Jul 4, 2007, 8:42 PM
Post #190 of 714
I'm pretty much in agreement, but I feel I should clarify a few things, because I find this subject terribly important and interesting.
Mainly I'm trying to suggest that for anyone here, things are probably more hopeful than acceptance rates would imply. To me this all seems like professional sports--where even minute changes can rocket you above your peers. And really, the bulk of it has nothing to do with plot, genre, humanity, or even the larger syntactical shennanigans we'd call "style". It has to do with a lesser, more basic form of editing that could apply to any style. So I believe that anyone who's internalized the few basic writing lessons found in any text is already way ahead.
I'm more conflicted about the whole "bending your style to get in" thing. But let me tell you how reading these manuscripts has effected my own aesthetic: it really hasn't. Rather, it's changed my thinking on the selection of material I plan to submit. I seem to write two types of short stories. The first, and closest to my heart, is a kind of flowery, emotive, po-mo type beast with acrobatic prose and risks that don't always pay off. The second, and the type I now plan to submit, is a much safer kind of stripped down, traditionally plotted, colloquially languaged George Saunders knock-off that better demonstrates, I think, the "clean" type of writing these programs look for. After reading a few of the underwhelming successful stories, it was clear that schools just want reassurance that you've absorbed the few standard lessons. I don't want to compromise my values, but still -- it's hard to ignore this fact.
The truth is that schools seem to want screenplays.
Here. Let me illustrate the point with the opening paragraphs of two stories I happen to love. The first, from Yellow Rose, by William Vollmann, is quite dazzling, I think:
When I put Jenny's picture up against my glasses her face fogs into a pale yellow moon mistily aswim in the darkness of her hair and high school uniform, because as ageing progresses (so I once read), the minimum distance required for the eye to focus on an object increases, which depresses me and incites me to strategies of avoidance, such as chewing psilocybin mushrooms. Two bitter grams of these infallibly "increase the absolute blue space/of the sky from my embrace", as Baudelaire said about something else. I still pretend that when this expansion takes place, easing my surroundings farther outward on the circumference of a wheel radiating spokes of isolation, then whatever I look at crawls beyond that fatal focal length of vision, like a dreamer fleeing through the molasses of a nightmare, reaching the end of the world at last and jumping into indigo where monsters never reach...
And so on. I read a slew of rejected stories like this. And I know it's all a matter of taste, but to my mind, Vollmann is infinitely more talented than say, Steve Almond, another writer I admire. Here's the opening of his The Idea of Michael Jackson's Dick:
Bramble was talking about Michael Jackson again.
"What I think he's done is he's bleached his dick. He's tried to turn his dick white."
"You can't turn your dick white," I said.
Bramble poured himself another vodka. "Are you Michael Jackson?" he asked. "If the answer is 'No, I'm not Michael Jackson,' then I don't know why you're talking about his dick."
"Has he even got a dick?" said Delk.
"Oh, he's got a dick," Bramble said. "He's got a dick alright."
We were on Delk's porch, watching the sun flame out over our neat little southern city...
Both good stories. But imagine their analogues, penned by students who merely show "promise". The first type, even if that is your school's particular bag, is either perfect, or goes horribly awry due to the tiniest of mistakes. The second story, the screenplay -- dialogue and stage direction, essentially -- is much, much easier to pull off. And to my mind, less satisfying, and more boring. However, it does demonstrate sound, if trite, principles, and looks pretty much like a reasonable facsimile of a story.
All I'm saying is that schools seem to enormously favor type B, be they Iowa, Montana, or somewhere reputedly more 'experimental'. Now I suffer no delusion telling me I'm the next Bill Vollmann. I do, on occasion, write some JV, Almond-esque stuff I don't particularly like, but I'm sure will appeal to a broader range of schools. If it gets me there, gets me funding, and time to write, then hey. There's no permanent plan to bend my aesthetic to each workshop comment.
Concerning plot and genre, remember that magical realism still gets shelved in the literature section. Crime, romance, fantasy: I do think these are legitimate dangers. Programs take anyone's application fees, but do they really take genre? I really really doubt it. For that, there's like a couple of places that focus on popular fiction, but that's pretty much it...
Sorry for the longwindedness, but that's a good sampling of my current frustration...
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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Jul 4, 2007, 10:31 PM)