Friday Reads Giveaway

Get entered for a chance to win one of these books. Read over the descriptions and by way of comment to the post, let me know which one you’d choose if you win.  Comments must be left by Sunday 8/26/2012 / 3:00 PM.  That time gives my daughters and I time to make a video to announce the winner.


Horseshoe

Southern Gothic steeped with Midwestern sensibility stirs the waters of the Tippecanoe River that embraces the town of Horseshoe and its inhabitants. A novel-in-stories, Horseshoe intertwines revenge, regret, murder, adultery, and insanity through the lives of the outwardly ordinary citizenry. Although the ideas for the stories have come from all sorts of places real and imaginary, the setting is grounded in my hometown of Winamac, Indiana.

Horseshoe fag faith God sanctuary healing service Winamac Indiana guilt

Love on the Big Screen

In Love on the Big Screen, you’ll meet Zuke. He’s a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies. The story is set at a fictionalized version of Olivet Nazarene University and while creating the story, I reflected on my own romantic life and special obsession for films such as Say Anything and Sixteen Candles. My adaptation of this novel won the Grand Prize of the Rhode Island International Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

80's music movies say anything john cusack sixteen candles William Bill Torgerson

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What do you tell writers who ask for advice?

At the request of Campus Activities I agreed to participate in what is called “Storm Talks.”  It seems the goal of the project is to initiate conversation between students and professors.  I talked briefly on video and invited students to tell me about their writing before, during, and after the first year writing course.  The video was published via YouTube and Facebook.  Questions came in.  Here’s one of them:   “Any advice for a young writer?”

Click Here to Be Taken to Facebook Conversation

I usually answer that question by saying that the writer should read and write a lot.  I suppose it’s a philosophy–PRACTICE– that I used back when I was eighteen years old and cared about my free throw percentage. Okay, I still care about how many I’d make out of 100 if I were to go shoot tomorrow morning, but what I’m getting at is that in order to shoot free throws well, part of that process was that I shot a lot of them.  I remember in Donald Murray’s book, Write to Learn, he quotes writer (and Google fighter) Ursula Le Guin about this notion of practice:

“If you want to be a tuba player you get a tuba, and some tuba music…And you probably get a tuba teacher, because there are a lot of rules and techniques to both written music and to tuba performance.  And then you sit down and you play the tuba, every day, every week, every month, year after year, until you are good at playing the tuba; until you can–if you desire–play the truth on the tuba.”

Right after I suggest reading and writing to the person who has asked for advice (who am I really to give it?) I say that the writer needs to learn how to read.  People often laugh and think I’m joking, but I’m not.   As a student at Georgia College in Milledgeville, a generous faculty helped me to begin to read like a writer.  I learned to see that when Flannery O’Connor wrote “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” she made a choice for conflict in her first sentence:  “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.”  O’Connor had many choices when it came to the beginning of her story.  She could have delivered dialogue, oriented readers to the setting, or perhaps written images for the purpose of developing character.  As I began to read in this way, all of the texts that surround me became my potential teachers, and I can read for lessons connected to dialogue, structure, endings, word choice, and many, many more.

So when asked to give advice I say to read and write a lot, and I say to learn how to read.  That feels like a pretty “DUH” thing for me to write.  Do you think so?  If you’re in position to ever be asks the question, how do you answer it?

Click Here to See Storm Talk Video

Why Set a Story in a Cemetery?

I used to go sledding as a child in a cemetery where several of my family members and at least one friend are buried.  That experience helped deliver to me some of the materials for my story “Suicide Hill.”  In planning this story set in a cemetery, my thoughts went to my own eventual death, and I got to thinking about what sort of life I might feel satisfied having lived.  Those thoughts took me to the death of my grandfather, a man I admired for his quiet personality but very action oriented brand of love.  He was the sort of man who grew tomatoes and took them around to his friends, the sort of man who drove children two hours south to the hospital in Indianapolis when they would have otherwise had trouble getting there.   I also thought of the lives of all the other people I knew who were buried near my grandfather.

novel-in-stories, linked, collection, short story

This Hill Gets Steeper in My Story

In writing “Suicide Hill,” I made up a character who ended up with very poor attendance at his funeral.  I also placed a protagonist who’d been paid to carry the casket.  Then I tried to become that character and see what he thought about the low attendance.   When I finished the first draft of the story six or so years ago, I didn’t really think it much mattered if a person had anyone at their funeral or not.  I mean, who cares?  But I couldn’t make that “who cares” ending work for me, and I’ve found that I care very much about the way my wife and daughters would remember me should I die.  I think “Suicide Hill” and my novel Love on the Big Screen both also reflect my notion that love ought to contain logical and emotional features.

“Suicide Hill” was the story I submitted to Georgia College and State University as a writing sample when I wanted to undertake a study in fiction writing.  That and my teaching experiences were probably just enough to convince somebody on the school’s faculty to let me come get to work.   (it sure wasn’t the GRE score).

Once in graduate school, even though the first text I had written was a novel and I wanted to revise it for my thesis, I found the courses I was taking mostly called for stories.  As I went to class and taught class, I worked on my divorce novel  on my own time and wrote new stories for the workshops:  “Every Word I Said,” “Aloe For the Burn,” and “Friends at the Table,” were all stories I wrote during my time at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.  Those are all stories that appear in my forthcoming collection Horseshoe.

Home of Flannery O'Connor from 1951 to 1964

As for Milledgeville and GCSU, it’s a town and college that take great pride in being the home of Flannery O’Connor, and even before I ever moved to Georgia, O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” was one of my favorites.  That’s saying a lot–that she’d written a story I knew–since I wasn’t much a short story reader back then.  O’Connor’s character “The Misfit” takes on nearly comic-book or super-anti-hero qualities for me, and her themes connected to guilt, violence, and Christianity are also ideas that I find myself often in conversation with.   I’d say they are some of the major themes in the Horseshoe collection.