Archive for December, 2013

An interview with Lori A. May

December 31, 2013
An interview with Lori A. May
By: Heather B. Lowery
loriamay1 - web size

Lori A. May

A woman who can call both Canada and Detroit home is a woman who must be well rounded. Lori A. May, poet, performer, speaker, instructor, is a jack-of-all-trades—at least when it comes to the writing, marketing, publishing, speaking side of things. So pretty much anything that has to do with communication Lori has on lockdown.

Lori A. May writes across the genres, edits, teaches and travels as a frequent guest speaker. If you want to know how to save a buck she can spout out a list of fifty tips in less than two minutes. You can find her work in print and online with publications like Brevity, The Writer, Phoebe, Writer’s Digest and The Atlantic.  

Lori has a new collection, Square Feet, out in January 2014 by Accents Publishing. In the following interview, Lori shares what her writing process entails, details about her collection and gives advice to struggling writers.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? And how long did it take you embrace it?

Of course I wrote when I was a kid and that’s really when the desire to be a writer grew within, but I’d say I started taking writing—as a vocation—more seriously when I was in my early to mid 20s. There was definitely a time when I wrote only for myself that transitioned into wanting to share my work with others and seek publication. That grew very quickly into thinking how nice it would be to do this in a full-time capacity. Once I had proven to myself that I could finish a book-length manuscript, it became very clear to me that I had to find a way to make this writing gig a permanent and prioritized part of my life.

What does your writing process look like?

crumpled-paper

It’s messy. From idea discovery to complete draft, there’s complete disorganization in between. Or, so it may seem from the outside. I tinker a lot and let things simmer; I go back and forth between projects and seem to be all over the place. Then, one day, I’ll have this moment where I realize how close to first-draft-finished a project is and I’ll wonder how it all came together. That sounds magical and it’s not at all. For me it’s more of a trust in the organic mess, that what starts off in clunky drafts gradually grows into something better. I guess that’s why it’s called a process and not something more definitive.

You are a writer of many genres. Do you see a merging of genres in your work?

At times, yes. When I’m writing poetry, I let the draft take shape but then I step back to see what the story is arising from the verse, then use that to revise and tweak. When I’m working on prose, I’ll poke around at the draft material to revision how I might improve word choice and sound quality—like I would with poetry. I think all writing feeds itself.

What motivates you to sit down and write even when you don’t feel inspired?

I remind myself how fortunate I am to write. To have that leisure to write any time, all day, or not at all. Writing is my choice, my pleasure. Sure, there are times that I don’t feel like writing or, more accurately, like sitting at my desk. Writing is work. It is never perfect, not in the beginning, nor in its final draft. It takes effort and patience and, as Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Inspiration is overrated. Persistence gets the work done.

SqFt_LoriAMayYour new collection is called Square Feet. Where did you get the idea for that title?

The title came to me fairly early on in the process. I had been working on a few poems about life behind closed doors—where we laugh and share secrets, where we grieve openly without shame. I found myself working on the human component, yes, but also looking at those domestic objects that surround us and either comfort or irritate us: utensils, furniture, photo albums. The title was a gift, dropped in my lap from the working subconscious, and once I had it on my tongue I knew I had a direction with the full manuscript. It rarely works that way for me, by the way.

You have a good number of poems that deal with co-existence: spouses living together, partners trying to make it work, family members visiting, etc. It is interesting to see how all of those relationships are different, and yet have the same struggles in common, accommodation and compromise being two major themes. How did you come to those conclusions?

I don’t know that I did so with intention, but at the end of the day aren’t we all the same? Aren’t we all after the same things—love, acceptance, a sense of security within ourselves and in our lives? These things are possible, sure, but they often require compromise. I think Square Feet shows how our lives touch one another—for better, for worse—and respond to one another, particularly in small or private spaces.

Any advice for writers who are struggling to finish a piece of work for whatever reason—boredom, pain, exhaustion, time, etc?

I’m easily distracted so it’s not uncommon for me to work on a project ten or fifteen minutes and then lose focus. When that happens, I give myself a choice: continue to work on Project A or shift focus to Project B and so on. It’s good to have multiple projects on the go. There’s always something to work on. Writing needs time to breathe and simmer on its own, so if something is giving me a hard time I’ll adjust focus and move on to something else. But I try not to abandon projects, unless I know I’ve hit a wall and don’t want to break through it. I think, for all writers and especially emerging writers, it’s important to remember to have fun and not put too much pressure on one’s self. The writing will come, in time, and it’s okay to take a break from something. Find something else that moves you for the time being.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m excited about 2014! I’ll be traveling often and working on a number of projects. I’m also thrilled to say I have another book coming out at the end of the year. In December 2014, I’ll have a new nonfiction book out with Bloomsbury. More details will be shared on my website, www.loriamay.com, very soon!

