Tag Archives: fiction

A Harry Education

Recently, one of my former journalism professors posted something about a new biography on the late Harry Crews. Like magic, my mind cued up my experiences with the author.

While studying journalism at the University of Florida during the mid-late 1990s, I figured I should take a creative writing class for one of my electives. Looking in the course catalog, I found one and proceeded to sign up. Turned out I needed a writing sample to turn in to be considered, so on the last day, I happened to have a copy of a short story I had done. Turned it in, went home.

Blood Bone and Marrow BookI received my class schedule a few days later (I think; memory’s foggy about that) and saw that I was enrolled. Thought nothing of it. Figured everyone would’ve gotten in.

Until I discovered that only a small number of students were admitted. And it was being taught by THE Harry Crews, although I was still a bit fuzzy about how big this guy was.

Turns out my grandfather was a fan of Crews’ work, owning quite a few of his novels. Right under my nose! He wanted me to have Crews autograph one of he books, but I felt too weird to ask, only to have another student thrust a book in front of him to sign. He gladly did it, but class was starting by this point, so I failed in my mission.

I wonder if I was the only one in the class who wasn’t aware of Crews’ backstory. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise; I just wanted to learn more about writing fiction, not revel in Crews’ past shenanigans.

The syllabus said the stories we’d be writing about wouldn’t include “talking cats.” So: literary fiction. Thank God I turned in a high-schooler-in-turmoil story and not my usual science fiction fare.

We had to turn in two stories that semester, so I went with more adventures from the high school universe.

I wish I could remember some piece of advice Crews imparted to the class. Half the time, it seemed like he was too sick to teach. I do remember the workshop setting. We all printed out our stories, then handed out copies to everyone to critique the following week. That was a strange feeling to hear people tear apart your work. The kicker for me was when just about everyone said that teenagers going to the mall just to hang out wasn’t “real enough.”

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I still have Crews’ graded copies of my stories. The first story had just three handwritten words from Crews: “Reads well. Credible.”

The second story was filled with red and black ink marks, starting at the top with: “Problem: There is nothing of significance that can happen in a mall.” Throughout the tale, Crews could not fathom high schoolers hanging out at the mall when they could be sneaking away to have sex. I’m sure that might be true in some instances, but that wasn’t how I saw it for the characters at the time.

Looking back at his remarks all these years later, I could see his points. I probably should’ve tightened up certain passages or jettisoned them all together. But back then, I was mortified and angry. I could hear that guy from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “You lost today, kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

(Actually, I was so ticked off by what they said about the story, I rewrote it to make it a bit more “realistic,” changed the narrator from the main character to a third person limited, etc.)

At some point he had told the class this would be his final semester teaching. My journalism brain immediately said, “Hey! You could do a story on him for your reporting class! Maybe even get it published!” So I asked him if I could interview him. He seemed hesitant but agreed to it.

We met in his office in Turlington Hall, which, if memory serves, didn’t have much of anything in it. Just his briefcase. With the help of my friend, Najah, I came up with a few questions to ask.

I was a bit nervous interviewing him. Even though his body wasn’t running at one hundred percent, he still looked like he could kick my ass.

The interview lasted about 30 minutes, although he tried to cut off the interview about five minutes sooner. Luckily I convinced him to keep going.

I wrote the story, edited it heavily with the help of my friend, Sheri, then gave it to my teacher’s assistant for my Reporting class.

I earned the highest grade out of all the stories I had written, and it was the last one of the semester. I did good.

When I tried to get the Independent Florida Alligator, the campus newspaper, to publish it, they refused. I tried to explain to the editor that he was a Pretty Big Deal and it was his last semester teaching, it didn’t matter. So it never saw the light of day.

In 2010, I went back to UF to participate in a Storytellers’ Summit. The keynote speaker was bestselling author Michael Connelly. During his talk, he mentioned taking Crews’ class back in the ’70s, but he didn’t take away any big revelations from the class, either. At least I wasn’t alone. But maybe I did internalize some fiction advice he gave during the class, letting it seep into my brain.

Two years later, I felt an appropriate punch to the gut when I read that Crews had passed away. I wished I had read a few more of his books (I’ve only read one of Crews’ novels, Scar Lover), wished I had given him that book to sign for my grandfather.

While one is impossible now, another I can rectify easily.

Here’s where the fun begins

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve probably heard the news. For the rest of you, Lucasfilm announced today that the Expanded Universe is sorta closing its doors to make way for a new continuity to coincide with the upcoming movies. They also announced some of the new novels arriving in the coming months.

