Creative Writing News
Growing up in Richardson, VJ Boyd BA’02 dreamed of being a screenwriter, crafting his first screenplay at age 16.
“I did make many short films as a teenager and in college, but none of them were technically sound,” he said. “The writing was decent, but I had little skill or help in the camera and lighting departments.”
Now, after a stint in corporate sales, VJ is living the Hollywood dream, penning scripts and producing episodes for a variety of shows including the award-winning series Justified, which aired over six seasons on FX. His brother, Justin Boyd BA’06, left a university post teaching philosophy to join him in California two years ago and now writes for SyFy’s Channel Zero.
The two frequently see movies or meet at coffee shops and write together, whether on their new comic book, “Night Moves,” or on separate projects. While Justin is prepping for future installments of Channel Zero, VJ is working as a co-executive producer on CBS’ S.W.A.T., a remake of the 1970s TV show of the same name. (Their sister, April, is a current UT Dallas student.)
“I imagined both of us working out here, but I didn’t know if it was a realistic idea. It was one of those things you think, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be awesome?’” Justin said. “It really wasn’t until shortly before I made the decision to also come out here that I thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is actually a possibility. We both loved film and television growing up — wouldn’t it be cool to create that stuff?’”
Chasing the Dream(s)
That’s when he took a fiction-writing workshop and a scriptwriting course with then-School of Arts and Humanities lecturer Tony Daniel, a Hugo Award finalist for his short story “Life on the Moon.”
It was Daniel who planted the seed in VJ’s — and later Justin’s — mind about pursuing a career as a TV writer. The process isn’t complicated: move to LA; join a TV show as a writing staff assistant — “that is, a coffee-getter and note-taker,” Daniel clarified — and write. Then write some more. Followed by more writing.
“From there, you work your way up,” Daniel said. “VJ followed my advice to a ‘T.’ It didn’t hurt that he is incredibly hardworking, proactive and generally a nice guy, of course.”
VJ relocated to Los Angeles in May 2008, and within a month got an assistant job on the series The Beast, one of the final projects of actor Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009.
After working as an assistant on several shows, VJ landed a gig on Justified, a Western-type saga with a modern spin that aired from 2010 to 2015. His break had arrived. Hired as a writer for the show’s second season, he moved to producing duties by the series’ end.
As an admirer of classic crime noir and science fiction films, VJ dreams of one day writing in one of those genres. It just so happens that’s exactly what Justin does on Channel Zero, a sci-fi/horror anthology series. “I’m jealous sometimes that he gets to make up all this crazy stuff,” VJ said. “He can pitch giant flies in his episodes.”
When he was an undergraduate at UTD, Justin almost racked up more hours playing pool in the Student Union than in class. His passion for pool would later pay dividends.
“The script that got me hired by Channel Zero was about the pool scene in Texas,” said Justin, who earned an economics degree in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
While working full time, he took evening graduate classes at UT Dallas including a screenwriting class with Daniel and courses with Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of creative writing in the School of Arts and Humanities.
“I knew I could do it (screenwriting) and I enjoyed doing it, but I wasn’t sure I was good enough to do it professionally,” Justin recalled. “I was also committed to being an academic.”
Justin eventually moved to Chicago, ending his hiatus from studies to earn a master’s degree from DePaul University in 2012. During a stint teaching philosophy at DePaul while working on a doctorate, Justin got the itch to try his hand at TV writing like his brother. So, in May 2016, he moved out West.
He got a job as a writer’s production assistant — “the lowest rung in the writers’ room” — on the FX show Snowfall the month he arrived. That job lasted until the end of the year when his script about the Texas pool scene landed into the hands of Nick Antosca, showrunner for Channel Zero.
“I always tell Justin, ‘Man, don’t tell anyone you got lucky enough to write on a show as soon as you came out here,’” VJ said. “He’s only been out here a year or so, but thus far it’s been great. We haven’t lived in the same city in a decade.”
The November 30, 2017 launch party for Reunion: The Dallas Review, Volume 7, was held at Deep Vellum Books in Deep Ellum. The staff, graduate students Chelsea Barnard, Kenady Toombs, Jennifer Crumley and Brian DiNuzzo, organized a warm and cordial gathering in an intimate space.
The issue itself is a grand accomplishment, and it is one in which the School of Arts and Humanities can take a great deal of pride in. The full participation of the department made is shown with the inclusion of both graduate and undergraduate students in the process. The hard work and dedication of these students, and the staff of editors and readers who work with them, is astonishing. It is all done on a volunteer basis. The Student Affairs Office has also made the publication possible with their budgetary support, and that shows in the overall quality of the product.
