MFA Semester 3: The Final Day

Yesterday was the last day of my third residency, and when I came back I was so tired and drained I couldn’t bear to post. So here it is now.

After my car was packed and my key returned, I went to Amy Downing’s graduating seminar on drawing and writing. Drawing, according to Amy, can put your mind in a certain state and can get you to see your story or your life in a different way. It definitely inspired me to start drawing more again.

After lunch I went to the tail end of the AWP panel, and then sat in a workshop on figuring out how to come up with your own idea for a panel at a conference. I didn’t have any of my own ideas pop up at this time, but it actually got me thinking about how taking part in these kinds of conferences can really help me.

Following this was the First Foot Forward agent/editor sessions, where I read a page of my story to an agent and she told me what she thought. It was very encouraging: she liked the mood and language, and everything that was off was something I had already set my mind on working on this semester.

I left soon after this. Throughout the whole day I said my goodbyes to my mentors and friends, and made promises to keep in touch that I’ll try so hard to keep. There were so many hugs, and my heart hurt a little bit, but I was tired and it was time to come home.

MFA Semester 3: Days 7-8

Getting close…

Thursday began with the second part of AJ Verdelle’s seminar, Type “A” Revision. She repeated a number of points that she’d made just the other day, but she managed to remain fascinating. She creates situations that allow (or almost even require) everyone to say something – nice for us quiet ladies – something I wish other professors did more.

Small group workshops continued and it was my turn again. Many of the same issues were brought up again, but I also was made aware of the issues people have with the way I hit my climax. What I did just did not seem to work for anyone, so that’s something I have to think on. Everyone seemed to believe I wrote good actions scenes, which I thought I was horrible at, so there was that as a bonus.

Friday morning started with a thesis meeting with the program head. Mainly he talked some on our craft essays, and gave explanations/suggestions on how the whole process of picking your thesis mentor/reader works and what you should do for your seminar. None of it was stuff we didn’t mostly understand or could find out about ourselves, but it’s nice to have an open discussion about it to clear up any confusion.

After I went to my dear friend Hunter Liguore’s graduating student seminar, Ekphrasis: The Mechanics of World Building. Hunter went into the ways you can focus on little parts of your fictional world to give a really detailed description, and how that can make the world feel real, and like something you can actually see. It was really great. Also we got to color and got free magazines.

I met up with Susan again to hammer down more of my semester study plan. I think we have a good idea going that will let me focus on my big problems as I revise, and then go back through to get all the other mess ups I’ve missed. She’s also willing to look at whatever I can come up with for picture book manuscripts. I will be very happy with this semester.

At the end of both nights were the graduate student readings. While in previous semesters I’ve found myself bored or zoning out during many of the readings, almost everything the past two nights snatched my attention. These are some really talented people graduating this semester, and I really hate to think that I won’t see many of them anymore.

One more day tomorrow, but it’s awfully low-key. I’ll get to say my goodbyes (and get some last-minute book signings) and then back to my home and my bed.

MFA Semester 3: Day 4-6

Oh boy, did I ever fall behind.

Well, on Monday we came in for The Sentimental Trap with Hester Kaplan. We discussed the difference between sentimental writing and writing with sentiment. What i got from it is that sentimental writing dictates what the reader will feel (cancer=sad) while writing with sentiment conveys true emotion without relying on a symbol to get the feeling across. You have to tell the reader something she doesn’t already know. It was really fascinating.

After this was the large group workshops again. Chris Lynch conducted most of this workshop. I haven’t had much experience of my own with him, but now i can add him to the much too long list of mentors I wish there was time to work with.

Tuesday started bright and early with AJ Verdele in Type ‘A’ Revision. AJ is an excellent speaker, and the entire hour and a half (it’s a two-parter) I was caught in what she was saying about scene, types of action, how to revise vs. rewrite, and so so many other things. I took more notes for her than anyone. But. She’s kinda scary. She’s really intense, and really opinionated. Also, I heard once that she’s thrown someone out for yawning during her lecture – so obviously I yawned the entire time. But she also seems like she would just whip anyone into shape. Another to the list.

Next up was the mentor meetings to figure out what the heck I’m doing this semester. I went in practically empty minded, but thank goodness Susan knows what the heck she’s doing.

After this was an I.S. fair, where different I.S. instructors ran seminars and some people displayed the projects they worked on all semester. It was fun to sit in on the graphic novel seminar, and I was able to meet Beth Glass, the woman who worked on my picture book I.S. with me all semester. I also managed to look at some of the student projects, including my friend Sharon’s own graphic novel. It made me regret a little not trying to figure out how to submit something, but maybe I can contribute next semester.

This was the free night (no dinner) so four of us -me, Rachel, Elley and Sharon – went to eat Ethiopian food. We all got food in this buttery sauce, and it came served on the same plate on top of this amazing spongy bread, the name of which I can’t remember. It was delicious, and I could eat that bread with everything.

