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Ross Gay Reading

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Poster_Gay_letterHello there!

Please come and join us for a reading with American poet, educator, painter, basketball coach, and occasional demolition man Ross Gay on Wednesday February 18th, 2015, at 7:30 in the Hammes Bookstore.

Ross Gay is the author of two collections, Against Which (CavanKerry Press, 2006), and Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). His hard-hitting poetry deals often with urban violence, yet with a keen and vibrant complexity that explores “everything from the basketball court to conceptions of time to his father”.

He received his MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, his PhD at Temple University, and currently teaches in the MFA program at Indiana University Bloomington.

This reading is free and open to the public, and without a doubt will be a great public service. We hope to see you there!


Lynne Tillman Reading

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Poster_Tillman_legalHi everyone!

We’re so excited to announce our second visiting author of the spring semester, Lynne Tillman, who will read at Notre Dame on Wednesday February 11th, 2015, at 7:30 in the Eck Center Auditorium. Tillman has fans among both the professors and students of the creative writing program, and we hope you’ll join us to see what her fantastic work is all about.

Lynne Tillman is a novelist, short story writer, and cultural critic, whose creative work bends narrative writing into experimental realms, and whose non-fiction has documented some of the most important periods of art in America. Tillman’s writing is as engaging as it is refined, letting the reader in at the same time it challenges them.

Her novels include American Genius, A Comedy (2006), No Lease on Life (1998), Cast in Doubt (1992), Motion Sickness (1991), and Haunted Houses (1987). Her short story collections include Someday This Will Be Funny (2001), This Is Not It (2002), The Madame Realism Complex (1992), and Absence Makes the Heart (1990). She is currently Professor/Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at the University at Albany, where she teaches at the School of Visual Arts’ Art Criticism and Writing MFA Program.

This reading is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there!



Lucy Corin Reading

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Hi Everyone!

Come and join us for a reading with Lucy Corin at Notre Dame on Wednesday January 21st, 2015, at 7:30 in the Hammes Bookstore.

Lucy Corin is the author of the short story collection The Entire Predicament (Tin House Books, 2004) and the novel Everyday Psychokillers:  A History for Girls (FC2, 2007). The collection One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses was released in September 2013 from McSweeney’s Books. Her stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, the Mid-American Review, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, Tin House Magazine, PEN America, the Iowa Review, and many other places.

Lucy Corin has a BA from Duke University and an MFA from Brown. She’s an Associate Professor at University of California, Davis where she teaches in the English Department and directs the Creative Writing Program.

This reading is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there!



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Hi everyone!

Come and join us at our final MFA Student Reading on Wednesday December 10th at 7:30PM in 209 Debartolo Hall for a dynamic mix of poetry, prose, and multimedia performance.

Paul Cunningham writes about the gap that exists between languages in translation, masculinities, sexuality, whiteness, and the police and surveillance understatedness of the United States.

 Suzi Garcia would happily turn the world’s entire population into glammed up cabaret dancing cyborgs. Her poetry will make you embark on a new walk of life.

 Garret Travis is at work on a novel concerned with underground rooms, bodies displayed on screens, mundanity, and a ghost that looks like Willem Dafoe.

 Rachel Zavecz is currently chronicling the epic story of Rat King and Robot Jesus. With emphasis on the “epic.”

The reading is free and open to the public.

Hope to see you there!



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Hi everyone!

Come and join us at our second MFA Student Reading on Wednesday December 3rd at 8PM in the Hammes Bookstore for a dynamic mix of poetry, prose, and performance.

Julia Harris practices somewhere between poetry and photography, writing through the viewfinder as though it were a rifle scope.

Thirii Myint crafts stories that explore the boundaries of self, gender, and narrative itself.

Sarah Roth channels eros and the historical event in acts of metamorphic translation.

The reading is free and open to the public.

Hope to see you there!



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In this next installment of our Alumni Interview Series, I got the chance to chat with James M. Wilson (2005) about his life after the MFA, his fondest memories of the program, and his relationship to poets of antiquity.

