Archive for the ‘opportunities’ Category

What are you Writing for?

July 21, 2014

Let me introduce you to Gaia. Gaia is a human clone or more aptly, a human garden. She is a twisted, mutilated version of woman with little conventional beauty to behold. Yet there’s a sense of strength in her structure and: the beat of her HEART, the bright BLOOD pumping through her veins and the light yellow aura that floats above her- are riveting. Gaia struggles, as so many main characters do, to find her place in the world.

scifiindiegathering

She is also the main character of my sci-fi script, GAIA, which took first place in The Indie Gathering’s sci-fi feature script contest, one of a couple dozen contests I entered over the past two months or so. The win is my first and a welcomed reprieve from the repeated thrashes of rejection from others.

Admittedly, the validity and usefulness of screenplay contests continues to be debated, especially for any contests other than the “Top 5.” Indeed, as I searched for contests, and weighed the benefits and costs of each, I struggled not to let the naysayers drag me down.

Site after site, person after person, nay after nay; these sounded much like this:

“contests that charge over $25 aren’t worth it”

“any other than the top 5 are a waste of time”

“contests are a waste of time… they won’t help you sell your screenplay”

“contests are good for the ego, but that’s all.”

Of course, some of these comments were by people who had not yet placed in any contest, but not all of them and some were directly from people working within the film industry. Regardless, the impact varied little.

With each nay, my enthusiasm waned, even after my win. That is, until I realized something so profound that when I told Confucius he said, “Do what?” Not really, actually he rolled his eyes and said, “Uh.. duh.” So what is this not-so profound realization?

In the screenwriting world (and in fact, most any artistic industries), a reverberating factor of success seems to be the ability to find like-minded people.

A win may or may not mean you write well, but it means that someone or several “someones” appreciated your writing. It doesn’t matter if they appreciated it because it was “good” writing, or because it was a “good” story or for some other reason. All that matters is that you made that connection. For that win, you “won” someone over, and each contest you enter increases your chance to connect.

Think of these contests as fishing. They take time, money and can be tiring. Sometimes you’ll get a nibble, sometimes a bite, but you won’t get anything if the fish in the lake don’t like your bait. Even the biggest worm won’t hook a fish if the fish in the lake prefer crickets. Thus, for me, these contests are my pole.

I use them to gauge the interest in my bait. What other route offers you so much direct access to such a large, diverse range of people. Whether the judges are members of the Hollywood elite or not, they are people you can connect with.

There are many reasons why cult followings are popular and movies that have them are ultimately successful. Not every success is based on the size of the catch. Sometimes it’s taste that counts.

And as I consider the value of screenwriting contests, I remind myself also that Indie films and the whole site of Kickstarter are all about funding based upon a connection. Not a network of who you know, but a connection of a shared vision and goal. And isn’t that why we write anyway; to connect with others?


Autumn pic

Autumn Whiltshire earned her Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She writes poetry, short stories and screenplays. Her thesis script, Gaia won first place in The Indie Gathering’s 2014 Sci-Fi Feature category.  You can follow Autumn at: http://autumnwhiltshire.wordpress.com/

L. Elizabeth Powers: Contesting Rejection

July 14, 2014

Recently I shared the news with my Wilkes Creative Writing “family” that my short screenplay The Importance of Sex Education was chosen as one of six finalists in the D.C. Shorts Film Festival Screenwriting Contest. I had just sat down to a late Chinese Buffet lunch with my mom when the festival organizer called me to inform me of the selection. I was so thrilled I couldn’t eat another bite. (I had to pay the full “all-you-can-eat” price anyway.)

When I was asked by The Write Life to speak of my experience of submitting to festivals, I hesitated because in order to share such an experience in its entirety, I must admit to all the rejections!

As a burgeoning writer/filmmaker, one is inevitably guaranteed more rejections than acceptances, and while this is well-known, the rejections still sting. But, the stings lessen with experience and a good acceptance letter can numb any number of past or future stings. I am lucky that with this script, I only received one rejection prior to placing in this contest. But, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t exactly the same script.

I had entered this script into another festival some months ago. While it received favorable remarks, it did not advance into the final rounds. When I received the rejection, I went back and reworked it. Though I had shared it with a few people the first round, this time I found new readers. I did some polishing (mostly cutting) and then I sent it off again to the D.C. Shorts competition and this time, it advanced.

Of course, the standard advice is to not send work off to start with until you think it’s “perfect. “ For me, that would mean never sending anything. I have to let go and send my work off in the belief that it is ready. But, if it comes back, that gives me the guilt-free excuse to reopen it and piddle some more, or on rare occasions confirm that it’s as good as I can get it. I rarely resubmit the same exact work after a rejection.

As for screenwriting contests, there is an on-going controversy as to whether or not they are worth the effort. After all, there are hundreds of contest winners every year that don’t get their scripts optioned or produced, and tons of terrible scripts that DO get produced. I tend to think that for me, as someone who is early in her career, it’s worth the effort for networking, and for resume building. Of course, the networking aspect only makes sense for someone who actually means to attend the festivals. Festivals that are film and screenwriting are of particular interest to me because it’s an opportunity to meet other industry types and not just screenwriters.

The D.C. Shorts competition was for shorts only. I like short film festivals as you often get to meet filmmakers early in their careers as well. Some would scoff at the effort and cost of submitting a short film, preferring to submit only feature length in the hopes of getting it sold or produced. But, short scripts also show off writing skills, and for me, the goal is as much to garner notice as a writer as it is to sell any particular script.

Of course, some competitions are more valuable than others and it’s worth it to investigate them before submitting. One thing to consider is the cost versus payoff. How well-known is the festival and how much prestige would participation garner? If accepted, do you get a free pass? And, if so, what kind of conference offerings are there? Is there prize money? (D.C. Shorts offers $2000 production fund to the winner and as a filmmaker, I would like to shoot the script.)