Where can interested readers get a copy of Square Feet?

I’d love to see readers pick up the book direct from Accents Publishing, but an indie bookseller can make sure the book is ordered and/or delivered. Of course, readers can also find Square Feet on Amazon or at their local Barnes & Noble. The B&N in Wilkes-Barre PA has some copies in stock, too. During AWP in Seattle, I’ll be signing copies of Square Feet at the Accents Publishing table in the bookfair (AA3) on Thursday Feb 27, from 12-1pm and books will be available there all weekend. Signed copies can also be purchased directly from my website: http://www.loriamay.com.


Photo credit for crumpled paper: acrumpledpaper.wordpress.com
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Interview with poet Loren Kleinman

December 25, 2013

Loren_NYC-8

Loren Kleinman is a young, American-born poet with roots in New Jersey. Her poetry explores the results of love and loss, and how both themes affect an individual’s internal and external voice.  She has a B.A. in English Literature from Drew University and an M.A. in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Sussex (UK). Her poetry has appeared in literary journals such as Nimrod, Wilderness House Literary Review, Writer’s Bloc, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review (PLR), Resurgence (UK), HerCircleEzine and Aesthetica Annual. She was the recipient of the Spire Press Poetry Prize (2003), was a 2000 and 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee, and was a 2004 Nimrod/Pablo Neruda Prize finalist for poetry.

In 2003, Spire Press (NYC) published her first collection of poetry Flamenco Sketches, which explored the relationship between love and jazz. Kleinman judged the literary entries for the book  Alt-History: New Writing from Brighton published by QueenSpark Books (UK). She was also a contributing editor/writer for the Cancer Dancer by Patricia San Pedro. Kleinman is also a columnist for IndieReader.com (IR) where she interviews NYT bestselling indie authors. Many of those interviews in IR reappeared in USA Today and The Huffington Post.

Her second collection of poetry, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs,  is due to release in 2014 (Winter Goose Publishing, 2014). She is also working on a New Adult literary romance novel, This Way to Forever; and a collection of interviews and essays that explore the vibrant community of indie authors called Indie Authors Naked: Essays and Interviews on the Indie Book Community  (Publisher: IndieReader).

Kleinman recently presented a two-day seminar at Sentences 5: A Conference on Writing Prose at Drew University in July 2013. She also owns and operates a small, boutique editorial firm, LK Editorial, where she edits poetry, offers social media services, and instructional design consultations.

Kleinman shares insight into her writing life and news about her latest book here on The Write Life.

Hi, Loren. What can you tell us about your forthcoming book, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs?

My second collection of poetry, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, is due to release in March 2014 by Winter Goose Publishing. It took me seven years to finish. The collectionattempts to bear witness to trauma and its healing process. Trauma survivors will clearly remain tortured as bodily wounds may heal, but the wounded psyche bears witness to years of reconstruction.  I’m exploring love and loss. I’m trying to find its language. The Dark Cave Between My Ribs will appeal especially to those craving an authentic voice that is at the same time raw and universal.

You’re also working on a novel, aren’t you? How do you balance the time and energy in writing for multiple genres? Have you always wanted to write for multiple audiences?

I just finished a New Adult literary romance novel, This Way to Forever and am seeking representation.  The novel explores how young people deal with love and ambition and the choices that come with each.  Other themes the novel explores are choosing romantic love over security, love as an ideology, and long distance love/dealing with long distance relationships.

Finally, I have a collection of interviews and essays that explore the vibrant community of indie authors called Indie Authors Naked: Essays and Interviews on the Indie Book Community (Publisher: IndieReader). Indie Authors Naked explores and defines the world of independent publishing.  Comprised of a series of essays and interviews by indie authors, booksellers and publishers, readers will get a look at the many aspects of the indie community, where publishing professionals of all types come together with the simple goal of creating something unique; something that speaks directly to the reader, no middleman necessary.  Contributors include James Franco, Hugh Howey, McNally Jackson Books, Sarah Gerard, OHWOW Books, Raine Miller, David Vinjamuri, Toby Neal, Rachel Thompson, Eden Baylee, Christoph Paul, Jessica Redmerski, and more. The book is due to release 1/15/2014.

I’m very territorial about my time. I take one day off a week from writing, which is Saturday. The rest of the week I work full-time and write after work. When I take breaks from writing, I’m reading a lot. The only way to keep to schedule is through discipline. I keep my energy by working out and eating a mostly organic diet. Your body is a tool. You have to maintain it in order to function at your best. Anyone can write. It’s another thing to be in the place to write.

