This is a difficult letter to write. It’s a request for a recommendation, but also a letter I’ve wanted to write for months. If I’d written it this summer, it probably would have made the recommendation-request aspect of this letter easier to write. But. Well. I guess what I’ve wanted to say is that you knocked me upside the head! Your response to my third story last spring stirred many spirited internal dialogues—and once these hypothetical debates ceased and I reestablished my enthusiasm for writing, the new territory I discovered was richer and the language I used to describe it seemed to me more interesting and more my own.
Since early 2002, I’d worked on a good-natured novel with an unbelievable (sensationalist) plot inspired by the psychic charge of living in New York on and after 9/11. Instead of writing about people, I wrote a plot. Last spring, I still had hope for the book. Instead of concentrating on new work, I spent most of my time trying to finish this book, which is why I workshopped excerpts from it (the one about the little women and the one about the autofellator) in your class.
Not up your alley! You doubted the entire project, in fact, and I’ve since come to doubt it, too—something that’s been disheartening and also a creative triumph.
It’s disheartening because so many hours were spent trying to pull off this ridiculous plot. And it’s a triumph because writing those now-abandoned pages also enabled me to write what I did this summer: something fuller, something that doesn’t require the reader to suspend disbelief on every page, something that focuses on people more than plot.
I’d never concerned myself with plot before I wrote that book. And I probably never will again. It’s hard enough to focus on the life of one character, let alone dozens of little women living inside the belly of an autofellator.
So. I know you are on sabbatical, busy with a stack of books bought but not read over the years while reading student stories. I don’t want to disturb you or waste your time. To a degree I also doubt you will agree to write a recommendation for me, considering (1) the autofellatio incident, (2) my failure to properly respond to Yi-yun’s last story, and (3) the time after workshop on your porch when I asked if you’d ever consider writing a Letters to a Young Poet-type book and you said: “You make me want to kill myself” (In my weaker moments, I’ve understood this comment perhaps too generally . . .)
If these three factors make it impossible for you to vouch for me, I understand. (A letter that simply reads, “Lee Klein makes me want to kill myself,” probably wouldn’t help me much.) I’d still like you to know that I think you’ve done exactly what a graduate professor should: knock her students across the forehead if need be, indelibly mark their aesthetic impulse, and thereby improve their work.
In your response to my autofellator story you wrote: “You are too good a writer to be working at this level.” I’ve framed that letter and hung it in my room. I’ve considered it a challenge I’ve accepted and tried to meet. And I’ve included a story from the two-hundred or so pages I wrote this summer as a result of your influence—or more so, in response to it.
I hope you’ll recognize some improvement in the new story. And I hope the rest of the year refreshes you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
If you're interested in buying a very limited edition (~50 copies total) of the novella that came out of those abovementioned two-hundred or so pages, paypal $12 to lee at eyeshot.net. Only a few are available. No future editions. The price will increase as supplies dwindle.
Here's a pdf of autofellator
novel as it now stands.