Many script competitions offer coverage (feedback) for a few extra dollars. I’ve not partaken of this option, personally, and probably would not elect to do so unless I knew absolutely who was providing that coverage, and that the person was a true industry professional and not, say, a film school intern. That’s not to say professional coverage services aren’t valuable: I’m just not sold on the value of anonymous festival coverage. There are a few competitions that offer free coverage, though, so of course that is welcome.

As for the festival at hand, the six D. C. Shorts screenplay finalists will be read publicly September 19 at the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center in Washington D.C. The winner will be chosen by audience vote at the end of the event. My script, The Importance of Sex Education is a short comedy that follows 12-year old Adeline as she fumbles her way into puberty in 1975 with some embarrassingly errant assumptions about sex.


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L. Elizabeth Powers

L. Elizabeth Powers received her MFA from Wilkes University’s Creative Writing department in 2013. Before that, she worked for 12 years in feature film visual effects. She currently works as a freelance artist, and as a designer for Etruscan Press. Her short film, Killing Time, was a finalist in the Louisiana Film Prize 2012, and she has had work published in Poetry Quarterly, Red River Review, Every Day Poets, The Germ and Big Country Magazine. A story she penned while at Wilkes can be read in the current issue of Belle Reve Literary Journal. She has worked in Shreveport and New Orleans, LA for the past few years, though she is currently helping out on her family’s farm in Texas.

 

Contact Information:

http://www.lelizabethpowers.com

 

Corinne Nulton’s 14 Symptoms

May 20, 2014

A fellow Wilkes student, Corinne Nulton is currently running a fundraiser on IndieGoGo for her original play, 14 Symptoms, whichcorinneblogphoto will appear at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn, NY this summer. The page for the fundraiser includes a video featuring some of the characters from the play and the lovely playwright herself and can be found by clicking on the link above or the picture to your right.

She was kind enough to answer some questions about the play for The Write Life blog!

Tell me a little bit about your play. What’s it about?

14 Symptoms follows the story of four very different teenagers—an egotistical hacker, a predetermined serial killer, a cheerleader with an alter ego, and the ghost of the ideal best friend. The play unfolds as they collide online through chatrooms and games in both the present and the past in order to investigate or conceal a gruesome murder.

I’ve heard that the play was inspired by an actual murder. Could you tell me more about that? 

Intrigued by the mis-identities on the internet, I was drawn to the article “Murder by Text,” published in Vanity Fair in October 2011. According to sources, the real Kruse Wellwood and Kimmy Procter often passed each other in the hallways of their small high school. As a cheerleader, Kimmy seemed to have little in common with Kruse, an outcast whose abusive father was arrested. However, the online game World of Warcraft leveled the social stratifications that existed in high school. Kruse offered her a secret friendship through games, chats, instant messages, and texts. He would tease her about sex and death while engaging in the adolescent sport of video game competition, and despite his warnings, his confessed desire to kill her, all of his foreshadowing was shrugged off, because the chats did not feel real to Kimmy, who assumed Kruse was only as dangerous as his avatar. Ultimately, the story ends with an adolescent from a broken home brutally raping, dismembering, and burning a classmate with no real explanation as to why except for a blog entry listing the “signs” of a serial killer, of which, Kruse had all fifteen.

I realized this was exactly the sort of problem I wanted to artistically portray—the blurred boundaries between reality and cyber reality that gave Kimmy this false sense of security while also allowing Kruse’s cyber-girlfriend to listen to his murder confession, but wait months before calling police. The blog entry, likewise, filled my head with questions about fate.

While researching, I was able to access the private chat logs between Kimmy and Kruse, the integration videos, interviews with Kimmy’s parents, her facebook memorial page, and even a recent letter Kruse wrote to the judge overseeing the investigation. It was sickening how easy it was to access all of this information in our post-crazy society—no, I’m not hacker, but it was just all out there waiting on the internet. However, what I discovered was that Kruse, essentially, was a writer, a master at voice imitation and at reinventing himself through words. And as this brief description indicates, there were a number of philosophical, practical, and psychological questions left in the incident’s wake that would forever remain unanswered, which seemed unbearable.
However, my play isn’t an adaptation of this event for my characters are different individuals entirely facing only a similar experience. I hesitate to even say “was inspired by”. It certainly moved my pen for two years now as I tried to wrap my head around it, but the result is something that stands alone, bearing little resemblance now of the event that kindled it except for the names which I kept as a sort of tribute as the play evolved. It is by no means a justification, nor is it a definite answer to many of the questions it poses. It’s merely an illustration of these topics in order to inspire serious discussion.

What was the writing process like for you? How long did it take until this play was complete? How different was the first draft from the final?

A word on the writing process : Hell.

Since fourth grade I was a perpetual daydreamer, scribbling down bits of my imagination, but this was my first piece of substantial length and my attention span and sensitivity as a shy undergraduate could hardly bear it. Initially, I was obsessed with the project, and couldn’t wait to declare it as my creative thesis. I decorated all the walls of my dorm with serial killers and chatlogs and any bit of evidence I came across. However, after the first few months, I was bored with what was trying to write and ready to start a new short story but my mentor wouldn’t allow it. I had to keep with it, regardless of all the other issues I wanted to pursue. He also liked to make me think by responding to all of my questions with more question. I also wasn’t sure how to sustain interest for my audience or how to write convincing dialogue and for a while I couldn’t hear the voices of my characters. Draft after draft after draft I’d hand in and rewrite and hand in again and scrap and rewrite and complain and rewrite and curse mentor and rewrite and listen to it read aloud, curse, and rewrite and beg my mentor to let me quit and rewrite and listen to it again and rewrite. I’m pretty sure I killed a whole forest, and I took every edit so personally in the beginning that I grew to hate writing. But eventually I noticed my fiction was getting better, my imagination more refined, my dialogue more genuine with actual voices. I started getting recognized in the community, even if the play wasn’t in a state of progression but digression, and it served its first year and a half as a learning experience and towards the end things began to “click” into place.

