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Meshing a day job and a creative passion at Boise State

Tomas Baiza
Tomas Baiza. Photo courtesy of Tomas Baiza.

In addition to serving as director of Boise State’s Advising and Academic Support Center, Tomas Baiza is also a declared creative writing major in the Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing.

Baiza is celebrating the recent publication of his short story, “Wolves,” in the online journal Obelus. He told us more about his writing and the benefits of continuing education at Boise State.

Q: What inspired “Wolves”?

TB: The piece was originally a chapter in a book-length manuscript that I had removed for length. As I’ve learned, first drafts are almost never your best writing. I worked with an editor who said writers will have to make decisions that will break their hearts. Removing the chapter was one of those moments. It bothered me that the story wouldn’t be told. At about the same time, I read a coming-of-age werewolf story that I wanted to like but ultimately couldn’t bond with. I wanted to try my hand at the genre, so I re-built the chapter into the story, “Wolves.”

Obelus is a new journal and I’m proud that “Wolves” is the first story they chose to feature. There are hundreds of online journals. Each has its own voice. Getting published is a matter of matchmaking and finding where your story fits. “Wolves” had been rejected by multiple journals. Every rejection threatens to make you think a story is terrible. An acceptance means you found the right match.

Q: So, you’re working on a book-length manuscript?

TB: I’m working on a novel that is based – sometimes closely, sometimes loosely – on my undergraduate years when I worked as a pizza delivery driver in San Jose, California. People have told me that I needed to write a book about those adventures, so I started about three years ago. I realized I could write a shocking tell-all, or make it a real story. I opted for fiction. My first draft was too long, psychedelic, bloated and really bad. But there was enough to salvage. The book is technically done. I’m trying to generate interest in it. I have one extended chapter that’s been published ( A couple of agents have asked for the full manuscript as have a couple of smaller, independent publishers. It’s a wait-and-see game at this point. In the meantime, I try to stay busy with new projects.

Q: Have you always been a writer?

TB: No, but I’ve always been a reader and I’ve played music for a long time. The writing I did in college was always academic, expository research pieces. I’d always journaled, but I got bored with that. I thought, “What the heck, I should write a book.” You could argue that journaling is the story you tell yourself about your own life, so why not turn it into fiction?

Q: What goes on in the Advising and Academic Support Center?

TB: We help college students be better college students. We have a handful of signature programs. We’re the home advising office for undeclared students and students experiencing academic challenges. We oversee the Learning Assistant program. We are in charge of academic coaching, home to the Academic Success Courses portfolio. We see our role as supporting colleges and individual departments. Our goal is to help faculty members focus on their work as opposed to worrying about the minutiae of advising.

Q: What made you want to formally join the writing major?

TB: I knew that I had a passion for telling stories and I knew that I had a base level of skill. But I knew I wanted a more formal understanding of the crafting of story. I wanted to be around other people who want to tell stories and learn how they approach the task.

So far, I’ve been able to take classes during my lunch hour, but because of my work responsibilities it’s doubtful I’ll be able to complete the coursework necessary for a creative writing degree. Nevertheless, my goal is to learn as much as possible through the program to become a better, more confident writer and I value having the resources so close to me as an employee.

Q. What was it like to be in a classroom as a student again?

TB: It was challenging. I had never been the oldest person in a class before and that wasn’t always a happy experience. It also gave me a lot better insight into what it’s like for returning, non-traditional students. When they would say they felt that they didn’t fit in, I understood that intellectually, but here I was experiencing it first-hand. It’s easier to empathize now.

Q. How has being in class helped you?

TB: I’m learning there are different ways to see what it is to write and to be a writer. I have spoken to and corresponded with professional writers. It’s interesting to me that many of them have a dim view of academic writing programs. These are people who blazed their own paths without formal training. They didn’t fit in so they went out and wrote on their own. I understand that mindset, but being able to listen to other people talk about they approach writing and its challenges has been invaluable to me. As has getting feedback from someone half my age, who says I missed the point of a certain scene. The light bulb goes on and I say, “Oh my gosh, they’re right.”

Q. Has having this academic pursuit helped your day-to-day work?

TB: I didn’t expect that it would. I did in many ways see it as an intellectual alternative to my job – another way to experience Boise State. But it has given me a lot more insight into what it means to be a student in 2019, to be around 18-year-old Californians who are in a college class for the first time.

Q. What would you say to other people interested in continuing education at Boise State?

TB: Don’t be afraid. I would say if you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree you know how to do it. Although there are some differences, the basics are the same. At the same time, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been to college before. If an employee wants to learn more about something that interests them, the university provides amazing opportunities to do so. The business of the university is disseminating knowledge. Why not take advantage of it?

When I finished my doctorate, that was my third graduate degree. I thought I never wanted to step foot in a classroom as a student again. But being back, I feel that excitement again.

Quick takes:

Q. What piece of writing made you want to be a writer?

TB: When I was in fourth grade, I read “Beowulf.” It was very much above my head but I loved it. That was even more influential than “The Hobbit.” “Beowulf” will always dominate my thinking on what it means to write.

Q. What’s an overlooked piece of writing that we should all be reading?

TB: The most underrated fiction books, to me, are “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Earth Will Shake: Historical Illuminatus Chronicles Volume 1,” by Robert Anton Wilson and “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy.

Read “Wolves”:

– Story by Anna Webb