Author Archive

Rules, Shmules

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Because several of my preceding posts have been very earnest, and also, possibly, a little depressing, I thought that it might be nice to end my tenure as a Ploughshares blogger on an upbeat note.  With this in mind, I recently asked a group of anonymous literary authorities to

The Fine Art of Saying No

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Whether I’m a spectator at a reading or taking part in one, two questions that I often hear during the Q & A session are “When do you get your writing done?” and “Do you have a set schedule?”  Despite having heard these questions many times before, I’m still

Wherefore and Why the MFA?

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I realize there is no shortage of essays justifying or vilifying the creative writing MFA degree, which some consider the educational equivalent of fool’s gold and the universities that offer this degree little better than diploma mills.  At the college in Chicago where I teach creative writing and literature courses,

Why Is It Taking So Friggin’ Long?

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It’s hard to dispute the omnipresent signs that we are a nation of strivers and slackers who have been told that we deserve immediate results, and if at all possible, we should be able to reap the rewards of the good life without any real or prolonged struggle.  Instant

The Vampire in the Ivory Tower: Genre Fiction

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A year or so ago, a friend who teaches college English courses made a thought-provoking comment about the reality gap between MFA programs and the publishing world, one that continues to haunt me:  “Why do MFA writing faculty turn up their noses at genre fiction,” he asked, “when that’s

Rated R for Racy

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In the mid-90s, when I was a graduate student at Indiana University and nervously facing my first class of undergraduate creative writing students, I understood within the first couple of weeks that there were few things more fascinating or more daunting for writers than the moment they decide to

A Reader’s Crush

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Deborah Eisenberg.  Martin Amis.  Steve Almond.  Alice Munro.  Penelope Fitzgerald.  Jim Harrison.  Anne Carson.  W.G. Sebald.  Michael Ondaatje.  John Updike.  These are some of the authors whose books, in recent years, I have all but inhaled, many of them in rapid succession.  As I suspect most book lovers do,

Judgment Day: The Literary Competition

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Last winter I was asked to judge two short-story contests, one for my graduate writing program and the other for a local chapter of a national arts organization.  Not surprisingly, I was flattered and a little excited to have been asked to serve as judge.  What a novelty to

How False Is Your Reality?

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Not long ago, I attended a reading in Chicago that featured a talented Brooklyn-based novelist and a long-time friend of hers who had recently published a memoir.  During the Q & A session that followed their reading, an attendee asked the memoirist if she had ever considered writing fiction. 

Best-Worst Enemy: On Publishing My First Book

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I had been writing fiction for fifteen years and publishing stories in literary journals for ten when Supriya Bhatnagar, the publications director at AWP, called me on a mid-May day in 2009.  Listening to her brief message an hour later, I wondered if some pages were missing from the