And being in and out of Kruse’s head for months was hardly an enjoyable experience especially at first. I tried to write only in broad daylight in populated places after suffering several chilling nightmares, and I began regretting my dorm decorating, since it seemed too frightening or too overwhelming at times.

It wasn’t until recently I went back to review the play with new eyes using what I learned in undergrad with some of the new things I learned at the graduate level. I was more emotionally removed, too, which also helped in refining the latest draft. I used the contest mainly as motivation to review something I had tucked away, and its acceptance was a complete shock. Thus, the company is scrambling to gain publicity and adequate funds.

But as always, it’s still a work in progress. I’m sure it will continue to evolve in little ways throughout the next round of rehearsal as well.

How did you research the project? What sources did you use? Were there any surprising discoveries?

As mentioned I raided the internet for newspaper articles and found more than I should’ve, but I went in another direction, too. I read books on human nature, like “Radical Evil” by Bernstein and I studied philosophies on predeterminism vs. free will. I read memoirs of former children who suffered from abuse. I looked into serial killers and what they all shared or how they were different. I read about sociopaths and psychopaths and empathy disorders and passion murders. I even played W.O.W. But, more than anything, I read plays. I read close to a hundred in a single summer that shared those ideas and used language to manipulate, like Dark Play or Story for Boys and Speech and Debate.

What is it like seeing something you’ve written performed on the stage? Is it exciting? Are there some disappointments?

The first readings were unbearable—I couldn’t seem to separate myself from the words and from the audience’s reactions or failure to react. I’d just sit in my seat shaking. However, seeing it come to life in rehearsal has been a surreal experience, both chilling but also rewarding to experience the things I imagined and watched how the actors and director not only enact, but enhance my original words. Every now and then I will slam my palm against my head—and think, it’s not said like that! Timmy Flynn, for example, our original hacker-character barely knew how to turn his computer on, so he would murder the pronunciation of words like Linux, but he eventually grew so close to the character that in my rewrites I could hear his voice as Cam.’s voice—the two were one in the same by the end, which is sort of magical

corinnebiophotoCorinne Nulton is a recovering coffee addict and is one semester into Wilke’s MA/MFA program in Creative Writing. She recently graduated from the University of Scranton as an English major and has since become an adjunct professor and professional writing tutor at Penn State Worthington. As far as writing, she has had several short stories published in college literary magazines such as Esprit and Ellipses. . . and her ten-minute-play, Flesh, was a Kennedy Center Finalist in 2010.

The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes

January 29, 2014
The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes
Thoughts on the Wilkes Publishing Internship
By Kim Loomis-Bennett
 

I am a reader and being a reader made me a writer. I have loved books forever and they have loved me back. Grammar and punctuation did not love me and I pretended we would never meet again—until a few years ago when I entered the Wilkes M.A./M.F.A. program and began teaching part-time in Washington State.

One of my first gigs was a grammar review class. Learning theories acknowledge that students learn more when they teach a new skill to a classmate. When I had twenty-five students counting on me and I was hired to be the “expert,” I knew that I would never have a better occasion to learn the twenty different ways to use a comma or how sometimes subordination adds a touch of elegance to stale syntax.

As the time to intern with Etruscan Press approached, I was direct and told Phil Brady and Managing Editor Jackie Fowler that I wanted to experience the duties of a proofreader and editor. With a green light, Jackie sent me home with books to read and consider reviewing. A few weeks after residency, my first proofreading task arrived in my Gmail inbox.

editCertainly, proofreading led me down roads I had never planned to go, but I loved each fresh challenge. My main technical question concerned the endash (–) so named because it is the length of the letter n and it is often used between numbers: such as, 3:00–6:00, and the emdash (—) which is defined by the length of an m, and can be used in place of a colon, and commas or parentheses that are placed around nonessential information—or to indicate a long pause. Dashes are entirely optional. When I went through James McCorkle’s poetry manuscript, The Subtle Bodies, I was in love with the language, but had to shut down the content reading part of my brain and look at the mechanics. What I found were endashes and emdashes employed inconsistently. This happens when files are transferred from laptops to desktop pcs. Mr. McCorkle loves his dashes, as do I, so my job as a proofreader for a dash-user just happened to be a good fit. And just a few weeks ago, McCorkle’s uncorrected proof appeared in my mailbox. I saw how what is often unacknowledged work bear fruit in McCorkle’s close-to-publication manuscript; I appreciated that background work is a good fit for me. During the internship, I took an additional brief editorial course and found that I want to go even farther and seek a professional certificate. Eventually, I would love to work as a book editor and shape a manuscript from submission to publication. For now, the unexpected offer to continue with Etruscan Press as a poetry manuscript consultant is satisfying.

My internship duties were primarily divided between proofreading and book reviewing. Before I approached Phil and Jackie about writing book reviews, I brought book review skills that I had begun to hone during my M.A. while reviewing memoirs for alumni Donna Talarico-Beerman’s Hippocampus Magazine, and a poetry review in [PANK] that I landed via another alum, Amye Barrese Archer. I wanted to offer Etruscan Press something in exchange for the chance to experience proofreading.

I worked harder on the book reviews than I expected to. While polishing them, I found my reviewer’s voice: a reader/writer that writes for readers/writers. Silly to say, but before the internship, I hadn’t considered my published book reviews as publishing credits. I followed up venues for book reviewing online sites that were in the Internship course packet. I was excited to see my reviews appear in Founding Editor Lori A. May’s Poet’s Quarterly and The Small Press Book Review.  As I heard back from gracious authors who appreciated the time I took to review their books, I realized that the more I submit my work, and the more conversations that I have with writers, an intimate and reciprocal writing community exists. I may have never considered writing book reviews as a regular goal, but because of breaks given to me by Wilkes alumni and the internship, I will continue reviewing. On February 1st, I am launching a book review blog to feature my wide-range of reading interests and books that I choose, instead of my editors. I can be indulgent and celebrate exceptional writing talent at the same time. I am not saying goodbye to the Wilkes Creative Writing Program as I had expected to. I forged and fostered relationships that weren’t forced but are authentic. One of my writing mentors, Neil Shepard often said to me, “Onward!” and that’s the plan.