James Wilson Headshot

1) First and foremost, how did you go about deciding you wanted to become a writer?
As a boy, I suffered from insomnia.  I would lie in bed at night and craft political speeches.  This was in the early years of the Reagan administration, and so, no doubt, the speeches were all patriotic appeals, filled with images of bald eagles and lumbering bears, for Americans to stand tall against the communist enemy.  I thought this a symptom of a natural interest in politics, and dreamed of a career in Washington.  It was not.  I was only slightly more interested in politics than anyone would who has a proper understanding of what it means to be human.  Rather, it was the words I cared about, the resonance of sentences.  By the time I was a teenager, I was beginning to sense that.  I went to college with the intension of becoming a novelist, and by the time I gave up that ambition, I had written several novels and dozens of short stories.  All the while, what most interested me was the making of significant speech.  Early in college, I began to see that this meant I wanted to put words in measure and to rhyme them.  If I began life tossing through sleepless nights, dreaming up speeches, years later, I woke up one morning and realized that what I most wanted to do was to think about poems, about the form of poems, and, when I could, to write them.


2) Did you have any mentors along the way who really affected your approach to craft?
Early on, at the University of Michigan, I benefited from the encouragement of the novelist, Nicholas Delbanco, who took a personal interest in my first stories.  At the same time, Laurence Goldstein, who was a poet and editor of Michigan Quarterly Review, took my fledgling criticism and poems seriously enough to make me feel part of the long conversation of our literary tradition.  He also introduced me to meter.  That said, part of my sense of vocation as a professor derives from my own experience of not having any very close mentors when I needed them most.  A young man, a young writer, needs to be told what to do and how to do it, even if he does not end up listening.


In more recent years, the work and friendship of Timothy Steele, Dana Gioia, and Kevin Hart have all been decisive for me.  Without their work, I probably would not have known what was possible for me to attempt as a Catholic artist, critic, a scholar.  Without their friendship, I probably would have quit trying before I began to succeed at it.  At a greater distance, and in a different way, I would have to include the late Ralph McInerny in that list.


3) What’s your fondest memory of your MFA years at Notre Dame?
It was my good fortune to come to Notre Dame from another MFA program.  When I came, I did so as a doctoral student who wanted to approach scholarship from the perspective of a writer, of a practitioner of an ancient craft.  Valerie Sayers very kindly invited me to apply for the MFA, and I was so grateful for that.  So, in six years, I earned the M.F.A. and the Ph.D, and have more than my share of pleasant and less pleasant memories.


In the academic realm, I think my dearest such are of hours spent talking with John Matthias, who exemplified that the ambition and seriousness of the high modernists was still possible for our time.  Somewhat outside that realm, most certainly my fondest memories are those nocturnal hours I spent shooting pool at the Oyster Bar downtown.  It seemed the whole city congregated around the green felt and lingered on until after three in the morning.  During some hundreds of games of pool, I got to know the girl who became my wife.


4) What are you doing for a living now?
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University.  In such a department, I get to spend my days moving between the teaching of literature, philosophy, politics, and theology, and writing on all those things as well.  My hiring into that department was a saving moment for me, because I had so long been convinced that the way modern education typically fragments the disciplines, far from being a sign of sophistication, is an effect of decadence, and a dehumanizing one at that.  Here, at Villanova, I can help draw truths into a living whole again and offer a kind of education whose end is the contemplative life, a life well spent, a happy life.


Providentially, that has come to include teaching a course in the Art of Verse.  Thanks to my modest successes as a poet, it seemed appropriate for me to offer an apprenticeship in verse craft and the philosophy of poetry to our students.  In consequence, I am doubly fulfilled: I get to teach a curriculum that takes a comprehensive view of knowledge as an organic whole, and yet I get to do so from the angle of a practicing poet, as someone who comes to many aspects of art and the liberal arts from the perspective of someone who wants to make, in Jacques Maritain’s words, a good work.


