MFA

Why is Publishing so important?

On August 10 I’ll graduate from my MFA program.

Lots of folks are saying really nice things: “Congratulations!” And “You must be so proud!” Or “You must be happy to have all that work behind you.”

But none of these really resonate, because, well, I didn’t embark on this program to get a degree. I embarked on this program to improve my writing, so that, in its long, novel format, it could be published. (I’m already published in short form.)

Put another way, although I’m not in academia and probably won’t ever go for a tenure-track position (never say never), I’m feeling the “publish or perish” pressure.

Put yet another way, the degree is nice. I worked hard and made friends and am part of a community. But I won’t really feel like I’ve done anything until my work is on the shelf. (Obviously I’m not debunking whatever an MFA feels like for anyone else. We all have our own races to run.)

I’m thinking about this a lot lately, as I query my manuscript. As I’m researching possible outlets, I see agent, or editor, blogs that pass on valuable knowledge, and author blogs that do the same. These things are a veritable fount of warmth and happines. Like, isn’t it wonderful, that there are these people out there, who love books and words and who spent their every waking minute thinking about the way we tell stories? Isn’t it amazing to be, however tangential, a part of a community like this?

And, earlier in my MFA career, I met an editor who started her own literary society for writers of children’s and young-adult books. And I met a woman who worked tirelessly to build a place where writers could feel more connected to each other. And I met another editor who gave so freely of herself that, whenever I called on her after the residency, she responded. And published writers who consistently answer calls for help from writers like me. Agent recommendations, proofing query letters, general brainstorming.

Like, how lucky I am, to be loosely connected to this group of folks who think this way, and who want others to read and gain just a little bit of whatever they’re feeling!

And then, right on the heels of that warm fuzzy stuff, “I can’t wait to be able to pass on knowledge like this. I can’t wait to be able to publish, so that I can speak from the bookshelf, from a position of full experience. I can’t wait to inspire others to love craft, and words, and books.”

Last semester, Doyce joined our MFA program. The husband of a close friend, and now, a good friend in his own standing, he was on the fence about the residency. Early on, we had this exchange:

“Don’t make yourself responsible for my happiness with this thing,” I tell Yi Shun while we walk along the shore to the beach house she and a few other students have rented. “That’s not going to work out.”

“For me?” she asks.

“Also you.”

Doyce is not going to believe this, but I have been thinking about this since we had the exchange. Mostly because something was off. Not the part where I’m anxious about Doyce wanting to enjoy the residency, Get Something out of it, maybe even like it enough to sign on to the program–all that is true. But it was something about the motivation. Why was I so anxious? What did it mean?

Earlier this week, as I was sending out some queries, I finally figured it out. I wanted Doyce to join us in part because I knew he could add to us. I knew his knowledge and experience, which is so different from so many students’–and even most instructors’–in our program would only make us better, as a body. We could learn from him, and he might even learn from us.

The pressure to see Doyce happy with this thing came from wanting to build a better community.

Ultimately, when I publish, I’ll be that much better equipped to be a better part of the community. With an MFA under my belt, I am a step closer. I think.

That’s why graduation matters.

Onwards.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The People in My Neighborhood: MFAland

I love sport. I love doing it, training for it. I love introducing friends to it.

I love race day. I love the pre-race energy; I love the random camaraderie that springs up on the course. (People ask how you’re doing; people help each other with transition areas; people give each other race food or water when a hard bonk happens.)

I love most of all watching people I know and care about cross the finish line.

I love writing. I love the process. I am learning about the craft. I love the hours when I am in the moment and banging out something I care about.

I love encouraging people to find their voices. I love watching a writer use his voice effectively, when he finally finds it. I love seeing people I know and care about publish the work they’ve worked over and over until this phrase, or that, linchpins the whole thing together.

This past February a Whidbey MFA graduate posted that there was a triathlon the day before residency, and would some of us like to do it with her? Several of us signed up. Hell, we thought, we don’t have a football team, why not do a triathlon together?

So we did it.

I didn’t come to MFAland to make friends. I came because something was or is inherently broken in my writing, and because I needed motivation. I know all too well that when your critique partners become your friends, or when you ask friends to be your critique group, you might run into problems.

But as I watched people I know and now love cross the finish line, and as we celebrated a classmate’s first-ever publication last semester, and as I goggled at the numbers of fellow MFA students and staff who were not racing but who came to cheer and feed us beer and cheese after, and as we mourned the death of a classmate’s brother and another classmate’s close friend, something clicked: You cannot embark on things you love, and invite people in, and not make friends.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

7×7=one grateful blogger

Awhile ago, my Whidbey colleague Charlotte Morganti nominated me for a 7×7 link award! I wish I knew what the origins of this award was, but more important, I’m just happy that I’m getting an award! It’s my first!

