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Posts by Gina Barreca


May 21, 2012, 11:15 AM ET

When Your Computer Betrays You

Christian is my computer Godfather: he's in total control of the whole system--the computer at home, the laptop, the computers at work, and my husband's computer as well. If you met Christian, you'd understand why we trust him with our technology (and therefore a big part of our writing lives): His quick intelligence is as obvious as it is reassuring. This is a mensch; this is young man who can fix and do everything. He has a big-time full-time job, goes to law school at night, and works this electronic and computer enterprise as a side business. But if you saw him right now, on this beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon as he sits in front of the Mac on my desk when he and his lovely wife Jennifer--they are both former students--wish he would just come home already, you wouldn't see him as an emerging Marlon Brando in Coppola's film. His expression right now is more like the one Brando had... Read More

February 21, 2012, 03:21 PM ET

40 Movies Your Students Probably Don't Know

Fully two-thirds of my students are writing screenplays. I bet yours are, too. (Really, just ask for a show of hands. If two-thirds of them don’t have their hands up, it’s because those who are writing screenplays at that moment haven’t yet heard your question.) Yet the only thing they know about movie history is that The Lion King is really cool and that Pacino’s Scarface contains the line, “Say ‘hello’ to my little friend.” And even the ones who are not currently writing screenplays consider themselves film buffs although--since “buff” is not a word a lot of them use except when discussing the male physique--they often just say, “I really, really like films. I know quite a bit about them, actually.” What that means, as it turns out, is that they all saw Star Wars, The Little Mermaid, Babe, The Notebook, Titanic and Pretty Woman, but pretty much nothing before... Read More

January 30, 2012, 05:26 PM ET

How Do You Greet Your Colleagues?

Let me rephrase that: When you see them, do you greet your colleagues at all? I would like to think that there are charming colleges where faculty members not only brighten up and smile when they see each other, but actually stop to shake hands, chat and exchange pleasantries.   But I also like the idea that there are still houses with thatched roofs. I know that it’s simply not practical in this contemporary, hectic and increasingly impersonal world. Thatch isn’t very practical. Pleasantries don’t advance your career. But somehow knowing that both of these once existed makes me slightly nostalgic for the past—even if my idea of that past might resemble a fairy tale world that never really existed in the first place. I’m not asking for hootenannies or pot-luck fondu dinner parties. It’s just that when I started teaching that the University of Connecticut in 1987, there... Read More

January 13, 2012, 06:23 PM ET

Friday the 13th: Turning 21 and 55

From Act II, Scene I of Congreve's The Way of the World: "To Pass our youth in dull indifference, to refuse the sweets of life because they once must leave us, is as preposterous as to wish to have been born old, because we one day must be old. Youth may wear and waste but it shall never rust in my possession." I wrote that line in my journal on Friday the 13th of January, 1978, the day before I turned 21. I was superstitious. I was afraid I would never be as happy again. I was defiant against my older self, arguing with the woman I would become, jealously guarding my right pleasure, defending myself against my unseen enemy: my older self. Happy I most certainly was: I was in London, reading novels by Hardy, Gissing, Orwell, and Webb under the tutelage of Dr. Lillian Haddakin at UCL as part of a six-month study abroad program. It's true that a small room in Ramsey Hall had been given... Read More

December 5, 2011, 08:33 AM ET

The Sweet (and Not So Sweet) Smell of Success: Life in Publishing, Part 6

"Mr. Shipman"  is the alias for a dynamic VP at a publishing house who has also taught courses in writing and publishing. His younger self, however, might not have regarded the  path to his current success as unimpeded as it now appears in retrospect: "I’m pretty sure my full-time starting salary in 1985 was an alarmingly low $11,000.  (So much for the go-go 1980s).  Editorial assistants have always been underpaid (and I was used to regarding a chintzy TA stipend as a 'salary') but what the hell?  Almost 20 years of education and I was making  little more than $5 an hour??? Luckily, my wife, a very smart and hard-working woman, was doing quite well, and within a few years I was earning like an adult, but it’s hard to imagine that I’d have been able to stay in the publishing business (based in expensive cities such as Boston and New York) without such support. As an E.A., you... Read More