5) Jumping off from that, do you see connections between  your thoughts on education “draw[ing] truths into a living whole” and a couple of John Milton’s prose tracts, namely, “Of Education” and “Aereopagitica”?
I’ve always had a vexed relationship with Milton.  In fact, in my time as a Sorin Fellow at Notre Dame, I mocked him, in my biweekly Observer column, as a “would-be divorcee, propagandist and future regicide,” and rather failed to mention he was a poet.  His theology is hard to sympathize with, and his character perhaps even less so, and yet, of course, there’s both the alternately rough and lavish genius of his poetry and the genuine humanism of some of his prose, with its effort to draw all things together and address man to the absolute, to the whole of the divine mind.  In my column, I quoted his Apology:


[He] who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy.


That classical conviction that the liberal arts, and even the fine arts, are a form of discipline that cultivates the reason, prepares it to be raised up to the contemplation of God, and also forms the soul in the pattern of greatness is here memorably expressed.  I know I had a sense of it long before I had read Milton, though, if only because I doubt, as a young reader, I would have let Milton of all people plant such an important idea in me.


It probably finds richer expression in places like the De Musica of St. Augustine, and elsewhere in the Christian-Platonist tradition, but it means something to me, on a personal level, to hear the poet Milton envisioning the artist’s shaping of a good poem as an analogue to, and even an exercise in, the shaping of the soul in virtue—as did it, when I encountered much the same vision of the connection between the art of verse and the art of life in the literary criticism of Yvor Winters.  He is the poet and critic who has most profoundly shaped my view of these things.


6) Are there classical poets whom you still go back to?
Though my Latin is every bit as poor as one would expect of someone who studied it one night a week with an ex-Jesuit after working all day in Boston, I’ve been deeply influenced by the classical poets, not to mention Dante.  One of the great satisfactions of trying to write poetry is the experience it gives of toiling in the same, long tradition that Homer, Virgil, and Dante worked and developed before me.  So, as I think of it, here are three particular joys of poetry: first, that sense of drawing the whole of truth, goodness, and beauty together in the unity of the art work; second, of being informed by it; and, third, the filial communion with the dead that participating in a tradition affords to us, that keeping of faith.


7) What kind of writing projects are you working on now? How are they going?
Well, my second chapbook, The Violent and the Fallen, just appeared in December and my next two books, a full-length collection of poems, Some Permanent Things, and a longish essay that will also be published as a book, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry, are in early stages of production.  Wiseblood Books will publish both this coming November.


The Violent and the Fallen Front Cover


In the meantime, I am finishing the revisions on The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Gooodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition.  That has  been an agony, but I am hopeful that the book, which draws several years of published essays and public lectures into a single argument regarding the proper ends of a life well lived, will make a difference to its readers.  If I have a spare moment from that, I continue to plug away at a sequence of Spenserian sonnets that are, actually, in part inspired by the dive bars I knew so well—too well, perhaps—in South Bend.


8) Do you have any secret for getting writing done out “in the real world”?


With longer projects, there is no need for a secret.  If the work is before you, just keep plugging away and making your own life miserable until you get to the end.  With poems, I wish I knew the secret.  One of the curses of writing lyrics is that there is usually no task at hand waiting for you.  You often have to wait for the materials in your mind to prepare themselves, and then start writing when they have.  Sometimes, this takes me a decade.


9) Is there one piece of advice you wish you had heard when you were starting out?
I wish I had read Timothy Steele’s All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing before I learned anything else about verse craft.  It was published the year I started writing poems with any seriousness, so I wish someone had made me read it then, and advised me not to write until I had finished reading.



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In this next installment of our Alumni Interview series, I talked to Mark Marino (1996) about his post-MFA trajectory, his current projects, “netprov,” and the rewards and drawbacks of twitter.

