I've been writing hard since around 1987. My first novel, The Onion Scribe, was discovered by author Bret Easton Ellis and edited by him, garnering me my first literary agent at ICM in 1996. That book was my sardonic Salinger-wannabe attempt at making sense of my southwestern Virginian upbringing; it was written in L.A. in six weeks. It landed on some elite Manhattan editors' desks and gained me ingress to many star-filled NYC parties but was not published.
I met just about every famous person you could meet from George Plimpton to Salman Rushdie to Richard Ford to Joan Didion to hundreds of other writers I had read as a boy.
By the way The Onion Scribe is my literary doppelganger named Kit Fisher, but it is also an ethos about the act of writing itself, and how writing often supersedes normal relationships. True writing is a discipline begun in pain but lifted to art. Here are the commandments that I try to follow:
Onion Scribe Commandments
1) Just because you have a conversation today doesn’t mean you have to talk
to him or her tomorrow. Further conversations only lead to intimacy. Intimacy
leads to loss of autonomy. Some call this love. Love takes time from writing.
2) The Onion Scribe is autonomous.
3) If you peel his layers, they will make you cry, and then he will disappear.
Hence, do not peel The Onion Scribe. He a) disappears on his own and b) peels himself.
4) The Onion Scribe fears being peeled because he has no center.
5) The memories of The Onion Scribe dissipate once they are remembered.
To move forward, old memories must be erased.
6) The writing comes first. It comes before self, family and, most especially, love.
7) Only The Lone Peacock can protect The Onion Scribe (see The Lone Peacock below).
8) The Onion Scribe purposefully (and sometimes tendentiously) writes quixotically.
9) If someone, Reader for example, does not understand Onion Scribe, then Reader must
read again. If impatience ensues, Reader must counsel with Peacock.
10) The larger the work, the better. Shorter works are forgotten. All works are forgotten,
but longer works last longer.
11) The Onion Scribe can only write about solitude. Any other subjects lack validity and
are only patinae. And layers differ considerably from patinae.
I was raised on three farms in Bedford, Virginia, prepped at Virginia Episcopal School (V.E.S.) in Lynchburg, and attended boarding school at King's College in Taunton, Somerset, England on an English Speaking Union Fellowship. At V.E.S. I won the English and French Awards, as well as the Chaplain's Prize.
My undergraduate was the bittersweet but formative Davidson College in North Carolina, where I began to write stories of my past. My grandmother, Mary Jane Harris Lerner, had a farm on the James River, and my first short story, "Respect for the House and Sleeping", was published about her in The Crescent Review in 1995.
I received a B.A. in English from Davidson and won the fiction award my junior year (A poet won first place when the award mixed fiction and poetry. I technically won second, but a poet judged and naturally gave first prize to a poet). I also won the non-fiction award my senior year.
I was accepted into the M.F.A. program at the University of Houston and the M.A. program at Middlebury College in Vermont at the Bread Loaf School of English (see photo above). My mentors at Houston were playwright Edward Albee, who produced my first play; novelist Rosellen Brown; poet Richard Howard; poet Adam Zagajewski; fiction writer James Robison.
I graduated with the M.F.A. in May 1994 and the M.A. in August 1995. Albee was also one of the readers for my M.F.A. thesis committee, and I appeared with him on CBS Sunday Morning when he won his third Pulitzer for Three Tall Women.
Years later, almost a decade, I would return to Middlebury where I received my third master's degree, the M.Litt. in African-American Studies. The Middlebury program has many campuses, and I spent four summers in Vermont, three in Santa Fe, one in Alaska, two in Asheville and two at Lincoln College, Oxford University.
Check out the Bread Loaf School of English. These were some of the sweetest, poetic and idyllic summers of my life, and I grabbed those moments when I could. I'm glad I did because the Alaska and Asheville campuses are no longer.