Kim Loomis-Bennett is a life-long resident of Washington State, besides a detour into Oregon where she met her husband. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Copperfield Review, Poet’s Quarterly, and Hippocampus Magazine. Recent work is included in The Prose-Poem Project and The Far Field. She has served as poetry editor for River and South Review. Kim also teaches part-time at Centralia College. She has an M.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her work, Soiled Doves: A Poetic Sequence, published in 2011, is available as an e-book.

AWP: An Opportunity to Exercise Literary Citizenship

January 22, 2014

AWP: An Opportunity to Exercise Literary Citizenship

by Lori A. May

The annual AWP Conference & Bookfair is just around the corner. This year, writers from across the country and beyond will gather in Seattle during Feb 26-Mar 1, 2014. AWP is by far my favorite literary gathering of the year. It is the one event I bookmark in my calendar years in advance and for which I schedule everything else around; it’s a must-attend event in my books. Just last year I wrote a brief introduction to AWP on my blog where I also shared an excerpt, “Chapter 12: AWP Membership and Services,” from The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students.

I often speak about what opportunities writers may find during AWP. Yet in addition to the socializing, schmoozing, and general knowledge intake, there are also countless ways in which to exercise literary citizenship. That is, AWP presents an open door for writers to help others during this whirlwind week of events.

But what is literary citizenship? And why, of all places, would an emerging writer elect to spend time doing activities seemingly unrelated to his or her own writing path?

Simply put, literary citizenship is a topical term for engaging in the community with the intent of giving as much as, if not more so, than we take. Our literary world is a social ecosystem that relies on others: readers, writers, editors, reviewers, publishers, booksellers, and so on. The writing and publishing world is one made of relationships. Writing itself may be a somewhat solitary activity, but once the story or poem is ‘done’ we rely on others to read, share, and publish our work. Yet there are so many levels of participation from others in this community. We turn to others for support after rejection; we hope others celebrate alongside our successes. We hope to develop positive connections with readers and editors; we long to feel a part of this community that has called us in some way to participate.

Yes, there is much to personally gain in becoming active members of the arts and at-large community, but literary citizenship calls on our acts of giving, of giving back to the ecosystem so that we may actively ensure its sustainability. The beautiful thing is that it needn’t take much time or skill to offer something of ourselves, of our passions, to others.

Simple acts of literary citizenship can include reviewing another’s book, helping set up a reading event, proofreading a peer’s draft, or simply showing up at an event and being mindfully present. These acts of kindness needn’t cost us a thing; the best ‘gifts,’ as in other aspects of life, come from an authentic place within. We know that giving, indeed, is better than receiving.

It is through my activity in the writing community-at-large that I feel more like a writer, like an engaged participant in this network of dedicated creatives. It is through my involvement with small presses and literary journals that I feel a part of something bigger than myself, better than my own small presence. Contributing to, and impacting, the literary world is something outside of our own selves, and yet it benefits our personal goals and ambitions as we can’t help but grow as writers, as people, when we step outside of our writing dens and into the buzz of literary culture.

AWP-logoHow, then, might a writer participate as a literary citizen during AWP? The organization itself has a number of volunteer opportunities to assist with the conference, but there are simple activities anyone, from any walk of literary life, can take under her wing during those few fast-paced days:

  • help a bookfair exhibitor hand out materials and attract passers-by for an hour
  • or, merely cover a coffee or lunch break for a bookfair exhibitor
  • offer your time to an off-site reading and help set up chairs or hand out programs
  • approach exhibitors you don’t know to introduce yourself to something new
  • ask a literary journal how you can volunteer as a book reviewer or marketing assistant
  • seek out publishers and writers from your region that you can help in some way when you both return home
  • introduce people you know to others you just met; help make connections for others
  • introduce yourself to the person behind you in the coffee line-up and ask what he’s writing/editing/publishing
  • take photos of panels and speakers and then send them to those speakers
  • when you meet a representative from a journal or publisher that doesn’t work with your genre, consider who you know that would find them a perfect fit and make that introduction
  • most of all, engage: attend panels and approach the speakers after their sessions; be helpful to newbies who need directions in and outside of the conference; and make it a goal to come away from the conference having met at least three or four new people—and then make a point of contacting these folks after the conference winds down

AWP hosts a world of opportunities—for your own writing life and for engaging with others throughout the year. Yes, it’s a somewhat hectic place with too much to do and too many people to meet, and yet that’s precisely why it’s a goldmine for making things happen, for meeting new people and jumpstarting relationships that can extend throughout the year, throughout your life as a writer.

Going into the conference with the mindset to give back, to assist where your help is welcome, and to connect with others in meaningful ways can help fine-tune your social map for the week. While there are countless ways to participate as a literary citizen and you should definitely customize what works for you, I hope you’ll have a look at a few additional resources I’m pleased to share:

  • In the May 2010 issue of The Writer (pg 8-9), I interviewed author Matt Bell, agent Andrea Hurst, editor Leah Maines, and author/editor Kate Gale about how to play an active part in the writing community (online link)
  • In November 2013, I shared a round-up of resources and discussions about literary citizenship on my blog (online link)

And, lastly, a personal offering; if you’d like to ask more specific questions about AWP or literary citizenship, feel free to contact me personally at lori@loriamay.com. I’ll do my best to give helpful responses—and I’d love to shake your hand in Seattle.

***

lori-a-mayLori A. May writes across the genres, road-trips half the year, and drinks copious amounts of coffee. Her books include Square Feet and The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, Writer’s Digest, Brevity, Midwestern Gothic, and The Writer. Her editorial roles have included working with Kaylie Jones Books, Creative Nonfiction, and other independent presses. She is also the founding editor of Poets’ Quarterly. Lori is a graduate of the Wilkes University MFA program, where she was awarded the Norris Church Mailer Fellowship. She is a frequent guest speaker at writing conferences and residencies across North America. For more info, visit her website at www.loriamay.com.

