Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Usually, I become a deep thinker at Christmas time. A ponderer. A sponge for the lovely, bittersweet, joyous and sometimes maudlin emotions winging out from most December souls. I can't help it: I'm a born empathizer. But at times, I even annoy myself.
This December, the season has been especially busy. I realize that I alone am not suffering under the hectic pace of the holidays, but for some reason I'm feeling it this year a bit more than usual. I've been trying to kick the feeling, and it's beginning to budge.
Last night, after my husband had returned from work and taken over toddler duty, I made a trip out for last-minute teacher gifts and groceries. My town was fairly empty, and the white lights lacing the trees on Main Street, the huge Christmas tree at the courthouse, the snowflakes on the power poles, they all glowed, dripping with rain. The grocery store was fairly calm, and I moved beneath the florescent lights from aisle to aisle in a bit of an exhausted trance. I didn't see anyone I knew, and this was a bit of a gift. It was nice to be alone.
On my way home, I couldn't help but drive slowly down my street, looking at the lights. Candles lit the windows of so many houses, and it seemed like even the most humble of apartment-dwellers had given in to the season, stringing a lone strand of fat colored bulbs up one railing. It made me smile. The glowing Santa statuette on my neighbor's lawn, these lights, my own, seemed suddenly a small reach for joy.
Yesterday before the evening store run, I'd put my toddler down for a nap like I always do, and had collapsed on the couch, quite literally unable to keep my eyes open. My limbs felt heavy, and welcoming blackness engulfed me. I may not have emerged for hours later, save for the incessent ringing of my cell phone and my daughter's wails over the monitor. I woke groggy, still caught by sleep, and stumbled to her room. It had been as if my body and my brain shook on it, and decided to take me by force.
My husband insists that this was my stress--work, home, motherhood, impending trip, Christmas business--having its way with me. He may be right, but it still feels strange. Stress? I have a great family, a home, an avocation, my health, and a Christmas tree. What do I truly have to be stressed about?
I think I just needed a nap. This is odd for me, as I'm a pretty peppy person. But I believe if I lie down, even now, I might sleep until Spring.
So, no nap. A shift, refocus. On Christmas--that most mysterious time, that awakening. Here's my recipe, if you will, for a return to Christmas cheer. (I cannot guaruntee this will work for you, should you be filled with Christmas ennui... but it does for me):
1. Throw off plans. If you need to order out for supper, do it. Ask for the Christmas burrito.
2. Sit in front of the fireplace until your back burns.
3. Read Christmas stories, to your kid(s), your significant other, your friends, heck--even the dog. I suggest Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. It doesn't get more magical than train of children chugging through a snow-filled forest, wolves pacing beneath the Christmas moon.
4. Eavesdrop at a small-town post office. Standing in line earlier this week I heard lovely Christmas greetings between friends old and new. There's nothing like a big, fat smile on a wrinkled face. Pure magic.
5. Watch Christmas movies, lots of them, whenever you can. Even if it's after midnight. I suggest: White Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Family Stone, Love Actually, and, of course, It's a Wonderful Life. Forgo any sarcastic thought, any lingering of cheese. It's Christmas.
6. Step outside. Breathe deeply. Consider the sky: starry or dark, it's the same sky looked upon by the ancients, the holy, the sinner and the saint. It is full of Mystery. And that's okay.
Wishing all of you joy in this season of Light,
Monday, December 12, 2011
This was a major toddler morning.
For those of you who have kids, you'll know what I mean. For those of you who don't, simply picture a ten-car pile-up on the freeway, stir in a little background whining, some nuclear bombs exploding in the near distance, ten car alarms going off at once--and no one turning them off, and getting smacked in the face by an indignant little person. There, can you see it?
This was my morning. We were thirty-five minutes late to preschool, and I missed my twice-weekly hike in the national forest with my dog: a time I treasure, one I look forward to for days for the rich smell of the winter earth and the life-affirming cold of the air near the river, for the silence and the sight of my dog bounding up the trail ahead of me, for the thinking time. Instead, I barely managed to brush my teeth, throw on my bra and a fleece coat (I still wore the fleece pants I slept in), slap a toboggan on my head and tuck my daughter under my arm like Heisman, and make it to the school.
