MFA Update: Research Trip

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Later this summer, I’ll be taking a trip to upstate New York. My main goal is to do some research in the collections at Fort Ticonderoga, but I can tell from their massive card catalogue on manuscripts alone that one journey won’t be enough. So, I think I’m going to go ahead and get a student membership for the year.

What I’m Hoping To Find

I haven’t looked through the card catalogue of manuscripts yet but I definitely want to check out any first-hand accounts of the early years of the fort. I’d also love to take a look at the artifacts from the mid-eighteenth century.

Now that I’m moving my book up about a hundred years, it’s amazing how much more information there is. I mean, that was sort of predictable, but I’m really excited about it since I was having trouble finding a lot of primary sources before.

The Rest Of The Trip

Since research appointments can only take up the morning, that leaves two afternoons to explore the fort and the general area surrounding it. This is perfect, I think, for my needs right now.

I’ve invited my mom to come along, because I think she’d enjoy it, and if she does join me, we’ll also take Zoey, our dog, along. Though it will be important to keep Zoey away from any weapons demonstrations as muskets and the like are loud enough to scare her.

Hopefully the weather will be decent, but I will go regardless.


There was one hotel that tries to provide a sanctuary from the modern world. I was so tempted to book that one but because of that sanctuary feeling, they don’t offer WiFi. It’s not that I can’t go without the internet, but I don’t really want to–plus the chain hotel where I booked a room is much closer to the fort and accepts pets.

Final Thoughts & Discussion

I’m so excited to take this little three-day trip! I’ve never actually taken a research trip far enough away that an overnight stay was merited. But the idea of traveling to connect with the past in this way, to gain a more intimate understanding for my novel, enthralls me.

If you’re a writer, where have you traveled for your research? How was the trip? Would you take another?

Writing Prompt: Moving

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I have two friends undergoing a move right now. But I think I’ve done a writing prompt in the past about packing stuff so this time I want you to write about getting friends to help a character move. You have 1000 words, maximum. Have fun!

MFA Update: 3rd Residency


I had a great time last week visiting the Mountainview Grand Resort for my third residency week in the Low-Residency MFA program offered by SNHU. The week started off with the usual “What to expect this semester” meeting, except this time instead of talking craft essays, we talked about the close reading essay. I’ll be doing mine on “The Flower” by Louise Erdrich.

Peer workshops went really well and I got some excellent direction for a story I wrote that felt as stuck as my main character. Turns out I can actually get two stories out of it if I craft them properly. I think I will at least try to do so!

The craft workshops were amazing, especially the Epiphanic Moment session. I won’t go into details because the stories used were not mine, and therefore the lives used were not mine, but it was like witnessing first-hand a therapy session that brought the core of the writer’s pain into the stories used. It was beautiful and surprising, and something I will always carry with me. And the writers whose stories we used will always be brave in my eyes, braver than most.

This summer’s guest author was Danielle Evans, who is as kind as she is brilliant. Seriously, if you’ve not read her collection of short stories, titled Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, get on that. You won’t regret it. We also had a guest editor visit from FSG, who gave a talk and then joined two recent grads who already have book contracts a year after graduating.

I taught a self-defense seminar that was a great deal of fun, and would have gone on longer if my voice hadn’t been drowned out by a lawnmower. I learned later in the week that there’s studio space in the fitness center (I’d probably have known that if I worked out while at residency), but alas–it was days after the workshop.

For readings, I chose three: a portion of my thesis for the pre-dinner reading, and a portion of a short story I’m working on as well as a Hamilton-inspired political rap. All of them were lots of fun to give, but what I’m happiest about is that it’s getting easier to read in front of what I consider huge groups (60+ people) without reading so fast no one could possibly hope to understand me. I owe a lot of that to the advice I received from David Simpatico, Mountainview MFA alum, actor, and fabulous playwright.

Overall, it was a week of learning, a week of not enough sleep, and a week at the end of which I struggled to keep from getting choked up as graduates returned for a final celebration of their work. I’m halfway through the program–actually 3 credits more than halfway now–and I feel like the next two semesters are going to fly even faster than the first two.

MFA Update: Prepping For Residency & Next Term

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I have two more stories to read and critique before heading up to residency on Sunday. I’m really enjoying the process of critiquing, as I usually do. I had hoped to have finished by now, but I built some cushion into my self-imposed deadline because I knew that with my second semester ending, I might also want to take things easy a little.

So I’ve done a little of both, but I’m on target to finish before leaving, which is great. I’ve known some who can critique the night before someone is workshopped, and while I imagine that keeps the story and one’s reactions fresh in the mind, it would be too tight of a deadline for me. I like to arrive with the work completed.

I’ve also spent some time in the last week thinking about what books I want to read next semester. As I understand it, while I won’t be required to write craft essays for each book (instead I’ll be writing a 10-15-page close reading essay), I am still expected to discuss readings with my mentor. I’m not sure if my mentor will want to come up with a list, but I’ve always tried to go into each semester with suggestions of books that it might help to read.

This semester, my list is split 50/50 between works by First Nations authors and works that take place in or near the time period of my novel–the 17th century. Some of my books in the latter section take place in the 16th century, but they’ve been recommended to me by others in my MFA program so I figure it’s close enough. Next semester, you’ll be able to keep up with me and my reading list on McNellisReads.

My other residency prep includes packing, which was less of a chore this time around. I can bring more clothes to summer residency because tee shirts don’t take up as much room as sweaters…so there’s no need to have to make choices now as to what I will bring. Since it’s too early to tell what the weather will be for the whole week, I definitely like packing for summer residency more.

Halfway through my MFA program, all I can say is I’ve so far learned a lot, met amazing writers, and I’m looking forward to this next semester.

“We write to…”

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We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

-Anaïs Nin