Guest Post, David Klose: On Falling In & Out of Love with Writing

I start out wanting to write a Blog Post for Superstition Review. I want to make it funny. Knowledgeable. Relate-able. The reader should laugh and think “I would like to talk with this writer.” All great writing is getting people to think they know you, that they would want to talk with you.

But I have no idea what to write about. I just graduated from college and that is about as boring and overdone a topic as any. I might as well write about golfing, or about the time I played flag football at a local park and discovered I am not the sort of person who should be playing flag football at a local park.

I like to write, but have written nothing of tremendous value. That isn’t fishing for compliments, just speaking objectively. Therefore I can’t offer advice to writers, though I have in the past done this very thing and, to this day, I still feel guilty about it. My writing is not terrible and has made some money in academic contests but I know, what everyone knows, but no one likes to say, that undergrad academic contests aren’t worth anything except the prize money. So I can’t write about being a professional writer, because I am not a professional writer.

I’ve had great experiences through my time as a Blogger/Non-Fiction Editor/Student Editor in Chief at Superstition Review, but others, in ways I cannot top, have written about those very experiences for this very Blog. Others, in ways I have yet to mimic, have taken those experiences and grown because of them. I have been to a writing conference but already have, in a previous post, beaten that horse to death with a very small club. I have been to AWP but spent more time touring the city than touring the Book Fair (shameful, I know, but who could have guessed I was to fall in love with cold beautiful grey Minneapolis?).

Hiking TrailBloggers tell you to write what you know, to relate to your audience through what you know. Good with dogs? Write about dogs. Write about how finishing a short story is similar to teaching a new puppy how to piss outside. It’s all about consistency. Go on a lot of hikes? Write something about the writing process and compare it to hiking a new trail, a harder trail than usual. It’s all about persistence. But my dog still sometimes pees on the living room rug, and the last trail I hiked ended with a whimper, not a bang. I thought maybe I could write about how to make the world’s best macaroni and cheese, but then I remembered, halfway through that ill fated blog post, that the best mac and cheese I ever had was made by a girl named Beth one drunken night six years ago at a friend’s house where we were all drinking wine out of plastic red cups and that recipe, like my connection to Beth, was completely lost after that night.

Telling me to write about what I know has always been a sort of cruel task; because I want to write about what I don’t know, and about that which makes me question my sense of authority. I am reminded of a writing professor who, in a soft rant against ‘trigger warnings’, asked our small workshop circle “Isn’t getting triggered the point?” For me, it goes like this: isn’t admitting you don’t know the point?

Here’s what I don’t know: the value of writing and whether or not I am a writer. I have loved books from a young age and can point to moments in my life that were shaped directly by the works of Salinger (specifically his collection of short stories revolving around the Glass family), to Tolstoy’s War and Peace (one of the first books that genuinely made me want to be a better person) to Dubliners by James Joyce which made me first think about becoming a writer. There are more recent examples, as well. In Matt Bell’s Scrapper there is a scene, where our protagonist finds a stolen boy and the snow is falling overhead, and where I, the reader, was so completely transported into that scene that my heart skipped a beat. But the more I work on Social Media for my job, the more I interact with other readers, with other writers, the more new books and new styles of writing I read, the more the doubt inside me grows. As valuable as stories have been to me, how can we properly value them? There have been blog posts in the past about how writers should be paid, for their stories, their poems, and that magazines shouldn’t expect writers to be content with just getting published. But can we really make that case? I would argue the opposite. That now in this sea of media, where everyone, through so many mediums, has the ability to share their voice, the value in stories is dropping or, at the very least, leveling off in an over saturated market.

This makes me doubt my writing. Do I really just want to be another voice in the market? Is there anything I can say that someone couldn’t say better? I honestly don’t know. That’s why I wanted to write this blog post, because I have no idea. What I see, through Social Media, are countless writers celebrating the fact that they are just writing. And this gets me a little depressed. It isn’t enough that we are just writing. It isn’t enough that we can take photos of our notebooks next to coffee cups and filter the image to look antique and post it. Perhaps this is the result of working in a book store and seeing just how many books get published and how few new writers actually get read. It isn’t enough that you have a story to tell. But now I am giving advice to writers, which is something I already said I wasn’t going to do. So let me stop while I am ahead.

Here’s where the title of my blog comes from: I saw Ira Glass perform at the Mesa Arts Center a few years ago in the show “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host.” It was one of my favorite things I have ever seen and in that performance, Ira Glass quoted a friend who said “when we choose to be with one person for the rest of our lives, we are choosing the person we will spend the rest of our lives falling in and out of love with.”

