I just got word from my publisher that my 2020 story collection, Long Gone & Lost: True Fictions and Other Lies, was just added today as a new selection now available on the iBooks app.
Do check it out when you have the chance: Long Gone & Lost on Apple Books
Recently picked as a Finalist for the 2021 Sergio Troncoso Best First Book of Fiction Award presented by the Texas Institute of Letters, Long Gone & Lost touches on several stories/events from my own life, often blurring that oft fine line that can sometimes exist between fact and fiction.
Most of the stories it contains were written in 2017/2018 as part of my final thesis/writing project to complete the requirements of my MFA creative writing program at the University of Houston-Victoria, in Victoria, Texas. Copies of that originally submitted book manuscript, which includes three more stories in the manuscript version than we used in the final published version of the book, are on file as part of the UHV Library’s permanent writings collection.
Although taking my very first graduate level courses at that same university back in the Summer of 1994, just a month after I got my BA in English from what was then Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.
I would later complete several several more graduate level courses at Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, between 1996-1997 as part of their MA in English program. I ultimately cut that program short after the mobile home I lived in caught fire and nearly burned to the ground before I managed to get out somehow. That fire claimed nearly all my books, my clothes, my computer and most of possessions, even the eyeglasses I depended on to see.
Although it proved on of my hardest decisions ever, I ultimately abandoned the HSU program and moved 11 hours south from where I lived and worked, to land back in South Texas, where I grew up. There, I spent the next few years focused exclusively on my career in newspapers.
I was still a fairly green reporter and writer at that point, even though this year officially marks 35th year in newspapers, which dates back to the first story I ever landed in my hometown newspaper, back while I was still in junior high. Amazing how time can fly.
I never gave up entirely on finishing my graduate degree, though with a family depending on me and almost constant demands on my time, I never seemed to get a Round Tuit (that’s an odd coin my buddy once showed me, in case you were wondering).
And it wasn’t until many years beyond, after I’d fairly well given up on family, newspapers and ever being much other than a bum, that opportunity came in 2016, in the form of a massive layoff at the machine shop where I worked, caused by a major slowdown in the oil and gas industry, which basically eliminated every other possible job opportunity I might have open at that moment.
And that’s how I got back in school. I found a few descriptors on that MFA writing program online, and rather liked the notion that it would force me to write a book. By the next day, I was a grad student once again, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Although those “counselors” who enrolled me in the program assured me all those prior graduate credit I’d completed would indeed transfer over to my new program, not a single one did, even those I took at that very same university 25 years prior, taught by professors who still taught there no less.
Didn’t matter, I was told. It was too old. That same argument nixed all the coursework I’d done at Hardin Simmons, too. After all, I’d studied some ultra-modern writers during my time there, folks like Chaucer, the Romantic Poets and Shakespeare.
Silly me, I didn’t realize those fellows had been so busy publishing all those new works since last I read them. But I should’ve guessed, I suppose.
Now back when I first started my graduate work, back in 1994, I could’ve completed my degree with as few as 24 graduate hours. Later, I found out that I’d need at least 30 to land the same degree, and because I was told the MFA program was a terminal degree, effectively the highest degree level offered in that particular field, I was going to need a full 36 hours to my credit in order to land that degree.
Turns out, that MFA isn’t even close to the top degree awarded in creative writing. It’s a fairly common doctoral program at most places, these days. And as I swiftly found out teaching classes at the nearby junior college, that MFA degree isn’t hardly worth the paper its printed on when it comes to landing a job in academia,.
Not when tenure professors nowadays are about half my age with nine times as many degrees.
Still, how many graduate hours do your think I had, altogether, once I finally landed that degree?
My total: 57 graduate hours over those three stints in grad school. That’s one class shy of doctorate, at most places, I’ve since learned. And, of course, 18 of them don’t count. Too old.
Just my luck, I guess. At least I got that book written, though. And if I’m not mistaken, I’m one of the few from there who ever managed to get his thesis manuscript published. Not too shabby for “too damn old,” I suppose…