Marino Headshot1) First and foremost, how did you go about deciding you wanted to become a writer?
One day when I was off school in second grade, my grandmother, who was watching me, had to go take care of some things in the kitchen, so she sat me down at the dining room table with a pencil and some sheets of paper and said, “Hey, why don’t you write a story?”  And that was that. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had learned storytelling at the feet of both of my grandmothers.


2) Did you have any mentors along the way who really affected your approach to craft?
When I got to Notre Dame I encountered some wonderfully dedicated faculty mentors.  Certainly Sonia Gernes, Valerie Sayers, and William O’Rourke.  Sonia was so attentive to characters, probing our understandings of their backstories and the logic of the tale. She’s also the one who convinced me that regular (daily) writing was key.  Valerie, on the other hand, inspired me so with her sense of humor and the vitality of her own fiction.  William had a way of pushing us all to want to hit some writing that had some power in it.

Otherwise, many in the electronic literature community have helped me along, including George Landow (whom I studied under at Brown) and Steve Tomasula, whom I first met through the &Now Festival held at Notre Dame a decade after I’d graduated.  These two men had a sense of the possibility of innovation and experimentation that I had found so appealing in my favorite authors.

3) What’s your fondest memory of your MFA years at Notre Dame?
At Notre Dame, I founded a sketch comedy troupe called the Humor Artists, which is still performing shows on campus. Our rehearsals and shows were wildly creative. I never knew what to expect, but it was wonderful to collaborate with undergrads from ND and St. Mary’s on sketches and improv comedy. From the “Bob Has a Tapeworm” saga to our improvised shipboard murder mystery improv, our productions walked a very strange edge of comedy.  Alan Laser, one of my chief collaborators in that group, later went on to start an online humor magazine with me, called Bunk Magazine.

But my favorite memories revolve around one key person, since I met my lovely wife while there.

4) What are you doing for a living now?
I teach expository writing at USC, emphasizing the ways writing with computers has changed the way we research and communicate.  That work picks up directly on the training I got at ND, where I was allowed to develop my own courses.

5) What kind of writing do you do?
My work is mainly in experimental electronic literature, though I continue to do occasional writing for the stage, such as a musical I am currently writing.

6) Hold up, you’re writing a musical? Would you mind telling us what it’s about?
The musical is about Mexican-American gangs in Los Angeles around the time of the LA Riots.  It’s not exactly West Side Story. But not exactly “The Wire.”  Somewhere in between.  A few years ago, I adapted my hypertext novella, a show of hands, for the stage. That story explored the lives of 3 Mexican-American sisters.  The experience of adapting the material into a play, and working with some very talented Latino actors, made me want to delve further into exploring cultures and subcultures in LA on stage.

7) What kind of writing projects are you working on now? How are they going?
A big focus of my work has been interactive storytelling.  For the past year, I’ve been working on Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House (http://markcmarino.com/mrsw/), a series of interactive children’s stories in collaboration with my two kids. It’s been so exciting sharing storytelling with them.  We love to dream up wild adventures. For Mrs. Wobbles, I’m using the same system, called Undum, that I used for “Living Will” (http://markcmarino.com/tales/livingwill.html) about a coltan magnate who exploited the Congo for his riches, a tale told through his electronic will. Marino Cover

 Also, collaborating with Rob Wittig, I have been engaging in online writing games, called netprovs, for example, OccupyMLA (http://markcmarino.com/wordpress/?page_id=117), the tale of a fictional occupy movement advocating for adjunct rights told via Twitter.  Recently, we also created “Speidishow” (http://speidishow.com), a fictional reality show for Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag. That followed a project earlier that year where Rob and I ran Spencer’s Twitter account as an obscure British poet who had found Spencer’s mobile phone.

