Friday, January 27, 2012

'Til Death by Kel McIntyre

            There’s a scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding when Dermot Mulroney’s character, Michael, says something to Julia Roberts’s character, Jules, about his impending wedding. I don’t remember exactly what he says, and because I’ve typed the title “My Best Friend’s Wedding” along with almost every different combination imaginable along the lines of “Jules and Michael boat scene,” “Michael talks about wedding,” and “Chicago River conversation” into Google and nothing relevant to my purpose came up, and because I’m far too lazy to find my My Best Friend’s Wedding video, I’m going to have to paraphrase from semi-distant memory. 
            Michael, while talking to his best friend, talks about the wedding almost as if it’s a character in itself. He says something about how you decide to get married and start making plans, and before you know it, everything is just happening; momentum is building, you’re along for the ride, and soon, whether you want to go through with it or not, there it is, the wedding, and everybody is expecting you to do one thing, the right thing, and it’s almost like you don’t have a choice because everything happened while you were just living your life and going along with the plans and not even really paying attention. It all just happened and then—well, and then it’s wedding time—whether you like it or not, and whether you want to go through with it or not, it’s wedding time—you got yourself to this point, and now you don’t really have a choice because—well, because you have to follow through. Even though you might not even remember why you wanted to get married in the first place, here you are, and there’s nothing left to do but do it.
            I’m elaborating, of course (and maybe projecting just a little bit, but now certainly isn’t the time to go into that). Michael says maybe two lines of dialogue on the subject, but, believe me—he meant everything I just said. And how Michael feels about the wedding is kind of how I feel about my MFA.
            Before you think I’m just a big whiner, hear me out. When I was getting all of my application materials together, I was insanely nervous with that impending-diarrhea feeling—you know, the one you get waiting in line to get on an upside-down roller coaster because you just know you’re about to plummet, headfirst, to your death—and then when I got my acceptance letter, I was insanely happy and proud, head filled with ideas about how wondrous my life was sure to be after my degree (in the marriage analogy, I’m now about to become a Sadie), and then when I went to my first class, I was insanely excited because, after all, I was a real-life, on-my-way-to-being-a-writer grad student, and then when I went in the next semester for my first workshop, I was insanely nervous and insanely anxious to share my work and read the work of my peers. Let me tell you guys something: I absolutely could not write enough during my first few workshops. I had words and words and words inside me, more words than you’d think would fit inside of 63 inches, and they wanted so badly to not be inside of me anymore that they came out way easier than anything else my body has ever expelled.  Those first few semesters were so exciting, you might say they were almost like the beginning stages of planning a wedding.
            But then, as time went on, I got used to the idea that I was a grad student, and instead of being KEL MCINTYRE, GRAD STUDENT EXTRAORDINNAIRE, I was just Kel, the girl who happens to be in grad school. Along with all the interesting, well-written texts I read in my workshops, I struggled through some pieces that weren’t exactly Kel-friendly. I also had to take lit classes, which, while interesting, are not only nowhere near as fun as taking a workshop, but they’re also twice as much work. I think it’s safe to say that by the time my credits got into the double digits, grad school had lost a little dazzle in my eyes. Not all the dazzle disappeared, but it did dissipate. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t so.
            Still, even with being a little light on the luster (God, I just cannot stop with the alliteration. I’m not even doing it on purpose!), grad school was still something that, while I can’t really say excited me, I guess I could say interested me. I pretty much settled into a school-related routine, and after awhile, everything about it had just about become second nature.  That is, until now.
            So what’s different about now? Impending graduation. I’m now three classes and a thesis away from graduation, and that easy, second naturedness (don’t bother to check; I made it up) I’d come to take for granted is gone. In its place is a folder in my mailbox stuffed full of emails regarding plans of study, thesis topic approval forms, and graduation deadlines; a frantic search for a thesis committee; multiple drives back and forth from Davie to Boca in an attempt to figure out once and for all just what it is I’m supposed to be doing and to collect signatures; sheer terror at the thought of having to perform a thesis defense, whatever that may be; and complete and utter unsurety about a post-graduate school future. Add all these things together and what do you get? I don’t know about you, but what I get is the urge to quietly disappear from graduate school, to just go -poof!- and to disappear.
            Because really, when you think about it, a writer doesn’t need a degree to be a writer any more than a couple needs a marriage certificate to commit their devotion to one another. Why go through all the hoopla of getting a degree or having a wedding when it’s not really necessary? Why should people get that anxious-tummy feeling when they don’t absolutely have to? Why should I? It’s so much easier to just go –poof!- and to walk away.
            Except that it’s not. As far as effort put forth goes it might be, but it’s the opposite of easy in a give-up-your-dreams, hurts-your-insides sort of way, and I really, really don’t want to hurt my insides any more than I’ve already hurt them through thirty-seven years of walk-away-from-the-hard-but-right-thing kind of living. At some point in my life, I need to step up like Dermot Mulroney’s Michael and be a man.
It might as well be now.
Kel McIntyre is an MFA student at FAU. She enjoys avoiding the beach, alphabetizing, and imagining the day that she can surround herself with dogs. She's got a blog of her very own that you can read at

Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Make a Planet by Cora Bresciano

             I like to say that I can sum up all my life goals in one word: teachwritetravel.
Yep, it’s one word. Because for me, teaching, writing, and traveling are so intertwined that I can’t, I don’t want to, pull them apart. That would be like watching the Two Stooges. Or making an LT. You know, without the B. 
In my pre-MFA days, I loved teaching, writing, and traveling—but I entertained them separately rather than asking them all to move in and pick out furniture with me. After graduation, though, I came up with a plan to combine them all.  I know, I thought to myself. I’ll quit my full-time grantwriting job, shun my subsidized health insurance and my matching 401(k), start a non-profit organization in the worst economic climate of my lifetime, and turn teachwritetravel into my job description!
Really. That was my plan.
I had been spending a lot of time, you see, thinking about how to serve those three masters. Teaching overseas? Teaching here and spending summers overseas? Writing…somewhere? And as I was pondering, Dave Eggers won a TED Prize. I watched his TED Talk online, getting more and more excited as he described 826 Valencia, his writing center in San Francisco, and all the wonderful things he and his team were doing with kids there. This, I thought, is what I want to do. I approached my friend and colleague Susan Hyatt with the idea of creating a writing center here in Florida, and she was as jazzed as I was. We began planning our company.
First, we gave it a ridiculous name: Blue Planet International Explorers’ Bazaar & Writers’ Room. (It quickly became apparent that we needed to call it Blue Planet Writers’ Room for short, if only to save on printer ink.)
Then, we defined our goals. We would integrate the arts, technology, and international collaboration into the teaching of writing. We would have students create e-books and handmade books, monster masks and websites. And we would connect them to their peers in other countries so they could interact and write together.
We incorporated, we applied for non-profit status—and we got a grant to go to San Francisco to learn from Dave and the 826 folks. We opened an office over an Italian restaurant in Lake Worth, and by sharing our goals with teachers, administrators, and anyone else who would listen, we began getting other small grants and contracts to lead our workshops in the schools. Last May we opened an actual Writers’ Room in West Palm Beach—a storefront complete with Moroccan Reading Corner, Computer Oasis, and fish named after writers who, um, drank like fish. (We don’t tell the children why we call the betta fish Papa, Gonzo, and Buk.)
Every day, Susan and I write grants, recruit volunteers, plan fundraisers, negotiate contracts, market classes, and do a million other things to run our non-profit. That’s the arduous part of this adventure. But the exhilarating part is that I get to think up writing workshops that I’d like to teach, and then I teach them. I also get to travel: to Mexico, to teach a workshop and attend a conference; to England, to speak at an international forum; and before long to Japan, to teach professional development workshops to English teachers. And I get to write, too, about how we do what we do. My work with students in the “third spaces” between cultures even informs my fiction writing—my characters continually seem to find themselves in other countries, in all manner of liminal spaces.
And then there’s the terrifying part. My earlier quip about the worst economy of my lifetime is unfortunately true. I’ve been writing grants for twenty years, and I’ve never had such a rough time getting funding. Susan and I don’t have full salaries yet. I pay a fortune for health insurance, and my 401(k) is a distant memory. I laugh at skydivers and bungee jumpers. Living on the edge? I’ll show you living on the edge.
So that’s what it takes to make a Planet. Is the adventure worth it? Are the arduous and terrifying parts worth the exhilaration?
Making a Planet isn’t for everyone—but that’s as it should be. You get your degree, you figure out what you love, you assess your tolerance for risk, and then you create your own adventure. For me it’s been teachwritetravel. And the ability to do that is worth whatever the Planet can throw at me.

