In the fall of 2001 I transferred to California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), to study English and earn my Bachelor's degree. I was terribly excited to learn, soon after my arrival, that, within the English program, there was a creative writing discipline. I, of course, joined that track and away I went. Up to that point, I'd been toiling away at learning the craft of fiction writing on my own and, while I felt I was pretty good at it, I knew I wasn't where I wanted to be. So having an opportunity to learn about creative writing in the classroom from successful writers was a dream come true.
Unfortunately, the very first creative writing course I took at CSUSB was a less than positive experience. The professor, who was a successful novelist within her genre, wasn't very good at encouraging her students, let alone teaching us about the craft. More than once, she told us about how competitive and difficult it would be for any of us to get published (which is true) without offering any sort of silver lining. Beyond that, the feedback I received on my short stories was generally discouraging. Being that she was so successful, I was wiling to assume that she knew better than me and I came to the conclusion that I just wasn't a very good writer.
So, after the class was over, I decided to quit writing altogether, choosing instead to study literature. I did, after all, still enjoy reading, so I figured I'd become a literature scholar and that would help make up for the fact that I was a terrible creative writer. However, about six or seven months later, I found that I still had a jonze for creative writing that I couldn't quite shake. Even if I was terrible at it, I loved doing it—this despite not having written anything of substance since that first disastrous class. So I decided to take one more creative writing class, before quitting for good and focussing on other things.
The class I signed up for was being taught by James Brown, author of the acclaimed memoirs The Los Angeles Diaries and This River. Brown had been successfully writing and publishing for about 30 years when I showed up in his class, so, unbeknownst to him, I quietly decided to give him the last word. If Brown's opinion of my writing resembled that of my previous professor, then I would take it as an unmistakable sign that it was time for me to give it up.
As it turned out, Brown was both exceedingly encouraging as well as a great teacher. Slowly, but surely, I rediscovered my confidence and my writing flourished. I took as many classes as I could with Brown until I finished my academic career in 2006 with a Master's degree in composition.
Five years later, I'm still using the tools I gathered while under Brown's watch—the very same tools, in fact, that would become indispensable in the writing of my debut novel, Inside the Outside. Since graduating, I've entered into my own career of being an English professor, embracing the opportunity to positively impact students the way Brown did with me.
And now, this week, my writing life will be coming full circle, as James Brown has invited me to be a guest speaker in the Advanced Creative Class he teaches in the MFA program at CSUSB. I'm so tremendously excited and honored to go back to my alma mater and stand in the same room where I learned my craft, to meet and talk to students who sit where I once sat, and to offer whatever knowledge I can to help encourage them as they prepare to embark on their own writing journeys...
To be continued in "The Circle of (a Writer's) Life: PART 2."