Friday, May 29, 2009

I Didn't Even Have to Use My AK . . .

I'd have to say it was a good couple of days.

My goodness, it feels good to sit down at the computer and write. Blogging is fun and all, but I'm not passionate about it like I am about fiction (as evidenced by this being only the fourth post this month). It has been sooo sweet. So sweet, in fact that I'm going to describe it to you.


I got a bit of a late start in the morning. Still working out the kinks in the schedule. Still, I sat down and worked on VFO. I actually sat down and worked on Vintage Furniture and Oddities for the first time in ages. It was all character background and concept development, but it was a lot of fun and it's pushing me in the right direction. I don't want to start a project like this without understanding my characters or having a decent plan as to where I'm going.

As an aside, I think that's been one of the problem's I've had with VFO. It started as a writing excercise I gave myself. I wanted to write 500 words and make up the story as a I went along. That became a problem once Rex Queems and I talked about doing VFO together. It was no longer a thing I could play with whenever I want and with no pressure. But those days are over! Developing the concept in more detail was nigh unto exhilerating.

Then I ate lunch.

After lunch, Day One took a downward turn. I worked for a couple of hours on the stuff I want to use for my MFA writing sample. HORROR. I couldn't write a word. "Come On, Casper" didn't flow at all. I actually tried my hand at a bunch of the stories I have unfinished on my laptop. Nothing. That was a discouraging afternoon.


I decided to do "Come On, Casper" in the morning this time, hoping that my mind would be a bit more fresh. What I didn't realize, though, was that the 'freshness' wasn't the issue. The issue was that I was so worried about theme and structure that I got stymied. I've been reading John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist, and it really helped remind me that I was primarily doing this to tell stories. After that, a new direction for the story emerged and I worked happily through the morning.

Lunch again!

More VFO in the afternoon, and it just kept getting better. I got a handle on something that will be integral to the storyline; something that will provide direction and (I hope) suspense as the strip continues. Hopefully I'll be able to actually get to some of the writing soon. Anyway, day two was excellent.


Day three was a bit of a problem because I had to do some work this morning. That meant the morning session was out so we could get school and everything in.

And lunch.

The afternoon was truncated as well because I had a work meeting, but once that meeting ended I got right to it. I decided to go with "Come On Casper" rather than VFO because I wanted to keep yesterday's juices flowing. Happily, the story continued very well. I'm not cranking out tons of pages, but the story is moving along and I like the language and the direction (right now at least . . . ask me again tomorrow).

Tomorrow will be DAY FOUR. I'll miss the morning session again, but I'm looking forward to another couple of productive hours tomorrow afternoon. It'll be VFO, I think, so I can keep things moving.

Creating makes me happy. Doing that for a living . . . that would be a beautiful life.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Attention: All of My Devoted Fan

And yes, I left 'fan' singular on purpose. All I do, I do for comedy.

Anyway, I added a new feature to the blog. Anyone who loves me should 'follow' my blog by clicking on the little widget on the right of the screen. After you do so, you will receive your 'Joshua Duncan' decoder ring and t-shirt in 8-10 epochs. Absolute proof of identity is required, so don't use a pseudonym, unless I already know you by said pseudonym.

Again, if you TRULY care for me, follow my blog and forward this message to ten friends.

Absentmindedly yours,

Anonymous, aka 'Josh'

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Rich, the Vivid, and the Beautiful: Priorities in Reading and MFAs

A friend of mine recently made his Facebook status something like, "You know you're a nerd if, once you've finished your semester, your first thought is, 'what books can I read now?" I laughed because that was exactly what thought I when I was walking away from my last final this semester. I have a long list of novels and short story collections that await my attention.

I started getting back into The Best American Short Stories of the Century before the semester actually ended. I'm still dedicated to reading through in order, and I've only just hit the 1940s. I enjoy getting samples of some of the best authors of the 20th Century in such a quick succession. Somehow it satisfies my truncated 21st Century attention span. You'd think the short story would be more popular these days, but I guess no matter how much you shorten a story it's still not a video game.

Another book I've given a second shot is Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. I bought it last year at the Trinity Arts Conference because I enjoyed Gilead, but for some reason I got bogged down early with Housekeeping. It fell by the wayside and I moved on to other things.

Later, as readers of this blog are well aware, I began sorting through MFA programs. The list has changed repeatedly, but an early entry was the University of Iowa, where Marilynne Robinson teaches. Like Housekeeping, though, Iowa fell by the wayside. I wasn't sure about funding, so I took it off my list.

Recently, however, a couple of factors combined to put Iowa back on my list. First, I reread The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, and the ever-helpful Seth Abramson wrote that at Iowa they do whatever they can to make sure their students have the funding they need. That doesn't guarantee fully paid tuition and a stipend, but it means that there's at least a chance. So the money question was answered.

The other factor was a brief conversation I had with Jerram Barrs about MFA programs after class one day this past semester. It wasn't a momentous thing; he just pointed out that Marilyn Robinson was the head of the program there and that she was a Christian. I realized I that in the quest for funding I had lost sight of something important: A place for connection. I don't reckon Marilynne Robinson is in the PCA or anything, but there is a definite worldview connection there. I felt it when I read Gilead. I happily added Iowa back to my list.

My renewed interest in Iowa and Marilyn Robinson lead me to a renewed interest in Housekeeping (the book, not the activity). I began reading, and I have had a much different experience this time. I think I must have been impatient with it last year. Most of the fiction I enjoy conjures vivid images in my imagination, but Housekeeping does that less often. I am on chapter five and the images of the characters are still developing in my head. That is usually not the case for me, and it would normally drive me away from a book, but the treasure in Robinson's writing does not lie in the vivid image as much as the beautiful sentence. The story is compelling, but the joy of staying with Robinson is the unusually lovely turns of phrase she uses. It's makes for a slow read, but it's worth the time. Why run through the forest when you can stroll, touch the trees, and smell the growing greenness around you?

So thanks to Marilynne Robinson, for reminding me that there's more to an MFA than funding. And thanks for helping me understand that there's more to reading than the vivid image. Thanks from the bottom of my slightly-less-truncated 21st Century attention span.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This is How the Semester Ends . . .

I took my OT History Books test today. That means that I officially have one more year to go at Covenant Theological Seminary. I'm gearing up for a busy summer, so pray for us!

The To Do List:

1. Get a good writing sample ready
2. Take the GRE
3. Find three people to be references for me
4. Write VFO webcomic with Rex Queems
5. Make some rent money somehow

And finally . . .

6. Actually be there when, y'know, my wife has our fourth child

OK, so six things doesn't sound that big, but most of these aren't 'one-off' type things. I'll keep everyone posted.