Saturday, April 30, 2011


I admit, I'm becoming a Francophobe.

James Franco is really starting to get on my nerves.

It has come to my attention that James Franco has been accepted to the University of Houston's creative writing Ph. D program. He was one of 20 accepted from an applicant pool of 400. He's already received an MFA from Columbia, studied English at Yale and UCLA and attended the Rhode Island School of Design.

He just turned 33.

To try to wrap my arms around this, I went to the bookstore last night and found a copy of his short story collection "Palo Alto," published late last year. I wanted to see what the hoopla was about. I took some precautions -- specifically, heading to the bookstore an hour before closing so I wouldn't be tempted to read the whole thing, and going to the back of the bookstore to read, to avoid anything dangerous from happening, like actually buying the book.

I read the three stories that were highlighted on the book's cover jacket, on the assumption that if the publisher elected to tease them, they're probably the best stories in the bunch. Each story was about a high schooler who's somewhat outcasted having to make a difficult decision, and featured a violent climactic scene.

The Los Angeles Times called Franco's collection "the work of an ambitious young man who clearly loves to read, who has a good eye for detail, but who has spent way too much time on style and virtually none on substance." I agree. I would classify all three stories I read as average. Each had its moments, but gets railroaded by one of three things -- too many unnecessary characters/scenes, too much look-at-me writing that doesn't advance the story, or an incomplete story arc. I've been editing the fiction of the Mason's Road literary journal this semester, and while I'm only one of many readers, I have to say I would pass on each of the three stories if they made it to our submissions desk. The stories felt like they suffered from ADD.

And maybe that's why he's getting on my nerves. The stories seem like Franco himself -- hell-bent on trying to do everything. He may have finally overextended himself during this year's Oscars, which he also co-hosted with Anne Hathaway, and was a catastrophic failure as a host.

But for a guy who comes across as publicity-shy, he seems to do a lot of things that generate coverage. Don't get me wrong, he's a free agent and has the right to pursue a Ph. D if he so chooses. But why get a Ph. D in creative writing when you're an Academy Award-nominated actor?Are you gonna teach? I mean, I'm thinking about pursuing a Ph. D in creative writing after I get my MFA, because hell, I don't know if my novel-in-progress will ever get published, and theoretically I could hide out for a few years in this crap economy. But that's the method to my madness. What is his plan? He's not gonna stop being an actor. And by doing this, he's taking away precious Ph. D slots for other folks who actually want jobs in the world of creative writing.

And that's what pisses me off about this. So, sorry, James Franco. You may want to come across as an all-around good guy who's educating himself, but I'm not buying it. But to me, you just come across as fake and pretentious.

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