New issue of River & South Review

January 15, 2014

wilkes street sign - Copy

River & South Review is a student-run literary journal edited by current students of the Wilkes University Creative Writing MA/MFA Programs. River & South Review publishes new work by emerging writers of any age who have not gone on to a graduate writing degree. This may include undergraduates, writers without a formal education, and writers from other professions.

The latest issue, Winter 13/14, is now available online: http://riverandsouth.blogspot.com

River & South Review is published twice annually.

Then & Now: Q&A with Dawn Zera

January 8, 2014
Dawn Zera

Dawn Zera

Then & Now: Q&A with Dawn Zera         

By Heather Lowery

Writer, editor, and instructor Dawn Zera is a graduate of the Wilkes University creative writing program. In this Q&A, she shares her experiences in working with Etruscan Press, Kaylie Jones Books, and Nancy McKinley as part of the education internship. 

HL: What is life like after the M.F.A.?

DZ: I have to use the F words here—fabulous and frightening.

HL: What did you learn from your internship experience?

DZ: How to teach! Frankly, I knew nothing about pedagogy or teaching practices. Dr. Nancy McKinley is not only a teacher I want to emulate and a talented creative writer, but also is a source of constant advice for those students interested in entering the profession. I still check in with her every now and then for advice and encouragement.

HL: Has that experience helped you get to where you are now?

DZ: Absolutely. Thanks to Dr. McKinley’s advice, her recommendations combined with other instructors at Wilkes, and the experience I gained during the internship, I was able to land two adjunct college teaching jobs even before I officially walked at summer graduation ceremonies (in September) to receive my M.F.A. (I officially completed the M.F.A. program in July 2013. By August I was hired to teach at the University of Scranton and also Marywood University).

HL: Any advice for those considering the M.F.A.?

DZ: Do it. It’s only an extra year, which means only one extra residency. You do not have to attend the final residency. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing an M.F.A. analysis paper with my M.F.A. mentor Kaylie Jones, and I am using the books I read for that M.F.A. as a source of information for a World Literature class I will teach this spring.

HL: What is your current occupation?

DZ: Writer, college instructor at University of Scranton and Marywood University, editor with Kaylie Jones Books, public relations guru, creative writing workshop leader for Penn State summer camp and local libraries. I enjoy doing all these things and do not feel it necessary (or financially feasible!) to limit myself to one at this time.

HL: What were some of your favorite things about the M.F.A.?

DZ: The people and the learning experience. This extra year gives students extra time to get to know people in the program better, do creative work under the guidance of a mentor, and figure out a plan for how to proceed in life after earning their degree.

HL: What were some of your not so favorite things?

DZ: I think each student should be judged individually for whether or not they can handle both a publishing and teaching internship. I was told I could not do both because they had tried it in the past and the students had not been able to complete the work. Thankfully, I was able to figure out a plan in which I officially did the teaching internship to fulfill my M.F.A. requirements, but switched my graduate assistantship from the creative writing office to Etruscan Press. I also did volunteer work for the Kaylie Jones Books imprint. All of this was fun and I learned a lot. In addition, the work I did for Kaylie Jones Books has been of interest to people when I go in for job interviews. Even though I am doing it on a volunteer basis, I enjoy it and Kaylie wrote a nice recommendation letter for me.

HL: Would you recommend getting the M.F.A.? Why?

DZ: I believe it depends on the individual. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution. If a student plans to go into teaching or publishing, then the M.F.A. is ideal – it provides that extra calling card that says s/he did the extra work of analyzing a particular topic, writing a paper about it and did an internship. In applying for teaching jobs, it gave me an edge over others with similar credentials who had an M.A. but not an M.F.A. In order to reach a decision on whether or not to pursue an M.F.A., each student has to plan for the future and ask themselves why they are in the creative writing program in the first place.

HL: How did you make the most of your experience?

DZ: I was a sponge and worked hard. Serving as a graduate assistant taught me a lot about how Etruscan Press, the Wilkes University creative writing office, and SenArt works. I also listened to good people who gave me outstanding gifts of their knowledge and experiences. Everything my mentors—Bev Donofrio and Kaylie Jones—said was remembered and taken to heart. Every story of experience shared by Dr. McKinley, Dr. Lennon and Dr. Culver was remembered. I sought the advice of faculty members and cohort members whenever I could and every single one of them was approachable and kind and willing to share their knowledge. Ross Klavan gave me feedback on a screenplay synopsis. Fellow cohort member Rachel Wiren, a college teacher at Baptist Bible College, shared her PowerPoint presentations that she used in her composition classes and offered valuable advice. Fellow cohort member Laurie Powers gave me feedback on a play and did pro bono special effects work on a film I produced. Dawn Leas recommended me for the Penn State summer camp position. Ken Vose, Gregory Fletcher, Sara Pritchard, Lenore Hart, former Etruscan Press editor Starr Troup, former associate program director Jim Warner—all these people, in addition to the ones already mentioned, took time to assist me in some way even though they weren’t my official mentors. In turn, I stand ready and willing to help these people in any small way I can.

HL: Anything else you’d like to add?

DZ: The program is what you make of it. In order to get something out of the bank, you need to put something in. Invest your time, energy, thoughts, writing, and anything else you can offer into the program, and you will get it all back, with interest.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Lessons from the Teaching Internship

December 18, 2013

by Michael J. Soloway, M.A., M.F.A.

Teacher in Storage

Teaching is in my blood.

