If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our August Author Interviews--8/2 Maggie Toussaint, 8/9 Kellye Garrett, 8/16 Matt Ferraz, 8/23 Matthew Iden, 8/30 Julia Buckley. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

August Saturday Guest Bloggers: 8/5--Kathleen Kaska, 8/12 Triss Stein, WWK bloggers-Margaret S. Hamilton on 8/19 and Kait Carson on 8/26. Look for E. B. Davis's blog on 8/29--the fifth Tuesday of August.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.”

In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on October, 18, 2017. Look for the interview by E. B. Davis here on that date!

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why MFA? by Carla Damron


Several folks asked why I had pursued an MFA in Creative Writing in response to the interview that Elaine posted on June 26th. So I decided to use this blog to explain that strange detour in my life and writing career.
 
I have been a social worker forever. Okay, maybe not forever, but for a good twenty-five years and I loved it. I loved my clients. I loved the idea of doing something that (hopefully) helped others. My mystery novels reflect this passion; Caleb Knowles, my protagonist, is a weary, well-intentioned social worker who does his best. He’s also human: he makes mistakes. He can’t save everyone. He sometimes wishes he’d chosen a more lucrative career, like being a neurosurgeon or a Wal-Mart greeter.

Caleb contributed to my decision to return to school. I loved writing, but I had reached a place where I felt like my narrative had stagnated. I tired of formulaic writing (and reading!). I found myself avoiding the chair: rather than sitting my fanny down and writing, I’d come up with other things to do. Even vacuuming became more appealing.

I needed to explore my characters in a deeper, more truthful way.  Not just Caleb, but his brother Sam, his girlfriend Shannon, and his frenemy Detective Briscoe.

I also wanted to write something other than mysteries. I had started on an upmarket women’s fiction project; I loved my opening, loved some of the characters, but then…. Blah.  I found myself stuck, not knowing where to take the plot, which characters to keep, or which to toss. And then there was the one woman who infiltrated my dreams. She definitely wanted to be written, and I was letting her down.

The idea of a graduate program seemed absurd. I had one master’s degree, and I certainly couldn’t quit my job to go to school for two more years. Plus, I wasn’t young and impressionable like students are—I was a middle-aged woman who probably didn’t have enough memory left in my cerebral hard drive to learn anything new.

But still, the idea held on. Then I learned about low-residency programs. I could keep my job and use vacation time for the week-long residencies that happened twice a year. The rest of the program took place on line, which worked well for a degree completely focused on text.  I was especially drawn to the “workshop” concept: the degree focused less on critical theory, more on making the student a better writer. I talked with several low-residency MFA graduates and each said the same thing: they loved the experience and felt like it had expanded/enhanced/matured their writing. It sounded like just what I needed, so I dove in.

What I loved about the MFA program: the reading. I have one long bookshelf that holds all the books I was required to read for my degree. I’d never given much attention to essays and found that I loved them. I met new (to me) writers, some of whom teach at my school: Elizabeth Strout (who won a Pulitzer), Jonathan Dees, Pinckney Benedict, Ashley Warlick, David Payne, Dan Mueller, and others. Note: no faculty member could assign us their own writing, but once I met these folks, I had to read their stuff! 

I also loved workshopping. Each student submitted up to fifteen pages a month to a small group of writers and a faculty person (this group was called a “pod,” for some reason). This requirement meant I had to write, I had to be more committed to my projects. I wrote every night and weekends. I fine-tuned, revised, etc., then sent my submission to the pod. A week later, I’d receive detailed feedback: line-by-line edits, as well as a narrative analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of my submission.  I did the same for the other students in my pod, and I learned as much from this as from reading their comments. The low faculty/student ratio meant I received detailed, honest, helpful, at times painful feedback from my instructor (all are successful, published literary writers).

 
What I didn’t love: some of the reading required. Ever read W.G. Sebald? RINGS OF SATURN made me want to slam my head in a drawer. Some poetry assignments were also challenging (as in, I had NO CLUE what the poet meant). I also regretted that some students didn’t take school seriously. If they didn’t apply themselves, others in their pod suffered.

Plus some of the feedback was hard to receive. One instructor, who was brilliant and devilishly impossible to please, said of one of my submissions: “I fear this is beyond hope.” I thought about quitting. Instead, I rewrote the blasted scene and it changed the whole novel for the better.

The best thing I received from the program: an incredible group of writer friends. We still critique each other. We celebrate each other’s success, comfort each other when rejections come. We remain invested in the craft and in helping each of us become the best writer we can be.

If I had to do it all over again, would I pursue the MFA? Absolutely. It was costly, but at least I was able to continue working to pay for it. And yes, I believe my writing has improved. Even better: when it sags or stalls, I have the tools to figure out why.
Have you ever considered going back to school?

 

 

8 comments:

James Montgomery Jackson said...

What a wonderful experience. Had I known about low residency programs a decade ago, I might have gone that route, but when I looked into MFA programs I only considered the standard variety and decided against them.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

I went back to school to get my master's, but I was still in my twenties. Since I didn't start writing (seriously anyway) until I was 50 and when my own children were in college, I haven't considered going back to school. With graduate school looming for my children and retirement, I won't spend money on myself. I'm glad you had the opportunity and the resident program sounds perfect for those with full-time jobs. Finding critique partners is a plus because I've found it hard to find compatible partners for novel writing.

Carla Damron said...

I may go back to school when I finally retire for real! I'll just audit classes like archeology or basket weaving to keep my brain flexible (and throw spitballs at the younger kids when they don't pay attention)

Sarah Henning said...

I live in a college town, and the idea of an MFA has most definitely been calling me. But with my young son, a job that means a 45-minute commute (each way) and my need to have actual time to write, I'm not sure when (if ever) I'll be able to do it. Even though it would be lovely and helpful!

Warren Bull said...

I was in a critique group modeled on the MFA. It was a wonderful learning experience.

Shari Randall said...

Carla, what a wonderful experience, especially the chance to work so closely with those exceptional writers.

Gloria Alden said...

Carla, it sounds like a wonderful experience. Like Jim,if I'd heard of it ten or fifteen years ago, I would have pursued it, too. If it was responsible for your Caleb Knowles books, it was money and time well spent.

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you for writing about your MFA experience, Carla. I hadn't heard of a low-residency program but what a great idea for people who have jobs and/or families.

I research college programs in my area now and then because I'd love to go back to school. But college courses are expensive compared to when I was a student. Ouch!