Thursday, December 30, 2010

Teaching: To Whom it May Concern

In the past two months I've written 17 letters of recommendation for college-hopeful seniors. I do my best to make them as personal as I can, but toward the last paragraph most of them have similar verbiage: “bright future,” “hard-working,” etc. I write a lot of letters for the honors types but the ones I like to write most are for the late bloomers.
Late bloomers usually have a better story. Their parents got divorced, their mom went to jail, or maybe they just skipped a lot of school and smoked a lot of weed as a freshman and sophomore. Either way, there's a character arc there that I can work with. Today, one of my former Creative Writing students, who graduated in 2009, sent me an e-mail in hopes of getting a letter. She has a great arc: grew up in Brooklyn, started getting in fights, moved to New Hampshire to get away from the “bad” elements, got her grades up, moved back to Brooklyn, found more trouble, moved back to New Hampshire and then graduated. After a couple of years off, she's back in the game. Yes, Keila, I'll be happy to write you a letter.
And speaking of time off, I've had a day-job-free week and between bouts of home renovation and holiday outings, I've been pecking away at my master's thesis, aka My First Serious Run at a Novel. The Internet and the sound of screw guns have proved equally distracting but I've made decent progress.
I've also been awaiting the results of my latest Critters entry. Critters is an online writing group I joined a while back and the feedback I've gotten there has helped me take a story I wrote as an homage to Ed Wood somewhere better. This week I'm letting them take one more crack at the Ed Wood-inspired tale and then I'll put the revisions I made to another, more dear, story to the test.
Critters is great because I'm guaranteed an audience and, love it or hate, they'll respond. Throwing work into the vacuum of publishing houses and magazine offices offers no such promises. Did Ms. Editor So-and-So actually read my story, or did they just take umbrage at the title? It's a little hard to read between the lines of a form rejection. Critters, or another critique group, takes the guess out. Still, it's not really like being published.
Anyway, upward and onward. Happy holidays to all and best wishes for a productive and enjoyable 2011.

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