Thanks, Dzanc / Sorry, Chuck


So, I was working up a post about a fictional holiday called National Writers Workshop Day. I was going to blog about my resistance to this sentimental, “greeting card” holiday, fictionally introduced and adopted in the early 1980s. I was going to pretend that Tyler Meier, Managing Editor of The Kenyon Review, strongly suggested that I write about how I planned to celebrate National Writers Workshop Day. And I wrote 600 words about begrudgingly observing the holiday with a not-so-fond remembrance of a fictional writing teacher named Jeff Hector.

But, come to find out, there is such a thing as National Workshop Day, sponsored by Dzanc Books, and it’s quite an awesome program:

…On March 20, 2010, Dzanc will run over 30 creative writing workshops in 25 cities across the country. These workshops will be held in cities from Portland, OR to Orlando, FL, from New Haven, CT to Los Angeles, CA and points between. Funds raised will benefit Dzanc’s charitable work. Authors have volunteered their time, experience, and expertise to offer individual workshops. Each workshop will allow students to work face-to-face with the instructor in specific venues with each location focusing on a specific aspect of the writing world. More info on the program here, or email Dzanc if you have any questions…

Thanks, Dzanc, for another amazing program.

And a portion of my post on the fictional National Writers Workshop Day can be read after the break…

…In the spirit of respectful observation of National Writers Workshop Day, I am happy to submit this memorial to Jeff Hector, my first writing teacher. Equal parts gentleman and dope, the man really knew how to make a captive audience deplore him. (He was also a genius at making people feel uncomfortable with their own personal experiences.) He knew not how to impart lessons of craft, and he openly discouraged prose innovation. But, in the end, he was able to reconcile his recondite fears and superstitions into a cogent set of pathologies and half-effective (and vain) homilies on writing craft that I have been unable to forget.

He said each sentence must be a word camera, snapping a picture of an emotional truth. He said female characters should be named after flowers in first drafts and, if they are still seen to be blooming in the final draft, then they may retain that floral name. He said the best advice his agent of thirty years ever gave him was simply this: Put the bottle down. He called his novels failed short stories, and he said he envied us for our commitment to the truest form of the literary arts. He said that Henry James owed the world an apology. He let his speech become vernacular when he spoke of his mother. He admitted that he was quite a mommy-boy growing up (surprising none of his students). Personification, he said, was dead. He was aware that he was perceived as pompous, but he said it was a tactical pomposity. He laughed when one of the older women in the workshop said he looked like George H. W. Bush, which he did, though in a chubby way. His hair on top was thin, but he had one dynamic wave that he wet combed to great effect. He owned, by my count, four suits plus one blue blazer and one tweed sportsjacket. He always wore a necktie. He did not own a wristwatch and he was forever asking the class how much time we had left. He never owned a house. He did not drive. He did not like the chairs in our seminar room. He said the chairs in our seminar room were made by a man unfamiliar with human knees. He said a chair is not a chair when it is a weapon. He said he was writing much of his new novel while he dreamt at night. He was surprised that the class was interested in this revelation. He said he’d be happy to tell us how he was doing it, writing his novels while he slept. He said, I am learning my thoughts on the story as I dream. He described it as trying to guide his dreams like a plot to see what he could make happen. He compared the process to making a very specific outline and then projecting the outline in dream form. He said Hemingway was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Faulkner was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Mailer was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Orwell was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Camus was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Baldwin was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Barthelme was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Yates was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Bukowski was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He said Chuck Palahniuk is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and because he was able to pronounce Chuck’s last name better than us, nobody in the workshop contradicted him. Sorry, Chuck.