Tips From the MFA Pit, Part 5 – Reading like a Writer

This week it’s another installment from the MFA Pit, where we’re looking at the things we read to write. Sometimes our reading material can take the form of books on craft, the other times on our genre of choice. Sometimes that’s not even the genre we write, but what we simply enjoy reading. But when what-we-write converges with what-we’re-reading, we seem to take on a more critical eye…
You certainly don’t have to like everything you read, and sometimes that’s good. You find out what NOT to do, what works and what doesn’t. And you learn to read like a writer, not so much for the story, which definitely runs in the background, but for craft—what tools and techniques the writer uses to write a compelling story. In my Comp One classes, we do what’s called a Rhetorical Analysis of an essay to accomplish much the same thing. We look at four things: the situation, or what prompted the writer to write, the purpose, what the writer wanted the reader to think or do, the thesis, the main claim, and the audience, who the writing is directed toward. Of course, this analysis is wasted on 90% of most of the students (sadly), as once they get out of my class and/or Comp Two, they’ll more than likely never write anything beyond a text or instant message, or maybe an email when they get into the work world. But we can also apply some if not all of these principles to creative writing too, when we’re directing our story to a particular genre. In the fantasy or romance realm, audience is all important. When you combine the two, even more.
In fantasy, we concentrate on the world the writer’s building. It has to be different and compelling to draw your audience in. They need to leave the ordinary world and venture into something where the rules of of the ordinary world can flex. But that flex has to have its own logic, and after it’s established, you need to stick with it or your readers will call you on it. For example, the perennially logical Dr. Spock of Star Trek could never suddenly turn sentimental. Fans would call foul. Then again, if he did it for a single episode it could be fun, because he’s stepping out of his ordinary world. But his fans would definitely want such a sojourn to be temporary, as what’s the fun in a weepy Spock?

With romance, the “rules” are definitely a bit stricter. There ALWAYS has to be a HEA – a “happily ever after,” or at least a HFN – a “happy for now” if you plan on sending them on some hijinks in the next book. And there are definite stages to their romance—when they first meet, when they first kiss, when they first make love, when they fall in love, when the fall OUT of love, when they face the Dark Moment, when they fall back in love, then when the commit to each other, then lastly, the HEA or HFN.  All romances mostly follow the same progression, and romance fans look for and expect each stage. What keeps them interesting, and keeps the pages turning, is how the couple reaches each stage and goes beyond it. You see, the trick to writing a good romance is the couple is not supposed to fall in love—yet against all odds, they do. It’s this struggle romance fans look for. And as a Romance Writer, it’s up to your to deliver. When it’s too easy, it’s not a romance. When they meet, it’s fate. When they kiss for the first time, it’s mind-blowing. When they finally make love—it’s a nuclear meltdown. It’s that easy!

As we venture more and more into our own writing, we almost subconsciously view other writers’ works through the filter of our own. Sometimes we view it with intimidation, sometimes with awe, sometimes with jealously, sometimes with a smugness when we’re convinced ours is so much better. What we should always do is keep reading though. Just like a chef never stops tasting, a writer can’t ever stop gazing at the worlds around them, in a continual effort to improve their own.
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If you don’t vote, don’t bitch

With Election Day less than a month away, I asked a sampling of my Freshmen college students whether they had registered to vote or not. We are preparing to write an essay on how to define what an American is, and I wanted to stress that suffrage, one of the bedrocks of citizenry, is not only a right but a responsibility. I came across a quote from Michelle Obama about voting and it went something like, you don’t let your elders choose your music or your clothes, why would you let them choose your future? And this struck me as so realistic, as there are too many young people who have become not only apathetic about what the country is going through, but more than likely, ignorant of it. Many feel either helpless to change anything, or that between their college classes, their jobs, their friends, and their relationships, they feel that world issues are an “adult thing,” and even though they may be eighteen or twenty or more, it’s something for old people to worry about.

Ah, youth. There really is nothing like it. And I tell them constantly to get their face out out their phones and instead of become digital zombies, go out there and eat life. You’re young, everything works. your bones don’t ache, and you can stay up all night. I know I did. But I also went to take a look at my high school records on the day I turned eighteen, simply because as an adult, I knew I could. And because I couldn’t wait to swallow adulthood whole, I also registered to vote. I couldn’t wait to affect change, I wanted to be fully-functioning member of society, I wanted to be part of the process. I wanted to matter.

