Re: RARA-AVIS: Florida International?

Date: 08 Apr 2005

Hi, Frederick, Lots of questions, but I enjoy promoting FIU every chance I have. When I was there, from 88 to 92, Hall only had two books out, and Standiford hadn't yet gone into crime. I wouldn't say there was a push of any kind, and my mentor was Lynne Barrett, who won an Edgar Award for a short story, but is mainly a literary writer. She, however, is a Cain lover and introduced me to his works. She edited a book called the James M. Cain Cookbook, that I don't think you can get. Then John Dufresne came in, who is also a literary writer, Lousiana Power and Light and my favorite Love Warps the Mind a Little. However, the encouragement to write whatever you want, but do it in a literary manner is what helped me. I had been trying to write for years and not getting anywhere because I knew nothing about plot and technique. FIU gives a really solid, nuts and bolts approach with the use of Janet Burroway's and John Gardner's books on writing, but they don't look down on genre. Jim Hall was actively teaching at the time, but now he does mainly theses and lives part time in N.C. Les Standiford still teaches, but again, probably only two or three classes per year. I don't really know anything about other programs to compare, but I have heard about a snobbish attitude and even the prohibition of genre writing in some programs. I was on a panel at the Assoc. Writers Program last weekend in Vancouver with Neil Smith, editor of the former and Victor Gischler, author of Gun Monkeys, Pistol Poets, and Suicide Squeeze-- excellent, funny--who had experienced prejudice in that area. Our topic was
"Riding the Fence Between Genre and Literary" to enlighten the literary writers to the fact that "genre" doesn't mean formula or bad writing. Obviously, the college where you've enrolled for the class doesn't have any genre prejudice because they've already assigned me and Cain, so that sounds like a good place to start. I'm sure the instructor must have known about the connection between the three books. I hope you stick up for me, as I'm bound to come out on the short side of the stick being closely compared to Cain and Camus! Denis Lehane was in classes with me at FIU, and he was kind of the ring leader in arguments with Jim Hall, in a class on bestsellers, when we all argued against the sloppy writing and cheaply portrayed emotions in the 12 books that we read and discussed that semester. The idea was to analyze bestsellers to see how they were done, and we couldn't really conclude much besides that they all had factual information on a subject and much detail about food. Dennis, of course, went on to bestseller fame, so he must have absorbed a lot, despite his disdain! I have to say, however, that Dennis isn't a hypocrite--he sticks to literary principles and portrays true emotion, nothing like what we were picking at. We were all snobs in that class and had a great time. I don't think Jim has offered it again, however. I should clear up once more, that I was never assigned to write a sex inversion of Postman. In that class of Jim's we could pick any novel to use as a quantitative model. The plot was not supposed to be the same, and you can see that it's not in MP. The triangle is there, number of pages, chapters, locations, quantity of scene as opposed to summary, the way things are repeated in two's, but that's about as far as I meant it to go. Perhaps there are other similarities that followed naturally, but I wasn't conscious of them. Jim Hall was my thesis advisor, but he didn't have much criticism, although he did go through the manuscript and make small comments. He mostly told me to
"tinker" with this or that. The scene where Sherri and Payne are in the Key West hotel room was one case where he said nothing was happening. That's when I added the part where Sherri burned Payne with the iron. Good luck on your writing career. I don't know how I could live without mine and all the friends and good times that come with it, as well as the constant challenge, whether money is coming in or not.

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