WHY CLARITY TERRIFIES ME AS A WRITER: A CONFESSION AND SOME UNSOLICITED ADVICE by RYAN LATINI

I envy the writer who conceived of the simple imperative written on the packaging of moist towelettes: “Tear open packet and use.” Kraft’s Shake n’ Bake is also an imperative, but has the added depth of being a gerund coupled with a colloquial-amputated conjunction.

It is precision that I envy.

At this stage in my writing life, my high points come as personalized rejection letters from editors—good rejections that aren’t automated templates of letdown, but handcrafted works of… letdown. In 2008, while shopping around a novella to various contests and publications, an editor called my writing “magisterial.” I think the very use of “magisterial” in a criticism is, well, magisterial.

As I progressed through a few more years of fiction writing, I realized it was not overbearing floweriness that blighted workshops or my own work; rather, it was a lack of precision.

The biggest hurdle facing precision is emoting.

There is no precision in emotion because feelings are not vivid. At best, presenting scenes through the eyes of emotion offers summary disguised as scene. A thought or a feeling may hint at motive and may even toy with action or intrigue, but the fiction comes off best from a character’s action or inaction, both of which must be trusted and need no emotional markers or commentary.

A greater crime is bringing a piece to workshop (or your thesis advisor) and the reader is blocked from the fiction by the writer’s clear attempt at expression. John Gardner tell us that, “Self-expression, whatever its pleasures, comes about incidentally. It also comes about inevitably.” Expressing emotion in summary rather than action not only kills the fiction, but it robs the reader of the actions that linked the progression of a character’s emotional state.

Why does such clarity scare a writer?

In my limited experience, it has been my ego that destroys my fiction.

If I am precise, then you might not know how smart I am—at least that is the fear. It would be like a magician who mastered dramatic flourish, had the best pyrotechnics, most beautiful assistants, and after walking on stage, crazed by the sexiness of his own fanfare, forgets to pull the rabbit from his hat (I believe our friends in marketing call this, “All sizzle and no steak”).

If I was on Madison Avenue, the billboards I created would block out the sun and banner planes carrying my ads (because that’s the hot ticket in advertising) would circle the globe nipping at their own tails.

While it is precision, not concision, which I am advocating for, they often go together. Vividness coupled with irrefutable action is vital. As writers, we must have humility to write characters that do something rather than muse and feel. Keep your aim to express yourself in the journal and on the shrink’s couch—if the writing is good enough, what ever you wish to convey will come across innately. By remaining the silent partner in the business of creating characters, the ego will never outshine the fiction.

My ego thrives in abstraction, emoting, avoiding precision and delaying the effect until…well, until the house lights come on, the scenery is carried away, the beautiful assistants are in cabs on their way home, the smoke from the pyrotechnics has settled, and I am left holding a hat—rabbitless.

And there is my ego, ever undoing its own efforts to conceal itself.

The greatest trick in fiction writing is remembering to trick. Read your John Gardner and don’t stir the dreamer from the fictive dream. Most importantly, remember to be a vivid liar immersed in action rather than a pleading neurotic steeped in abstraction—a bore.

 

Thanks very much to Ryan for taking the time to submit this post.  Anyone in our program is free to do so.  It’s always great to hear from you!

If you would like to comment on this post, you may do so here, or contact Ryan directly at  ryan.latini856@gmail.com.

SJU Alum Thomas Dooley Talks Poetry, Projects & Lessons Learned with John Rafferty

This interview was conducted by SJU Writing Studies student John Rafferty.

T DooleyTRESPASS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Joseph’s University alumnus, Thomas Dooley’s poetry collection, Trespass, has been named a 2013 National Poetry Series selection. I spoke with him about his many endeavors and the tremendous success he’s enjoying with his poetry.

Trespass is garnering incredible reviews. What was the writing process like?

The writing process for Trespass was, for the most part, enervating. I approached the creation of Trespass as if walking into a dark house and flicking on the light switches; I lifted blinds, opened closet doors, took dust covers off furniture. I tried to look at this family narrative from every angle possible, so when I felt stuck I would ask, “what door have I not opened yet?” When I felt brave enough to look, I could see a new poem take shape.

