MFA Update: Phone Chat

If you ever enroll in an MFA program–or any graduate or undergraduate program–never be afraid to voice your questions. Today, as I mentioned yesterday, I chatted with my mentor on the phone. Not only did we have some productive discussion about moving forward with my thesis, but I also got some great book recommendations and a new plan for my writing exercise.

It was going to be a 10-page letter from one specific character of mine to her father, questioning and imagining why he did certain things during her life. I liked the idea of her trying to figure out his character in this way, but I was having difficulty hitting my page target without including elements they would both already know before the letter was already written.

This is one of the pitfalls of epistolary writing that my mentor discussed with me last month–and after having experienced it, I agree with her that it can be a difficult one to avoid. However, by changing the scope and parameters of this exercise just a bit, it seems not only doable, but enjoyable and productive.

My next deadline is just under a month away. I’ve got this.

MFA Update: Thesis Structure & Language, and Peer Pages

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with my mentor again for an hour. We talked about my first submission and the peer pages I sent her last week for June’s residency. Starting yesterday, I’m exploring some new avenues after our discussion.

pexels-photo-699786.jpeg

Thesis Structure

The books I’ve read for this semester thus far have all used structures other than straight-forward, plot-driven prose. I find it so refreshing that I want to do something like that with mine, but I haven’t landed on the sweet spot yet–or maybe I have.

We talked about the pastiche I wrote after reading Jenny Offil’s Dept. of Speculation. A pastiche, in case you’re not familiar with the word, is when you try to write in the style and voice of another author–using your own story, of course. After I’ve made some small revisions to mine, I’ll share it on my Patreon page. The great thing about this pastiche was how free I felt writing in this style.

My mentor and I discussed why this might be: Offil’s style isn’t stream-of-consciousness really, but somewhere in between that and the prose most of us are used to reading. It moves like stream-of-consciousness, but stays tethered to the plot. This, I think, creates energy that propels the story forward; I read Offil’s book in just two days because I couldn’t put it down.

I want to read more by writers who take this approach, but there are also other elements I want to see at work in fiction, so I might not get the chance this semester. Having been exposed to it though, I can say I rather enjoy reading and writing in this in-between way that acts like stream-of-consciousness but isn’t.

This semester, my mentor and I both want to focus on exploration with my thesis. To that end, I’m writing the start again (this is the fifth time I’m starting this story, but I’m having fun exploring different ways to do so) in a different way. I’m using this bridged style and also writing from both my protagonist’s POV and his daughter’s.

I still plan to include letters and another element that I want to keep as a surprise.

pexels-photo-261763.jpeg

Thesis Language

My story takes place in the 17th century. Last semester, I grappled with whether or not to write it in the diction of the day. I have enough primary source material that I could adopt that type of diction, but after polling friends and family, I decided last term not to do so. It would be too distancing, too hard to get into. I tend to agree with them. It’s not like in a play or film where you’re immersed in the sound and visual of it as well (not to say a novelist can’t help the reader imagine those things, but it’s different), or like you’re only asking readers to do the work of reading that diction for two hours.

A novel is a much larger commitment for a reader, so the language needs to be accessible. However, mine was still antiquated, even with this consideration. I think I tend to gravitate toward that type of voice anyway–perhaps because I myself feel I’m an anachronism, or perhaps because when left to my own devices, I tend to choose to read classics. I’m used to that voice.

All the same, there’s something freeing in writing with a more modern diction, especially  in historical fiction. With each subsequent draft and revision, I loosen up more and more  on the antiquated voice and I think the result is something stronger.

These are just two of the shifts I’m making in my thesis. I don’t mind taking this semester to explore; there will be plenty of time to draft, especially since I used to do NaNoWriMo. Yes, I originally hoped to get my novel to a sensitivity reader prior to graduation in June 2019, and that may still be possible–but if it has to happen after I’m finished with this program, that’s fine. It’s more important that I produce the best and most engaging fiction I can at this juncture.

person-woman-apple-hotel.jpg

Peer Pages

For my peer pages, I submitted the first 20 pages of Rings of Saturn to my mentor. Peer pages aren’t due to my program until midway through April, so there’s plenty of time to make changes. And I will be making one significant change.

Originally, the character in these pages was going to travel back in time to save Pompeii. I’m still going to write that story but after talking with my mentor, thinking about what she said and sleeping on it, I’m going to do with a different character.

The peer pages will be something else–a short story. She remarked that after a first read-through, she was surprised at where I took the story at the end–but not the kind of surprise that I was going for. So I’m going to explore making these twenty pages into a complete story.

I told my mentor that whenever I try to do such a thing, everyone tells me that the short story should be a novel. She said that’s a nice problem to have, and I agree, but I’m going to take the next month and change and really make sure this story is a complete short story.

pexels-photo-864938.png

Freedom to Experiment and Explore

Last semester, the mentor I worked with drilled into my head the value of giving myself this opportunity–and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m discovering new and different ways of telling stories and strengthening my fiction. I’m learning so much and really enjoying the process as I go.

So…if you are a writer, my advice to you is this: Remember that a first draft is just that. Revisions don’t have to follow the same path; don’t be afraid to mix things up, to feel around in the dark for awhile. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you discover about yourself and your writing when you allow yourself to take a new approach to your story.

Inspiration in My Own Back Yard

IMG_1444Today temperatures reached an unseasonable 50+ degrees. While I’m concerned about what this indicates for our planet–usually in February we don’t really climb out of the forties–it made it a pleasant day to go for a walk.

Nearby there’s a state park called Chatfield Hollow. The park has caves, trails, pines that I’m guessing must be hundreds of years old, a little lake/large pond, river, and a boardwalk that goes through a swamp with plenty of colorful flora and fauna.

People can fish there, walk dogs there, ride horses there, picnic there…you get the point. But, during the winter months, the park is nearly empty. It’s a great place to go for some quiet time in nature, without the interruptions of our modern world. For historical fiction writers whose characters enjoy traipsing around the Connecticut woods, this is as inspiring as a park can be.

Today, after getting some incredibly thorough feedback on my first submission (I’m totally stoked about it by the way), going somewhere so restorative and inspiring helped me wrap my head around much of that feedback.

I’m still going to re-read it Thursday. I’m talking with my mentor over the weekend, and I enjoyed the opportunity to take a walk, get myself out of my everyday world, and think.

Plus, as a bonus, I got to visit my cousin for about an hour and a half afterward. All in all, a perfect afternoon, followed by an amazing morning.