On September 15th, I read at the University of Texas at Arlington. This, on my last night in Texas, was meaningful in many ways. When I was sixteen, I wanted to write and direct films, and I for some reason felt it okay to actually go to UTA and ask a screenwriting professor, Andy Anderson, if I could sit in on his screenwriting class. He had just finished his opening day of the semester, and I walked in afterward, as he was gathering his materials, to ask. He reluctantly said okay but made it clear that I would have to do all of the work and participate in workshops. I didn’t know what “workshop” meant. He gave me my first assignment – to pair two unlike people and have one try to get something from the other – and over the next week I wrote about two girls from different social classes, fighting at a playground over a babysitting gig. One of the biggest advocates of my script was a nineteen-year-old woman who looked like Gwyneth (Charles’s girlfriend) from Charles in Charge, and I quickly fell in love with her. Unfortunately I could not finish the term, because my broken-down car couldn’t make the drive. But I did learn a great deal about writing scenes, dialogue, and timing, and I have always been grateful to Andy. Here is one of his films:

Positive ID - A film by Andy Anderson

I thought of this as I parked my older brother’s extremely reliable Honda Civic at the campus bookstore and made my way to my wonderful host Laura Kopchick’s Advanced Nonfiction class, where I was going to meet with her students. A smart, eager and earnest group, we talked for half an hour about music (The Decemberists, Colin Meloy, The Replacements), workshop fears, and the writing process. Here are some of their questions and abridged versions of my responses:

Q: When should I start submitting my work and what is that process like?
A: Wait until it feels ready, after people have read it and you feel there is nothing else you can do with the piece. Do a lot of research and learn what journals will be most interested your work. Read what they are publishing, and it will help you to learn what is being published these days. Then submit it and wait for several weeks or months.

Q: We just submitted our first pieces for workshop, and I am nervous. How do I deal with this?
A: On the day of your workshop, try not to think of yourself as the writer but instead think yourself as the writer’s assistant, whose job is to take notes for the writer. Focus on keeping your head down and taking great notes. Understand the work now has to exist on its own, and your job is to report back to the writer on what people have said, and the writer will then use the notes to revise the work. Understand that everyone in this class is mainly concerned with the work itself and not your feelings, and honor what they have said. Agree to be honest but be good to each other.

Q: What is your process for developing characters?
A: During a rough draft, my main goal is only to capture as many concrete details as possible and to push the characters to get into trouble. Later I interrogate them, asking them questions about who they are and what they want, given the context of the piece. I tend to ask them what kinds of music they like and learn about them through that process.

Q: Do you listen to music when you write?
A: Never. I wish, but I have to have silence when I write. I also wish that I was the type of writer who could write in the mornings. Do any of you write in the mornings? (One student says yes.) I would give a digit to be able to write in the mornings. I try, but I just fall asleep, with my head on the desk.

That night Laura gave a thoughtful and kind introduction, and I stood up to realize much of the audience consisted of people from many stages of my life: my best friend from the second grade, my girlfriend from the seventh grade, the mothers of my best friends from junior high and high school, and friends from college. Also, there were students and people from the department. So wonderful to see all of these people out.

Real Red. Clockwise: April, Laura, Shaun, Me, Ariana














After the reading, I went with Laura and several people to a place called The Cave. A place I quickly realized that had once been called “Skippy’s Mistake,” where, when I was sixteen, I used my fake ID to see bands like Cosmic Chimp and Dead King’s Pillow. Now they have what is arguably the world’s greatest jukebox.

It was a terrific day, and I am so grateful to Laura for setting up the event, her students for all of the questions, and to everyone who came!!

Zoom in and see what I mean. This jukebox is amazing.