Archive for January 14th, 2014

The Ballot

One of the cool things that is awesome about the SHU MFA program is the exposure to different genres. This is made real by a common reading at each residency. I mentioned that the reading this terms was Joe Hill’s NOS4A2.

The works are selected for the next residency by the genre specific critique sessions. For the June Residency, the genre will be fantasy. For the second time, I have the chance to vote for the next common reading.

The Options:
Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Kevin Hearne’s Hounded
Anne Bishop’s Written in Red
Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians
Helene Wicker’s The Golem and the Jinni

The official announcement will be made later today, but let me ask you: What would you vote for?

EDIT To Add (14:18p):
Personally, I voted for Bishop’s Written in Red, because it’s not been on my radar, and feels up my alley as a fantasy thriller. The Gaiman and Hearne books are already in the “To Be Read” stack, so I wanted to go for something different.

However, the final verdict: Ocean at the End of the Lane was selected.

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Jan 2014 Res: Day 3


After the long day and late night, I was slow to wake, stumbling from bed at half past seven. By quarter after 8, I was on my way to campus. My story was on the block for the crit session. I had submitted an older piece, one that I liked, had shopped around a little, but couldn’t put my finger on why it wasn’t working. This is an example of why distance works, and a sign of my growth as a writer. Skimming through pages at the start of the session, I noticed some of the tendencies that have been pointed out in my thesis, that I am actively fixing in the novel. (Holy fuck, how many times do I have to name check the character if it’s supposed to be close 3rd? Answer: a LOT less than I did.)

Bonus: It was suggested that the piece would make a good seed point for a longer work, maybe a novel. At the suggestion of “expanding toward a novel” three possible story lines started taking shape. Two of them lend themselves to a possible installment with a series character I’ve been considering. See that? Series. (Remember the module from Saturday? And no, the series is not a romance.)

After lunch, I had a business session: Marketing and Recent Trends. This is a genre specific session, and is cyclical, changing with each residency. Each genre is done only once every six residencies. This time was Mystery (Science Fiction should be offered next January, just in time to graduate).

More thesis readings after dinner (I went to two more). This was also the night for the Science Fiction/Fantasy dinner. I intended to go to the dinner, a bit later in the evening, but the long days and late nights finally took their toll and I stayed in. I still did not call it a night until almost midnight, but was able to decompress and mentally recover and process the past few days.

Before calling it a night, I finally watched something that’s been sitting on my iPad for a while, the BBC one-off The Song of Lunch (it’s a visual adaptation of a lyric poem, starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson). I recommend it.

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Jan 2014 Res: Day 2


I was not late. I couldn’t be late. My mentor meeting was scheduled for over breakfast around 7am. That’s how my mentor rolls. The second night is reserved for mentor meetings, but he prefers to only handle his new students during those slots, and meet with his returning students at other times. For the first meeting, he takes the full hour outlining his feedback process, going over the term contract, etc. As this was my second meeting, we had covered much of the basic contract items by email, and we had covered the business we needed to discuss in about 20 minutes.

After the first Residency, students are enrolled in one “(student) teaching session” per Res, in lieu of a workshop/critique session. This was the day I was scheduled to be in a teaching session. There were discussions of adding “monsters”  in our works (not just literal things, like vampires and werewolf’s, but applying the concept to characters, or villains), about writing the “other” (technically about “Alien Races”, but “the other” outside of SF circles).

The one that piqued my interest, however, was a discussion of using technology to help writing. Scrivener was mentioned, ho-hum since it’s my current software of choice for composing. What I was really looking forward to was the potential demonstration of Dragon speech-to-text. Did you know that the average number of words per minute that someone speaks is somewhere around 400 wpm? Holy fuck! 440 words per minute. There are times when I’m doing good to get a few hundred words per hour written. Alas, technical issues sucked time away, and the demo was not to be.