Michael Soloway and daughter

Michael Soloway and daughter

Both my mother and grandmother were schoolteachers. “Nana” taught grade school for decades as well as English to “night school” students. And although my mother could have chosen a life in the arts as a dancer, actress, or singer—after all, she went to Emerson College with Henry Winkler, aka “The Fonz”—instead, she decided to study speech therapy, and spent nearly thirty years helping kids conquer their lisps and Lambda Ls. I know Mom’s devotion to her profession, and the hundreds of students who took “speech” increased their self-esteem and restored their inspiration to dream. That’s what a calling can do—change your direction, change your life. Hopefully, it can change another person’s life in the process. Like the blood doing laps in all of us, these simple actions often go unnoticed. As students, we simply called it “getting an education,” but today, as burgeoning educators, or those who aspire to be, you know it is much more tangible than that.

I remember teachers—the exceptional, adequate, and unsatisfactory—those inspired by their chosen professions and those worn out by it. Those clichéd figures who encouraged me and promised that I could “do anything I set my mind to,” as well as that second grade teacher who had a habit of closing those old-fashioned window panes that reminded me of air vents, just so she could belittle and shout at us without the principal hearing our cries or her awful knack for extracting them. Today, with a two-year-old daughter who will start school in a few years, this reminds me of the movie Monsters, Inc. This teacher, who was eventually removed from the classroom, was known as the screamer as well as the scream extractor all molded into one. But I knew, even at seven, this behavior was the exception, not the rule.

Until high school, I could name all of my teachers—from Mathews to Hilliard to Osta to Freeman to Cantwell to Spruell to Preston. These were my emulations, and sometimes my detesters. But no matter their motivation or teaching style, they all served to cast my future. After all, school was as much one of my talents as it was an escape. I could memorize and, although I was often labeled the “class clown,” teachers attracted me to the profession with their smiles, textbooks, and nurturing ways. Even when my self-control was nothing near “controlled,” and a beloved teacher had me write sentences one hundred times in the hall, I found pleasure in the repetition: “I will not stand at my desk while the teacher is talking. I will not stand at my desk while the teacher is talking. I will not stand….” Punishment backfired. I was hooked on school and the portraits teachers made of themselves without their knowledge, or even mine.

In June, during my final residency at Wilkes, I was faced with a decision. Not life threatening, but potentially life-altering. All creative writing students at Wilkes, when they move on from the M.A. and choose to pursue the M.F.A., will complete an internship in either teaching or publishing. Many of you will have an idea of what direction suits your personal or professional goals, or even personalities. Perhaps you’re already teaching where you live—a local high school, community workshop, university, or community college—and want to gain real-world experience in something new. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to teach, to share knowledge, and feel now is the time to figure out if a classroom’s four walls ultimately feel claustrophobic or freeing to you. Or, like me, you could be confused, even though you’ve known exactly what is coming, what is required, and still have no idea what direction to take. You could find yourself drawn to both, paralyzed, torn between your love of books and your passion for sharing that love with others.

I admit publishing was an attractive and exciting draw. I love the industry, and in its own way, much like teaching, is also one of the noblest of pursuits. Publishing satisfies more of the senses—the tangibility of touch, whether it be a hardback book or the selection of the paper inside, to the visual cues of the cover or printing font chosen, to the echo of a narrator’s voice of a book on tape, to the smell of all that cotton and ink and pulp. Except for the distinct odor of dry erase markers, teaching is much more intangible—filled more with moments of enlightenment and discovery, which draw out strong emotions but lacks the clear saleable product that is born from publishing a book made for a shelf. But teaching was in my blood, right? Without the silent running of Type O negative blood making its “Michael Orbit” from my heart to head to toe, there would be no other senses to rely on. If it all just stopped, then so would I. Still, I wavered between my need to satisfy all of my five senses, and the urge to sustain my own survival.

In teaching, ultimately, I felt as though I was able to choose both. Having recently accepted the managing editor position of Split Lip online literary magazine, I could have taken the easier path to my M.F.A. But, after switching tracts twice (sorry, Bonnie), I finally settled on the teaching internship. Like hanging in deep freeze in a blood bank, inside what reminded me of a CapriSun juice pouch, I felt I was a teacher in storage, who had finally been called into duty to help sustain a life—this was the greatest way for me to be of use. Now, all I needed was a class of students, a curriculum, and a classroom.

‘The Narrative Arcs’ Set Sail

I’d like to say the idea came to me in a dream, but I seldom remember them. In the end, I chose a topic that I thought would interest most writers, a topic that leant itself to all styles, genres, and formats, and one that I needed a bit of help with myself—examining the narrative arc in fiction and nonfiction. Per former students’ suggestions, I established a Group on Meetup.com, paid the Organizer fee, and waited. Here is how the description of my class read:

Calling all writers! Ever wonder how to build an effective arc? (Not Noah’s) Come learn narrative arc building with me as we discuss beginning, middle and end, as well as Nigel Watts’ 8-point story arc: Stasis, Trigger, The Quest, Surprise, Critical choice, Climax, Reversal, and Resolution. We’ll start with the six-word story, which has become a popular genre. We’ll spend a lot of time covering that discipline before moving on. Narrative Magazine has tons of examples and offers a weekly prize for the best. Hemingway has perhaps the most well-known six-word story: “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” Then we’ll tackle flash fiction, or iStory (150 words), and the short short story (500 words or less). Finally, we’ll move on to the short story/essay (1,500-3,000 words), and discuss the possibility of stories that would lend themselves to a longer story arc. Fiction and nonfiction will be covered. It would be interesting to me to see how to develop the same story in each format. Reading aloud in class will definitely be emphasized. I find reading my work out loud is so telling. It’s a perfect editing exercise, in and of itself. We’ll meet in the evening once a week this fall at one of the local venues TBD. Hope to see you there! By the way, I have my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University, have been published in nine literary journals, have a new play being produced in Pittsburgh this month, and am managing editor of Split Lip literary magazine. Blah, blah, blah. Just come write with us!

And they did. Nervous, anxious, eager, eleven people initially signed up for my writing workshop via Meetup.com. Eleven more than I thought ever would. I had given the Group a name, “The Narrative Arcs,” and made puns about Noah, boats, and surviving the literary floods that can sink a project. I wanted to think of myself as a teacher, but also as a brand. (I thought about ‘Narrative Arc’ T-Shirts, but decided against it.) The curriculum was set. The readings were germinating. The structure was taking shape. And nerves were forming. I was prepared for ten weeks of literary bliss.

