Ephemera: Tom on Dangerous Writing
A Quick Video Introduction
In 1988 at the age of twenty-six I joined my first writing workshop. The leader, Andrea Carlisle, coached me through writing a 600-page novel called If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Already. It was crap1, but it got me kicked up the ladder.
In the novel I’d depicted a teenage boy trying to complete sex with a blow-up doll that had sprung a leak. It was a race between his thrusting and the doll’s losing air. And at the climax2 the kid’s mother walks in and the doll sags off the guy’s boner like a sad pink flag of surrender.3 To me the scene was funny and sad — my favorite combination -- but to the other workshop writers it was just flat-out bat shit upsetting. Andrea took me aside and suggested I not come back the next week. Certain other writers no longer felt safe around me.
Instead, she pushed me to contact a new writer in town. His name was Tom Spanbauer, he’d studied the style of Minimalism at Columbia with the father of the style, Gordon Lish. In 1990, I joined Tom’s workshop, where four students and Tom sat around his kitchen table on Thursday nights. His method, he called it “Dangerous Writing.” From here I’ll let Tom explain the concept.
For anyone curious about Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writing workshop, here’s a short You Tube video as an introduction. Enjoy.
In truth calling my first novel crap is an insult to crap. At least you can improve your soil with crap. Pity please the agents and editors I begged to read that manuscript.
Really. What other word should I use, here?
Yes, I eventually scavenged this scene for a flashback in my novel Snuff. Never throw away your failed work. Instead, part it out like a junker car you keep rusting in the backyard.