Also, one thing about Charlotte, before I go on to the requirements of the award–she’s by far the most diligent blogger I’ve ever come across. She decided she was going to start a blog, and then, bang! She’s been keeping it up, regularly, with great writing tips and interviews with luminaries like Alan Rinzler. She also does great book reviews, and is the author of an as-yet-to-be-published hardboiled detective novel in the vein of Dashiell Hammett. So yes, you must follow her blog doings.

Now. On to this award. I must do several things in order to account for this award. I must list seven items in each of three category.

First, seven things about me you probably don’t know:

  • I don’t like very spicy food. That is to say, I don’t like things that flame your nasal hairs out and make you sweat. I’m much more apt to buy a mild tomatillo salsa than I am an “extra hot” salsa, for instance.
  • I am a sucker for the American Standards songbook.
  • I can’t dance.
  • I struggle with my weight. Part of this is my inherent laziness. The other part of it is my love/hate relationship with exercise. The final part of it is genetics.
  • I think everyone should have their own personal style. This is not to be confused with trendiness.
  • I adore button-down shirts and in general prefer neat dressing to slovenliness.
  • I love to cook. And I prefer to do it with friends in the kitchen or nearby.

Now, 7 posts from my own blog that I like:

  • Chris Hondros, in Memoriam: Chris was the photographer for one of my first-ever feature articles. He died in Libya almost a year ago.
  • Book Review: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane: I write book reviews at my site every once in awhile, but I like this one because it deals with something I think is super important in books–characters one can identify with. Also, it gave me a chance to write a bit of a love letter to Dennis Lehane’s characters. And okay, maybe Lehane himself. :)
  • Speaking the Gospel: This is a brief roundup on why everyone should try public speaking. I almost never write posts about business, but this is one of those things that I’m both good at and that I feel strongly about, so I did this one. It’s just a list of reasons everyone should love to speak publicly. And yes, you read that right.
  • Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I and II: This is the story of our Ironman competition. We trained for six months and had a blast, and I’d readily do it again. I loved this race. It was awesome. (Yes, yes, okay, in retrospect.)
  • A Phone Conversation: This is exactly what it is, a phone conversation between me and Mr. Gooddirt. I think it’s hilarious. It pretty much pegs Mr. Gooddirt.
  • Track Rats: This is part of a series I’m writing called “The People in My Neighborhood.” It’s about the folks who populate my life. This one is about the people who first really made me feel like I was a part of my physical neighborhood.
  • An Open Letter to Do-Gooders: I’ve deployed to Haiti twice as part of the ShelterBox Response Team. While I was there I noticed a few things. This letter is obviously not from ShelterBox itself, but it’s my perspective of what people who really want to help in a disaster situation should and shouldn’t do.

Phew. That was hard. This next one will be easier. 7 blogs I like, and, in turn, pass the 7×7 award on to:

  • GrassDirtCorn. My friend Hollie Butler is very special to me. I’ve known her since I was 18. We were camp counselors together. And we used to write letters. Now Hollie tackles some good things–and not-so-good things–in her blog on food, health, and general life. I love it.
  • DaphneUnfeasible. My friend Kate Schafer is a great literary agent. And she has good, important things to tell writers, on her blog.
  • ChelsKnorr. My friend Chels Knorr just started her blog. She’s off to a bang-up start. I think what she has to say is intriguing. I think the way she says it is beguiling. G’wan, take a gander.
  • Manhattan Nest. I’ve just started reading this one. I almost never have patience with blog posts that are this long, but I love Dan’s sensitivities and his design sense. So he’s hooked me. If you like mid-century design–or design at all–you need to take a look at this.
  • The Sherman Foundation. Thomas Sherman makes great, pithy remarks about things that matter to me–art and design and marketing. I appreciate his respect of my time and attention span, but more important, I respect his wide-ranging definition of design.
  • Harvey Briggs. Harvey’s been involved in advertising everything from cars to pantyhose. I can’t remember how I found him, but I’m thrilled I did. Another master of pithy copy, Harvey often points me to really interesting advertisements, but more important, he has interesting, commentary-provoking things to say. Every. Single. Day.
  • Kate Gale. Is a librettist, an editor, a smart, smart woman, and a wicked conversationalist. Again, short, loads-of-fun commentary. Well worth a peek.
  • Nancy Norton. I’ve written about Nancy before, but I think you should go over and take a peek at her blog. She spends part of the year near Toulouse, France, and aside from the part of me that’s an inveterate francophile, I’m always amazed at the things Nancy ends up doing and seeing–and sharing with us.

Okay. That’s it from me. Thanks to the blogosphere in general for this, and, more specifically, thanks to Miss Morganti.

 

 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

the rest of my Whidbey photos, and a brain dump

So you know when your brain goes on overload, and you realize that you’d better download the stuff before your hard drive breaks and you lose all the stuff? That’s where I am now. I’ve been out in the big city twice in as many days, and although I’m most certainly not always at my best in the city, I am almost always awake and alert (“What’s a lert?”) and, perhaps worst of all, wide open to all the sights and sounds and input, and that’s, I think, why I’m overloaded.