You could, too, if you haven’t already. Go here and register to vote, and let them know you’re a force to be reckoned with. And you’re watching.

A day of writing, writers, and Red Bank

During this retreat like full day workshop authors have the opportunity to attend various Presentations, pitch Literary Agents and Editors (Optional), get a book signed by Bestselling Author Megan Erickson during our Mixer, get work critiqued by Agents and Editors (Optional), attend the Critical Mass: First Page Critique Literary Agent and Editor Panel, and Network with authors and industry professionals all day long and during a Networking Mixer after hours.

8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday, October 13, at The Oyster Point Hotel, Bodman Place, Red Bank, NJ 07701.
Phone: 732.759.9175
Conveniently located about one hour from NY City.
​Valet parking complimentary.
Train Station: Red Bank – North Jersey Coast line located just 5 minutes away.

For full info please visit the Corvisiero Agency Website!

(Barely Awake) ass in chair, baby

I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m drinking too much caffeine in the afternoon but I’ve been waking up way too early in the morning lately. Or maybe I’m just of that certain age, but I really don’t want to go there at the moment. In any event, I’ve been writing really, really early in the morning these past few weeks, and for me that means at my desk by six-thirty or seven. I write until around  eight or eight-thirty, then it’s off to get ready for my first class at ten-thirty. I’ve been patting myself on the back for being so dedicated, then I heard about this group of people, and I have a whole new reason to feel inadequate.  The 5 AM Writer’s Club according to their website, is “…a dedicated group of writers who cheer each other on when it’s needed, and pass donuts around when they’re hungry. (BTW Check the #5amWritersClub hashtag to find a fantastic group of people to follow on Twitter.)”

But what it means to me is a bunch of dedicated writers who actually find their muse up and awake before the crack of dawn. I find this completely admirable, as although I’ve been know to get up early,  it’s usually not by choice, and I just take advantage of the situation. Still, what it says to me is if you want to write, if you need to write, you WILL find the time to do it. No excuses. Writers write. Ass in chair. And if you want some cheering on, well now you know where to go to find it.

Tips from the MFA Pit – Part 4 – A room of one’s own

Another school year, another entry from the MFA Pit. This time it’s all about process, about conjuring up your creative muse, about getting that perfect writing space, about finding the time to write. This semester MFA Candidate One is studying Aesthetic and Process, about why we write what we write, and how to go about bringing that process to fruition…

Here we are again, this time, examining your writing process as well as—and we’ll get to that soon enough—why you write what you write. Sometimes you can’t exactly say why you’re drawn to a particular genre. You may like romance because you like an HEA (happily ever after), or you like fantasy as you’re always drawn to other worlds. Whatever captures your imagination is something very individual to you, and it’s something that you’ll explore as well as you go along. You discovered this a bit in a previous semester, when you started out writing a straight romance, then found out you’re so much more comfortable adapting those romantic concepts to fantasy. More revelations we come along soon enough this semester, and this will become more apparent when you write a closing paper at the end.
Process is something we’re sometimes slow to discover. It’s the “how” of what we’re writing. You mentioned in the beginning essay you don’t find outlining as helpful as it could be. Well, I’ve discovered over the years there’s really two basic kind of writers out there—the pantsters and the planners. The pantsters write by the seat of their pants—start the story and then let the characters take them where they may. The planners find this process horrifying. They outline, they use index cards, bulletin boards, collages—anything to keep them in sequence and on track. Most writers fall somewhere in between. Your using a journal is a good example of this. I always have what I call my story guide. It’s a kind of a journal in which I list my characters, their names, occupations, descriptions, characteristics, etc. I list the main plot of the story, the conflict, the dark moment, mostly all the things I need to keep straight as the story progresses. For example, you forget how old one of your characters is, or in what town they’re to meet the villain at the end. This gives you something you could always refer back to. It’s also a handy place to list changes you want to adapt in later chapters when you’re editing a draft.
A place to write can be tricky at times when you live with other people. Unless you have a dedicated space at home, you sometimes have to shift around our make compromises. But it could also be outside of where you live. It could be a favorite bench in a park, a table at Starbucks, or in the 3rd floor lounge in the Student Center (I wrote a flash fiction piece there once!) It’s anyplace where you can wrap your head around your story. And that’s only up to you to decide.
Until next time — Writers write!

