Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I am inspired, to say the least.

I have 76 students, 51 in English composition and 25 in creative writing.  I'm exhausted, and I'm only half-way through the first week.  That said, I'm thrilled to share my love of writing with some people who, admittedly, get queasy just hearing the word essay.

My creative writing students are an exciting group, a variety of ages and backgrounds, and all with such determination, such passion for the written word.

Although my composition students are an equally exciting group (again, 51 students total), they aren't too crazy about the idea of writing.

"Who here enjoys writing?" I asked. Two hands went up.  Two. "Who here enjoys reading?"  Four hands went up, total.

"Just wait," I told them, "you will all love writing soon. [dramatic pause, looks of disbelief, goofy smile on professor's face] Or at least not hate it..." And so it begins.  I better live up to my words now.

I was just offered a contract with All Things That Matter Press on a second book.  That's right, it looks like I have a collection in me after all.  (Absurd Hunger is still looking 10 years out, maybe 20 now, unless I find a writing fellowship in Toledo, OH.)

OK.  I need to sleep.  Yes, at 5:41PM.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Interview with Author Vic Fortezza

How long have you been writing?

Since 1975. I wrote three novels before I attempted a short story, Rude Awakening, which was based on the strained relationship of my immigrant parents. It was published in 1988 by Unknowns Magazine out of Atlanta. Thereafter, getting stories into print was sporadic until 1999, when I finally heeded the advice of friends and went online. I was amazed how easy submission was. I sometimes heard from an editor the same day, as opposed to a year or more using snail mail. It also saved me the expense and annoyance of dealing with the post office. It may have been the best thing I’ve ever done - ever.

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’ve completed a short story of 1000+ words, Oblivious. I will read through the file a couple of more times to make sure it’s as good as can be. It’s about the dangers we all face that we are completely unaware of, most of which never occur. It was probably influenced by the TV show Criminal Minds, which is extremely unpleasant but is to be commended for its uncompromising nature and reluctance to put things into a tidy politically correct context - except for its occasional playing of mopey songs at the end.
I’ve also submitted a novel, Killing, to All Things That Matter Press. It encompasses many aspects of the theme. Of the nine novels I’ve written, of which two have been published, I believe it is the most meaningful. I don’t know if anyone has ever examined the theme to such an extent.

What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
I’ve been a teacher’s aide, a bartender, a messenger and, for nearly 25 years, a data entry person and supervisor at the Commodity Exchange in Manhattan. I worked in the madness of the pit and at the podium trying to manage the three circus that the open outcry system, which has largely given way to electronic trading, had been. It was a wonderful place for a writer, as the gamut of behavior could be observed. I even wrote a raucous novel about a year in the life of a supervisor, Exchanges. Trouble is, it is so vulgar and politically incorrect I don’t know that any publisher would touch it.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
During Christmas break my freshman year in college I spotted Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment on a rack at a newsstand. My two best campus friends, who were really intelligent despite the fact that they were football players, had mentioned him a few times. I was prepared for the humiliation of not being able to understand the book. To my surprise, I not only understood it but was amazed and frightened at how I identified with the main character. Prior to this, it was almost strictly Batman and Superman comics.
I also admired Henry Miller’s fearlessness, although in the end he may simply have been the world’s greatest pornographer. The novels I respect most are those that get life right, like Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, perhaps the most beautifully written of all.

Who's your best/worst critic?

I beat myself up pretty well about all aspects of my life, even something so silly as a once a week round of golf.

What's the last thing you think of before you fall asleep at night? First thing in the morning?
I often use a budding short story as a means of counting sheep. In the morning it’s about seizing the day, hoping for at least one book sale on the street.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
90% of my work is mainstream or literary. I’m fascinated by the bittersweet mystery of life, by what makes people tick, by peeling away as many of the layers of personality as possible. The other ten percent is borne of the love I had for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock as a youth. I’ve never found it difficult to differentiate between the two.

