In what might be the single greatest Salon post of all time, a woman named Abby Mims comes forward as The MFA Fiction Classmate Who Hated And Then We Came To The End author Joshua Ferris, whose first novel was nominated for a National Book Award, which must have really driven her crazy! Anyway: She claims to be Ferris’ nemesis from their grad school days. The piece is titled “Joshua Ferris is My Nemisis” (dek: “The classmate I resented in grad school went on to become wildly acclaimed. It’s taken years to get over it”).

Can’t wait to read this

Definitely not even close the greatest Salon post of all time, but another lively entry about the never-ending phenomenon of literary jealousy. See also, Jonathan Franzen’s lady-friend’s notorious essay “Envy.” And Dear Sugar responds to a jealous advice-seeker.

Also, super-competitive MFA programs that all sound a little like The Secret History without the cold-blooded murder! Glad I didn’t go to one. I feel like such a smug hippie right now.

(via rawkblog-deactivated20131111)

Here’s the audio recording of The Washington Post's book critic and editor Ron Charles at the place that I must now call my alma mater, VCFA, in conversation with our president (also a novelist) Tom Greene.

They spoke about, to quote the VPR blurb, “the decision not to award a Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year, how books are selected for review, and why people really read ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey.’” To my delight, they also touched on gender, Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult’s “Franzenfreude moment” and how Charles personally does his small bit to contend with male domination of the fiction word (that part of the conversation begins about 15-16 minutes into the recording).

Link below.

VCFA Graduation Speech—June 6, 2012

Video by Dan Seltzer

When you hear the excerpts from our work in a few minutes, you’ll know that VCFA educates us. But it also changes us profoundly. This week I asked dozens of my classmates what that quintessential VCFA quality is, and the  word “magic” kept coming up. Ironic that a group of us who are supposedly masters in verbal skill all revert to the vague and supernatural to describe what that occurs on this campus. But that’s because an experience like we’ve just completed is so, so rare.

During our time at VCFA, the imprint of our personalities at their most elemental is a gift we give to our peers, beginning that very first day. We offer ourselves in our readings and our manuscripts and our late-night conversations, our frightened but brave performances at the talent show and renegade readings. We see each other in a way that transcends boundaries of age, region and lifestyle. Here at VCFA, for instance, a Secular New York City 20 Jewish girl  and a Southern Christian mother of two chose deliberately to live together every single residency. They rehearsed readings, shared insomnia, worries and hopes, and took joy in each others’ triumphs.

The magic of VCFA happens when we realize we belong here, or as a classmate said to me in line for burgers, “we’ve found our tribe,” a fellowship of devoted thinkers and artists who have nestled into our hearts, woven themselves into the story of our lives.They see us as writers and they always have; and so with them as our mirror, we see ourselves that way too.

When we get back from residency, our friends and colleagues,  partners, parents and kids—all of you here and not here—ask us what we did up there. Often instead of hearing about us huddled over desks churning out pages of work,  we tell you stories of plunging into Curtis pond, eating maple cremees in a pasture ringed by mountains, sitting at picnic tables on the lawn, watching politicians and puppets parade down main street. We tell you about the ghost stories—both actual and metaphorical—that we’ve heard. Then we mention the dance party and the talent show and finally we get to the lectures and workshop. We joke all the time that perhaps you, our loved ones, who have sacrificed so much to allow us our time here, wonder—why am I giving this person up for twenty days a year so he or she, supposedly a fully-grown adult, can recreate summer camp?

The answer is that we are doing all these things as writers. We are writers swimming, writers barbecuing, writers dancing, writers talking, talking talking—always talking in class, talking in the dorm hallways with toothbrushes in our hands, talking on the van to and from the airport, talking in town as we shop for groceries, talking at the threepenny taproom. Our coexistence here makes each other better at what we do.  We rush back from workshops and readings having seen our comrades break new ground in a piece and dizzy with inspiration, we edit our own work frantically. We grow generous, too: we exult when our classmates’ truths and talents make themselves known through words, surfacing through language to reach us.

To those who have come to see us get this degree, thank you for letting us spend these months and days here, for giving us this chance. We owe you more than we can ever repay. To those who will stand on this stage in the future, you know this already, but it’s worth remembering that silliness and earnestness and spontaneity are hard to find in most places, but they exist here in abundance. Take advantage of every second.

And to my fellow graduates, our challenge is threefold: to keep writing, to maintain those soul-deep friendships, and lastly, to not say goodbye to the selves that we have created here. We need to bring them into the world. The world needs to be more like VCFA.

We will return to our bills, our jobs, our cares on Monday—without these things, we’d have no material after all.  But for now, let’s walk into the afternoon and walk far beyond that, as the people we are proud to be on this campus, the writers that our classmates see here, the writers we now know we are.


Update: here’s the entire video of VCFA graduation, thanks to ORCA media:

Three Short Passages from My Thesis

My reflection on the thesis-writing experience continues.

At VCFA, we get the honor of having a line or two of our work read out loud when we receive our diplomas. Here are a few I’ve considered from my linked collection of short stories (my advisor will ultimately choose the passage, and I won’t know until the moment of…)

*They were sharing the sensation of loss and gain, of a year ending and another beginning, of the dying away of one dream for their own child and the birth of a reluctant love, a love laced with pain, a love they didn’t want to feel, already growing in their hearts for the child that was soon to be.

*But all Ilana ever saw now was the way they  jogged up the subway steps and stepped out of elevators with their phones open before them, with their phones at their ears, scheduling each other in for lunches and drinks—and for spiritual matters, too, like seders, as if holy days really were just holidays, diverting items to tick off on the social calendar.

*Despite the chill, the girls’ bony backs and shoulders were bare, inviting an arm to come around them perhaps. They huddled in groups, the sparks from their cigarettes dancing up and down in the growing dark. 

Tags: writing vcfa

I’m finishing up two years of MFA work. Here is the extremely emotionally cathartic playlist I created this year to help inspire me to push my stories into darker, more meaningful territory (warning: not necessarily recommended for the editing part).


Advisor 1: “And then on p. 9, in a maneuver all the more dazzling, you cover…two years of intense living and transformation in a single paragraph. Breathtaking!”

Advisor 2 on the EXACT SAME PASSAGE: “I find this paragraph, which I have just taken the liberty of erasing, unnecessary.”


This is a perfect example of now matter how many great edits you get, the ultimate decision about a piece has to be yours alone.

For the record, I’m on the fence about the passage in question, but leaning towards killing my darlings.

Tags: vcfa writing