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Write What You Know

Emil DeAndreis, a second-year M.F.A. student in the creative writing program, introduces readers to a downtrodden San Francisco public school substitute teacher in “Beyond Folly,” his first work of fiction just out from Blue Cubicle Press. A substitute himself, DeAndreis had plenty of material to draw from.

Photo of Emil DeAndreis. Photo by Paul Asper.


Biggest compliment you’ve received from a reader?
One reviewer was charitable enough to mention “Beyond Folly” in the same sentence as “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

Biggest difference between you and your book’s protagonist, Horton Hagardy?
Every day presents Horton with new, unthinkable misery, and he is left doubting public schools, fearing the direction of our society and questioning the worth of his life. When my alarm clock goes off in the morning, I’m usually pumped. Work is typically fun. If I had Horton’s life, I probably wouldn’t still be subbing.

What drew you to substitute teaching in the first place?

My childhood friend started subbing out of college. (He has since gone on to graduate from Harvard Law and is now pulling in some notable dough, so clearly subbing motivates people differently). At the time, his subbing paycheck dwarfed mine from Jamba Juice, and when I learned what he was doing for the paycheck — essentially sitting at a desk and making sure no students died under his watch — I was enchanted.

What’s the best part about being a sub?
The aforementioned perks play a role and having spent the past four years around kids, I’ve come to prefer, perhaps even depend, on their daily company and antics. Plus I’m done by 3:30. I do owe a lot to substitute teaching. It has provided the funds for full-time tuition and time during the day to write and do homework, not to mention the topic of my first book.

The worst part?
Seeing sad situations, the stuff that doesn’t become a funny tale, and knowing I can’t do anything to help as a sub. 

Any tips for getting an unruly class under control fast?
For older kids, I locate the main instigator and find some way to single him or her out in front of the class and cause some kind of momentary embarrassment — the kind that is just damaging enough to make the kid reconsider future disruptions, and playful enough that I don’t get fired. For the young kids, I usually bribe them with snacks.

Your book mentions the financial limitations of subbing. What money-saving advice do you have for anyone struggling to make ends meet in the city?

Don’t spend money you don’t have. That’s something my mom taught me.


A San Francisco burrito plays a comedic role in your book, and many residents have strong opinions about this particular food item. Where have you found the best one?
This question has the potential to sever friendships and offend your readers beyond redemption. I’m a native of the city and I’ve been to all the places that win awards and have lines out the door until 2 a.m., and those burritos are perfectly fine. But El Burrito (on Taraval and 26th) — the Carne Asada Bronco; that’s the one.

Why did you choose the M.F.A. program at SF State?

I’d always heard good things about it. I only applied here, Fresno and Iowa. It wasn’t hard to see Iowa’s verdict coming, and then I was left with the crippling decision of living in San Francisco, or packing up all of my things and starting a new life, in Fresno.

When you’re not in class, writing or teaching, where can we find you?
Coaching Lowell baseball, right across the street.


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