Vic's Website:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel:
Vic's 1st Novel:
Vic's Blog:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Quiet Time

I just got home from a glorious but short trip to Ohio.  I went to Toledo, which--at least in my Grandmother's neighborhood--seems a city worthy of it's own telethon.  Toledo is the model city for the setting in Absurd Hunger, and go figure!! I was under-representing the decrepitude of the neighborhood I recalled.  My grandmother lives next to a house that caught fire in May.  Her garden is littered with little pieces of charcoal that blow from the back of the gutted house and into her tomato beds. "People are getting shot or shooting up around here," she said.  It keeps getting worse, each year I go back.      

Now, I'm in Texas again, where my problems seem small in the middle of all this space.  I miss my family and friends.  I won't let so much time go by without visiting again--no matter the obstacles.  Despite the setting, we had a wonderful time together.  Grandma insisted I have two cakes for my birthday, one that was pure butter and sugar from an infamous bakery down the street from her house.  The other, the better, a lemon cake, made by Grandma herself that very morning.  Mom and I made the drive there and back from Columbus.  I spent the rest of the too-short time with Mom and my sister.

I miss them so much, but I'm glad to be back with my husband and dog, and, of course, Little Bob, my tailless outdoor kitty.

I have three more days of vacation, until the insanity of the term begins, and although I'm excited, I'm enjoying the relative solitude.  I am savoring the crepuscular hours, the only breaks from the Texas heat; I am hanging out with my new homeless adoptee, who bounces around, trying to find his equilibrium, and watches me from afar until I set out his food on a fresh coffee filter (the plates get too hot in the sun).  He will, I'm sure, one day allow me the luxury of petting him, but for now we're both OK with the way things are.

I've been writing and editing, but more than that, I've been doing very little (though there's no shortage of things to do).  I've been meditating on my trip, thinking about my family, our future.  It's been a long time since I've been so inactive, so able to think, and I thank my family for bringing me this sense of peace (no matter their hardships).  The last time I was so inactive was when I underwent six weeks of recovery after stomach surgery quite a few years ago.  Then, I felt forced to meditate and reevaluate my life.  The quiet time was so precious, but so forgettable, and I'm not waiting for another illness to indulge it now.  In fact, if I do this right, these three days will feel like a lifetime.  Who knows what three days can change?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Somewhere Between Here and There

Today is my last day at the Writing Center.  Because I want to concentrate on teaching and commit my energy to my students, I am moving on.  The shift is bittersweet, but I'm excited.  In one week, I will begin teaching Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing and English Composition at San Antonio College.  A full load!

Going from one course a term to three is a big shift, and I'm nervous.  This change is both exhilarating and frightening, and in my old age, I'm noticing that change has become more jarring, (it feels less necessary, less compulsive).  It's so funny to think back to the days when I got nervous when I sat still for too long.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Personality & Punctuation

A repost [lost this entry on the blog, for some reason] 

I tend to overuse the ellipsis when I chat on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.  It's almost as though I am saying, "I would go on, but I wouldn't want to bother you."  I suppose this is fine when it comes to Twitter, given the strict word count limitation, but what about in general?  What impression is my use of the ... really making?  Is it a passive punctuation mark?

Only a crazy person (writer) would think of such things, eh?  Well, thinking I am, and I've set out to assign what I've assigned a characteristic and brief sketch to chosen punctuation marks.  (See below.)
ASTUTE One of my favorites.  This is the philosopher's dream, the essayist's humility, the short story writer's nemesis, the poet's luxury.  The question mark is not adaptable; it must be used with care.
STRONG MINDED Anyone who says they don't like seeing exclamation points, or that they are a sign of laziness needs to read Nabokov's "Signs and Symbols."  Exclamation points are fiery and strong.
LOGICAL The sign of lists and emphasis.  This sign would best be described as focused, the clarifying element in many a sentence.
MISUNDERSTOOD Ah, the semicolon.  Here, I must digress.  Kurt Vonnegut is famous for saying the following: "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college." 

