MFA Update: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

I’m a week late putting together this update, but there’s a good reason. I fell down the rabbit hole.

I realize that in the midst of writing short fiction, novels, serial fiction, participating in a writing contest, reading and writing craft essays--oh yeah, and let’s not forget work for money--that might be vague. The rabbit hole in question is the research rabbit hole.

GenealogyLet me back up a bit. Back in 2011, I did a lot of genealogy research, because I wasn’t working much then and I was curious. I’d been watching a lot of the show Who do you think you are? I wanted to figure out who I was and where I really came from. My father and cousin had done a lot of research already, but I made a discovery over the course of my research.

One of my ancestors was married twice. We’d had her first married name as her maiden name. The result of this is that I discovered a branch of my family that goes back to some of the founding persons throughout New England. 

Of course, I didn’t print out the…

9 Assumptions about My First MFA Residency

I meant to post this entry last week, but there just wasn’t an opportunity. I’ll get to that a little further on. Last week, I attended my first ever MFA Creative Writing residency week. The event is like entering a bubble and, going in, I had certain assumptions that either proved true or did not. I’d like to share those with you here since some of these realizations played an important role in the takeaways of this wonderful experience. I’d like to preface this list by saying that I was in no way disappointed by the last week.

Assumption No. 1:I knew exactly what I wanted to write for my thesis--a book about the witch craze.

Reality:I had no idea what I wanted to write for my thesis. The fact is that while I will write the witch craze novel at some point, I don’t think it’s the right project for this degree for several reasons:

I have never been to the places where the novel occurs.The amount of research to convincingly tell the story is beyond astronomical, and even though I’ve been r…

How to Show vs. Tell in Historical Fiction

One of the most talked-about elements of writing craft is showing vs. telling. The fact is, once you learn how to show in your writing, it’s hard not to. Don’t worry—if you’re not sure how to do that yet, you’ll have a better idea by the end of this post. That said, this blog post is geared toward how to show in historical fiction, particularly when the place you’re writing about is gone, or when it exists, but it’s “plagued” by the trappings of modernity.

So there you have it—this is your ultimate guide to:

How to show versus tellWhen to show versus tellShowing in historical fiction

Are you ready to learn how to make your historical fiction pop? Keep reading.

How to Show v. TellIf you’ve ever received a critique on your writing, you might have seen “Show, don’t tell” scrawled in on the margins. This might have been confusing, so let’s start with defining showing and telling.

It’s not about showing a kindergarten class the cool rock you found over the weekend.

Showing is about grabbing the …

MFA Update: Prepping for Residency

Throughout the course of the next two years, I'll be posting an update on my work toward my MFA Creative Writing every four weeks. Chronicling this experience is important for many reasons, not the least to document lessons I learn along the way. As this is a terminal degree, it is the last writing degree I will likely get (though I may someday get a master's in History after I pay off the student loans I'll have after my MFA). 

This month, I'm prepping for my first residency week. The residencies take place at a mountain resort in northern New Hampshire. I'm buzzing with excitement to immerse myself in the world of creative writing for a full week. I know it's going to be intense, and a lot of work, earning three credits in six days, but I can't wait.

When I was in undergrad I took a field geology class. Back then I wanted to be a paleontologist before it became obvious just how much math I'd have to study. That program was six credits in four weeks, and…

Pros & Cons of Writing By Hand

A friend recently asked me if I would be writing my MFA novel by hand. The question comes from numerous discussions we've had about the pros and cons of this practice--which I'll get into below--and it's one I considered with a great deal of thought. I'll share my decision after discussing with you the practice itself.

Pros of Writing by Hand I can actually write pretty fast by hand if I want to, but I find that while drafting, speed isn't necessarily my friend. I know that may seem strange coming from someone who has often participated in both National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and its spinoff counterpart, JuNoWriMo. Both challenges have their benefits, but over time, for me, the benefit had less to do with producing quality work and more to do with meeting other writers.
That's not to say you can't produce quality work writing a full novel's draft in 30 days. The bestseller lists would prove wrong that claim, and I myself have been pleased with my …

3 Things Writers Never Want to Hear

It’s tough to be a writer. Writing involves giving so much of yourself to this project that everyone is going to judge and read with preset expectations. Even for folks who are trying to show their support, sometimes that support can come off as judgmental or worse. I’ve seen lists like this one on the internet before, but I’ve always wanted to write my own because there are things non-writers have said to me that always rubbed me the wrong way.

Of course, I never want to be impolite to anyone, especially if that person is trying to show their support. Or if they might become a future reader.

Please don’t take this post as my complaining about people who say these things. When faced with occupations that are so idealized by the media, it’s natural to have questions. That’s why my list will show you not only what not to say to a writer, but what you can say instead.

So let’s get to my list of three things writers never want to hear...and what you can say instead.

#1: “When is your book go…

#AtoZchallenge: Z is for Zombie

I'm kind of glad this challenge is almost at an end. Not because I didn't enjoy it--I have. Only that I'm looking forward to getting back to blogging about writing and about my own experiences. Prompts are great, and I've been writing along with you (if you've been writing), but I miss writing about the craft of writing.

I've included some tips along the way this last month, but it's just not the same as being able to dive deep into a particular topic.

That said, here's one more prompt to close out April's challenge. I went with zombies because zombie horror fiction was the first genre I wrote. Though I don't really write it anymore, sometimes it's fun to revisit it for some flash fiction.

Write a ghoulish story of about 1,000 words!

#AtoZchallenge: Y is for Yacht

With summer right around the corner, isn't it nice to think about how you would spend a day at sea if you could ride a yacht? I've never been on one, though I've been on many boats, but I imagine it to be luxurious. I certainly wouldn't mind trying it out!

But if, like me, you don't have a yacht to sail on, use your imagination. That's what today's prompt is all about.

Write a 500- to 1,500-word story that takes place on a yacht.

#AtoZchallenge: X is for Xenial

Okay, truth time. I didn't know what xenial meant until I looked up words that started with the letter X. This letter is always tricky for the #AtoZchallenge, because there just aren't a whole lot of words that start with this letter.

I could have gone with x-ray. Or xylophone. But I felt like those were cop-outs. I felt like they were too easy. Isn't it more fun to learn what a new word means, anyway?

So before we get to today's prompt, expand your vocabulary.

Xenial basically means someone who is hospitable. It's an adjective, so make sure that if you're going to use it, you use it the right way. If you want to say the word, it's pronounced like "zee-nee-al."

Now for the prompt!

Write a 1,000-word story about a visit from an unexpected guest.

#AtoZchallenge: W is for Westerns

When I was a kid, I used to love watching "Brisco County Jr." with my dad. Of course, Bruce Campbell was always funny to us, but I liked Westerns because there was usually a strong female character.

Now, that's not to say every Western has one. Some of them have only weak female characters. There was a spaghetti Western I saw that I detested because of the way the main female character was treated and presented.

For whatever reason that you love Westerns, this prompt is for you.

Write a 1,500-word story in the Western genre. Not into historical fiction? Make it a Space Western.