Tag Archives: MFA

MFA Residency, the 2nd

I’ve completed the second (out of 5 total) residency at Spalding University. My experience this time was different than the last. At my last residency, I did most of the events with a small group of 610 students (meaning first semester) also in the Writing for Children and Young Adults (I just call it W4YA, since that is my main focus). Because of that, our small group experienced a nice bonding process from start to finish at the residency and then stayed in infrequent contact throughout the semester that followed. But because of the way the YA program is set up, YA students in 620 and 630 (second and third semester) must focus on a different concentration (meaning either Fiction, Poetry, CNF, or playwriting/screenwriting). The first few days of this residency, I felt a bit “orphaned” because the classmates I’d bonded with last semester were scattered about, and the other classification students were already bonded. It got better as it went on and I think Admin were alerted to the feelings (I wasn’t alone in my feelings, some of the others felt a bit orphaned as well) and are working to address those issues.

That’s one of the things I really like about the program: the administration seems genuinely interested in the experience of students, realizing that we’re all non-traditional students and our needs are a little different from the traditional 18 year old who comes to campus and lives there for the next few years. Not only that, the program is relatively new (2001, I think, was the first year) and thus it is only expected to have some growing pains. And honestly, I’m excited to be part of a growing group that has input to help make the program better.

So, if you’re wondering, I’m still 100% sold on the program and have no hesitation recommending it to anyone considering this sort of program. In fact, I recruited someone this past weekend who walked away leaving me with the impression that she was seriously considering Spalding low intensity MFA.

I’m also excited about my mentor this semester. Rachel Harper will be my mentor and I had a very good meeting with her prior to leaving residency. Yes, yes, I know it is her JOB, but she made me feel she was truly interested in reading the material I produce this semester and helping me create the best material “I” want to create and not what “she” wants…I can also say that not all writing programs are that way—many of them want you to fit into a mold. For what it’s worth, it is my plan to finish work on The Interns this semester. I’ve been talking it up to Kimberly, my agent, and I’m excited and ready to put it in her hands…but gotta finish it first!

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Plot to the end

Writers are bombarded with endless suggestions of how to improve their craft and what to do to make their work “successful” (successful is, of course, defined differently by different writers). I guess this blog is another of those. My response has always been though—take all the feedback and ideas you can get, pour them into a pot, stir them up, and take out of it something that is useful to you as a writer.

I’ve always been one who’s plotted a story from start to finish before sitting down to the nitty-gritty of writing. Part of that is the nature of comic books, the industry where I’ve gotten the over-whelming majority of my work. Comics are episodic by design and stories must be tailored and crafted to fit within a specified number of pages so that writers have to know what is happening and when it’s happening. It’s not limiting, as some might suggest, but it is what it is.

I’d often read about writers, though, who just begin typing without really knowing what the story is or where it is going. Obviously, I’m talking prose writers—comic writers don’t have that liberty. After having finished two novels, I wanted to give it a try just to … y’know…see?

I didn’t get to finish the one before I started on another (The Interns, listed at the side of this blog page, for those of you keeping score) and started it the same way. Actually, it was much easier for The Interns because I was only supposed to generate 20-ish pages for my Spalding MFA workshop—it didn’t matter what the story was or where it was going, right?

As is often the case for writers, the more I wrote on The Interns, the more I liked the character and the situation in which I’d placed him. It was fun watching him squirm. But I still didn’t know exactly where the story was going. Oh sure, I’d developed ideas because of the situations, but it seemed like endless possibilities and I’d started to really want the story to mean something.

So after 70 pages, and a nice talk from my writing mentor this semester, I knew I had to go back and figure out what the story was and where it was going. To put it simply, I had to go back and plot it out from start to finish. Okay, maybe not from the very beginning because I’d written a good deal of that. I did have to figure out the ending. Getting there was fun as I got to explore the myriad paths of possibilities.

But ultimately, I picked one…and that’s where we’re going.

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Residency the first

Even though I’ve returned, I’m not sure that I’m fully recovered from the first “Residency” of my MFA program at Spalding University located in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been so overwhelmed I haven’t had a chance to yammer on here. But what an incredible time I had and what an incredible program I’ve entered.

Lemme back-track a little: Finding myself in need of a higher degree, I’d been accepted into the PhD program at USM, but the coursework would require that I be on campus for six full semesters; that’s three years. I was close to accepting it and trying to commute to Hattiesburg—about a five and a half hour drive—for the classes during the week. I decided, however, that three years of my kids’ lives are worth far more than a PhD. Being gone Monday-Friday would cause me to miss a lot of volleyball, baseball, cub scouts, singing…you name it—for three years! So, I started looking around for these “low residency” programs I’d heard of. My good friend and writer pal, Sid Williams was in one and he blogged about it now and again. After a search of low residency programs, I finally decided on Spalding…and I’m glad I did.

Low residency means that the majority of my coursework will be done at home, with correspondence with my mentor/instructor all online. At the beginning of each semester, however, an intensive 10 day on-campus residency kicks things off. I’ve just returned from the first one. And let me tell you, it was incredibly intensive: Ten to twelve hour days of lectures, workshops, discussions and readings. Even the “fun” things were related to the program. (We went to see an Opera of Hansel and Gretel one night, but then had to complete a writing assignment based on it.)

The workshops were the highlight for me. In it, nine students (see the picture below; our mentors—Luke Wallin and Joyce McDonald—are front row left. The rest are the students in my workshop group, the Writing for Children and Young Adults group) discuss a body of written work by one of the other students. The tenth student is to sit silently—taking notes—while the discussion occurs. Now, most of the workshops I’ve ever been in go almost immediately for the negative aspects of the work. That’s not The Spalding Way, however. The hour’s time devoted to the work is split almost exactly equal with positive comments and suggestions (there are no “negative” comments). Though it may sound a little goofy here on this site, the result of the workshop is a nurturing and encouraging hour for the writer. While most of the writers left with a list of “things to work on and revise,” most were also creatively jazzed and anxious to get to the work. I know I left with a big list of things that needed to be addressed and I couldn’t wait to get to it…unfortunately, because of the “intense” nature of the residency, those things did have to wait until I returned home.

I’m already out of words…more next time!

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