And they did. Nervous, anxious, eager, eleven people initially signed up for my writing workshop via Meetup.com. Eleven more than I thought ever would. I had given the Group a name, “The Narrative Arcs,” and made puns about Noah, boats, and surviving the literary floods that can sink a project. I wanted to think of myself as a teacher, but also as a brand. (I thought about ‘Narrative Arc’ T-Shirts, but decided against it.) The curriculum was set. The readings were germinating. The structure was taking shape. And nerves were forming. I was prepared for ten weeks of literary bliss.

Drip Dry

I waited for the sweat to come.

And it would. No amount of role-playing can prepare you for reality. We’d meet in the back room of a local coffee shop, used on weekends as a daycare and for boys and girl’s Sunday school class. Tiny tables. Tiny chairs. Crayons in the cabinet. Toys set aside between French doors and an exterior brick wall. For a moment, I hoped adults were showing up. I wasn’t prepared to teach First Graders.

The first night I arrived more than an hour early. There were chairs to set up, tables to move, and notes to go over in my head. Introductions. The syllabus. Markers to unwrap. A writing prompt to gather. I finished thirty minutes prior to class—enough time to dab my damp forehead, take my arms out of my suit coat for a few minutes, grab a sugar cookie the size of a tire, along with a large bottle of water.

Then, to my surprise (yes, still) the people whose pictures I’d seen on Meetup.com began staggering in and introducing themselves—one, two, three, then five, seven, ten, etc. I wondered: like wild animals, were they more scared of me than I was of them?

I suppose teaching is a bit like having a child—you can practice, and read all the books, and listen to advice by “experts,” and be completely prepared, but until you haven’t slept for sixteen straight months or watched Toy Story three months in a row or tried to lure your two-year-old to sit on the potty using mini marshmallows meant for hot chocolate, then you truly don’t know what it’s like to command a classroom, and the pressure it takes to always have something interesting, exciting, fresh, or inspirational to say.

But teaching was in my blood.

I knew this that first night, and never doubted it, even until the last.  

From Buoy to Boat: Tips to Avoid Capsizing

  • Get a room: Book your space early! And check it out in person. Like a photograph (or book cover), looks can be deceiving. Don’t rely on a Web site thumbnail or someone else’s description. Visit the location and ask yourself: is the space truly big enough? Like a parent pressing on a child’s toe inside a new shoe, is there room to grow? Are there power outlets? What is the temperature of the room? Are there sufficient technological plug-ins, if projection or computer presentations are part of your plans? Does the venue offer food, or in the least, allow it to be brought in? If you’re planning an evening workshop, attendees will undoubtedly want a snack, water, or a cup of coffee, or perhaps all three. Because of this, coffee houses are logical places to start your search. If you end up in a local library, business conference room, or someplace like an Elks Lodge, make sure you find out if there’s a cleanup fee. At thirty dollars a night, abandoned coffee cups will cost you a fortune. And, most importantly, ask if the room is free of charge? Meaning, never pay for a space.
  • Start with a stretch: It’s unexpected, feels great, and relieves tension built up from the day. Remember, writing is an escape for people. Begin their “vacation” on a positive note. The ‘Narrative Arcs’ routine included arms, hands, wrists, neck, and back.
  • Be early: Personally, I often had to clean and set up the room every Tuesday night. Chairs had to be wheeled in from the back. Tables had to be moved. Posters of past lessons had to be put up. Handouts had to be organized. And a summary of the evening’s activities had to be written out. But before any of that, street parking had to be found. And depending on where you live, traffic might have to be overcome.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare—then have a backup plan: Don’t cram the night before. This isn’t a multiple choice undergraduate algebra class test. This is quite possibly your new career. You’re a professional. Whether you’re getting paid or not, treat assignments and lessons, and students, with the respect they deserve. That means, if your workshop is on a Tuesday evening, don’t wait until Monday night to formulate your lesson or print the necessary handouts or start your PowerPoint or Prezi. Aside from the actual class at 6 p.m., Tuesday was always my “off day” in fact. And always print out more handouts than you actually need for each class. Even if a class member doesn’t show up as planned, they’re going to ask for a copy of last week’s handouts, so you might as well have extras ready.
  • Fall into a routine: I bought poster-sized Post-It Notes and was able to reattach the sheets to the walls for each class. This not only reinforced the syllabus, but helped me, as an instructor, when I needed to return to a point I made the previous week, or even three weeks prior. It also served as a timeline and reminder of how far we had come together.
  • Have water nearby: Enough said.
  • Be funny, when appropriate: No one expects a standup routine (or wants one) but everyone loves to laugh. Find ways to interject yourself into your lessons. I often told stories about my two-year-old daughter. If people can relate to you, oftentimes they’re more apt to respect and listen to you as well.
  • Take a break: Even adults have short attention spans. Depending on the length of your class, take one or two short breaks to use the restroom, refresh drinks, or simply allow open conversation for everyone to bond.
  • Read aloud: Don’t simply “workshop” new pieces. Have your students read their work aloud in class. In fact, at times I had students read their own work, then allowed another student to read the same piece aloud for its author. This gives the student several perspectives on what’s working, or where the prose, or dialogue, might be getting stuck.
  • Trust your instincts: Go with your gut. Whatever you want to call it. You’ll be able to “feel” if an exercise or lecture is headed in the wrong direction. Just be prepared to shift gears and be flexible, if that happens. Have alternate writing prompts students can complete or be willing to go “off-script.” Just because my course was designed to cover and examine the 8-point narrative arc, I often talked about other relevant topics, including dialogue, imagery, and voice. I also related each lesson back to the publishing industry, making sure every piece my students wrote in class could be submitted for publication.
  • Leave time: Obviously students will have questions throughout the night, but also plan to give them more than a minute or two to ask questions at the end. Most people, with limited time left in class, are ready to go home or know instinctively that their classmates are ready to go. Most will hold their question, fearing they’ll be a “bother.” Don’t force your students to have to choose. Give them time. Three minutes could mean the difference between helping a student succeed or having them never return to class again.
  • Say “Thank You”: Always thank your students for being there. Always. Unless you are teaching a required class in a university or college setting, remember, your students could be anyplace else but with you at that very moment. They’ve chosen you and your class. Most people are away from their families at night or need to wake up early for work the next day. Some of my students even drove in from neighboring towns and cities. Make them feel welcome and always appreciated. Not only did I thank students in person, but I made sure that I thanked each and every participant on Meetup.com within twenty-four hours of each class. Remember, in a workshop setting, you’re also marketing yourself, your personality, and your expertise. Answer each email and respond to every student. Always.