This was after the Mexican stand-off over the yogurt. It wasn't blueberry, and so really, it had it coming. The banana, bless its heart, became a giant crayon which my dear child used to smoosh into the coffee table, to "draw" with. It was World War III over the coat, the right cup, the treatment of the dog. I said "gentle hands" and other inanities so many times I think I'll change my name to Rainman.
I have a pint-sized problem.
She's my little Czarina. My precious little despot. A two year-old schizophrenic with dimples and a killer left-hook. Here's her photo. (See how tall she is? She did NOT get this from me. That, and the tyranny she gets from her father. The big mouth may be my fault.)
Do not be fooled by the blonde hair and the dimples. She's a tyrant, I tell you. A gorgeous little centuries-old Russian despot. The other day, the despot came with me to the post office, and the postmistress gave her a few Priority Mail stickers to keep her happy. I stuck them on her chest and told her I was shipping her to Siberia. Or maybe her grandparents'.
Learning how to be a mother, a wife, a college teacher, and a writer--not to mention a functioning friend, family member and a generally good person at Christmastime--has been tricky. I'm about to add graduate student to this mix, and I've really avoided thinking much about it. I'm not sure if this is wise, but it's the way I'm going about it. That is, until Dec. 28th, when I fly to Vermont for my first ten-day residency in the MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. A stack of manuscript pages for my first VCFA workshop (which I'm seriously excited about reading) I've had to put at the bottom of the pile of to-be-graded English final exams and essays on my desk, simply to keep them out of sight. Because, I lack self-control when it comes to reading. Last night, I almost lost my just arrived copy of Diana Gabaldon's The Scottish Prisoner to the lukewarm depths of my bath. Because I fell asleep there. (Not because of the novel--it's fantastic. Because I. am. officially. an. old. person.)
I'm not sure how some writers do it. There's this famous anecdote about best-selling romance novelist Nora Roberts, and how she wrote her first novels at the breakfast table while her boys were eating cereal. I am not Nora Roberts. (Sigh.) In my life, I think the cereal could become airborn. A spoon makes a good catapult... I'm sure my little pumpkin pie would figure that out pretty quickly. She's sly. Maybe she's not Russian. Hidden beneath that exterior of sweetness is the soul of a secret agent. Maybe she's Mossad.
I swear I'm doing almost everything I can to spread Christmas joy. To be enveloped by the magic of the season, a magic I have so genuinely believed in since childhood. Our house is lit with white lights, candles in the windows; our tree is small but hardy, full of glowing bubble lights and beloved ornaments, our stockings hung by the chimney with care, our manger scene placed just out of the sweet little puddin' pie tyrant's reach. Heck, there's even a Santa hat on the rocking horse. We dig Christmas in this family, let me tell you.
See, here we are, enjoying Christmas. Look how calm the despot is. Can you see that blue hundred-yard stare? I think she's just biding her time.
Perhaps I can make a deal with that sweet little schizophrenic Czarina: give me back my precious toddler of yore, and you may return at 16. We'll even let you obscond with the peasants. But despots don't make deals, do they? I think I remember this from World History. They lop off heads. Or utilize efficient firing squads. So maybe I'll lay low, hide behind the dog, play "Frosty the Snowman" on the DVD player as many times as I possibly can, at least until my husband gets home. Until then, writing anything except for this blog post may have to be put on the back-burner, sad as it makes me.
Because a girl's got to make it through the day, нет?
Monday, November 14, 2011
A big, beautiful, brown box arrived at my door recently, bearing within it the Special Format Review Copies of my forthcoming historical novel, Keowee Valley. Since my two year-old was napping, I hefted the box in my arms, tip-toed across the hardwood floors of our 1940s house--trying not to trip over the 88 lb black lab at my heels--whipped a knife out of the chopping block, and went to town. I'd like to say that I slit open that box with the elegant precision of a heart surgeon, but since this is a moment I've been dreaming about since I was about 12 years old, I abandoned the knife halfway through and ripped, packing tape be damned.