I think it’s safe to say I’ve fallen out of love with writing. Like any great relationship, falling out of love makes me think of our earliest moments. I remember the first real Creative Writing class I had, where the teacher wrote the words “blue boot” on the whiteboard and asked us, rhetorically, what we were thinking of in that moment. Of course the answer was: a blue boot. Wow, the teacher said quietly, isn’t that amazing? Just by putting two words together, an image was created in our mind. What if, instead of a boot, we did that with a town? Instead a town, a world? Instead of a world, an emotion? What if, through words, we could create the idea of love, of loss, of fear, inside our reader? Wow, all of us students quietly said to ourselves.

This is all to say I still love reading good work. There were two writers I met at Bread Loaf whose writing I loved. One of them had already published a book and I read it in a matter of days. The other one hadn’t published a novel yet, but was certainly almost finished with their first draft. I look up their names every now and then in the usual places. Linkedin. Twitter. Instagram. They aren’t there. They don’t exist on Social Media and this makes me so goddamn happy. Now I can tell myself that, wherever they are, they are focusing on their work. Nothing else. And that one day soon their next book, their next story, their next finished product is going to be put out into the world, and whatever they have created with their words will be stirred within me.

Guest Post, William J. Cobb: What Would the Dude Do?: On Fictional Violence & Mayhem, With a Sip of Caucasian

coloradoYears ago the catchphrase “What Would Jesus Do?” became popular, abbreviated to WWJD, and I have to confess I was always a bit leery of this mantra as a guide for life, considering that Jesus, albeit an admirable fellow, came to the kind of untimely demise that we would all rather avoid. I think my attitude to the WWJD phenomenon was also colored by how the Christian conservatives in my neck of the woods (a Colorado mountain town) seem inordinately fond of firearms. There’s a Christian resort above my home on Hermit Mountain, and more often than not what you hear from that direction—instead of the lovely sound of choirs singing angelic hymns—is gunfire. A target range is one of their most popular “activities.” That’s caused me to wonder “What Would Jesus Shoot?”—a question that may be logical, but also sounds a bit blasphemous. I know the answer as to Who: no one.

But as I’ve been writing a novel for about three years (and which is almost complete, thank you very much), and as I spend most of my time writing novels now, I’m often lost in a reverie of “What would he/she do?” You come up with a situation that seems interesting—an autistic boy being held hostage by a substitute teacher, though he’s not really being held and he’s not really a hostage you have to read the book—set the plot in motion, then imagine what would really happen. That really is the kicker. What would really happen implies an epistemological attempt at Realism, about which I don’t give a fig. But then again, I don’t want to be phony, or to write phony fiction. This is one thing when you’re describing what a substitute teacher would offer her student to drink if he rode his bicycle over to her house (Dr. Pepper? lemonade? vodka?). It’s another thing when you mix in the substitute teacher’s disgruntled ex-husband, who still pines for her, but who is so misguided that he expresses this lost love by watching her windows from a perch in the trees behind her backyard.

With this guy, I sense the looming shadows of a violent climax and conclusion, and I resist it. Although I know that violence occurs all the time in the world, I don’t want to insert it just for drama’s sake. Recently the news has been dominated by the terrorist killings in Paris, and closer to home, a mass-shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs—a city I often visit, not far from here. These acts of violence may be “senseless” in a general way, but if you knew the tangled, misguided emotions (anger, resentment, fervent beliefs) of the perpetrators, I imagine you would be able to understand the mayhem. That’s part of what novelists do: tell a good story, hopefully an important one, and imply some understanding. While contemporary writers tend to be big on implication, some of the greats weren’t shy about that role of understanding: I’ve been rereading Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869) lately, and when describing the importance of the Battle of Austerlitz, he just comes out and tells you. So there.

Still I admire those who can tell a complex story without making the meaning explicit. Cormac McCarthy excels at depictions of gruesome violence, mayhem that usually occurs in a world with a moral center, even as it questions this morality. There’s a famous quote about McCarthy’s vision of the West in Blood Meridian (1985) as being one of regeneration through violence. For my money, McCarthy gives us a vision of the horrible reality of the frontier West, with civilizations locked in battle, and you figure out what it means (perhaps not unlike our own times.)