Copies of Volume 7 are available now. They will be distributed in the A&H Suite as well as elsewhere around the campus.
An on-campus launch party is being planned for early in the Spring Term. Please be alert to future announcements, as all faculty and students are encouraged to attend and participate. In the meantime, congratulations are in order for these hard-working and talented students.
For over two decades, Reunion: The Dallas Review has been dedicated to finding and publishing exceptional examples of short fiction, drama, visual art, poetry, translation work, non-fiction, and interviews.
Our mission is to cultivate the arts community in Dallas, Texas, and promote the work of talented writers and artists both locally and across the globe.
The journal is managed by graduate & undergraduate students from the School of Arts & Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Two graduate students won first-place awards from the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers and have been invited to read at the association’s annual meeting in September in San Antonio.
Jennifer O’Neill, who is pursuing a master’s degree in studies in literature, took first place in the Graduate Student Fiction category. O’Neill studied under Dr. Clay Reynolds, professor of arts and humanities and director of the creative writing program at UT Dallas.
O’Neill’s winning story, “Flowers and Gold,” was composed in Reynolds’ fiction writing workshop last fall.
Toni Muñoz-Hunt MA’15 won in the Graduate Student Creative Nonfiction category. Muñoz-Hunt wrote her award-winning essay, “Border Sisters,” in a workshop led by Dr. Betty Wiesepape, clinical associate professor in arts and humanities.
She is pursuing a PhD in aesthetic studies.
“Jennifer and Toni are representative of the very best of our students, but they are by no means unique. They exemplify the levels of excellence that are possible when academic knowledge is supported by caring mentoring and encouragement,” Reynolds said. “Dr. Wiesepape and I are both very proud of these awards. They represent the kind of results we hope to see in every student.”
The School of Arts and Humanities welcomed two new professors this fall to expand the literary studies program at UT Dallas.
Dr. Ashley Barnes, assistant professor of literature, focuses on 19th- and 20th-century American literature. Dr. Manuel Martinez, professor of creative writing and literature, is an expert in Chicano and American countercultural literature.
“The addition of Drs. Barnes and Martinez significantly enhances our expertise in the increasingly important area of narrative studies,” said Dr. Dennis M. Kratz, dean of the school and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor of Humanities. “Stories are humankind’s most effective means of exchanging ideas and values. Dr. Barnes explores such essential ideas as love and spirituality in 19th-century American fiction. Dr. Martinez creates — as well as writes about — narratives exploring the plight of the ‘other’ in American culture. I look forward to their contributions to the ongoing narrative of the School of Arts and Humanities.”
Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of creative writing at UT Dallas, sat down recently with Lone Star Literary Life to discuss his career as an award-winning author.
Reynolds, who is described as “a key figure on the Texas literary scene,” has been publishing written work since 1976, but said he became a novelist by accident.
“My wife worked evening shifts, and we had two small children in diapers at home,” he said in the interview. “Reading or really doing much of anything else was nearly impossible during the evening hours, as I had to remain awake and alert for the children. I could, however, sit and type.”
Reynolds found success finding a publisher quickly. He published his first two novels — The Vigil and Agatite — in 1986.
He also touched on his life growing up in Quanah, Texas and its impact on his writing.
“I have written a lot about that place, in my imagination, but it exists more in my imagination than in my memory,” he said. “Agatite, the name of my fictional small town that is setting for several of my books, is like Quanah, but it’s not Quanah… I do think I draw a lot about my sense of people from that experience, and also my sense of history. It was Texas in a microcosm, generally a full demographic representative of the state’s population at that time.”
Reynolds, who has been teaching college courses for 42 years, said new writers should educate themselves, not just in writing, but in all fields.
“Don’t write to offend or outrage, or to preach; but don’t worry about writing something that is diluted or masked by civility and political sensitivity,” he said. “Be direct, be honest, be accurate and unvarnished. In sum, write what you know, not about facts and experience you’ve actually had, but rather about the emotional depths you’ve been to and felt.”
Reynolds is author of more than 1,000 published works, including 20 books, authored and edited. He has won the Violet Crown Award for the Best Texas Novel twice, and his novel Franklin’s Crossing was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. He has also been named runner-up three times in the Western Writers of America Spur Award for the novel and short fiction, and finalist for prizes from PEN Texas and several national writing organizations.
Reynolds is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, has received grants from the Texas Commission for the Arts, and is also a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.
You can read the entire Q&A here.
