AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

August 21, 2015

MFA or not to MFA by Josh Stallings—Part 6

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 6:05 am


Josh 1

To help support his family he did many things, among them selling bootleg hooch to sailers on the Long Beach Pike. For a
lark he took the L.A. sheriff department’s entrance exam. He passed it and became a life long cop. When he was promoted to Chief of Corrections the brass discovered that although he had two honorary degrees from USC, he never graduated from high-school. There was a rapid scramble to get him a GED diploma. The man was well educated, he just didn’t go to school.

A fellow writer once referred to me and Pearce Hansen as street writers. I was proud to be associated with Hansen, but didn’t see the link. It took a while to understand street writer was code for ‘he ain’t gots no higher edumacation.’ That what I knew, I learned in the street. True, sort of. I learned some things in the street (back of a Firebird or a bowling alley bar more like it), but I also learned a lot in public libraries and cigarette and caffeine fueled conversations with writers and readers. Dyslexia and a deep-seated mistrust of authority made me a lousy fit for academia. But I have no room for or truck with ignorance, so I educated myself. I have studied everything from Shakespeare to old west dime novels. From Dylan Thomasrsz_street_cred to James Crumley. I also have my rich and troubled life to pull from. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living – conversely the life un-lived is not worth examining. If all of one’s knowledge comes from reading and lectures, your work can not help but be referential. This isn’t ‘only write what you know’ crap, if you want to write about something go out and get your hands dirty, live it, tell Google to fuck off and spend a night interviewing Ensenada pimps. Good fiction is making shit up while getting the essential truths right. Our job as writers is to tell our truth fearlessly. Only by doing this can we find our voice and reach into reader’s hearts.

Here is a short list of my fellow autodidact writers – William Blake, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Harlan Ellison, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Terry Pratchett, Ernest Hemingway, Louis L’Amour, Ray Bradbury, Alan Moore, Tad Williams and, wait for it, William Shakespeare. Not bad. So from now on instead of street writer, how about you call me one badass autodidact motherfucker. ###


Josh 3


  1. You are one badass autodidact motherfucker.

    Comment by S.W. Lauden — August 21, 2015 @ 7:48 am

  2. Reblogged this on Writing Fiction and commented:
    Here’s the latest installment on the MFA/ MA series I helped spawn over at
    Mr. Stallings gets real for us, in a way that only he could.
    Rock on, Josh!

    Comment by Lisa Ciarfella — August 21, 2015 @ 7:49 am

  3. I figure my lifetime of drinking and ‘diving’ has given me quite a bit of experience to draw on.

    Comment by charlesgramlich — August 21, 2015 @ 10:01 am

  4. I couldn’t help looking up “didactic” in my old dictionary. It is there between “dictum”, “did” and “diddle” “didn’t” “Dido” “dido” and “didst”, which I thought was amusing being mostly self-taught myself and reminds me of the old saying: “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” And this isn’t a slam against the teaching profession, just some of them who don’t know what the Hell they’re doing despite a lifetime of learning.

    Comment by Oscar Case — August 23, 2015 @ 11:06 am

  5. Ha! Hi everybody, glad you appreciate Josh’s piece as much as I do. I treasure every comment.–Elaine

    Comment by Elaine Ash — August 23, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

  6. Thank you Elaine, you really got my mind churning. Thank you my eastsider pal S.W. Lauden. Lisa you a kind wonderful person. Charles, some of my best memories I can’t remember. Oscar, I think the saying should go; Those that can, do. Those that can’t, fuck off back to bed until you can. James Crumley could and did like drunken saint. And he taught. I would love to have had the chance to take class from him. I witnessed Crumley interviewed by Dennis Lehane. Afterwards Dennis McMillan introduced me to the master, said I’d written this weird book and he thought Crumley would dig it. All I could do was stammer and mumble in a star struck stupor. I think as look at the MFA question I see its irrelevant how a writer gets there, all that really maters is what is left behind on the page. A great book is petroglyphs made of words to remind us all of that one perfect hunt. And sometimes they are the stains left on the page from an open wound. And I oddly find that a cheery thought.

    Comment by Josh Stallings — August 24, 2015 @ 3:21 pm

  7. […] Brothers records. That always stuck with me. I remembered it while reading YOUNG AMERICANS by Josh Stallings because this book crawled out from under a pile of albums, but not necessarily the Allman Brothers. […]

    Pingback by YOUNG AMERICANS by Josh Stallings | Crimespree Magazine — June 30, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

  8. […] Brothers records. That always stuck with me. I remembered it while reading YOUNG AMERICANS by Josh Stallings because this book crawled out from under a pile of albums, but not necessarily the Allman […]

    Pingback by Young Americans reviewed by Crimespree Magazine | Josh Stallings — July 5, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

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