative, whether or not (assuming not) you've read it?
    • Why “A Clearing in the Bush?? Why does it end with Tamieta and not Frida? (Note that the whole book is a collection of connected stories narrated, in large part, by the writer-character Frida Shenton.)

    “Behind the Bougainvillea?


    • In "Behind the Bougainvillea," there is a lot of setting vs. "action"; especially in the first half of the story. What effect does this have on the story? Why might she make this choice, rather than just get into it with Henry right away?
    • How do we move between past and present? Is there a narrative mechanism, such as a line break or cue like, "Ten years ago"? If not, what effect does it have? How does she jump between times?
    • What is the function repeated images, such as various kinds of flowers, and rain?
    • Why does she end with her father, on his ridiculous, naive statement?

    "Ash on My Sleeve"


      Note: This is the same Moira from "A Clearing in the Bush."
    • What is the effect of beginning with the pimple?
    • What are the advantages of having a narratror who's out of touch, unfamiliar with what's changed?
    • In the conversations between Frieda and Moira, does either one of them hold all the power, or is it balanced? What would be the effect if one of them held all the cards? What's the effect of a debate/discussion where no one wins?
    • Why end in the "chaste little bed" after all this talk about sex and virginity? What's the effect of landing on this image?

    November 11, 2007

    Ronnie's Presentation - The Orange

    Ronnie will present on Benjamin Rosenbaum's "The Orange."

    The Orange
    By Benjamin Rosenbaum

    An orange ruled the world.

    It was an unexpected thing, the temporary abdication of Heavenly Providence, entrusting the whole matter to a simple orange.

    The orange, in a grove in Florida, humbly accepted the honor. The other oranges, the birds, and the men in their tractors wept with joy; the tractors’ motors rumbled hymns of praise.

    Airplane pilots passing over would circle the grove and tell their passengers, “Below us is the grove where the orange who rules the world grows on a simple branch.? And the passengers would be silent with awe.

    The governor of Florida declared every day a holiday. On summer afternoons the Dalai Lama would come to the grove and sit with the orange, and talk about life.

    When the time came for the orange to be picked, none of the migrant workers would do it: they went on strike. The foremen wept. The other oranges swore they would turn sour. But the orange who ruled the world said, “No, my friends; it is time.?

    Finally a man from Chicago, with a heart as windy and cold as Lake Michigan in wintertime, was brought in. He put down his briefcase, climbed up on a ladder, and picked the orange. The birds were silent and the clouds had gone away. The orange thanked the man from Chicago.

    They say that when the orange went through the national produce processing and distribution system, certain machines turned to gold, truck drivers had epiphanies, aging rural store managers called their estranged lesbian daughters on Wall Street and all was forgiven.

    I bought the orange who ruled the world for 39 cents at Safeway three days ago, and for three days he sat in my fruit basket and was my teacher. Today, he told me, “It is time,? and I ate him.

    Now we are on our own again.

    November 5, 2007

    Dubliners: Mature Life

    “A Little Cloud?


    • How would you describe the structure of "A Little Cloud"? How is it put together? What are the larger and smaller chunks, and how do they work? For instance, how many scenes? How many major characters? Are they similar or different (or both)?

    “Clay?


    • What are the difficulties of creating a character who doesn’t know (or barely knows) what’s going on around her? How does Joyce try to ensure that you won’t just see the world in the rose-colored-glassees-ified way Maria does? To what extent does it work? What are the pitfalls of trying something like this?

    “A Painful Case?


    • How is Duffy’s portrait constructed? In what ways do we learn about him? What is the effect of the long reaction scene at the end? Why does that have so much weight?

    Kara's Presentation - "Important Things"

    Kara will be presenting Barbara Greenburg's "Important Things."

    Important Things
    By Barbara L. Greenberg

    For years the children whimpered and tugged. "Tell us, tell us."

    You promised to tell the children some other time, later, when they were old enough.

    Now the children stand eye to eye with you and show you their teeth. "Tell us."

    "Tell you what?" you ask, ingenuous.

    "Tell us The Important Things."

    You tell your children there are six continents and five oceans, or vice versa.

    You tell your children the little you know about sex. Your children tell you there are better words for what you choose to call The Married Embrace.

    You tell your children to be true to themselves. They say they are true to themselves. You tell them they're lying, you always know when they're lying. They tell you you're crazy. You tell them to mind their manners. They think you mean it as a joke; they laugh.

    There are tears in your eyes. You tell the children the dawn will follow the dark, the tide will come in, the grass will be renewed, every dog will have its day. You tell them the story of The Littlest Soldier whose right arm, which he sacrificed while fighting for a noble cause, grew back again.

    You say that if there were no Evil we wouldn't have the satisfaction of choosing The Good. And if there were no pain, you say, we'd never know our greatest joy, relief from pain.

    You offer to bake a cake for the children, a fudge cake with chocolate frosting, their favorite.

    "Tell us," say the children.

    You say to your children, "I'm going to die."

    "When?"

    "Someday."

    "Oh."

    You tell your children that they, too, are going to die. They already knew it.

    You can't think of anything else to tell the children. You say you're sorry. You are sorry. But the children have had enough of your excuses.

    "A promise is a promise," say the children.

    They'll give you one more chance to tell them of your own accord. If you don't, they'll have to resort to torture.