8) Netprov, what’s that?
Netprov is improvised networked narrative, a form of writing which combines my love of improv with experimentation in electronic media.  It takes up the emergent performance of improvisation that I studied with Second City during a summer during my MFA and uses social media as its stage.  It also inherits the generative play of literary games and genres in the footsteps of groups like the Ourvoir de Literature Potentialle (Oulipo). It’s been the main area that Rob and I have been developing.  You can see more here: http://www.dichtung-digital.de/en/journal/aktuelle-nummer/?postID=577

9) It seems that every form has its limits and rewards. What have you found to be the limits of twitter as a form? And its rewards?
Twitter’s good for serialized fiction.  But people mostly read it for one-liners.  You can’t count on readers going back and catching up on what they missed to seek out the context, as they might with episodic television or most types of print narrative.  So each Tweet has got to contain the entire story.  Also, people get very upset when you flood their Twitter feeds.  That’s what I found out when I was Tweeting through @spencerpratt’s account in Tempspence and SpeidiShow.  That meant I had to spread out thoughts over five to ten-minute intervals.  Imagine if you had to deliver a novel that way!

The rewards of Twitter are the instant interaction with followers, the back and forth.  Occupy MLA exploded once people, including the person who ran that convention, started to Tweet back at the account. Tempspence (my fictional poet who was running Spencer Pratt’s account) was joined nightly by Twitter fans who wanted to play poetry games that he’d create. In fact, those fans were the ones who dubbed him Tempspence.  It’s the unpredictable and exhilarating experience interacting with those out there in the Twitterverse that makes this such an exciting venue.

10) Do you have any secret for getting writing done out “in the real world”?
You know, a revolution transformed publishing since I was in my MFA.  Authors now have complete ability to publish work.  However, circulating that work is another question.  I rely heavily on social media, but I also have my favorite journals and conferences where I know my work fits well.  Playing an active role in literary communities, live or online, helps you to get to know where the audiences gather as well as the people in charge of the venues where your work is most suited.

Yes, dig deep, experiment. Don’t be only focused on completing your thesis.  Also, this is the time to develop those habits of writing that will sustain you throughout your life.





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In this next installment of the Alumni Interview Series, I caught up with Jeanne De Vita (2000) and talked to her about her time since the MFA, researching books, and some of her current projects.

Jeanne Blog Head Shot1) First and foremost, how did you go about deciding you wanted to become a writer?
I’ve loved writing since I was seven years old. I wrote a short story using our spelling words for a second grade project. The paper was cut into the shape of Santa Claus and the beard was lined so we could also practice penmanship. I brought the Santa home and I remember my mom crying at what I wrote. It was then that I realized the power of putting my ideas out there for people. I was (am) a really shy kid, and writing allowed me to be bold, powerful, and exposed in a way I could not have done verbally. I am a better speaker now and I no longer write on Santa-shaped paper, but since I was seven years old, writing has been a vital form of expression for me.

2) Did you have any mentors along the way who really affected your approach to craft?

One of my undergraduate professors, Christiana Langenberg, at Iowa State University taught me that getting it out of you and onto the paper is the most critical step in the creative process. It sounds basic, but you have to trust yourself and WRITE. Shutting down the internal editor, shutting out the external noise–those are probably two of the biggest obstacles to writing.

William O’Rourke gave me the most painful but powerful feedback of my career. His words have stayed with me daily–truly. I have edited more than 50 books and I find myself hearing William’s comments to me in my own feedback to authors. I’ll summarize it, probably very poorly, but William in effect taught me that you can write the most glorious prose but if your reader can’t follow the story, it’s essentially shite. I’m sure he never said *shite* but he did teach me that my work needs to be timely, original, but yet still consumable. I really hated hearing that a decade ago, but the man knows what he teaches. Writing that is exclusively personal is journal–there is a craft to creating original, publishable work. So speaking to craft, you need to always remember you’re writing for a reader–not just for yourself.

I believe William also tried to teach us the value of trends in publishing. I really bucked at that back when I was in the program. I think I heard him at the time in a very narrow way, and I rejected the notion that true creativity could be externally motivated. Like, oh, vampire books are selling, I’m going to write one. With time and experience in the industry, I see his wisdom played out now every day.  If you want to write brilliance and keep it in a drawer, you can ignore all the rules of publishing.  But I think what William was trying to teach us is if you want to be a working writer, you need to participate in trends, create trends.  Be timely, relevant. Not a follower–followers always fail.  (Not another vampire book!) You can write brilliant and beautiful work and it may never see the light of day. And that’s fine if that’s your goal.  But if you want to participate in the business of writing, you need to not only write, you need to be a student of the market and society. It’s actually freeing when you look at it a certain way, but back when I was a student, I just didn’t appreciate what William was saying.