Poor Yorick is Open for Submissions

Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects is an online literary publication of the MFA Program at Western Connecticut State University. The journal publishes poems, stories, essays, profiles, digital video shorts, photo essays, scholarly articles, and other innovative works about or inspired by rediscovered objects and/or images of material culture. In addition to unsolicited submissions, the journal’s editorial staff will occasionally identify a particular historical object, collection, exhibit, etc., and call for submissions inspired by the selected artifact. Poor Yorick also works in conjunction with museums both locally and nationally to identify and encourage innovative works focusing on lesser-known and overlooked objects and images.

For more information about submitting, please click here for their Submissions guidelines.

Liberty State Fictions Writers is now accepting Workshop Proposals for their 2019 Conference

Hey! Are you an expert on something? A writer with plotting/characterization/genre tips up your sleeve? Have knowledge you’re just itching to disseminate? Then by ALL MEANS YOU NEED TO SUBMIT! Not to a publisher (not now anyway!) But to Liberty State Fiction Writers, a tri-state multi-genre fiction writers organization who’s looking for presenters for their 10th Annual Writers Conference in March 2019 in beautiful Iselin, New Jersey! Submit your Workshop proposals here, and spread the wealth–of knowledge, that is. (Though you can send me money anytime. I’m a starving artist, after all.)

Sorry. Have vacation brain.

Yes, that’s the beach in the background. I thought it was appropriate. Because that’s where I am, Yuengling in hand, not thinking about the book I have to finish, or that classes start one week from today. I’ll be thinking about that all sooner or later.  For now, fingers in ears and lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala…

Okay, my brain be like…

August is the cruelest time of year. If come just off of July, a tentative kind of month as far as summer is concerned, with the real start of it on Independence Day. But by August you’re fully into the swing of it, you have three-quarters of your tan and you’ve completely forgotten what socks feel like, you’re way into fresh tomatoes and peaches and sitting outside for dinner. You’ve gotten used to sleeping with just a sheet over you, mosquito bites, how good that cold bottle of brew feels in your hand. You can’t get enough ice cream, swimming, summer blockbusters, cricket chirps at night and early sunrises in the morning. But if you’re a teacher, or a college professor like me, you know these things are just there to taunt you, exclude you, set you on the outside looking in. Because if teaching is your chosen profession, you can kiss all these things adios by mid-month. Because by that time you’re already neck-deep into the brain-frying task of the dreaded CLASS PREP!

“Teachers get the whole summer off.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! You know what I’m doing now? It’s not laying on the beach, that’s for damn sure. What I’m doing now, by the very act of writing this is slacking from what I’ve been doing for the last week–interminable reading, lesson plans, website updating, essay prompt preparation, yadda-von-fucking-yadda. And if you teach college, you have the equally interminable Pre_Class week, where you have Online Training, Orientations, Departmental Meetings, College Assembly, Convocation, etc. etc. etc. ewwch, arrgguuuh!

Okay, gotta go. My Blackboard site is screaming for my attention because it goes live in ONE WEEK. “Teachers get the whole summer off.” Oh man–I’m cryin’!

Ruminations on a Maxfield Parrish summer night

I love Maxfield Parrish. He is and always has been one of my favorite illustrators and artists. I love his vibrant, saturated colors and the visual depth of his landscapes, his use of perspective and the playful humanistic qualities he gives to each of his subjects. I often think of him when the evening sky is awash with stark color after a storm. The blue is most likely a colbalt used often in Parrish’s work, and I loved this particular shade of his even before I knew it was a thing. It is a blue that says many things to me–of the variations of nature, of a kind of impishness, of the joy that being all-in with life can bring. Maxfield Parrish’s art, because of its sheer volume, variation, and detail, also says to me he must have enjoyed the creation of it immensely. What a luscious life he must have lived, reveling in it.

I think of Parrish in the context of a talk I attended just the other week, between a writer of some renown and an editor from a major publishing house. He was asked what advice he could give the attendant audience of writing students, especially when they’re feeling the full brunt of the pressure to publish. He said first and foremost to enjoy this early time in their career when the flush of discovery and learning is still fresh, and learn to cultivate it throughout your writing life. But more than anything, you need to enjoy the process, because if you don’t, it’ll show in your work and you’ll be doomed to ordinariness. And you’ll spend a whole lot of time being miserable.

Fine advice to always keep running in the background, no matter what discipline you create your art in.  Especially on a soft, summer Maxfield Parrish night as this.

Seriously Snark

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