Blue Planet is hosting an evening in West Palm Beach with memoirist Beth Raymer on Friday January 27.  Your $25 entry ($20 in advance) will get you a copy of her book (currently being made into a major motion picture) and will go directly to supporting the Planet!  More info here:

Were Cora Bresciano to take a day off from running the Planet, she would like to spend it reading Haruki Murakami in a sidewalk café while drinking a nice red wine. In Barcelona. Read more about Blue Planet Writers’ Room at, check out the American-Mexican student website at, and pop in on her new blog, The Middle of Everywhere, at She received her MFA in fiction from Florida Atlantic University.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Writers and Sitcoms by Daniel Kennard

“I have never seen an average American household. Except on TV”
            – David Foster Wallace in “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”

            On some level, fiction writers are scavengers. Voyeuristic in a productive kind of way. We can’t help but watch and absorb and reflect on the things around us (other books, our relationships, our own internal spirituality, the freak sleeping in the woods that you see on your drive to work everyday) because that’s often what fuels our writing in the first place. Many people don’t reflect. Many people don’t read either. Many of you reading this now teach writing or literature classes and are therefore exposed to this grim reality on a regular basis. When a student comes up to you after class one day and explains that he’s having trouble with the assigned readings because “he just can’t follow it,” because to him it’s just “words on a page,” one can’t help but shrug and reflect on the state of reading in a newly-minted 2012 world that’s beginning to overflow with iPads, iPhones, laptops, mile-a-minute social media experiences, and most significantly, from a cultural standpoint, the ubiquity of television. People like TV. A lot.
            As a fiction writer, conversations like that scare the hell out of me. I felt compelled to act. I envisioned myself as a frustrated coach at halftime, struggling to make adjustments before it finally hit me one day: TV has become the enemy of intellect. Massive exposure to it is as damaging in its own way as massive exposure to radiation or cigarette smoke is. I thought to myself that something must be done about this. In my gut I felt a responsibility to fight back. I decided I was going to do what TV was doing, but I was going to do it in writing. I was going to steal something back from TV, although I didn’t immediately know what. After all, I like TV too.
            If a sitcom was an object you could pick up and hold, what I have learned over the last three years is that there is, believe it or not, a certain amount of depth to them, and a few worthwhile angles in which to examine them, especially if you’re a fiction writer looking for things to appropriate into your own writing. They are, in their own base kind of way, a unique form of art. As a whole though, they all follow certain general rules that can be creatively transmuted into writing. The result is something I call a “Litcom” and of course, just like every sitcom has episodes, Litcoms would naturally be made up of “txtisodes”. The initial idea excited me because, like The Simpsons, or some other animated sitcom, the characters don’t have to age and it could potentially go on forever, something short stories or novels simply can’t do.
            First, every sitcom ever has always orbited around a small group of the same characters, each of whom has their own particular traits that form the foundation of that particular character. Those of you familiar with Seinfeld know that George is cheap and vengeful, that Kramer is inventive, experimental, and clumsy, that Elaine is aggressive in confrontation, and that Jerry is the calm center of all their lives. From the first episode to the last they maintain these basic traits, which is part of the fun in a lot of ways. We get to see how George’s cheapness or vengefulness plays out over countless scenarios, and we get to watch Kramer implement plan-after-plan and we laugh at the often ridiculous or anti-climactic consequences of it.
            This can be appealing to any fiction writer just because you don’t need to continually create new characters for every short story you want to write, but it also has the added advantage of allowing you to explore and play with each character one “txtisode” at a time in a way that a one-shot short story doesn’t. One of the main reasons sitcoms are so culturally popular is because of the familiarity that develops between the characters and the viewer over a long period of time. People know what they like, and they like what they know, and by focusing on a small group of the same characters we, as writers, might be able to do what David Foster Wallace has accused television of doing so well (which he also posits as the reason for its addictive nature): it conditions our viewership. Being able to achieve that effect through writing is a serious and worthwhile challenge.
            The second important aspect to consider is that a sitcom typically is only thirty minutes long; twenty-two if you exclude commercials. It’s also not a stretch to say that this is one reason why sitcoms are such a popular form of television in our current world. They are efficient little stories, and being efficient is the skill of the future. People like efficiency. For a Litcom—depending on how tightly you want to stick to the precedent of an actual television sitcom—it means that each txtisode should be able to be read in twenty to thirty minutes, which is about 2500-3000 words.
            In an effort to keep this to an appropriate blog-length, I’ll conclude by saying that it’s those two things; a small group of characters “doing their thing” in a short, thirty-minute time slot that is at the center of all sitcoms, and it’s also those two things that are most responsible for the popularity of sitcoms in the first place. So, for me, what started out as an experimental project aimed at getting people to read again (lofty goals, I know) by making what they read more like what they already know and like on television has lead to some unique outcomes through the years, and the deeper I get into it the more the potential of the form excites me.

