Month: March 2017

Draft Comments to the Russian Ambassador Enrolled in My Creative Writing Workshop

Dear Sergey,

Let me first say that it has been a joy to have you in this class, even if you’re not a student and, in fact, enrolled at a rival university. The valise of rare jewels of questionable provenance was completely unnecessary: Happy to have you aboard! (Do I need to disclose that on my taxes? I should check with HR, but you probably know better than they). Also, no, I’m not aware of the precise effects of radiation poisoning, but on an unrelated matter I have already alerted the registrar of the A you will be earning in this class at the end of term.

So, about your story. I love it. Though I’m not sure that the title “Oh Captain My Captain It is Russia Who Will Soon Contain Your Multitudes” is the best choice. Maybe something subtler? Try: “[Redacted Testimony from a Federal Grand Jury].” Brackets are fun, and my title doesn’t give away what happens in the story, which seems very much to be what you’re after.

On the plot: normally, I’m not a fan of conservative religious soft porn, particularly when overlayed with international intrigue and propagandistic tendencies. But you make it work. Seriously. It’s kind of Fifty Shades of Gray meets a long lost sophomore-year amateurish John LeCarre novel as written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but not a bad Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, instead an alt-Soviet Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who wasn’t a traitor and instead wrote for the glory of Mother Russia. Seriously, your story is that good.

Though you might want to rethink the character’s names: Veep sounds like a muppet, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is oddly specific, plus that character is too shifty to allow for a reasonable suspension of disbelief. Side question: why does Donny keep looking at his phone? It’s all he seems to do in the story, which might be your attempt to suggest an infantile mind, or a narcissistic disorder of some sort, or maybe simple lunacy, but if he’s supposed to be the driver of the car in this buddy road trip story, well, that distraction seems dangerous to say the least. I mean, will they even be able to get to St. Petersburg? Won’t they crash along the way? Why would they even give Donny the keys? These are fundamental questions of believability, so please consider.

My favorite character by far, and one who you’ve mastered with uncommon grace and subtly, is Sir Gary Killer of Yaks. I admit to thinking the name seemed odd at first, but the character is so well drawn that I have nary a suggestion to make. I was sucked in by his dashing good looks and unrivaled intelligence. Though, could you vary your diction some? Using “Putin-esque” as a recurring adjective does create a lovely anaphora but I found myself hoping for more variety. Try “Vladmir-esque” or even “shirtless machismo.” Yes, they’re rather obvious synonyms, but I think you’ll like the effect. I could be wrong. You’re the boss.

Finally, I want to respond to your handwritten note that, as instructed, I set on fire before, again, as instructed, eating the ashes. You’ve requested a transfer from my fiction course into creative nonfiction (which you curiously referred to as alt-nonfiction – I like that change, but FYI it’s not the convention of the genre). I fear that this story would strain the limits of credulity too far if considered “true,” even if, as you suggest, it is “based fully on events that are real, accurate, and intended to undermine the global position of the evil decadent West.” You’re best where you are, in this fictional universe. I mean, were you writing nonfiction, well, I’d actually be worried about the fate of the nation. Ha ha! Seriously, kidding. If you want to switch, that’s fine by me. Your call.

In closing, let me reiterate that we have never met before, or even now. In fact, let me be very clear that I have neither met you nor ever talked to you, let alone invited you to actually lead the workshop instead of serving as a student, and if I have met and talked to you and written a detailed workshop response letter, it hardly sticks in my mind, despite the mellifluous resonance of your masterful prose.

Keep Writing,

Your Dutiful Servant and Professor