I was fortunate to have an incredible group of poets around me who offered encouragement and advice for Trespass. I had an excellent editor at HarperCollins who provided some very incisive ideas for edits. A talented watercolorist created the book cover. The process from first poem to published book requires incredible focus and discretion, so I am thankful for the generosity of so many artists.

You’ve brought poetry to the stage with your theatre project, Emotive Fruition. Where did that idea originate?

I founded Emotive Fruition because I wanted to find a new way for audiences to encounter poetry. I bring together two artistic communities that do not often collaborate: actors and poets. Once I have gone through submissions and curated an evening of poetry, I cast professional actors from television, film, and Broadway to perform these poems on stage.

Our process is fueled by collaboration. Actors and poets meet during a rehearsal and work together to make the poems shine on stage. Emotive Fruition has garnered an incredible following and we look forward to new collaborations. In May, we will be hosting an event with NPR’s hit show RadioLab. We are working with universities and MFA programs, such as NYU, to cultivate and foster community and collaboration among student writers and actors. For me, Emotive Fruition has become a place where poetry can live and flourish; it is very much a vibrant and unique addition to the art and culture of New York. I hope to expand it to Philadelphia and beyond!

You are also involved in narrative medicine, something I was until now unfamiliar with.  Can you explain it to those who might be aware of it?

Narrative medicine is the practice of honoring and being attentive to a patient’s story. For the past five years, I have been facilitating creative writing sessions at the bedsides of hospitalized teenagers. I created the literary journal SURGE, which publishes the writing and art from my patients. I also provide creative writing wellness retreats for physicians, mental health professionals, and hospital staff. We all need the therapeutic process of writing to shape and organize our thoughts and feelings.

Between your writing, theatre project, and narrative medicine work, how do you balance it all? 

Balance is hard. There is always renegotiation. At the moment, I am a freelancing artist so I create new work while trying to piece together an income.

I try to stay very present to the demands of my writing projects. I have been busy working on a new manuscript, a verse novella of sorts, entitled Hang Down Your Head. It’s near completion and I am in the process of getting it published. My writing, publishing, and collaborations truly fuel and feed me.

I just accepted an offer to teach creative writing at New York University in 2016. I love mentoring young writers; they infuse the workshop with a sense of discovery. I’m also interested in shaking up the creative writing workshop. I would be interested to craft a workshop that included collaboration among students, writing about illness, performance studies – so many possibilities!

What was the greatest lesson you learned as English major while at St. Joe’s?

I learned some powerful lessons about myself. Dr. April Lindner gave me confidence to be a poet. In her creative writing workshop, I felt like I had potential to write and publish poetry. It also was the first writing workshop I ever attended. Dr. Lindner modeled for me how to discuss and critique student work. To this day, I try to channel her when I teach.

Dr. Owen Gilman created a space in his class for me to find my voice. I remember presenting a paper about my personal history to the class. That paper was a prelude to a lifetime of embracing my own personal narrative and writing about it. I am proud of my time at SJU and love coming back to talk with students. I look forward to the next time I’m on campus.

You can stay up to date with all of Thomas’ work and happenings at his website, http://www.thomasdooley.us/, including his newest work, Hang Down Your Head.

Finding Your Niche – Writing Studies Student Vanessa Constantinidis Tells You How!

 Finding Your Niche

Vanessa

Vanessa Constantinidis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During senior year of my undergraduate career at Saint Joseph’s University, I enrolled in Dr. Lindner’s “Young Adult Novel” course not knowing what an immense impact it would make, not only on my writing career, but my life as a whole. Dr. Lindner told us to pick a topic that we would not get sick of, for we would be writing the start of our own young adult novel all semester. I decided to write about the story I have always dreamed of writing: the one of the Greek girl trying to find her place in the modern American world (I swear it is fiction). The course consisted of reading several current young adult novels, presenting on a young adult novel similar to the one we were writing, workshopping our own novels while providing helpful feedback to our classmates, and producing a final portfolio of about 50 polished pages to the start of our novel. To no surprise, my story turned out drastically different than I could have imagined, but everything I hoped it would be at nine chapters. I was more intrigued by young adult literature than ever before and found myself reading more and more YA books in my spare time, and of course continuing to write.

