MFA Semester 4 – Day 6

This morning Jacqueline Davies ran her seminar on unreliable narrators. Though I have no desire to write my own unreliable narrator story (when asked who was interested, I kept my hand firmly on the desk) I really love reading these types of stories. Jackie did a great job of picking out scenes from the huge number of books we were asked to look at that showed how authors can use techniques to make their narrators unreliable, and how they twist the words and the reactions of other characters so that the readers become suspicious of their credibility.

At lunch I got to sit down with my last mentor, Susan Goodman, and have a good chat. We also looked at a picture book manuscript that I had wanted to work on this semester, but between my main creative work and the insanity that is the craft essay, I didn’t get through anything more than one edit. We compared notes on what should be taken out, and Susan and I brainstormed over what could possible change or happen about the plot. This was something she didn’t have to do, and I’m so grateful that she chose to take a section out of her day for it.

After lunch was large group workshop again, and I finally went. This no longer frightens me to my core like it used to, and I don’t think it’s because the questions are any less pointed — everyone had great comments and wonderful ideas (which I WILL steal) — so it must mean that I’ve grown some extra layer of skin. It was really productive, and helped me see things I hadn’t even realized were issues, always frustrating and fantastic at the same time. These ladies were great, and I’m sad to see most of them go as we scatter into small groups tomorrow.

MFA Semester 4 – Day 5

This was Tuesday, which meant a shortened day and a lack of responsibility.  We started off with mentor meetings to figure out what we’re doing for the semester. Tony helped me figure out what to do for my graduating seminar (in order to graduate I have to impart knowledge of some sort). It was an idea I had considered a little, since its my craft essay over again, but he had a few ideas of how to actually run a seminar on it, which spurred more of my own ideas… I think I have a game plan forming. We talked a little about what we’ll do for my thesis, which will still be the novel I’ve worked on all this time, Speaksong. We both agree that we’re going to get this as polished up as human possible over the four submissions. To start I’m going to send him the whole thing so he can see what it looks like, and then we’ll figure out where all the problems lie.

This was elective seminar day, and I chose to go to the one on the writer/editor relationship. I know very little about the business side of this writing thing, and I think it’s really useful to just have some sort of understanding of what to expect if someone ever does decide “Hey, maybe I’ll publish this lady’s book.” For example, I now know to expect some sort of massive revision request (whether or not that actually happens, I should expect it).

The day was done with that, so I went out with some ladies to eat Mexican food and watch Brave. A wonderful end to the day.

MFA Semester 4 – Day 3

First thing today was a seminar for every Writing for Young People student on writing picture books from Pat Collins. After the picture book IS I took two semesters ago, picture books have become a medium I really want to pursue, so this was particularly interesting to me. But, though most people in this genre don’t write picture books, everyone got really involved. It was great to see Pat’s thumbnails and book dummies, and to hear the stories of how you simply CAN NOT choose your artist, and how that can work out both for good and for bad. Many of the books for this seminar had been suggested to me by Beth Glass in my IS, but I never got all of them. After hearing Pat’s strong recommendations for Picture This! and Writing Picture Books, though, I think I’ll have to go grab those.

Directly after this was the Fraud Police Seminar from William Lychack. This seminar focused on our self-doubt and the elements of our life, both exterior and interior, that try to prevent us from getting our writing done. It sounded like a potentially horrifying and depressing seminar, but it was actually really amazing. Self doubt never goes away, distractions surround us like wolves, and we will never get rid of the voices (both real and imagined) that belittle our work and tell us that we’re not good enough, we’re too selfish, too presumptuous, everyone is better than us anyway… We have to keep chugging, keep writing. We work hard to say what we have to, because it is worth saying.

After lunch was the first round of workshops with Jacqueline Davies’ students. As usual there was some really great work here, and I was glad to finally be in a large group where I was able to see a picture book / early reader manuscript. I wish there were more picture book writers in this genre (I realize I contribute to the stack of novels) because I think that would have helped me figure out how to do one for myself sooner. And of course the other stories were great to read — I love everyone in my genre so much, they are all so good. I hope my comments are as helpful to them as I thought they were when I wrote them down.

I’ve begun to notice, I’ve had a much easier time getting past my shyness and participating than I have in the past, and that has already reaped the benefits of potential work, less awkward conversations with faculty, and, I believe, new friends. May the awkward shyness continue to seep away…

MFA Semester 4 – Day 2

Thanks to the strangeness of a new place and the discomfort of dorm beds, this day started far earlier than it needed to. When the rest of the day caught up with me, I went to David Elliott’s seminar on humor for young people. David didn’t express a lot of personal confidence in this seminar, but it was quite good, trying to examine what exactly made certain children’s books funny. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t go over our own examples that we were supposed to bring in, especially since I struggled to find one I thought worked. But it did help me articulate some of the things that I do find funny, but couldn’t quite point out how. Simply, the humor comes out of the story itself, and it’s the use of language that makes something overall funny, even if there’s no punchline.

Later was a gathering of fourth semester students where it was explained to us how our graduating seminar (I have to figure out how to teach something to real actual people in 6 months) works. Some alumni were present to explain what they had done, and how the both came up with their topic and executed their seminar. It was good to get this early on, before the scheduled discussion with our mentors, and this seminar helped to give me some confidence about the ideas that I do have. I think the most challenging thing for me will be finding a way to make the seminar interactive so the people who do actually show up feel involved.

Later in the afternoon was the meeting with the large groups to figure out how each mentor wants their workshop run and also who goes when. I go dead last on the last day. Fun.

The dorm I’m in this year seems much more lively — people actually gather on the couches and talk, rather than lock themselves in their rooms! I missed the chit-chat tonight since I was out with friends and doing workshop work (I would have ditched ANYTHING else) but I hope they keep meeting up so I can join in. Last semester — last chance for new friends.

MFA Semester 4: Day 1

Yesterday I once again drove in a little too early, around 2 pm, and appeared to beat basically everyone here. I got the key to my dorm room, which has AC, but not its own little parking lot. So, I had to drag my suitcase and too-many bags down the street in 100 degrees, sweating like a pig and almost giving myself heat stroke.

Despite the heat, I was antsy, and kept wandering from building to building even though i probably should have just napped.  Eventually we met the new students, and after some general questions/answers we split apart and got to sit with the new Writing for Young People students — they seem fantastic.

At the reception I got to see more of my wonderful Lesley friends (though thanks to thunderstorms and subsequent delayed flights, my dear friend Rachel didn’t arrive until quite late). At the reading my last mentor Susan Goodman read part of her new picture book about dogs, and gave a cautionary tale of the many things that can go wrong when your book is on its way to getting published. Afterword I remembered to tell her how much my 8-year-old cousin loved her books about poop and pee, and that she needs to write more books about bodily functions so I can be the awesome cousin.

I talked to Tony Abbott, my old and now current adviser, a few times today, too, and he mentioned that all the added scenes in my large and small group submissions surprised him — in a good way! I still dread the hour of focused attention on me, but I can’t wait to hear what his opinion is.

Off to Lesley Tomorrow…

Tomorrow I head back down to Cambridge for the start of my fourth and final semester as a Lesley MFA student. I’m so excited to see everyone again, though a part of me is very depressed that I’m not going to be doing this twice a year for the rest of my life.

The manuscripts are read and critiqued, the readings have been gone through (mostly, I guess) my bags are packed (I’ve got the wine!)… I’m ready for this.

I’ll do my darnedest to keep a daily account of the week, if for nothing else than to help me remember everything.


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.