November 28, 2011, 09:49 AM ET

What Editors Think of Writers: Real Life Part 4

"What do editors want?" Adding to our discussion of real-life experience in the world of publishing, the fourth voice we'll hear is from the Editor-at-Large of an internationally known and well-respected magazine, one with a professional as well as popular readership. A successful author in her own right as well as an experienced editor, "Hanna Errant" (her alias, as if you couldn't tell) maps some unnerving changes in the publishing industry over the last twenty years: "Young hopefuls stream into our offices wanting to write. A few are lucky to be selected as interns. They will write short pieces, help bloggers with their posts, open the many packages of books and perform other high-minded tasks for months, hoping a staff position opens up. "What is notable about these would-be writers is how crest-fallen they are when their first writing efforts emerge from the editors' hands. A... Read More

October 21, 2011, 05:00 PM ET

Student Job Questions Asked and Answered

Guest Post by Laura Rossi Totten and Sam Ferrigno I suggested that two English majors--Laura Rossi Totten, a former undergraduate assistant who graduated from UConn in 1991, and Samuel Ferrigno, my current assistant, who will get his B.A. in 2012--address the issue of how doing the everyday tasks expected of students who regularly perform work-study duties or hold similar positions might actually benefit them in their work lives after graduation. I figured that it's time to let my grown-up students start giving advice about the current workplace to those graduates hoping to enter it. Laura, now principal at Laura Rossi Public Relations, has worked with hundreds of authors, academic as well as trade (I consider my influence a good one); she worked at Penguin, Norton, and other major publishing houses before starting her own firm. Sam, who has been working with me since the summer, is... Read More

October 17, 2011, 05:58 PM ET

Dear Student: Don't Ask for Permission to Screw Up

Dear Student: Don't get me wrong: I want to know if you got a concussion playing lacrosse. I want to know if your father was just in a car accident. I want to know if you're bleeding out. I respect you and I insist on being treated with  respect: As adults, we need to be candid, straightforward, and polite. If there's something serious affecting your ability to complete your work for my course, we need to talk about it and we'll deal with it. But here's what I don't want to know: that you are "thinking about leaving class early" because you have an exam for another class tomorrow. That's not okay. Did you think I might say that was a good idea? Are you, and I ask this politely (see above) insane? Why would I compromise my class for another class—and why would you? Why would you consider it to be appropriate to tell me such a thing? Who encouraged you to "share"? Not me. Please... Read More

September 26, 2011, 10:05 AM ET

Your IQ, as Determined by 'Boardwalk Empire'

Boardwalk Empire, thank the gods of Luck, Nucky, and HBO, is back on Sunday nights. I’m as ready to have Buscemi and Scorcese entertain me as those fans in the plush little theatre (in a scene about 40 minutes into last night’s episode) were ready to settle down and give themselves to Chaplin. If you haven’t seen last night’s show yet, this might contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen Boardwalk Empire at all, you’re kidding only yourself. Yes, the first few installments of the opening season were slow, but the investment is paying off. This is no Ponzi scheme; this isn’t Lost, where you end up wanting to take the producers and writers to court for having engaged your attention under false pretenses. This is serious television and it’s for grown-ups. It’s actually for smart grown-ups. And that’s why today’s post is a highly scientific IQ test based on what you liked... Read More

August 3, 2011, 03:10 PM ET

Do Friends Give Friends Advice About Admissions?

My stepsons are at that adorable age where they're both attorneys; it's so much easier than the Baby Gap stage, or that other stage when we were saving money for bail. You can see, therefore, that it's been several years since we've had to worry about the admissions process for our own immediate tribe, and now that my brother's kids are all fully launched and sailing along in their own orbits (one with a Master's in Library Science, one getting an MBA, one at Concordia in Montreal), the only ones we need even think about the children of our friends. Turns out, however, that our friends have had lots of children over the years. And they all seem to be applying to college at once. It's like a giant mudslide of youth heading towards us—inexorable, overwhelming, and with the possibility of getting more than a little messy. Because what are you going to say to one when you know you can't... Read More