Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Reading 2011: Who Likes Short Shorts? We like Mike Czyzniejewski's short shorts!

As the wise newly appointed Master of Fiction, Rebecca Schwab, once told us, “take as many extra workshops as you can, like the Sturm and the WVWW and mini-workshops with visiting writers. Every comment helps.”

So four of us did. On April fourth, four lucky fictioneers, Rachel King, Shane Stricker, and RebCon, got to participate in a mini-workshop with Mike Czyzniejewski. Since 2000, Mike has been the editor of Bowling Green State University’s Mid-American Review, a prestigious publication in the world of literary magazines. He received his MFA in fiction from the school and now teaches there in the General Studies Writing program. He published his first collection of stories, Elephants in Our Bedroom, in 2009.

In the mini-workshop, Mike was not only generous with his comments, but he was generous with his lit mag, giving each of us workshoppers a free copy of MAR. Those things aren’t cheap! After there is no longer space on our fridge and bulletin boards for our copious amounts of form rejection letters, it’s easy to think of editors as unapproachable, impersonal, soulless, people who obviously don’t know what’s best for their lit mags. However, Mike proved us wrong. From the moment he sat down, he was friendly and cracking jokes. He had a laid-back workshop style, focusing on what was working within our stories.

Here are some of the highlights. We hope these comments will tempt everyone to jump at the chance to workshop with visiting writers:

Mike “forced [Shane] to explore macguffins further.” According to Mike, a macguffin is an image or object that carries the story, but the object is left ambiguous. Mike referenced the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino represent!

Mike gave Rachel pointers for starting a journal (“1,000 dollars, a faculty advisor, and a lot of work,” Rachel says. [Wo]man up! RebCon says.). He also gave Rachel great advice on revisions. Rachel told us, “Mike mentioned that he reads his stories over and over, sometimes even a hundred times. If [you] don’t like [your] story on the twentieth read through, an editor probably won’t like it on his/her first read through. [She] was reminded to make her stories good enough to stand up to re-readings.”

Rebecca says that her favorite thing was when he called Connie Pan’s writing beautiful. She agrees with Mike! Mike was full of advice on making stories that stand out to an editor. She appreciated his comment about getting characters out of houses. In other words, getting characters moving.

Connie liked that he prescribed everyone stories to read that would inform their work. His comment about shelving stories for months and then revisiting them made Connie realize to not rush sending out her stories. “Marinate!” Connie says.

Mike’s style did not change when he was reading his own work in the beautiful Robinson Reading Room. He was funny, he pointed out the Dante bust, and he did a mean Mr. T impression. He led off his reading with his title story from Elephants in Our Bedroom, moving on to a brand new story still in the revision stages (because he read with a pen in hand) and a sample of short shorts about Chicago. Look for his chapbook, Chicago Stories, about the Windy City and its infamous citizens, ranging from Barack Obama discussing bowling to Mr. T hawking an erectile dysfunction medicine to the shared guilt between Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and Steve Bartman.

As the night ended, we went back home, our stories full of comments, reminding ourselves to thank Master of Fiction Alex Berge for making for suggesting that such a great writer visit WVU.

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