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October 23, 2012 / josephesque

MA Project Proposal: Accepted 22 October, 2012

Art of the Fanbase Compilation, a novel by Joseph Blair

In 1999, I began at California State University, Fullerton as a student who cared very little about education. My parents were paying for my schooling, and so long as I skated by with passing grades (which I didn’t even succeed at on occasion), I was doing what was wanted of me. I didn’t care. I didn’t try. I simply showed up. I was the student teachers dreaded having. I carried with me the high school mindset of I have to be here, not I’m here to learn and better myself, and I did not prosper. However, during this time the classes that did grab me were all creative writing courses. Still, as a young, snotty kid, I was skeptical about the ways my professors ran their classes. And while I loved writing, I didn’t love the classes and was a poor student, but this was the time my interest in poetry and fiction truly deepened. In fact, before dropping out, I submitted a story to Dr. Cornel Bonca as an undergrad, attempting to be enrolled in the graduate fiction class. I was accepted, and I attended the class for several weeks (and this was the first creative writing class I really loved), but then I dropped out to sow a few wild oats. During my break, my life turned around and I learned to care about things again. After several years and a newly revived life, I returned to school and became that student teachers loved. I read, wrote, took notes, never missed a class, and put my all into my education. The experience was enlightening and liberating.

Unexpectedly, as graduation grew near, I felt a desire to continue my education and grow as a writer, as well as expand my general knowledge in literature. Naturally, near the end of my undergraduate education at Cal State Fullerton, I decided to stop by the graduate advisor’s office about possibly applying for the graduate program. He looked at my record and told me I most likely wouldn’t get in, and that I should take some post-bacc classes to raise my GPA. As a man with a growing family and a full-time job, this didn’t sit well with me, so I proceeded to take a year off, during which I collected letters of recommendation, a list of universities to apply to, and so on. When the time came, I applied to five different programs, and to my surprise, I was accepted into CSUF’s Master’s program.

I was delighted. This was my chance. And the first class I enrolled in was Dr. Bonca’s graduate level creative writing course. I had a complete “do-over.” Since then, I have been an active member of the Creative Writing Club (year one member, year two vice-president, year three president), and have taken every creative writing course available to me. During these years I learned to develop confidence in my writing and began submitting to journals and publications. The first of these was DASH Literary Journal. One of my poems was accepted and published. This led me to submit elsewhere, and since then, I have had works published in several magazines and journals. A handful of my poems have been published in Dodo, issue one and two. In the local free publication, Santanero, I’ve had a poem published, and furthermore in another issue, I was interviewed as a Santa Ana resident/emerging writer/grad student who has had an impact on the society. I am currently working with Smalldoggies Magazine and Press on another piece of fiction they plan to include in their online journal. Yet the greatest of these accomplishments came when I was offered the opportunity to be one of the “featured writers” in Ishaan Literary Review, an online literary journal that published my bio, a short story, and two poems. I have continued to write short fiction and have submitted to various journals and plan to continue doing so.

As a writer, my goal, ultimately, is to make a living through the medium of the written word, and while I understand that making a profession out of writing is not quite entirely plausible 98% of the time, I am putting forth an honest effort. I have a vested interest in teaching writing, or quite frankly any level of English, and I plan to apply to community colleges and universities for positions as an either full-time or adjunct professor of English. Still, I chose to venture into the creative route for my Master’s project because my goal and dream has been to write professionally, and this is the most focused way to develop my craft.

With that said, what I am proposing here is a work of fiction. More specifically, for my final project, I plan to submit a short novel. Based partly on some of my time spent with a punk rock band touring across the United States, Art of the Fanbase Compilation (AFC) is a novel broken up into chapters which read more like interrelated vignettes. Each chapter is defined by a city (i.e., Tucson, AZ, San Pedro, CA, Soddy-Daisy, TN, Brooklyn, NY, and so on). Therefore, every chapter has a new setting and a new goal, and ergo, a different feel. The stories are strung together by the protagonist, Harold, through whose perspective the entire story is seen (in the 3rd person limited point of view).