Jessica Miller, UT Dallas graduate student, has had her story, “A Matter of Procedure,” accepted for publication in Shenandoah, one of the more prestigious literary reviews in the country. Publication is slated for the Fall 2014 edition of the magazine.
Clay Reynolds’ story, “Gethsemane,” has been named a finalist for the Best Short Fiction Award in the Western Writers of America Spur Competition. The story appeared in the collection, A Shared Voice: A Tapestry of Tales,” edited by Tom Mack and Andrew Geyer, and published by Lamar University Press in 2013.
Clay Reynolds’ collection of personal essays, Of Snakes and Sex and Playing in the Rain, has been reissued in e-book format by Baen publishers. This collection, originally published in limited edition in 2007 by Stone River Press, a small literary publishing company, contains Reynolds’ observations on such subjects as coffee, urban legends, children’s literature, and , of course, writing. Ranging from the ironic to the serious, the volume emerges from the best of Reynolds’ previously published pieces of nonfiction and marks the completion of republication of all his original book-length work in electronic editions. It is available from amazon.com at
Faculty from the creative writing department have published new works over the summer, including a book-length collection of short stories.
In his new book titled, Vox Populi, Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of creative writing a UT Dallas, puts himself in the shoes of a nameless and sometimes hapless narrator that moves through a series of casual encounters, mostly in the Southwest, with total strangers, average people going about day-to-day, often mundane activities.
“Once in a while, you just need to write a book that’s just for fun. This is one of those books. I hope that those who bother to look into it get a laugh or two of it and that, maybe, here and there, it provokes a thoughtful reflection,” Reynolds said.
The array of characters and voices in Vox Populi reveal both the comedy and the tragedy of individual life, and expose the unique humanity behind the anonymous faces of the ordinary person. Through their candid and unselfconscious revelations, they tell a composite story of the everyday individual moving through everyday life.
Reynolds and fellow creative writing faculty member Dr. Betty Wiesepappe both have published works in a new collection, A Shared Voice, issued by Lamar University Press. Wiesepappe’s story is “Getaway,” and Reynolds is called “Gethsemane.”
A Shared Voice is a conversation in narrative by twenty-four American fiction writers. A total of twenty-four tales, each linked to another by at least one literary element such as character or setting or theme, make up this anthology by writers from Texas and the Carolinas.
“It’s always an honor to be asked to contribute to a volume such as this one, and I’m very pleased that Dr. Wiesepappe and I were invited to write for it,” Reynolds added. “These kinds of collections might be called ‘rubric collections,’ or assemblies of original and sometimes previously published short fiction that all subscribes to or responds to a pre-determined theme.
Dr. Matt Bondurant, assistant professor in creative writing and literature, and Reynolds are also both represented in a new volume of short fiction called Dallas Noir. The book is a continuation of Akashic Books’ series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.
A poem from creative writing prof Susan Briante has been selected by the Academy of American Poets for their Poem-A-Day program.
Briante’s poetry has appeared in more than 90 journals including New American Writing, TriQuarterly, and Ploughshares as well as been featured on the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day website and as part of the Poetry in Motion project. Her creative non-fiction has been published in The Believer, Creative Non-Fiction, and Rethinking History. read the poem
2011 Spur Award winner and UT Dallas professor Clay Reynolds has re-issued all his works of fiction in ebook format. The ebooks include the historical western and Pulitzer and WWA Spur Award finalist and Violet Crown-winning novel Franklin’s Crossing, along with the historical western The Tentmaker, and novels set in contemporary or near-contemporary times, Monuments, Ars Poetica , Threading the Needle, Players, Agatite, and The Vigil.
Larry McMurtry has called Reynolds’ work “ambitious and absorbing.” Reynolds’s novels, which are often set in the American West, are known for their themes of grit, daring, mystery, and the display of determination on the part of the characters even in hopeless or overwhelming conditions bred by living in an unforgiving, starkly beautiful landscape. Stephen King called Reynolds “a write of scope, vision, and vigorous storytelling ability.”
We are proud to bring these great novels to ebook readers,” says Tony Daniel, editor at Baen Books who published the digital copies. “And we’re very happy to give them new covers and generally put them in the form their author desires and the books deserve.”
The Reynolds ebooks will be available in multiple ebook formats, including for Kindle, at Baenebooks.com: http://www.baenebooks.com/p-1746-clay-reynolds-western-bundle.aspx. They are available both individually and in a bundle of eight for a significant discount.
For more information email [email protected] or call 1-800-ITS-BAEN