That brings me back to the novel I’ve been writing, and whether to “go rogue” or not. Much as I admire McCarthy, I don’t want to paste a McCarthyesque ending onto my novel just because I like what he does. Part of originality is offering your own (hopefully captivating and interesting) vision of the world, and for my money, a Coen Brothers goofball is more pertinent to my imagination than McCarthy’s Judge Holden—or, the flip side of that coin, Jesus. As most movie buffs know, The Big Lebowski (1998) is a great tragicomic film, leaning heavily toward the comic. Yes, Steve Buscemi’s “Donny” does die of a heart attack while he and his bowling buddies are being attacked by nihilists in a parking lot, a scene that includes John Goodman’s “Walter” biting off one of their ears and spitting the bloody hunk into the air, but most of the film conforms to expectations of classic comedy: It presents a (somewhat manufactured) plot problem—Bunny Lebowski is sham-kidnapped—that is resolved happily (the frisky sex kitten Bunny returns to her mansion home, and exits off-stage naked in a swimming pool, her sports car wrecked in the fountain). The thing is, for all its fantastic moments—Sam Elliot as the Stranger appearing magically in the bowling alley bar, beside Jeff Bridges as the Dude—The Big Lebowski never seems phony. Many contemporary novels (on the best-selling list, often) depict violence that just seems fake. Maybe I have a lingering touch of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in me, in that of all things, I can’t stand a phony.

So in those fictional moments of when push comes to shove, I don’t wonder what Jesus would do (merciful, compassionate, all-suffering) and no, I don’t think what Jeff Lebowski would do (weed-addled, harmless, stoner-charming) but what my character would do, really do, given the particular jamb into which he/she has fallen. But all that said, I’ll admit that the Dude is certainly more up my alley than the Big J, or any of McCarthy’s great characters, either. The trick is to imagine compelling personalities, and have them do something memorable, even if it’s groveling, as in the Coen Brothers Miller’s Crossing (1990), when John Turturro is on his hands and knees, begging his would-be executioner (Gabriel Byrne) to spare his life: “Look into your heart.” Which is, now that I mention it, always a good idea.

Guest Post, Laura Esther Wolfson: After the Autobiography

Best American EssaysFirst I fled writing; then writing fled me. For many decades, we were like the lovers in Eugene Onegin: never in love at the same time.

Well, okay: things are still a bit rocky.

I have this notion that most writers my age (pushing fifty) have a few books out, but maybe that’s because the writers with the books are the writers I’ve heard of. Whereas I have a dozen magazine credits, a few honorable mentions and several “notable” listings in Best American Essays. And that’s it.

At a reading recently, the emcee was introducing me, and when he got to that part about the honorable mentions and the BAE “notables,” he laughed heartily and said I put him in mind of Susan Lucci.

“Who’s that?” I whispered to the woman sitting next to me, and learned, just as I rose to approach the podium, that I was being compared to a soap opera actress. A soap opera actress who, I discovered later on Google, was an Emmy nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress (daytime television category) for 18 years running before she finally won.

Each year, I attend a conference for “emerging literary writers,” held in New York City, where I live, and each year, I note the dearth of attendees my age. There are the twenty-somethings, with their freshly minted MFAs, and then there are the retirees: recently released from their day jobs, with little time remaining, turning their attention, at last, to the dream deferred. I conclude that most of my contemporaries who might conceivably be in the target group for this conference have either made it, and are thus no longer emerging, or else they have given up, and are thus no longer writers.


Things actually got off to a promising start. I was in the third grade when my teacher said: class, write your autobiography. Mine spilled across 34 pages; I was an eight-year-old with a past.

As the youngest child, you see, I was greeted at birth by my elders’ stories from the Great Before, their tellers eager for new audiences. So, in they went, those stories, almost as if they were my own, along with incidents at which I was present, I’m told, if too young to remember.

For example, I was just months old when we left California for the northeast, but the autobiography tells of trips to Pacific beaches, and there’s something about a lemon tree in the yard whose yield was so bountiful that we gave bagfuls of fruit away to the neighbors, as well as mention of an orange tree that produced one single piece of fruit and then died. And the Watts riots figured in, especially the buildings of South Central LA that burned as my mother labored and gave birth. And then I have emerged and she holds me gently on her shoulder, and watches, through the hospital window, the smoke furling upward, losing itself in the clouds.

Overlapping with and succeeding these pre-memories were pages and pages about things I did remember. On a family trip to Europe when I was six, I was parked somewhere while everybody else visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam (I hadn’t yet had Bergen-Belsen explained to me), but I remember my brother plunging into a very narrow canal in that city, breaking through a solid surface of scum. (Someone dared him to jump across, and, long-legged, he inexplicably fell short.) In Florence, I remember only the hotel, where my brother and sister languished with the chicken pox. I stayed in with them, as I’d just had it and was immune. Meanwhile, our parents climbed to the top of the Duomo and visited the Uffizi Gallery: when would they have another chance? they reasoned. Of Brussels I have no memories at all, but for a long time a souvenir doll from Belgium sat on my dresser, wearing a billowing dress of magenta velvet and bent over a miniature device for making lace.