I must clarify at this point that while the tour is a considerable part of the story, AFC is a work of literary fiction, more concerned with human relationships. I seek to gently and sympathetically explore the idiosyncrasies of human foibles through each and every character in the story. The characters are to come alive, be relatable, and possess attributes that the reader can often love, cling to, laugh at, and even sometimes dismiss. As Harold grows as a person through his time on the road, the aftermath of how he has matured is seen as well. The story continues after tour, focusing on his relationship with his girlfriend, Cynthia. There will be direct parallels and considerable cross-references which will tie the overall story arc together.

As of right now, five (5) chapters have already been written (approximately 60 pages). The characters feel strong enough and alive enough, and the voice is developed and consistent, and the content is vast enough, that I propose a 12 chapter novel, that will fall somewhere between the range of 160-180 double-spaced pages. The final length should be somewhere between 45,000-50,000 words, therefore siting at the cusp of a novella and a novel.

The unfolding of the story will not be entirely linear. AFC begins in the middle of the timeline with the first meeting of Harold and Cynthia at the end of the tour. Then, two stories begin to unfold simultaneously. The reader starts at the beginning of tour and travels through select cities from Southern California to New York and back, chronologically. Likewise, the reader also begins at the start of Cynthia’s and Harold’s true relationship and moves through it sequentially following the first chapter.  Approximately every other chapter will skip between the development of the characters in the band on tour and how Harold and Cynthia grow together as a couple after tour. The chapters will parallel each other in that Harold might have developed as a person in some certain way on tour, and that may be directly reflected in how he is dealing with his relationship in the following chapter. All of the characters change throughout, and largely the novel is about growth as individuals and patience with others. Near the end of the novel, both the tour will be coming to a close, and Cynthia will have an opportunity to attend a program at a university she had only dreamed of being admitted to. Naturally, Harold has to choose between his band which is on the cusp of a major record deal and success, and continuing to develop his relationship with Cynthia, for both Cynthia and the band will be traveling to different locations which make it impossible for Harold to choose both.

To develop this technique of storytelling, I have drawn inspiration from several of my favorite authors. First and foremost, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s influence can be seen in several aspects of the story. It is he who taught me that revealing the ending of the story at the beginning, if done carefully, can greatly enhance the reading experience and offer more insight to the reader. This is why I reveal the end of tour first, and the reader can see how we arrived at that moment through the following chapters about the band. Further, I try to instill the wry, witty, spiritual foundation that Vonnegut so aptly does throughout his entire works.

Next, I have drawn much from the characterization styles of J.D. Salinger. Through a certain attention to self-realization, and real-life dialogue, I aim to bring my characters to life, and feel as relatable as any given Salinger character, and therefore, unduly empathetic.

Further, I have taken much inspiration from both Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace. DeLillo because he seems to realize it’s the subtle epiphanies and strange things happening around us that form us as people. These are the things that make us function in an otherwise unwelcoming world, and DeLillo seems to successfully exploit them, which is something I seek to do in my writing as well. Wallace, on the other hand, has a true heart for people and characters. I believe he loves each one in some way or another, and I feel that way about my characters. His entire approach and aesthetic to fiction is something I thrive to emulate – I desire to break the wall of cynicism and return to a place where characters can just be real. People deserve the opportunity to simply be themselves in both real life and in fiction as well. Like Wallace, I pull from life experience in my writing, and in doing so, I become so much more closely connected to the fictional events and characters. A true sentiment is to finally be printed in a form of connectiveness and cohesiveness with heart and humor.

All these things together will make what I believe to be the best and longest work of fiction I have ever crafted, and regardless of how ambitious this work may be, I believe, in the end, Art of the Fanbase Compilation, will be a work of literature I will be proud of for the rest of my life. And not only will I have gained the experience of professional-style novel writing, I will emerge from the graduate program with a piece of literature I can then submit to small publishers and possibly end up with a physical book to call my own in the future.

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