After my Young Adult Novel course had ended, “Greek Girl Crazy” was a story I could not even think of abandoning. Upon graduating from SJU I moved to Arlington, VA for work, where my free time consisted of continuously working on my young adult novel that ultimately contained a part of my soul. I was not just working on a novel; I was a writer. Every day I would find myself thinking how I could develop my characters more and what plot twist I could add to make my novel more enticing. I would find myself laughing and relating everyday events in my life to something that would happen to my main character, Despina. Whenever I would need inspiration, I would recall writing exercises that my professors implemented during our lessons and also observe my surroundings. My “me time” consisted of finding a new location to write (whether it was Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, or unique places to Arlington such as Busboys and Poets or Northside Social) and fully immersing myself into Despina’s world. I had grown to really adore Despina and while she was a fictional character, I continued to bring her to life through my words. I ended my last semester of college having nine chapters of my young adult novel written and found myself with twenty-one chapters written a year later, moving into a sequel.

While it was apparent that I found my niche in young adult literature, I yearned to be back in the classroom and have the ability to workshop the rest of my novel with writers who would critique me. After a move back to Philly to work in higher education, I had the opportunity to embark on my graduate school journey at Saint Joseph’s University through the Writing Studies program. Fatefully enough, the graduate version of Young Adult Novel was being offered. Now, I am currently enrolled in the course and in the midst of working on the sequel to my novel, which is roughly twenty-five chapters (with word count). I have been blessed to have Dr. Lindner critique my work, along with my classmates, and further explore fiction writing, specifically young adult literature.

Writing has become more than a mindset, but rather a lifestyle to me. Everywhere I go and everything I see could serve as some sort of inspiration, which is why I love young adult literature so much. While it is fiction, it is relatable- at all ages. Katherine Prokou writes in her article Young Adult Literature: Rite of Passage or Rite of Its Own in the Alan Review, “It’s literature for teenagers; it’s literature about teenagers; it’s stylistic and simplified literature; it’s overly didactic, and of course, shorter than a real novel,” but she continues to explain how it is so much more than just that, and I would agree. Young adult literature may be aimed at teenagers and adolescents, but writing and reading young adult literature can be directly applied to life, even beyond the teenage years. It is emotional and passionate, while still being light. Many critics of young adult literature would argue that it is an escape from reality, but in fact, it is a dive into reality. While often shorter and written with simpler vocabulary, it still deals with real and complicated concepts of love, heartbreak, family struggles, mental health, friendship, sexuality, and identity, yet still holds a sense of innocence and nostalgia that only young adult literature can truly capture.

Whether it is young adult literature, travel writing, script-writing, journalism, or even rhetoric that allows you to question your purpose of writing, the important thing is to find out what sort of writing makes you get out of bed in the morning. As Ray Bradbury says, “You have to get up in the morning and write something you live, something to live for.” The best part of the Saint Joseph’s University Writing Studies program, along with phenomenal professors and specialized attention, is that it will guide you to find your niche. This program allows you to question who you are as writer and who you want to be. After thirty credits, you will have more than just a degree in Writing; you will have vision of how to be the best writer you can be and you will find what kind of writing makes you tick. I have been so blessed to find a part of literature that I cannot get enough of and I have Saint Joseph’s University’s English/Writing department to thank for it.

 

Thanks for sharing, Vanessa.  What a great tribute to the SJU Writing Studies Program! Congratulations on finding your niche.  Anyone else want to share their story?

 

Writing Studies Alum Danielle Bullen Talks Tips on Editing & Freelancing

MONDAY, MARCH 16, 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Merion Hall, Room 174

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Writing Studies Alum Danielle Bullen (’12) will offers tips on editing and freelancing.

Danielle will discuss her career as a Senior Associate Editor for ADVANCE newsmagazines. She is also a web-based freelancer, most recently for SkilledUp. Learn about working in publishing as an editor or freelancer.

All students are welcome!