Then, too, it’s a quarter to five in the morning, it’s raining, the porch door is open, the temperature is in the sixties…these are all things that make me percolate, which is good, because I have an essay due every fricken week for non-fiction class, and I’d better have stuff percolating.

Okay. First of all, here are some photos from my time in Seattle and Whidbey.
I got to see Hollie Butler for the first time in almost 15 years. Who is she? She is my friend from the one summer I spent as a camp counselor in Oregon. It was the first time I was ever able to say I had an amazing summer, and mean it. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I learned so much that summer and experienced so many different things…some day I will write about that.

Hollie and I wrote letters back and forth for a little while. I think I may have gone to see her in Seattle when I went skiing at Whistler the following year, but I haven’t seen her since then, and that would have been 1994. Wow. (Some days, I really love Facebook for reconnecting me with people like Hollie.)

On the way there I saw these buildings, which I loved for their color and their lines. I guess they go into the “I took pictures of this cos I want to draw it later” category.

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I also got to see another old friend, from my advertising days. I think she might be one of my favorite people, in part because she and her husband are wise without being old. I love this about them. When Ina and I worked together, I learned so much from her. Ina has this view from her home office window. It also goes into the aforementioned category.

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Here are some snaps from Whidbey Island itself.

These are my friends Robert and Cynthia. Cyn has been my roommate from the first semester on. We were all housemates this semester. Good fun!

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Here’s another snap I’d like to try my hand at, except the colors are kind of intimidating.

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Here’s one I did try my hand at, and that’s both material for another post and probably an essay on how taking drawing classes has made me a better writer.

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Here’s Cyn, reading her work. We do student readings at Whidbey. That absolutely makes us better writers.

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Here’s Grier’s dog, Popeye. People, do you understand how much of a difference having a dog around makes? A lot. (Also material for another essay.)

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I’ll close with this freakishly Monet-like scene, which was what we saw ever day during our afternoon classes. This one I won’t be trying to draw. Frankly, Monet already did it.

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Next post, a breakdown of the drawing lessons. Or maybe a rundown of these two days in the city, which have given me a lot to think about, all by themselves.

And oh, here’s a gratuitous Sprocket photo.

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Do you think I can squeeze in a nap before the day begins? Or should I watch some more BBC mysteries on Netflix?

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

My right hand

This is my right hand.

It has some curious features on it.

  • A faded scar, shaped like a crescent moon
  • An awful bump in the middle joint of my middle finger
  • A healing scab
  • A couple of moles
  • An index fingernail that looks like all of the index fingernails on my mother’s side of the family
  • Overgrown cuticles
  • A tan line that only I can see on the ring finger
  • A ring finger that bends back over towards the middle finger

All of these are a part of me. They are a part of my history: The moles are from being out in the sun. The scab is from a recent mosquito bite. The overgrown cuticles are because I rarely care for my nails. The ring finger bends back towards my middle finger because I used to write a lot by hand; and the bump on my middle finger is because I broke it inline skating to class one day in college.

The nail on my index finger reminds me of those in my genetic makeup. I am sharply reminded of this every time I look at the hands of my aunts and uncles and some of my cousins, and I always feel a little taken by the similarity. 

Of all of these, the crescent-moon-shaped scar interests me the most.

I love my right hand. It’s written a lot of letters, a lot of thank-you notes, a lot of grocery lists and packing lists. It has written a lot of diary entries, starting with the little book with the kitten on it that “locked” with a standard key. My dad gave it to me when I was eight. I still remembering his encouraging me to write in it each night. I wrote some things and then the next morning I would find notes from my dad or my mom in the margins. (When did we lose the connection?)

I have kept nearly all of my journals. The one that is missing is red; it has a photo of a director’s chair on it, and it was stolen along with my backpack one night in the heady days of the late 90s, when I was out almost every night and felt bereft when I was home alone.

At the moment, my entire history seems bound in this hand and what it’s done: tomorrow I start study for my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and I’m keenly aware that I might discover some things about my writing that I didn’t know before, and some things that I might not want to know.

It’s my deepest hope that I will end the two years in the program having learned something about myself, and perhaps armed with the tools that will allow me to share what I’ve learned about people in general with everyone else. I’d like to share this knowledge in the form of a published book, but a girl must not hope too much.

I have written three manuscripts. This is perhaps my greatest shame, for none of these is published, and I don’t know if any of them will be. Think of it: three whole manuscripts! Nearly 900 pages! Just sitting there, gathering theoretical dust, whilst I dally about with everything but making an attempt to sell them.

What can be worse than knowing that your writing is somehow broken? Not much, but I know I will find out much more, in much more detail. The fact that my writing is broken seems tied to the fact that I must be broken, somehow, too; much as the fact that my right hand is tied to my writing.

These are the skeletons in my closet.

This is my right hand, the one that did all the writing, and the one with so much history to it. I want more for it; tomorrow I start that task.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.