So thank you, William, for those invaluable lessons that have been reinforced for me countless times/ways in my work post-ND.

3) What’s your fondest memory of your MFA years at Notre Dame?
I have so many. In fact, I would go back tomorrow if they’d let me do it again! The workshops–the community of my peers and the fun/terror of workshopping. Teaching–I was lucky enough to be allowed to teach in the First Year Writing program while I was in the MFA program. I passionately love teaching and learning how to teach from a place like ND, encountering students like those in the undergrad First Year program–preparing for those classes and teaching them are some of the most formative experiences I have had and are some of my most treasured memories. Again, can I come back?  Pretty please?

4) What are you doing for a living now? 
I edit, write, and take on contract work to bring in a few extra pennies.

5) What kind of writing projects are you working on now? How are they going?
I live for my writing projects. I spend the majority of my time editing but working on my own writing is like coming home. Since graduating from ND, I’ve come out as a lesbian so most of my work has a GLBTQ theme. Most of my writing will be published under my pen name, Annie Anthony. Since I work for a publisher, I want some separation between me the publisher/editor and me the writer. Right now, I’m working on a book that is under contract called Bullseye. It’s a lesbian novel that has a 3-book series potential.  It’s a love story that has cancer, nature, and dogs as central themes. I’m also working on a novel–historical fiction that takes place in a 1920’s Harlem.  The research I’ve done for that book–the clothing, the vernacular dialogue, the food.  It’s been a true labor of love. I’m working on a fantasy/sci-fi piece that is really under my skin. I’ve also got several pieces of lesbian erotica nearly done.  I dabble in poetry and have a couple of poems out to literary journals now. The great thing about being a writer right now is there are so many ways to connect. I use Pinterest as an idea board and it’s public, so my readers or fellow writers can check out the idea board for almost everything that I’m working on. I have a blog for my pen name that I use as a springboard a lot.
Jeanne De Vita Cover

And the writing is going really well. I think editing has made me a far better writer. I encourage anyone who wants to seriously publish fiction to get into a group and beta read, edit. If you can, hook up with a working mentor and learn how to critically read. My publishing company focuses primarily on genre fiction but we have a literary imprint. Our acquiring editors and senior staff are all highly educated and experienced. We see genre fiction as conforming to certain norms, but by no means do we sacrifice the quality of the final product. Many indie publishers need unpaid interns–not just undergrads, but all ages–so take on whatever experience you can to learn about craft.  Doing that has absolutely helped me write not just that personal chaos that William saw in workshop, but work that I hope brings my stories to readers in a clear and meaningful way.

6) Can you talk a bit about your research process? Do you do research for a lot of your work or just this one? One thing I’ve always wondered about is doing research when you don’t have a humongous library or access to things like JSTOR. How do you manage some of those obstacles?
I am sure it varies for each author, but for me, I like to research in two ways: 1) physically being present in a place if the location is significant and 2) examining what I will call ‘significant sources.’

Being physically present: if I’m writing and a critical location is a diner, it helps to physically go to different diners at different times of day in different cities–small towns, etc.  Eat the specials, drink the iced tea, watch the staff clean the tables around you. I think an imaginative person can capture the truth of places in a way that is far bigger than just capturing fact.  For me, that is an essential quality in good writing: truth versus fact.

Good writing requires facts and specific details that are also absolutely objectively verifiable and real.  The author may wow a reader with emotion and truth, but they will hook the reader with detail.

I always get frustrated when authors submit books to me at the publishing company which clearly convey they have not done their research. Nothing can redeem an invalid story and no story is less valid than one that reveals the author’s inaccuracies or errors.