Via the Star Wars Books Facebook page

I can’t say I wasn’t surprised this happened since Disney acquired the house that George built. However, I am not heartbroken at this decision. It makes sense for the people creating the new movies to not be constrained by all of the continuity floating around the Outer Rim. Let them carve their own corner.

I’m also not crying in my blue milk because I haven’t invested too much into the EU. I read Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy back when it first appeared on bookshelves in the early-to-mid-1990s. I read Dark Horse Comics’ Dark Empire, written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy. I soon picked up a few more novels and comics, but I discovered that I couldn’t keep up with everything. My Amazon.com wish list can attest to that. I drifted away.

I’m sure there are some fans who are crying foul about the news, that they’re just dumping their beloved books into the trash compactor where the dianoga monster can have a snack. Well, the EU was never canon to start with. The movies (including their novelizations, the radio dramas, The Clone Wars, and the upcoming Rebels) are canon. The EU novels were just stories, things that might have happened. Besides, these novels aren’t going away. They will continue to be in print, but now they’ll have “Legends” emblazoned on the covers. Heck, the creative folks may still pluck stuff from those tales. Works for me.

As long as people are still interested in the adventures of Luke Skywalker and company, these stories should live as long as Yoda did, if not longer.

Also, is it December 2015 yet? [looks at watch impatiently, taps foot]

Writer’s gonna write, right?

As you may have surmised from looking around this website, I’m a writer, whether it’s for local metropolitan newspaper or creating new worlds out of my brain and turning them into fiction.

My earliest recollection of writing a story was when I got a school-bus-yellow Sears typewriter from my grandfather. I typed out this one page, single-spaced story featuring the Transformers (for those continuity freaks, it took place some time after Transformers: The Movie, maybe the third or fourth season of the show). I still have that sheet of paper somewhere, but I’m sure if I read it now, I would cringe.

But that’s OK. You learn to write by writing.

The calendar pages flip past. I’m a senior in high school, and everyone wants to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. At this point, I was writing a few things here and there, English teachers were positive about my work. So I thought, hey! I’ll be a professional writer! My first inclination was to write fiction, but I told myself that I couldn’t make a living doing that. I wasn’t Stephen King or John Grisham. (That was probably a dumb thing to think, but I did) So I went with the option of writing and getting a steady paycheck: journalism!

I went to the University of Florida in 1996 to learn the ins and outs of journalism, thinking I could write about music, another love of mine. After graduating, I wrote for The Gainesville Sun and the Lake City Reporter before landing my first full-time job at The Villages Daily Sun, where I’ve been writing away to this day. While I didn’t quite land a gig at Rolling Stone, I have written a bit of everything, which is always a good thing. I’ve also learned to write on deadline and have the story make sense, another good quality.

All the while, I wrote short stories. I sent them out to magazines and contests and got kind rejections. During high school, I had created this science fiction/fantasy universe and had written this epic novel (maybe it was a novella, who knows). I even started up a contemporary story featuring two star-crossed high school kids who fall in love. The latter story got me into Harry Crews’ creative writing class at UF, which turned out to be the last semester he taught. It was there that the story got ripped to shreds by the other students (They had said high school kids don’t hang out at the mall. REALLY?!?). It forced myself to scrap it and rewrite what turned out to be a better version.

Jump ahead to when my first daughter was born (around 2008), and I decided I was going to write my first novel, which featured the star-crossed high school kids. I wrote it in about half a year, then put it away.

That science fiction world from high school wanted a new (read: better) novel, so in 2011 (when daughter No. 2 had arrived) I started that tome. Two years later, I finished it, then put it away.

Last November, I started another science fiction novel, with about 20,000 words added so far. As with the first two stories, some days the words fly out of my brain like water out of a fire hydrant. Other days, the water is dripping every three seconds. But I try to get something down.

I hope to get these novels polished enough to see if a publisher might want to bring them to the masses. Or I may go the self-published route. Or I could just BEAM THEM DIRECTLY TO YOUR BRAINS. (is handed a piece of paper) Oh. They don’t have that technology yet. Ahem.

Oh. I forgot that I’m also trying my hand at writing comic books, a medium that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s just like writing novels, in that you’re putting words together to make a sentence. Other than that, it’s completely different.

Needless to say that I love writing. And I hope that whenever the novels do make it to the public, they will be received positively, although it would be neat to read a really bad one-star Amazon review.