About actually writing that autobiography, I don’t remember anything, but late one afternoon I realized I’d left my life story on a tray in the school cafeteria at lunchtime, then placed it on the conveyor that bore the vile-smelling leftovers away into the kitchen. Back to school I raced, and with help from the lunchroom ladies working late to make our next day’s meal, who took my loss to heart as if it were their own, although I now think that probably there were among them some who could not read, I found my pages at the bottom of a massive gray dumpster, underneath a smallish portion of mashed potatoes, stained but legible.

My mother, a crack typist, cranked the whole thing through her Olivetti, the carriage return dinging impossibly fast as she went. She used carbon paper and sent copies to her sisters. The mail started pouring in.

“I’m a writer, like you, no better, only a little bit older, which simply means a bit more experienced,” wrote somebody Aunt Esther knew through her job as a fundraiser for the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. A rabbi, the man sent a copy of his book Choose Life, a compilation of sayings from Hillel, Maimonides and other sages. I understood that he hadn’t actually written this work himself, and thought of him as something of an imposter, but I appreciated his gift nonetheless, and especially the note.

“If you add to your autobiography a little bit each year until you’re twenty,” wrote someone else Aunt Esther knew, a newspaperman, “maybe it will include a love affair or two.”

I’m quoting from memory because, cleaning out my desk on a visit home from college, I tossed those precious letters. My mother, generally not at all the type to go through her children’s wastebaskets, rescued them, but then they disappeared again. I must have tossed them again, and if she re-rescued them, I must have tossed them a third time—the urge to declutter was powerful.

Decluttering: this may be why I write—to free myself of the detritus and salvage it by shaping it into something that is just barely usable, like a hippie jewelry designer who turns empty soup cans into hoop earrings. For every loss, I write something, and for the big ones, two pieces, or more.

But, oh, they come so slowly, just one or two a year, and that’s only since I’ve hit my stride, within the last decade. I console myself that if I write two a year for thirty years, that will, in the end, amount to a hefty output. But if I could choose only one quality as a writer, I would ask to be prolific.

If I were prolific, everything else would take care of itself: for the more I wrote, the more my writing would improve. Look at Balzac, who, it is said, wrote eighteen hours a day, and achieved both quantity and quality. Prominently displayed in the Paris museum that was his home is the coffeepot he claimed made it all possible. In the end, some say, it was the coffee (dozens of cups a day) that killed him.


After the autobiography, I went into decline as a writer.

Here, a few snapshots from my writing life across the decades:

A notebook. On page one, a story begins, scrawled in my third-grade hand. It cuts out mid-sentence. Then, this:

“Dear Aunt Esther, I’m giving you this notebook. Because writing is just too hard. Happy birthday.”

Followed by dozens of blank pages.

I don’t know what Aunt Esther, dead these fifteen years, made of this hand-me-up, or if she wondered why I chose to bestow the notebook on her rather than on anybody else. (The answer: her birthday was looming.) She wrote only the occasional letter or list, but until her last days, she loved to tell stories, seated on her gold-and-brown striped plush sofa in some kind of silky loungewear, pleated, her legs curled beneath her and a tumbler of vodka at her elbow, neat, regularly replenished from some hidden source.

Near the end of her life, the notebook, still blank except for that first page, somehow found its way back to me. I take this to mean that I am supposed to continue, hardships notwithstanding.

Yet, over the years, I have let so many comments lead me astray, dropped by people who had no idea I would take them seriously. A weary bohemian who’d been married to some number of writers and found them difficult companions, said, “Better a good typist than a bad writer.” The snappy wording seduced me, as did the implied refusal to suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. Or was I merely seizing on an excuse not to do the work? Whatever the case, it was a turn of phrase that cost me a few years—years when I could have been working to become a less bad writer. Probably my typing would have improved in that time, too.

I am a polytheist; my gods—books and those who beget them. But even studying and talking literature with fellow-acolytes has slowed me down at times. There was the Latin professor with the Welsh accent, excited almost to the point of derangement about his discovery of hidden meanings in the work of the ancients that he was certain no scholar or translator had fully mined. On and on he went for semester after semester (I was rapt and kept signing up) about layered significances and intricate wordplay. (Ovid was his favorite, but he also loved Juvenal, Catullus and Horace.) No modern could fully grasp these complex works, he said. I believe he numbered himself among the benighted.

“I can never write that way,” I thought, and for another few years did not write any way at all.