And now Wednesday. This started with Tony’s seminar on visual language. Of course Tony gave us an intense reading list which I only got halfway through, and he managed to add more favorite books to my list: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan… and now I have to finish reading A Death in the Family and pick up some P.G. Wodehouse books. The whole seminar was about using language that makes you really see something when you read, and how you can do this with your own observations using unique details. It’s especially important to be clear with the language in children’s literature, since kids need the solid details to visualize what you’re getting across. Also, we talked about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Good time.

The afternoon was set aside for Large group workshop, but since my large group is a bunch of champs we blasted through everybody’s on Monday and were able to start small group today. Since the mentor groups are so small, Jacqui and Susan’s groups got bunched together, and today Jacqui’s mentees went first. Tomorrow I’m up with Susan.

After the night’s readings (Steve Almond is hilarious) and the reception, Hunter, Elley and I went out for a drink with Tony Abbott. We all had so much fun with him over this past semester, and he helped us so much, so it was really great to go out and tell him that. We wound up talking for hours about books, and comedy, and Community, and learning to talk to people. It was so fantastic, I don’t even care that I got 5 hours of sleep.

MFA Semester 3 – Day Three

Today started off with a seminar on juxtaposition, seeing how text, lines of poetry, or images can be arranged alongside each other to get a certain reaction or mood (at least that’s what I think the definition is). It was a very good seminar, and while I don’t feel like I jumped in enough it was great to listen to the conversation that sprang up.

In the afternoon was large groups, and I was up. Everyone had plenty of comments to give, including some good ones, thank god. My large group is excellent, and I got a wide range of advice spanning all kinds of topics, from my POV to characterization to the age of a character. I’m excited to get to work on this now, but I don’t even know where to begin with it. I guess that’s why it’s good to let everything sit for a few days.

Today began my regular overwhelming nervousness, and I don’t even think it comes directly from getting workshopped. No, instead I think it’s the result of my regular shyness and hyper-awareness of how awkward I am. I want to talk to so many people, to experience as much as I can, but I get shy about it. When I’m shy, I know that I will be awkward and either bumble through a conversation or have nothing to say and stand in silence. And knowing that, I become even more shy, and more awkward… it’s horrible. Too many new people at once, and too many people that I just look up to and feel like I’m bothering. I really need to get over myself.

MFA Semester 3: Day 2

I’m still posting these a day behind, but hey, at least I’m posting.

Yesterday started with David Elliott’s seminar on middle grade and young adult fiction. (Would you believe this is the first seminar I’ve had with him since starting this program? Geez.) We looked at Tuck Everlasting, What Jamie Saw, The Hanged Man and Feed (wonderful books) and talked about what each author did differently with the language.

For the afternoon we did a point of view seminar, which was interesting but also a bit dull, I found. Might have been because I felt like I was going to fall asleep.

After that was the meetings to decide who goes when for critiques. I’m today! Hoo boy. Wish me luck!

MFA Semester 3: Day One

Not everyone got over the the reception yesterday, but it was great to see the people that came. We met the new Writing for Young People students, a whole two of them! But these things come in waves; can’t have 6 of us show up EVERY semester. It was great to see my old mentors, too, and I got to have a quick chat with my new mentor, Susan. I’m so excited to work with her – have I mentioned that yet?

Later in the evening a few of us went out, and met up with two girls who started last semester but dropped out (I love this program, but I can accept that it’s not for everyone…I guess). We wound up at a huge table in a Mexican restaurant, and there was no end to my delight at hearing everyone talk about writing and books in the middle of a crowded, incredibly noisy room. Wonderful. I’m so glad to be back.

Onward to Cambridge: MFA Semester 3

Tomorrow I head to Cambridge for my third semester in the Lesley Creative Writing MFA. My mentor this semester is Susan Goodman, a very funny woman who wrote the picture book The Truth About Poop. While she doesn’t write fantasy novels, I know from sitting watching her critique other students in large group workshops that she still really knows what she’s talking about on that subject. I’m excited for a lot of the seminars, too, like David Elliott’s on Saturday and Tony Abbott’s later in the week. And of course I’m excited to see my writer friends, to talk about characters and sentences and commas without sounding crazy or boring the heck out of someone.

I’ll try to write posts throughout the residency, but no guarantees; I certainly don’t think I’ll be on here as regularly as I have in the past, though I hope to average about a paragraph a day. But for now I’m off to finish all of that packing and reading that just never got done.

Writing Updates: July 13 2011

I haven’t written any writing updates in a while, and that’s why I originally started this blog!