*If you want to read my latest efforts, a special two-txtisode season premiere launched January 6th at Future txtisodes will be “aired” monthly for (fingers crossed) the remainder of the year.

Dan Kennard is an American Literature and Composition Instructor at Keiser University in Fort Pierce, FL. He is currently working on a series of txtisodes for his blog, Channel 642, which can be found at  He has his MFA in fiction from Florida Atlantic University.

Monday, January 9, 2012

When to Let Go by Kelly De Stefano

I cannot exclude myself from those who sometimes walk away from a workshop, thinking, “They just didn’t get it. They just didn’t notice what I was doing. Maybe they read it right before class….” All those details, the sound of the words placed just so, the images I worked on wholeheartedly seemingly dismissed. And when I first started going through workshops, I would resist critiques all of the time, ones that I felt totally missed the ball. But I would learn soon enough that I had completely missed the point of workshop.
Most writers go through this defensive stage when their work is on the table, but it’s better to push through the growing pains then to cease to grow at all. And the truth is I didn’t have to take everything others insisted to heart (or to keyboard); however, I did benefit ten times over from paying particular attention to the most common comments and those unexpectedly left out. That is, if some of my peers noted details needing some oomph or characters needing better dialogue, I knew I needed to do some tightening. But if on the whole they’d recommended structural change, questioned character motivation or even the piece’s point of view, I needed to pull out the big guns. I would dread the times I might be left waiting for what I considered a prize moment of writing to be drooled over only for no one to even mention it, and I would be left instead with the realization that the odds everyone simultaneously just forgot to mention it weren’t in my favor, and another line or even paragraph (dare it be an entire plot point) would have to be cut or twisted unrecognizably. That is not a fun situation to be in, but it is a necessary one. There have been times where I’d been dying to interject between comments, point my peers in the ‘right’ direction. But, the truth is, a successful piece speaks for itself.
Personally, I have one piece that has gone through a series of different kinds of reviews, ending up in both fiction and poetry workshops. In the first fiction workshop, there were aspects of the story that my fellow classmates seemed to really enjoy; the distance interested them, the voice complemented the distance, the tension built as I diverted the reader’s attention away from the action. But it didn’t go anywhere on a larger scale; the story didn’t speak to its readers. And so it fell short at a fundamental level. By the end of my time in my program, this story split in two, each very different stories in my thesis, and one of them was formed out of a mere detail of the former story: one girl standing outside her house, one house in a whole neighborhood, as she waited for the day to be done. Had I not explored larger territory through the criticism about the meaning of my story, I never would have discovered this character and her story of disconnect and belonging.
Admittedly, revision is one of the most difficult stages of the writing process. Time to “kill your darlings,” throw away your most treasured and scrupulously poured-over lines. If I’d refused to do these things with my own work and instead continued to fight this process of change, I wouldn’t have allowed my work to grow in response to its readers, which, once I gave in to these demands, led to better (arguably more natural) pieces. Be ruffled by the workshop, by others’ opinions (in this instance). Reading may be a subjective experience, and writing most commonly so. But the universals are what give creative works relevance. We discover truths, display them in interesting ways; we don’t create them. We create the circumstances. And a workshop is meant to encourage thinking and questioning and trying to get to that piece’s essence through finding the right circumstance and with the help of others searching for the same thing.
Kelly De Stefano is an Instructor of English at FAU and an alumna of its MFA program in Fiction. When she's not busy figuring out how to be a grown-up, she can often be found daydreaming (which she likes to think of as a form of prewriting). She is currently working on some short fiction she hopes some wonderful press is just dying to publish.