And there was my uncle, the leading independent bookseller in the state of Wyoming, until the chain stores did him in, and holder of a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Chicago (though my cousin suspects he never actually completed the degree). He’d read War and Peace six times, he told me several times, and he quoted long passages from Hamlet. (Come to think of it, it was always the same passage.) He declared that he never read anything written after 1900, because nothing worth reading had been written since then. (Not Proust? I think now—not Virginia Woolf? Was this self-imposed limitation of his really something to brag about? And how, without reading any of it, could he know that none of it was worth reading?) But back then, it was for me but a small step from his assertion to the conclusion that everything that would ever be worth reading had already been written, and long ago.

Listening to these old men hold forth, I accepted their notion of a canon with a hard finish, like polished rock: an unsurpassable past. Now, however, I see literature as a garden, or a forest, something forever growing, where there is always room to add something, provided it is wonderful, or at least fascinating, a space to try and fail and try again. It cannot ever be closed off and declared completed because one of the things it does is try to make sense of its time in the language of that time, something that, by definition, no past work can do.

Many of the books on my parents’ shelves were elegantly bound, their authors renowned. Those matching sets (Dickens, Dinesen, Disraeli, Dos Passos come to mind, and I think also of three black volumes that slid snugly into a black box, spines stamped in silver, but the title and author escape me now); the fine single volumes (Mallarmé, Mann, Mansfield, Melville); and the mid-century $1.25 paperbacks with the lurid covers that overpromised (Salinger, Sartre, Solzhenitsyn, Steinbeck), already in a state of advanced crumble when I was still a mid-century child—had they really started out as messy piles of pages, their authors mere dreaming scribblers, laughed at by their families and neighbors? I could not grasp it. I found intolerable the chaos of creation, the constant shadow of failure, the lack of résumé and affiliation that dog the obscure wordsmith.

Life slipped past, and just about everything that could slow me down, did. A fabricator and inventor of stories I am not and never will be, and though Laura Ingalls Wilder was an early mainstay (I thought our shared first name was a fantastic coincidence), I still didn’t get that you could write the seen, the heard and the lived, transcribe all that and then arrange. It was the old story: the primacy of the novel. I thought you had to make stuff up; I thought it all had to be fictional and fabulous. That wasn’t my thing; ergo, I would never be a writer.

My studies and work trajectory tell the story. Warily, we circled each other, writing and I. First, the undergraduate degree: literature, Russian literature, plus the language, my attempt to burrow partway through the canon without relying on somebody’s translation. Next, years spent working in distant parts, speaking other languages, for the same reasons that aspiring young writers in times gone by (men, always men) used to go seafaring, ride the rails, work construction or get themselves jobs on oil rigs: to see the world and build up a fund of stories to draw on forever after. (The “Maxim Gorky/Jack London thing” is how I think of this.) Occasionally, I tried to pin experience to paper, but still a step or two away from writing, I earned my living as a translator. Next, I dabbled in journalism. I was edging closer, but struggling still to keep things sensible: just the facts, who/what/where/when, inverted pyramid, writing for pay.


My regular job grew less absorbing, as regular jobs will do in mid-life, and at last I took to turning off the phone evenings and weekends and sitting for hours on the sofa with my laptop open before me. Sculpted, spangled narratives based on recollection were what emerged, plus mounds upon mounds of scrap. Selection, arrangement, tricks of memory, and some embellishment make categorization difficult: fiction? memoir? The stuff I squeeze out (how I wish I could replace “squeeze” with “churn”) is too close to each to be either.

What I write mostly happened, but some of it I make up (at least, I think I do), knitting together the “true” part and the embroidery part, and despite all of the needlework that’s gone into it, it’s seamless—as in, there is no hope of my remembering what actually happened and what didn’t, if anyone should ever ask. The main thing is not what’s real or not-real. We are not talking authorized biography here, but a wrought object, fashioned from found materials.

Sometimes, people try to confuse me with the facts. My mother, for example. “That book you mentioned in your last piece?” she’ll say. “It didn’t belong to my sister Esther. I was the one who bought it.”

She’s right, of course. She’s right, because she’s the last one standing; there is no one left on earth who can dispute her account. But by the time she tells me this, the thing is already in print, since I know better than to show her an advance copy. Even if I could change it, though, I might not. Because the thing is, it’s mine.

“Ma,” I say. “Feel free to write your own version.”

She makes a face. She doesn’t like it when I say that. Neither would I, if the roles were reversed. But I mean it. And, come to think of it, I have surely gotten some facts muddled in these pages, too. So, you too, reader, whoever and wherever you are, you too: feel free to write your own version.