As far as writing for multiple audiences, it’s always been something I considered, but have been too afraid to try. I’ve always written poetry, and thought I could never write fiction. Really I was terrified. Fiction is scary. It’s a beast. And you have to outline. You can’t mess around. I wrote the first line of something: Everything we know is fiction. Even love. I showed it to my close friend and fiction editor and he said, “You’ve got something here.” A year later I finished my first novel This Way to Forever.

My point is, it’s important to be verse in different genres. While it’s scary, you have to keep readers surprised. I cried through most of the re-writing of the novel. It was awful. But I did it.

You’re a busy freelancer, too. Can you tell me about LK Editorial and what sort of services you offer?

LK Editorial is a small editorial firm that specializes in select projects. I primarily work on press releases, media kits, bios, LinkedIn profile writing, and poetry collection edits. I also manage a writing program at an NJ college so I’m incredibly active. Right now I taking more time for my writing, and being even more selective about the types of projects I take on. Again, I have to be territorial about my creative life.

You also conduct an interview series and so much more. How has freelance writing and editing contributed to your overall writing life? Do you ever feel these activities distract from the creative writing?

I feel that they add to my writing life. It’s important to network, to develop your community and be a part of a creative community. The more people I meet, the more exposed I become to what’s trending or up-and-coming. I schedule all of my interviews at least 6 months in advance so I can keep on track. So, it’s also about planning out your time so you can get your own work done.

Essentially, the blog, Twitter and Facebook keep me connected to readers and writers. If you are writer or another creative, you MUST plug into social media. It’s the only way you are going to reach readers. And it’s not a sad truth, just the truth. I’ve met so many fantastic people via social media and through all of the interviews I’ve done. It’s an important aspect of who I am. Naturally curious.

I also believe in forming alliances, in supporting each other through the writing process. I mean, seriously, it’s scary sometimes and mysterious. I feel less alone when I interview someone and they say the same thing I was thinking. Or they something uplifting and charming. It’s great. It’s such a snapshot of life. They always make want to write more.  True story.

Where can readers learn more about your work? Do you have any links to poems or other work available online?

Readers can follow me on Twitter for updates. The best is to keep checking the website. I have sample poems on my site and links to all interviews and publications.

So stop by any of these platforms to say hi:

Website: www.lorenkleinman.com

Winter Goose Publishing Author Page: http://wintergoosepublishing.com/authors/loren-kleinman/

IndieReader Column: http://indiereader.com/category/columns/loren-kleinman/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorenKleinman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lorenkleinman1?ref=hl

Email: lorenkleinman@yahoo.com

Tumblr: http://lorenkleinman.tumblr.com/

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.

‘When Opportunity Knocks,’ essay by Heather Lowery

December 11, 2013
 
When Opportunity Knocks
An essay by Heather Lowery
Heather Lowery (photo credit: Lindsey Marie Photography)

Heather Lowery (photo credit: Lindsey Marie Photography)

When I first set foot on the Wilkes University campus, I never imagined I would have the experiences that I have had since I enrolled. Sitting in a classroom full of people I assumed (some correctly and some incorrectly) were smarter than me, had me scared. I was ready to quit after the first class, something I had never conceded to previously (I do not count the ballet, jazz or instrument lessons I stopped when I was younger). I walked outside and called my mom. “Mom, these people are so much more suited to this than I am. I’m way out of my league,” I told her. She suggested I go back inside, open my mind and breathe. “Sometimes the things that are best for us scare us the most,” she added. I could hardly disagree, though I hated the fact that she was probably right…again. I took a deep breath, put my phone away and walked inside. I opened my mind to something completely new to me and I have not looked back since.

With graduation a mere month away, I cannot help but look back on my most recent experience as an intern. I started the MFA degree with the paper, as all MFA students do. I was hardly thinking about the internship the next semester. However, when the first semester wrapped up and I was at residency, I was faced with the decision between the publishing and education track. Seeing as I eventually want to teach in college I thought going with an education internship would be ideal. Then I was approached by Lori A. May, who just happens to be my site supervisor [for Poets’ Quarterly]. She suggested I try something new. There I was again, faced with change.

Publishing. What did I want to do with publishing? I had once dreamed about being an editor for some major publishing house. But my editing days have since been put behind me, or at least the days where I slave over someone else’s work instead of my own. I had no idea what I would even do with an internship in publishing. I could not help but think, “How is this going to help me?”