Great quote, but total bullshit.  The semicolon is beautiful, the epitome of a soft pause that gives cadence to an otherwise abrupt shift in ongoing thought.  The semicolon is delicate and necessary and, if not overused, the most romantic of punctuation marks.
BORING The en dash is rather boring.  The quiet kid at the party, who is only there because s/he's related to someone or is rich/famous/attractive, but is hopelessly ordinary on a personal level.  It's only use is connecting others: numbers, dates or references.
OUTRAGEOUS The em dash is the quiet kid's cousin.  The one that's throwing the party.  Usually drunk and reckless, this is a punctuation mark that is often over-used by those who are over-confident.  Nonetheless, if used properly, it's magical and intoxicating to readers.  The em dash is what makes a 200 word sentence possible.
( ) 
SECRETIVE Should probably be used more often.
[ ]  
ANXIOUS When I see these, I think math.  So, I will not go on.  Brackets = Anxiety.
. . .  
PASSIVE  It says, "please forgive me, I will not go on..."
FAMOUS The comma needs no introduction.  She's famous, notorious, loved, misunderstood, passed around, worried over, and she breaks many an editor's heart.
The period means nothing, or near nothing, to me. It is merely a way to make my rambling self seem more deliberate.

So there you have it.  Punctuation, as this writer sees it.  I can't help but to wonder how this perception changes from writer to writer?  Please, feel free to challenge me or give opinions of your own.  I'm genuinely curious.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

laugh it off

There is nothing as torturous to a writer as block. The very word gives me chills. Yet, it happens to all of us after a while. Sitting, staring at a blank page and trying to write, crossing out words or deleting entries, writing a new sentence, crossing it out, looking to your dog for the answer but he just sighs, reading the news for inspiration, but all of it just seems so bleak. The page stays blank.

One way I’ve learned to overcome the block is simply to not write. Ha, not the answer you were looking for I bet. But it’s what works for me. I consider my blocks to be observation periods, periods of reflection and meditation. I often find myself meditating during this time (I meditate myself right to sleep often, but right or wrong, I call it meditation). Recently, I read an interesting passage in a novel by TC Boyle that brought up the physiological difference between a genuine and disingenuous smile. I researched this bit, and found that the muscles that react when a person is genuinely happy cause the wrinkles around the eyes—the over-Botoxed area some folks fret over is, in fact, the portion of the face that betrays genuine joy.

This interesting bit of information led me to read on about how this smile is often born, and to no surprise, a genuine smile often comes as the result of laughter. Gelotology, which is the study of laughter and its impact on the body, suggests that laughter can be both emotionally and physiologically freeing—no surprise there.

Back to writer’s block. It’s OK to have, but the frustration often stems from an inability to move forward, and as the term ‘block’ implies, there is something that needs freed to move beyond it. So from writer’s block to meditation to gelotology, where are you going here, Jen? I’m going to tie it all together, promise. Ready?

After my clicking, researching, reading and satisfying my fit of exponential curiosity, I found an exercise in meditation that was borne from gelotology and is said to free the mind of repetitive thoughts. The exercise I tried is here. To be fair, I don’t think this practice will be a regular occurrence for me, but laughter meditation did seem to loosen something in my mind, something that seemed lodged there for quite a few excruciating days. After laughing disingenuously for a few minutes, I began to find it funny that I was even trying this silliness, which made me laugh genuinely. My dog gave me a wary look (he was the only one around as I conducted this experiment) and this made me laugh further. By the time I was done laughing (ten minutes short of the twenty minutes described in the exercise (I didn’t stretch)), I felt the same exhilaration that I feel after a good workout, and I felt the clarity that comes on those glorious days I wake up, sit down with my coffee and pump out twenty pages in a sitting. Who knew? Thanks Boyle—always dropping those fun little nuggets in your work t hat make me research something I never would have otherwise. 

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...