Believe it or not, I even started a fourth master's in Poetic Technique in 2011 attending the new Bread Loaf, Asheville, campus twice studying Hip Hop, poetry, Chaucer and Vengeance (Homer, Seneca, Shakespeare, Dante), also making it to Oxford again in 2012 to study James Joyce's Ulysses, after which I crossed the Irish Sea on the car ferry and visited the Joyce Centre in Dublin, as well as his wife Nora's house in Galway.
In the summer of 2013 I was elated to win the Bread Loaf School of English Poetry Prize, judged by New Yorker poet, David Huddle. The news is announced on the mountain at Bread Loaf, Vermont, and my former acting teacher, Carol MacVey, heard the news before me since I was studying at the Asheville campus--and she told me on Facebook.
It came with a $450 prize and put a beautiful coda on an already wonderful couple of months of study. Then it was also published in The Paris-American here where I was their featured poet for a week. The poem is called "The drunk man thinks of suicide at the pulpit" and here it is:
The drunk man thinks of suicide at the pulpit
The drunk man at
the pulpit has given up
and wants two bodies
so he can commit
thinking this as he
preaches to nothing.
He sneaks into the
church at night
and sleeps, and
reeks, but he has
what it means to
be clean; he is not bad,
he is okay, he is good;
he even thinks it is
wrong to touch this
but he has nothing else
to do, so he’s come up,
and he pretends
to preach to
and he is drunk,
yes, he is drunk,
but he has something
to say, knows it is
and when he goes
to the back of the pews
to sleep under them,
he admits he has found
some places to hide
and that maybe one
body, maybe, is enough
to think about dying.
As for teaching, I have done stints at various places. I taught two years of Freshman Comp and Rhetoric and Sophomore Intro to Drama at the University of Houston; five years of Freshman Comp and Lit at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York; two years of Brit and American Lit at Greens Farms Academy in Westport, Connecticut; and at SUNY-Purchase in Purchase, New York.
At SUNY-Purchase, I replaced two professors on sabbatical and was there from 2006-2009. This was my favorite academic environment because I received an office and benefits and was allowed to teach creative writing, poetic technique, fiction and screenwriting. I was given amazing autonomy and taught over forty books that I loved.
I also briefly taught graduate school at Lenoir-Rhyne University's downtown Asheville campus, fiction, poetry and sci-fi/fantasy/horror.
MODELING, MUSIC, FILM
I would say that I've had a varied life across all the arts. In addition to being represented for writing by ICM for four years and POM for eight, I have done some print modeling in NYC and am represented by Charlie Winfield at FFT. I grew up as a child actor performing in plays like Gypsy, Annie Get Your Gun and Camelot and have also acted in short films.
I've also sung and played harmonicas in The Last Minute, which played a lot at The Beach House in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. I learned to play the trumpet from famous jazz trombonist, David Gibson.
I played and sang over a decade at Sundown Saloon in Greenwich, Connecticut, with Artie Tobia and Mark Barden. I also sat in with them often at Turtle Bay on Second Avenue in Manhattan.
I was head of the selection committee at the Greenwich Film Festival for two years and have directed the short film, The Development, starring Paul Bomba, Sarah Desage, Matt Del Negro and Colman Andrews with cinematography by two-time Emmy winner, Dwight Brugo. You can view that film on Vimeo right here.
I have various publications in Act Two Magazine, USA Today, Laker Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad, Golden Triangle, The Daily Meal, Greenwich Magazine, Westport Magazine, New Canaan Magazine, In Good Taste, Saveur, Westchester Magazine, ARTnews, The Crescent Review, The Tusculum Review, Gulf Coast, SUNY-Purchase Alumni Magazine and many others.
My first book of short stories, The Reclusives, was published in June 2011. YOU with The Ill-usives, a novel and novella, was published in 2012. And in August 2013, my metafictional noir novel, The Killer Detective Novelist, was published.
He kept using Lester's mouth to express himself, floating into Spanish at times and at some point he realized that he was crying and laying the doll on his desk, just crying about life itself and what a waste it felt like sometimes, but then there would be moments like this where you were just running with strangers and happy and not thinking about anything at all, and it made you feel better. Excerpt from "I Am Not a Landscaper" in The Reclusives