Tag Archive: literary


Charles Bukowski Envy

Charles Bukowski envy is worse than penis envy.  The man drank too much, let’s be honest, he was a drunk, a raging alcoholic.  Doctors told him, many years before he actually died, that if he took another drink, he would die.  I’ve heard this claim many times from AAers.  “If I drink again I’ll die.”  Well he didn’t die; he fashioned himself, somehow, into a functional alcoholic.  He sent out scores of poems, many times without keeping a carbon copy for himself, and he eventually began to attract notice.  His first story was published in the aptly titled, Story magazine, and it’s called, “Aftermath of a Rejection Slip,” and can be found online.

I envy him because he had guts.  He forged his own way in the world.  When he wanted to see the country, he did, taking Greyhound buses, living in flophouses, and for a long while subsisted on a nickel candy bar called, ironically enough, Payday (candy bars were a nickel back then–in the not-so-distant past).

 He smoked non-stop, worked a dead end job for years at the post office, and was told, many years before he actually died at 74, that he didn’t have much time left.

He forged ahead anyway.

He didn’t make time for relationships, but somehow, women turned up and inserted themselves into his life.  In particular, a wealthy Texan poetry magazine editor named Barbara Frye published him, and they started a correspondence.  They fell in love long distance, and married just as soon as they actually met.  The marriage lasted two and a half years.

But in spite of all his trials and tribulations, Charles Bukowski forged ahead.  I need to find some kind of God, only for me my God cannot be alcohol, I need some kind of God to direct me so that I can write honestly instead of aiming to write lyrically.  I’m still trying to find my voice.

God grant me patience, but give it to me now. 

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Big Fish, Little Pond

I live in a far western suburb of Chicago, population 8,897. I realize, as a writer, that without the support of the staff of the local library as well as the input of fellow writers at Northwestern University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative writing, I probably wouldn’t have the courage to pursue a career as an author. I have no idea how the writers who have come before me, without the advantages of a laptop and consistent feedback, managed to churn out page after page. Granted, they weren’t distracted by TV, movies, and the internet. Still, I’m not sure I would have the courage to continue on my mission to become a published author without all the positive encouragement of friends, fellow writing students, and professors. Let me put it this way: it takes a village to raise a writer. In my hometown, librarians such as my friend Merrill constantly cheer me on, and eagerly await whatever is the next piece of fiction I’m able to crank out.

God bless my believers.

Stephen King emphatically recommends that you not show early works of fiction to friends and well-wishers (I think his theory is that almost all first drafts are shitty and need to be retooled and reworked before anyone is allowed to see them), but I crave feedback. I have refrained for the most part from showing family members my work, but every once in a while I ache for a fresh eye. Most of all, I seem to need cheerleaders as well as critics (but be forewarned readers, I’m a bit thin-skinned). One fellow student, who writes a distinctively different type of fiction, has told me numerous times what an excellent writer I am, and his encouragement spurs me on. Plus, I think he may have gotten a bit sick of whiny text messages, so I’m forced to be positive, even when I want to give up.

In that respect, I think perhaps that’s the real value of a writing program. It teaches discipline through deadlines, and insures that we writers keep marching forward. I’m reminded of a quote by Donald Hall, “Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing.” I guess I’m going to have to sign on for the writing marathon after all.

Chad Harbach wrote a novel about baseball and falling in love and had a prominent gay character (all supposed deal-breakers in modern fiction). It took him over ten years to land a deal, but when he did, he secured a $650,000 advance for writing “The Art of Fielding.” He lived in virtual poverty the entire time, yet maintained his belief that his novel must be published. One of his close friends admitted, in a Vanity Fair article titled, “How A Book Is Born,” that early drafts of his novel were “Disneyesque,” yet he maintained a game face for his friend, and encouraged him to keep on keeping on. He and Chad scoffed at MFA programs in creative writing, but after an undergraduate degree at Harvard and a stint working as menial minions in the publishing industry, both applied to five writing programs each, and were each only admitted to one. Just goes to show that one acceptance is indeed enough.

In the meantime, I write with hope in my heart, knowing that in my small town in the western suburbs of Chicago, I am a big deal, if only because I have the gumption to pursue my dreams.

Pull Up Your Pants

Two and a half years ago I weighed 318 lbs.  I went to the Midwest Literary festival to hear Joyce Carol Oates speak about writing and the writing process.  During the question and answer period, I stood up and went to the front microphone to ask her a question about what emerging fiction writers should do to become published  authors and she recommended that I take up running as a way to sort out ideas in my head.

Afterwards, I went to leave and a man in the back row stopped me, saying, “Nobody wants to see your plummer butt.”  I told him, “Pardon my front, pardon my back,” but I was embarrassed because I was so overweight that none of my clothes fit me.

Since then, I’ve lost almost a 100 lbs, but still, my clothes don’t fit because I’ve shedded all the excess weight.  I was at church today and overheard the elderly ladies commenting that I keep pulling my pants up, but my butt is still visible.  I went to the bathroom and tucked my sweater in.  What people don’t realize when they are “grossed out” by someone’s backside is that the person with his butt showing is equally mortified.

My waistline is longer than the average person, and I continue to have trouble finding clothes that really fit.  Obviously I am now going to have to sort through my closet, ruthlessly getting rid of clothes that don’t fit, but a word to the wise.  A little tact goes a long way.