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Smoking With Jim Nelson


"Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe"
by Vincent Van Gogh
"He is without paper." Oh no! In what other terrible predicaments might a writer find himself?
For me, a sheet of blank paper is more daunting than being without paper. Writers often speak about the terror of the blank page. I don't worry about running out of characters or ideas or situations, but for whatever reason laying down those first few sentences is a self-administered root canal.

What's the best and worst thing about being in an MFA in Creative Writing program?
One benefit of an MFA program is immersion in the writing scene. San Francisco State has a fantastic and diverse line-up of instructors, but equally as valuable is the breadth of student talent here. Writing may be a solo activity, but failing to engage with other writers can leave you stranded in an echo chamber built for one. The MFA program keeps me loose and fresh. It's expanded certain horizons. You don't have to be in an MFA program for this benefit, but it's there.

The worst aspect? Creative Writing MFA programs have been under considerable attack lately, the most recent (to my knowledge) Anis Shivani's clunky essay in Pleiades. I won't grapple with any of these attacks here. I do think what you get out of an MFA program is proportional to what you put into it.

What does it mean to "live in the Tenderloin"?
San Francisco's Tenderloin is one of the seedier neighborhoods in the city. It's reputation is slightly inflated, as it's not nearly as violent or impoverished as districts like Hunters Point or Bayview. But it's more urban and denser than those neighborhoods, and it lies on the edge of the moneyed and highly visible Nob Hill and Union Square.

The Tenderloin is a colorful and sad place. It has its own vibrancy that I find enthralling, but you don't dare walk its streets too wide-eyed. It's San Francisco's black hole. You won't find it listed in tour books (other than as a warning to stay away), and it's *never* listed in real estate or rental guides; apartments are categorized after the closest neighborhood ("Lower Nob Hill" or "Upper Civic Center"). It's like its existence is defined by its demarcations. I find that fascinating.

Your work has appeared in lots of places, including Judas and Suck, two names that might be my new favorites. If you were to start a literary magazine, what are some names you'd consider?
Long ago I wrote an ezine of commentary called Ad Nauseam, which I still think is a great name for a certain type of publication. For a literary magazine, I would devise something more appropriate to its content. I would start a fiction magazine with an irreverent spirit and a playful edge. It wouldn't have the word "Review" in its title. Placemats of the Future is in the ballpark.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you've ever encountered?
For my money, the great titles in fiction and film come from the hard-boiled and noir school. The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; The Long Goodbye; The Killer Inside Me; A Hell of a Woman; The Nothing Man; Double Indemnity; and The Postman Always Rings Twice. These guys knew great writing starts and ends with the title.

The worst title I've ever encountered? I'm not sure, mostly because a poor title will keep me away from a work. The rock group The Band. Whatever you think of their music, not a great name. It's like writing a novel called The Novel. You should probably work a little harder on that.

Read Of Potential.
Issue Seventeen (June 15, 2007): Renoir Responds to Aline Charigot’s Charges of Painting Her Ugly by Daniel Bailey «» Cymothoa Exigua by Christopher Battle «» Oblivious by Gary Cadwallader «» The Wedge in Between by Debbie Ann Eis «» One Purple Finch by Kathy Fish «» Clouds by James Hanley «» Mousafa's Woman by Kyle Hemmings «» First Night by Ric Jahna «» My Great-Aunt Meets Jesus at the Mobil Station in Montana by Stephanie Johnson «» Old Leningrad by Sandra Maddux-Creech «» Selective Memory by Mary McCluskey «» The Attraction of Asphalt by Stefani Nellen «» Of Potential by Jim Nelson «» Portrait of a Mother, Beforehand J.M. Patrick «» Midnight in Albuquerque by Tiffany Poremba «» Flatlining in the Edward G. Bellacosta Memorial Park by Jake Ruiter «» Prow by Claudia Smith «» I Know This Man; He is My Father. by Tavia Stewart «» In the Last Frame by Beth Thomas «» My First Two-Headed Boy by Veronica Thorn «» Interviews: Bob Arter «» Daniel Bailey «» Christopher Battle «» Gary Cadwallader «» Debbie Ann Eis «» Kathy Fish «» James Hanley «» Kyle Hemmings «» Ric Jahna «» Stephanie Johnson «» Sandra Maddux-Creech «» Mary McCluskey «» Stefani Nellen «» Jim Nelson «» J.M. Patrick «» Tiffany Poremba «» Jake Ruiter «» Claudia Smith «» Tavia Stewart «» Beth Thomas «» Veronica Thorn «» Cover Art "Peace in a Time of Monsters" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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