So back to your question and part two of my answer: significant sources.

In my writing now, I already have the “truth” of the story formed. I would never be inspired to write a piece outside of that essential truth, I don’t think… but to make the story fit into the historical time period where I believe it belongs, I need research.  I was not alive in the 1920’s and I need to make sure that what the characters wear, drink, their diction, what products they had and did not have (for example, you might be surprised how late clothing had zippers!!) are all correct.

To obtain this research, I always start with fiction and movies created in and near the time period of my interest. I buy used books from Amazon and from Goodwill stores– I bend and abuse my library card.  The internet is a brilliant tool for authors–we can find blogs, pictures, stories on just about any subject.  I have used eBay in my research as well.  Sometimes just looking for the clothing of a time period can contribute volumes to the research. I also try, when I can, to visit flea markets or antique stores that I think might have items from the time period of my interest.  I have found that collectors are generally avid historians and they are generous with their information and time. All research–even anecdotal–has its place–even if all it does is help create the mindspace for me where the work can flow.

Research informs the reality of the book, but does not create its truth.  And that is what is so inspiring and amazing about writing in general.  Look at The Great Gatsby.  The story–the essential truths of that book are absolutely timeless, correct? But the details, the circumstance, the mannerisms, the dress, even the location–are critically placed for Fitzgerald’s truth. Can any author at any time write a timeless, true story and set it in the setting, time, space that is most viable for that author? I think so and that possibility is exhilarating.

And of course, the absolute best research any author can do is to read.  Books in the genre, books from the time period, books from the country or place. After all, there is no greater education for a writer than the books themselves, I think.

Jeanne with Sister7) Do you have any secret for getting writing done out “in the real world”?
Absolutely. Just do it. Honestly, I have written notes on a train, while stopped in traffic. Just get it down on paper. That’s the first step. Editing and revising come later but all the trite inspirational quotes aren’t wrong–the journey of a thousand steps, etc. etc. Day job? Five kids? Sick? It’s OK. Just write a few words. Then a few more. Don’t stop.

Also, practice craft. All those rules do apply if you really want to get published. Show, don’t tell.  Research your market. Write an effective synopsis and query letter. Revise, revise, revise. Grammar and punctuation matter. Be polite. Good manners.

Also, this is not a secret, but connecting with people really helps. If you know a published writer, ask about their publisher. If you belong to a critique group, ask about agents. It’s not networking for networking’s sake but being part of a community can help get your work to the right publisher. And with our current publishing models, authors who don’t self-promote might never make a dime. So connecting with readers can be a critical part of a new author’s success.

8) Is there one piece of advice you wish you had heard when you were starting out?
Yes. As much as I had certain positive feedback and encouragement, I wish someone had told me to NEVER EVER give up. To NEVER lose faith and to keep writing and studying craft. The publishing market is so vast and the need for good work is so huge. When I first submitted my work to a publisher, I was absolutely terrified of rejection. Of embarrassment. Of not being good enough. Well, guess what? I was good enough. We all are—there is room for all of us at this table. If I had believed in myself more profoundly a decade ago, I might have had a different career.  I have no regrets, this was my path, but anyone who really wants to publish and write just has to find his/her voice, perfect the craft, and then find that right niche.



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In one word the answer is TERMINAL!

A Masters in Fine Arts is a terminal degree.

A PhD is a terminal degree but a Masters degree is not equivalent to an MFA or a PhD.

Wear, use, and remember the letters with pride.

Christina Catches Us Up

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In this next installment of our Alumni Interview Series, I got the chance to talk to Christina Yu (2008). We discussed her development as a writer and her thoughts on balancing professional and creative ambitions.

MaunaLaniChristina Yu (2008) is a Marketing Manager at Knewton, a global leader in adaptive learning technology. Yu has fiction published or forthcoming in New Letters, Fence, Gargoyle, Indiana Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, New Delta Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, 34th Parallel Magazine, and the anthology Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories. Her fiction has been nominated and cited for several Best American anthologies. She is currently a part-time MBA candidate at the NYU School of Business and is specializing in Marketing, Strategy, Media Entertainment & Technology.

