James Franco’s star power wouldn’t be enough to get his short story published in Purdue University’s literary journal.
Franco, whose Sunday will consist of both hosting the Oscars and walking the red carpet as a nominee for best actor, is also a published author. His collection of short stories, “Palo Alto,” was released in hardcover last October, and one of those stories, “Just Before the Black,” appeared in Esquire magazine last March.
The fiction editor of the Purdue student-run Sycamore Review, Conor Broughan, said if “Just Before the Black” showed up in his mailbox in the same form it appeared in Esquire, he wouldn’t publish it.
“It’s a good first draft,” Broughan, who is working on his Master’s in Fine Arts in fiction, said “It would definitely be passed along and discussed as a potential story, but there would be necessary editing work to finally get it in the journal.”
Many articles have been written about Franco’s side projects in academia. Aside from his Hollywood movie roles, he is enrolled in two separate Master’s in Fine Arts programs at two separate universities – New York University’s film program and Columbia’s writing program. He’s been accepted into Yale’s Ph.D. program for literature and the Rhode Island School of Design.
When looking at Franco’s resume, one may be tempted to label Broughan a slacker for pursuing only one Master’s in Fine Arts at only one university. Dallas Woodburn, who also is working on an advanced fiction degree at Purdue, said the writing program is so time-consuming that if Hollywood came calling, she and Broughan would be too busy.
“I find that I really need to guard my writing time and schedule it out,” Woodburn said. “When I’m really writing, my mind is so in the story it’s as if I’m living in it. I’ve never acted, but I feel as though that experience is similar – it would be very difficult to switch between the two.”
Woodburn said one of the best parts of an advanced fiction writing program is spending time in a community of other writers. With Franco flying between Hollywood sets and other universities, Woodburn doubts he’s getting the full, rewarding experience she’s getting at Purdue.
“If you’re involved in so many programs, you’re not able to immerse yourself in one and focus on one,” she said.
Aside from being published in Esquire, Franco’s stories have been reviewed by both The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. Broughan and Woodburn weren’t so sure the attention on Franco’s work is good for fiction writing as a whole, though. Woodburn is concerned that, with everything else going on in Franco’s life, his work being published supports the belief shared by many of her friends that fiction writers should be able to just “bang out” a story.
“For me, that’s not quite what the writing experience is like,” Woodburn said. “I guess the idea that he’s doing all this work and publishing things – it supports the idea that if you have an hour you can just go bang out a story.”
Broughan thinks it’s positive that people who may not usually read short stories will go pick up a book simply because it has Franco’s name on it, though he wonders if those readers would return for more after reading stories with “very little depth.”
“I wonder if there’s sort of diminishing returns,” he said, “because would readers go back to the bookstore after reading his stories?”