Since getting back from Lesley, my work on my MG fantasy has consisted of edits and rearrangements. I’m trying to find the right place to start the story, while also getting the characters fully introduced and into the action as quickly as possible. It’s really hard. I think I’ve gotten the correct order of events for the first part of the story, but I may still need to figure out what parts to chop out to pick up the pace.

I’ve also been working on work for my IS. Aside from just reading picture books and craft books, I’ve tried my hand at writing a couple of manuscripts. The first one is completely self-indulgent and overly sentimental, so I don’t think I’ll be sending it to anyone anytime soon. Another one I wrote, while very rough, has a lot more potential, I think. I’m letting it sit for a few days, then I’m going to use some of the revision ideas I got from Writing Picture Books. I’ve also got another story started, which I want to tell in rhyme, but I only have three stanzas written. Rhyme comes difficultly to me, so I’m letting that story reveal itself to me bit by bit. Walking helps it.

I’ve also been working on my reviews since getting back. A review for a Campfire graphic novel, The Three Musketeers, went up on Suite 101 a few days ago. I’ve also gotten the start of my review for the manga A Bride’s Story written, but I’m having trouble finishing it off. That book may be too intelligent for me to write about, heh.

Before work today I want to get a good start on more edits for another chapter of my novel and maybe have another stanza or two for that rhyming book.

Late Post: MFA Days Eight and Nine

Apologies for not posting my updates right away. I was busy saying goodbye Friday, and busy vegging out when I finally came home on Saturday.

Friday started out with Abigail Singer’s graduating seminar on info dumping. In particular she was talking about fantasy novels, but I can see her advice working on any sort of fiction. The focus of this seminar was on how can we give our readers all the necessary information, without boring them with details or awkwardly placing the facts.

I took a break after that but the afternoon was back to small group workshops. I was up first, and once again Tony Abbott went through my piece practically line by line. But while he is really rough on parts, he is so nice and funny that I don’t feel like I’m being tortured through the whole thing. We finished up with Jamie’s piece after that, and got out in time to go to the first session of graduate readings.

On Saturday I made a point of going to Jan Nerenberg’s graduating seminar, on how to determine whether someone is popular, critically acclaimed, or both. A lot of the focus was on comparing Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which was absolutely thrilling. Jan is someone I’m really going to miss now that she’s out of the program.

The rest of the day was filled with optional toolbox sessions. I had thought The Web for Writers would particular interesting to me, but it was only about creating your on blog and social networking, which I do already. The panel discussion later was fun, but when we split off to different rooms to talk to an individual panelist I think I made the wrong decision again – though I did learn quite a bit about agents.

One thing I enjoyed about both days was that I had the chance to eat lunch with David Elliott. Other students were there, of course, and it’s difficult to pull him aside for more than a moment to have a real conversation in this environment, but I still enjoyed the chance to talk to him again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around, and walking to Harvard Square to book shop while I waited for the graduation to begin. It was very low-key and fun, but I was so tired at this point I kept fading. After at the reception I said goodbye to some friends, but after chugging a Pepsi so I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel I made my exit.

This residency was fun, and has me really excited for the whole semester. I already miss all my friends, like Rachael and Elley, and all the new buddies I made this time around, but I plan on doing a much better job of keeping in contact with these friends this semester – people are allowed to hold me to that.

MFA: Day Seven!

The week is almost done, and I can’t believe it. As quickly as my time here went last semester, this semester seems to be zooming past.

We had an interesting seminar in the morning with Tony Eprile, looking at observations. We talked about what we observe, how characters observe, and how this can be used in our writing. We also talked about how noting the specific things our characters do or do not see can help define who they are.

After this I stopped by Lisa Robinson’s graduating seminar, on the writer’s unconscious mind. I enjoyed the things she talked about here, but I also felt like I already learned a bit of it in Barbara Baig’s Art of the English Sentence course, when we learned about freewriting.

This afternoon was the start of small group workshops. Most people were able to finish today, no problem – but most people aren’t working with Tony Abbott. My god, this man is thorough. In over three hours we made our way through Hunter and Elley’s pieces, but Jaime and I are still left for tomorrow.We both submitted a continuation of our large group manuscripts, so maybe ours won’t be as intense – maybe.

I watched the graduating readings, then headed upstairs for the second semester reception! … but no one came. Steve Cramer forgot to announce our reception, and that combined from everyone being a bit… indisposed after the Wednesday night reception kept the party small. But I appreciated it, since I was actually able to hear the conversations going on around me. I only wish some more of the professors had stuck around; I only have so long to see them, and I already feel like our time is so, so limited.

Still, I had an excellent conversation with Sharon, a fellow 2nd semester WFYP who I rarely see, since we’ve never been in the same large group. I had fun chilling and talking with others way past when I thought I would, and may have accidentally gotten myself on board to help run an event. I also made some new friends, which seem to be in large supply here.

Tomorrow should be an easier day… but I’ve said that before, haven’t I?