It was a good question, and it was answered within the first two weeks of my internship. Really, how was an internship in publishing, something I had no prior experience in, not going to help me? I was wrong in assuming it would not help me. In fact, there has not been one assignment that has not pushed me forward across the threshold of change and into the great expanse of indispensible knowledge.

We started the semester at the end of July. Within a few days I had a to-do list from Lori for the entire month of August. I will admit it freaked me out. I was overwhelmed at the listed tasks, one of which included reading a good-sized anthology and writing a book review on it. Problem number one: I am a slow reader. Problem number two: I have limited experience writing book reviews, as in, I have only tried my hand at it once before. In time, I finished the book and attempted writing the book review. Luckily, Lori enjoyed it enough to publish it on the PQ website. Boom! And just like that I had a publishing credit to add to my CV.

Over the course of my internship I have done nearly ten interviews, and have written numerous essays and blog posts. If I am honest, and I am—some would say destructively so—I will admit that I hardly did any personal writing, or writing of my own during the internship. It was not that I did not have time; that would be a lie. I had plenty of time. I just did not feel like writing. So potential interns should not worry about not being able to get any writing done. If you want to write, you will be able to write. Mine was a personal decision. And a decision I made every single day. Though, it has been good for my brain, and my soul, to take a break from what I have been working on and solely focus on the internship. The shift in pace has renewed my spirit for which I am truly grateful.

What should one expect when beginning an internship in publishing? Nothing and everything at once. Do not come in with expectations, because they will most likely be shattered as soon as you get the first assignment. However, if you are like me and you want to have expectations because they serve more as goals than things you want to get out of the experience, then expect to be surprised and challenged and bettered. You will be surprised. You will be challenged. You will be bettered, either as a person or a writer, or both. Take my advice—try something new.

I took a position as an intern assistant editor for a poetry literary magazine called Poets’ Quarterly. Lori A. May was my site supervisor, or as I secretly refer to her, the boss lady. I warned her that I was not a poet by any means and I had never seriously read poetry. She assured me that I was going to be fine. “Think about it,” she told me. It was good advice. I thought about it and when I could not think of a better internship I accepted her offer. I was nervous. I did not want to let Lori down, a person who I had gotten closer to with each residency. Lori was someone I looked up to, admired, respected. What was going to happen if I did not meet her standards? To my utter disbelief, I never received an email that said what I was doing was complete crap. I got constructive criticism, advice and guidance.

Lori allowed me to spread my wings. With the importance of crossing genres, I needed this experience more than I originally thought. I learned about visual poetry, trailblazing poets like Seamus Heaney, and current poets like Loren Kleinman and Joy Gaines-Friedler. I caught up with Wilkes alums Jim Warner and Brian Fanelli, among others. I revealed my struggle with writing and working out in an essay published in between issues. I compiled a list of publishers and a separate list of faculty according to area for marketing purposes. I researched grants for nonfiction writers and poets. And I learned about Blogger, the site that houses the Poets’ Quarterly website, to which I uploaded the archives from the old website.

I think it is safe to say I have been busy this semester. But when looking back at everything I have done, I see a more rounded writer, a more involved citizen in the literary community. I would not have traded this experience for any other internship. It has been exciting and nerve-wracking. It has been worth every minute of struggle, every moment of stress.

Then & Now: Q&A with alum Justin Kassab

December 4, 2013
Justin Kassab with Kaylie Jones

Justin Kassab with Kaylie Jones

Then & Now: Q&A with alum Justin Kassab

By Heather Lowery

Justin Kassab is a graduate of the Wilkes University creative writing program. He has authored a number of short stories and his first novel, Foamers, will soon be on bookshelves. Justin is also the Managing Editor for Kaylie Jones Books.

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

JK: I have a novel under contract.

HL: What did you learn from your internship experience?

JK: I learned how to build wordpress sites, and platform on social media.

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

JK: It has helped build a platform for when I become published.

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

JK: If you have other means of income and are looking to supplement it with adjunct [teaching], it is a good choice. However, with the current teaching market I would advise going for your Ph.D. if your goal is to become a tenure track professor.

HL: What is your current occupation?

JK: Currently working pro bono as Managing Editor of Kaylie Jones Books.

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

JK: The guidance of Phil Brady.

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

JK: Combining my internship with my GA position and giving up sleep for the semester.

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

JK: It would depend on your personal situation. From what I am learning from job hunting it is a great supplemental degree, but there are few avenues where the M.F.A. is exactly what someone is looking for.

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

JK: I connected with as many mentors and students as I could to increase the amount of writer interaction in my everyday life.

HL: Anything else you’d like to add?

JK: Don’t let networking opportunities pass you by. Connect with the agents, publishers, mentors, and other students as much as you can each residency.