Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cries from a Cultural Wasteland

Huddled at my tiny round table in a dim corner of the coffee house, sipping my caramel milk tea (non-dairy of course), I grasp at the few shadows of civilized life and dream of flesh-and-blood writer contact. Yes, after a quick search on the SCBWI roster, I found exactly one (1) writer who lives within a 20-mile radius of this little cesspool. Surely there are a few more out there, hiding among the palmetto bugs (aka giant cockroaches), lizards, and title pawn shops.

Two years ago, when we first knew a move was in the offing, I dared to think of it as a new adventure, a chance to stretch a little more and maybe even afford a little more house or settle near the ocean. If truth be told, I got my wish, though not exactly the way I had envisioned it. It certainly has been an adventure...something like those pioneer stories we read in grade school.  No, there are no savage indians or blood-thirsty bandits threatening our wagon train, but to put it bluntly, we have rolled into a fearsome wilderness.  A vast cultural wasteland where the nearest thing to civilization (besides the college) is a Books-a-Million in the mall and this little slice of heaven called Elements.  What's a writer to do?

Observe.  Listen.  Sketch.  That's it.  I'm soaking in the atmosphere and the characters and the cadence of life down here in the South.  Spanish moss dripping from the trees, pine straw swaddling the shrubs and flowers that decorate even the mienest of bungalows, ladies in brimmed hats sipping sweet tee while they swat away a hoard of psychotic gnats.  And the festivals...yes, festivals of all kinds—The Peanut Festival, The Gnat Festival, the Fleagrass Festival, The Mayhaw Festival, The Dogwood Festival, The Rattlesnake Roundup.  You get the idea.  I love festivals!  But you have to admit, they do things a little differently in the deep South.  That can be a real boon for a writer.  Right?

Three hours away, Atlanta offers a more cultured escape.  But in this economy, even a quick jaunt up to civilization is a rare treat.  So, I'm putting it out there:  a call to writers—kidlit/YA people in particular, who live anywhere near Albany, Georgia—support group for lonely, deprived writers who need a little encouragement and a dose of literary conversation.  I have posted a note on SCBWI and on the Blue Boards, but so far I've discovered that the SW Georgia is not exactly a mecca for artistic personalities. I'm not a big one for critique groups, so I'm not focusing on that aspect of things.  This is truly meant to be a hopeful gathering of writers to share experiences, vent frustrations, and perhaps share a little low-pressure critique from time to time.  Maybe I'll make a silk purse from a sow's ear after all...or maybe I'll just press on into the wilderness.

For now, I'll go back to my luscious caramel milk tea in my dark little corner of the coffee house and wait for that familiar whinny that announces new mail.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To Answer the MFA Question

I just had to add this little nugget from Kurt Vonnegut:

Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before... He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

Thanks to everyone who offered some advice on this topic.  Several people said the MFA pursuit transformed their writing lives, while others offered more practical comments, especially when it comes to the financial burden that comes with such a choice.  I think the very best advice I got came down to a very simple but essential issue:  Be very clear about what you are hoping to get out of the experience.  (Thanks, Laura).

My uber-awesome agent, Elana Roth, has me dialed in to a tee; it's not about giving myself a leg up towards publishing.  I know I have what it takes, and I have exactly the right representation on my side.  But I am totally an information junkie.  I'm addicted to knowledge and love the whole school experience, as grueling as it can be.  Usually.

However, I am in a very different place in my life, now, and I have a lot of other things to consider.  Kids.  Husband.  All the complexities of mid-life angst.  So is the MFA really the best thing for me at this particular moment?  Probably not.  Are there compelling reasons that could supersede the more practical considerations against going for the MFA?  Definitely.  But they are not compelling enough right now.  And to come back to that most salient point, what I am hoping to get out of it, I may already have.  Sorry I can't be more specific than that, but suffice it to say the point is as much emotional as intellectual.

Add to the mix a newly-procured adjunct position at the local college and you have the final answer:  No.  It's not time to take that particular leap.  Maybe some day.  So while I let that simmer in the back of my brain for a while, I will bust through this current WIP and kick some YA butt.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Fun Contest

To celebrate the fabulous news that her book, MY UN-FAIRY TALE LIFE sold to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Anna Staniszewski is having a fun contest on her blog. Head on over there to win a copy of either THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEK DAY by Adam Rex or WHALES ON STILTS by M.T. Anderson.

And stay tuned for my follow-up to the big MFA question...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

To MFA or Not to MFA?

As if I don't have enough on my plate, I am tossing around the idea of going for a low residency MFA. Why? Perhaps because it's there. Or maybe because it would give me a more solid credential for teaching at the college. Or maybe because I'm itching for another way to hone the craft.  Of course if you read The New Yorker's article Show or Tell, you might come to the conclusion that it's all just another way for universities to make money while pampering egos and proffering false hopes.  Sure, Louis Menand tips his hat to some of the benefits of such programs, but overall, you come away feeling a tiny bit idiotic for even thinking of doing a degree in creative writing.  Nonetheless, learning is learning and what you do with it is up to you.

So that doesn't help so much.  Perhaps a list of pros and cons would shed a little more light.


  • I love going to school.  (cue the nerd music)
  • I would have another reason to throw myself into my writing.
  • I would have a chance to work with some of the people who inspire me. (of course I can get some of that at conferences and Highlights Foundation Workshops, too)
  • I would have a piece of paper that says I can write.  (just a little chuckle on this one)
  • I could add MFA to my vitae and pump up my credentials 


  • Money.  The biggest drawback is spending more money that we don't have.  I can apply for scholarships, but that's no guarantee that I will get one.  And do I really need more student loans?
  • Time.  I am in command of my time, more or less, right now, but will a Low Res program be flexible enough for me and my family?
  • Are there enough benefits or potential benefits to even consider sinking the time and money into an MFA?

While I mull all that over, I'll look at what's out there.  I  found a fabulous website posted by Anna from Bryn Mawr that gives a good overview of what to look for and then provides listings for programs according to regions.  Another Blog that offers information and general commentary on Creative Writing programs is the MFA Weblog.  NewPages.com also offers a list of universities and colleges who offer MFA programs—some low residency and some full residency.  Byzantine Roads is yet another cite that lists a number of MFA in Creative Writing options.

So with all of this information, do I really want to pursue another degree?  I have one half-finished Ph.d. that will go nowhere.  Would and MFA really offer me anything I truly need?  Of course the other option would be to look into a Library Science degree.  I'm just saying...