The Universal Donor

In the end, it doesn’t matter what your blood type is. If teaching is in your blood you’ll know it as soon as you step into the classroom. Although you might not feel it racing through your entire body, you’ll most likely feel it in your heart. That ever-beating heart. And that alone, will make you feel alive, perhaps even for the first time. I’d coached before—high school tennis—but, aside from the occasional forehand or backhand breakthrough, disciplinarian was my true title. I’d never taught in a classroom before, with a syllabus, and curriculum requirements. For me, it was more freeing, more liberating than being outdoors on a tennis court—those four walls offering a level of comfort and not distress.

As I write this, last night was the last night. Our final class. Those who were able to make the date, and had committed to the full 10-week workshop, or “found it” late and dropped in the middle, brought homemade pastries and a card for me. Their generosity and true thanks brought me to tears. But I was the one who owed them the warmest “thank you.” The gifts were unexpected; I can only imagine that my students felt I had added a “sweetness” to their Tuesday nights and wanted to return the favor. So, I say, “thank you,” to Bryan, Carol, Deb, Denise, DeWayne, DiAnn, Gina, Grace, Karen, Larry, Mary, Mollie, Rex, Richard, and Shelley.

Teaching is in my blood for good. Silently, it travels along the same canals that keep me alive. I cannot feel it. I cannot touch it. Yet, I know it’s there, because here I am typing away, living proof that you can still make a difference. It might even be in my daughter’s blood now. Whenever I leave the house alone she says, “Daddy teaches class.” In classical Greek medicine, blood was associated with air, with springtime, and with a merry and sanguine personality. Perhaps teaching is in your blood as well. Just don’t go looking for it. Although all blood is made of the same basic elements, not all blood is alike. It’s inherited. Like eye color, blood type is passed genetically from your parents. My blood type just happens to be O negative—the Universal Donor. If you need blood, I can offer it without medical consequence. In that vein, we are the same. But I can only share so much of it before growing too weak to go on.

So, the rest you’ll have to discover for yourself, and in your own time. My hope is that your own M.F.A. internship fills you with a sense of purpose. Whether you choose Teaching or Publishing, I trust you’ll find a way to build a better boat. It doesn’t have to be an arc. Just don’t expect to do this with a full set of instructions, or without the joy that can so often come from knowing your blood, sweat, and tears were worth spilling for those who choose to listen.

*Special Acknowledgement: Thank you to Dr. Nancy KcKinley. Your endless support and advice throughout the semester was beyond invaluable. You are a treasure who cares professionally, but more importantly, personally about each student, their needs, and futures. Thanks, Nancy, for being such a nurturing soul as we all reenter the “real world” as teachers. I know none of us at Wilkes could call ourselves that without you.

Michael Soloway writes fiction and screenplays, but nowadays focuses on essays, memoir, and playwriting. He has served as managing editor of more than a dozen nonprofit magazines and just finished his first memoir, Share the Chameleon, about attempting to break his family’s cycle of abuse, as he becomes a father for the first time in his 40s.

James Jones First Novel Fellowship

November 6, 2013

The 22nd Annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship awarded first place and $10,000 to Margot Singer of Granville, OH for her manuscript titled The Art of Fugue. Runners-up in the competition were Jennifer S. Davis of Baton Rouge, LA for her manuscript Reckonings; and Timothy Brandoff of New York, NY for his manuscript Connie Sky. They were each awarded $750. Tamara B. Titus, of Charlotte, NC received honorable mention for her manuscript Lovely in the Eye.

The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” It is awarded to an American author of a first novel-in-progress. The competition is co-sponsored by the Wilkes University Graduate Creative Writing Program and the James Jones Literary Society.

poetry manuscript evaluation

October 9, 2013

accents publishing

Accents Publishing is currently offering manuscript evaluation services.

For a limited amount of time, for a limited number of manuscripts, they are providing interested poets with feedback on their work-in-progress.

After the author submits a manuscript for evaluation, the senior editor of Accents Publishing (Katerina Stoykova-Klemer) and another reader affiliated with the press will read the manuscript and provide an evaluation, covering the following points:

  • How well does the manuscript work as a whole?
  • Are the poems ordered in the best possible way?
  • Does it have a good title? How does the title work/interact with the manuscript?
  • Does it read well as a book? If not, what is missing?
  • Are there any poems that do not serve the manuscript or are not as effective as the rest?
  • What else should the poet do before he/she starts sending the manuscript out for publication?
  • Comments on competitiveness of the manuscript in the current market.
  • Anything else that may helpful to the author.

Cost is $100 for a chapbook-length manuscript and $150 for a full-length manuscript. A limited number of manuscripts will be evaluated on a first-come first-served basis.

etceteras_mistress_frontcover_medIf interested, write to accents.publishing@gmail.com. Please note that you are not submitting a manuscript for consideration for publication by Accents. Rather, this service is an opportunity to receive a professional opinion on the quality and marketability of the manuscript.

The Wilkes writing community will recognize Accents Publishing, as they recently published advisory board member Thom Ward’s full-length collection, Etcetera’s Mistress.


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