Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ambrosia--Nectar of My God

Scandalous headline, no?


I went to the University of Iowa for my first degree. I was an English Education major. As an English major, I had the pleasure to take Fiction Writing class, as I think it is a requirement. I don't remember anything about it being required, except being terrified, so it must have been required, otherwise I wouldn't have done it.

You see, I am not a fiction writer. I knew this when I was 20, and I still know it. I write nonfiction. It's what I do best. But for some reason, I took Fiction Writing class.

I do remember my instructor's name: Charlie D'Ambrosio. I thought he should go by "Carlos" personally, but whatever. Charlie was a good instructor. He was not a professor, but a Master's Degree student who was going through the University's world-renowned Writer's Workshop. I was introduced to this Workshop format in this class. For those who do not know what that means:

  • Everybody was required to turn in two pieces of fiction per semester.
  • The day the writing is due, the student turns it in to the instructor's mailbox.
  • The next day, all students in the class are required to pick up one copy of all the fiction pieces submitted.
  • All students then take these writings home, read them, and comment on them. RIGHT ON THE PAPER.
  • The next class, everyone shows up, talks about the fiction RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF THE AUTHOR AND EVERYTHING, and then all the students give that piece of writing back to the author.
The author then leaves class and goes straight to The Deadwood. Or perhaps George's. I prefer George's. Or maybe Tuck's. The author would then sit there and read through all of these comments, and weep into her/his drink of choice. Sometimes, this would last for hours.

Brutal? Yes. Necessary? Perhaps. It did NOTHING to help me get over my fear of fiction writing, of course. It only enhanced my loathing for fiction, and I was terrified when it was my turn, because I DO NOT WRITE FICTION.

So I'm reading the pieces for "my" week, and this one guy has turned in 40 pages! The requirement was "a minimum of 5 pages." I, of course, chose to turn in the minimum. But this dude decided to ruin our lives with 40 pages of some slick, fast-moving story about a guy and a woman, and I remember it felt like a romance novel, only I thought it was bad. I couldn't put my finger on why, though, because it was so slick and fast-moving. However, it was somewhat polished, and I could tell that this guy really got off on writing fiction. I made my comments and moved on.

The day came when it was "my" turn in class. Rather, it was my turn to sit through the agony of having my fiction picked apart, not unlike a bunch of birds picking at the carrion that is my carcass, only I'm ALIVE AND SITTING RIGHT HERE, PEOPLE. I CAN FEEL THAT! Luckily, 40-Pager was up before me, and we all talked about it. "Slick." "Fast-moving." "I liked the sex." Etc.

Then came mine. "Slick," was not mentioned.

However. Carlos D'Ambrosio, the man I have never ceased to love from the bottom of my heart, saved fiction for me. After both pieces were discussed (I remember now...each week we had to read two pieces), he took over and asked the class, "What's in here?" pointing to the 40-pager. "What's in this? What does it mean? Where is it going?"

We couldn't answer, really. Turns out, Slick was writing fluff. That's why I can't remember the story--there wasn't one.

And C.D'A. didn't leave it at that. He, on his own, without provocation from the students or anything, picked up MY piece and said, "It's unpolished. It needs mechcanical work. Get over it, people. THERE IS SOMETHING HERE. There is a story here. You can see it for yourselves. You can't deny it." And nobody did.

I almost cried, I loved him so much. I wish I knew where he was right now.*

That said, I have gotten over my fear of fiction, and write the occasional story. Short story. Mostly erotica. Seems that's the kind of fiction I might be good at.

Aaaaaanywaaaay, if you want an example of what the comments on your fiction might be like, go here. I almost peed** my pants when I read this, because THE COMMENTS ARE VERY CLOSE TO THOSE ON MY PAPER.

*Oregon, apparently

**from laughing


  1. Oh - man...I remember fiction writing days at U of Iowa my own bad self. I was going through my own private hell with my (then) fiancee being in Desert Storm, and trying to work out angst in past relationships so I'd be "clean" in my marriage. Yeah - right - that worked.

    The commenting was hell for me too, whether giving or receiving. If you want a not-so-subtle reminder of what it's like to earn an artistic degree of any sort, rent "Art School Confidential". It is SO on the mark it's not even funny.

    This is a REALLLLLLLLLLY good post, and I am going to submit it to be a "Perfect Post" for January.


  2. PS: Those comments were way harsh, and the last one was way ambiguous.

    Sigh - I SO do not miss those days.