The afternoon session was a discussion of world-building xenography (alien races & creatures). That was the first half of the session, with the second half focusing on alternate world positing. We were broken into small groups, and encouraged to generate an alternate reality (aka – timeline/parallel world), then each of us how we might use that world as a story setting/what kind of story we might set in that world.

That night, there was a student run wine social. I went, with the intention of putting in an appearance (important because the place where the social was being held was only opening that night for the social…to make sure the turn out was good enough for them to look favorably at hosting us again). I didn’t leave until almost 11pm, and didn’t go to bed until almost 1am.

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Jan 2014 Res: Day 1

Saturday. The day opens with a session discussing the common reading – Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, this time – followed by group specific sessions. As a 3 or 4, the session is a discussion of “theory.”

I was late to the opening discussion session, for the first time in 4 residencies. I had waited at the hotel to make sure someone had a ride to campus. A few texts went unanswered, and I finally couldn’t wait anymore. 20 minutes before the session, I drove to campus. The drive was a quick few minutes (it felt like I spent more time waiting on traffic lights than I did actually driving). Arriving on campus, I discovered the main parking lot full and had to park further out, down a hill past a construction area (I was not the only one). And it was raining. I hiked up the hill and across campus to the main building, to drop off tea for the “common area” snack table. I checked the schedule and realized the session I was supposed to be in was in another wing of the building. I hurried. Down stairs, took a shortcut through the chapel, a few turns. The session was already underway. It’s hard to ease in quietly when the door to the rom is in the front, next to the lectern.

Otherwise, the morning was uneventful. Lunch was quick. The afternoon, however, was interesting.

Starting with the 3rd Residency, there are no assigned modules*, students select their curriculum. The first session I chose for this residency? Plotting the Romance Series.

What? Shut up. The title says Romance, but the one that should be focused on is Series. Fantasy tends to focus on sweeping story arcs, usually trilogies sometimes sweeping multi-volume epics (Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time, anyone?). Some ideas I have, though, are more episodic. Pefect material for a series. I got a good sense of how to think in series terms, and how to prepare proposals for them.

That night was also the first night of thesis readings. Students are required to attend at least two readings during a Residency. I went to four in one night.

Afterward, a few of us went to a late dinner at Smokey Bones, right by the hotel. It was near midnight by the time we finished, after by the time I crawled into bed.


* This was true for the program when I started in June 2012. Since then, there has been a shift in the curriculum, and the “Revision” module has been bumped to be required later in the program, not during the 2nd Residency.

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Jan 2014 Res: Days -1 & 0

January Residencies start Friday night. After the recent Arctic experience (to call it “a cold snap” just feels wrong), I was even more concerned about driving conditions than last year. Like before, I planned on splitting the drive into two parts, specifically because of potential road conditions. Last year’s experience, I missed the exit near Fredericksburg that takes me west and north through long stretches of country. The GPS guided me up 95, around DC then west through Maryland. I was not impressed.

This year, I didn’t mind going up 95, but really wanted to avoid DC. I looked for alternate routes, but was concerned about going west as soon as the Fredericksburg exit leads. Manassas came up as a potential mid-point, which gave me pause. I have family in the area, and saw it as a great chance to catch up.

We did, but not nearly for long enough. They offered me the service of their couch. We ate, we drank hot chocolate, and visited.

The next morning, I continued the drive. It was cold, and since I was already so far west from 95, the GPS pointed me toward an unusual route, through the country but away from 95, and away from DC. That’s what mattered. Eventually, that route overlapped part of my summer route in a stretch before getting near the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The last stretch, for a good twenty miles after the tunnel, was thick with fog. But the arrival was simple and quiet, with plenty of time to spare before the meet & greet session. Best of all? The roads were clear, and the temperature above freezing. No snow, and no ice.

At the meet & greet, it was announced that future iterations of the opening night session would no longer be held in the library. Pending renovations. I helped with the tour for the incoming students

Afterward, most of our group – 4s, those in our 4th residency – went to the Headkeeper for dinner, companionship and catching up. It was a moderately late night, heading to the hotel by 11pm, to prepare for the first sessions the next morning.

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