1) Why did you want to become a writer? What’s the story behind your storytelling desire?
I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I don’t really have anything special to say about it. I just enjoy putting words together. It doesn’t have to be fancy words for a fancy purpose–I like writing letters, blog posts, copy for a website, articles, essays, and stories of course. I just loved being an English major in college–writing essay after essay after essay. Those were some of the best days of my life. I get lost in the act of making sentences, and I like thinking about people and what makes them tick. That’s all there is to it.

When I was younger, I probably had more ego wrapped up in it. And loftier, more pretentious ideas around writing. Now that I support myself, in part, by writing, I have a much more professional attitude (which I think is better).

Of course, though, I think it’s important to maintain some of the romantic, emotional feelings around the craft. Once when I was in college, a famous writer (forget the name) came to visit and said: “I write to make people fall in love with me. I write to prove I am special.”

That made complete sense to me back then. I think a healthy dose of both mentalities is about right–the professional-9-5-no-ego-writing-mentality and the romantic, sexy one.

2) Along the way, have there been people who’ve helped you form your writerly identity?

English teachers in high school and of course my favorite professors in college and grad school. I had one prof who told me I was a “Romantic” with a capital R. That completely changed my life. From that day forward, I felt like I knew who I was. From that day forward, I did everything with a certain code or spirit in mind.

You know, it is sad but I don’t think I fully appreciated the MFA program while I was there. I miss workshop now, of course. The time there was precious. There were so many exquisite afternoons–of writing and playing DDR and board games. It was a very special time.

3) Are you working on any big creative projects right now? If so, what’s your elevator pitch on any one of them?
I do have several book-length projects complete or nearly complete, but my policy is to never talk about a project. It’s fun, but it feels like cheating. It’s too easy.


4) What are you doing for a living? Do you find yourself wearing multiple hats each day?

I work as a marketing manager at a tech company in New York. It’s an unbelievable opportunity. The people are brilliant, the technology is mind-blowing, the social mission excites me on even the toughest days, the business opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime, etc. The culture of the company is also quite special. Everyone is charming and irreverent.

I do find myself wearing multiple hats, and I thrive on it. My life right now demands everything that I have. Each day is a cognitive work-out, and I go to sleep exhausted. I work, write, read, study econ and stats, attend industry gatherings. Basically, I’m not satisfied each day unless I wear myself out.

I’m also doing a part-time MBA right now and specializing in Marketing, Strategy, Media & Entertainment, so my life is REALLY crazy. I was actually a bit nervous before I started this, but then thought to myself, “Sheryl Sandberg says women over-plan, and that you shouldn’t think too much. Just do it.” Plus, I’m interested in stories about overreachers. It helps to be in an atmosphere that is charged with ambition, urgency and striving.

5) How do you balance your creative life with your professional one? Are the two separate in your mind or do they permeate each other?

They definitely permeate each other. I love the pace of New York, the “mad and willful humanity” here. It really suits my temperament. I could go on and on about this forever. But ultimately, I think it’s important to know what works for you, if you’re a creative person. Some people prefer isolation and long stretches of quiet. Some need constant stimulation and excitement. Everyone has different needs and a different trajectory. Me, I’ve always loved Flaubert’s quote: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I do things in a very methodical and comprehensive way. I like models and frameworks and algorithms and a certain analytical rigor in my life. The creative spontaneous stuff cuts through that and gives things an interesting texture.

Basically, I want to live a paradox. I like being on the edge between art and business. I think it creates a productive tension. Sometimes I approach art the way you would approach business (with personal output quotas, processes, strategic thinking, frameworks for analysis) and business the way you would art (intuitively, with a design-and-metaphoric sensibility). Of course I understand the limits of this approach as well.

6) Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”–Flaubert



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