I have to admit, it's a bit disconcerting to see your own face and name (in my case, three of them) on the covers of an 8 x 10 copy of a manuscript that you know, in less than a year, will be a book. I set the box beside my desk, which currently resembles a Jabba the Hut of exploding English essays, and stared at it. I gave it a wide berth on my way to other rooms. I eyed it warily, as if it'd pounce. And then I got to work.
Finding the right people--authors, industry experts, etc--to review your novel and to perhaps provide a blurb or quote (or, God willing, praise) for it, is an interesting process, one into which I'm delving for the first time. A while back, after I'd finished the novel and found my literary agent, I did some big dreaming, forming a wish-list of authors for the job. Now that my novel has a home with Bell Bridge Books, and I've got those big, beautiful review copies in hand, that list has become a very real starting point--and a bit intimidating. Trying to convince experienced authors (some pretty darn famous) to take a chance on a debut novel and its fledgling writer is a much tougher process than you'd think.
So, I've reached out via whatever method I've found--email, Facebook, home addresses, agent addresses--with a letter of introduction and an earnest, honest request. I know that I'll be refused by most--they have, after all, their own novels and jobs and families tugging at their time--but maybe, just maybe, one of them will remember what it was like to be in my shoes, and give me a chance. It'll be interesting to see who does.
One very welcoming group I've discovered: bloggers. I've already had some great blogger/book reviewers request to read the novel and review it, and I'm hoping to discover plenty more. I just adore folks who love books, and love talking about books: they are my people.
My publisher will be sending out review copies to pertinent reviewers as well, but I'm all about being an active participant in the process. I think it's an adventure. And as anyone who knows me can tell you, I'm a sucker for a good adventure.
And, just because it makes me grin like a giddy kid, here's another photo of the Special Format Review copy of Keowee Valley:
Monday, October 10, 2011
As most of you know, my debut historical novel, Keowee Valley, will be published by Bell Bridge Books in August 2012 (HOO-rah). This Thursday, I'm going to get a chance to talk about the novel (and other things) live and on-the-air.
Here are the details:
On Thursday, Oct. 13 from 11 a.m. to noon, my teacher-writer colleague, Jennifer McGaha, and I will be live with Asheville, N.C. radio station 103.5 FM, in a segment called "Asheville and the Arts" with host Carol Anders. We'll be talking about writing, publishing, our current projects, and reading from our work. If you're in the Asheville area, please tune in! But if you're not, you can catch the program streaming live from the station web site: http://www.main-fm.org/. (Click the "listen" button at the upper left-hand corner of the page.)
(On a side note, my college students were simply disconsolate at the news that they won't have to come to English class that morning. I just don't know what they'll do.)
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Our house, a small bungalow-type with a random 1950s addition, was built in either 1948 or 1949, and our attic is a walk-up: albeit, precarious and musty, but still a generous space--which in our case means plenty of room for a multiplying assortment of plastic bins. Last winter, our fifth as a married couple in the mountains, my husband trekked into said attic and in a move of sheer valiance (and desperation) spent several weeks laying out insulation. (Our sweet house lacks insulation in the walls, in the attic, in the floors, and we keep it COLD.) The arrival of our daughter insisted we warm things up a bit. Honestly, it gets old seeing your breath crystallize before your face as you huddle in your bed beneath sheets, a fleece blanket, and a corduroy quilt the width and depth of Texas. So stay posted, this winter, to see how we fare. Ha.
Last week, I made the first journey into the attic for the winter clothes. This is an inaugural trip, and I look forward to it. I love digging through my favorite fleece jackets, winter boots, toboggan hats and scarves; love shaking out my favorite pair of corduroys, my plaid flannel shirts I've hung onto since the grungy '90s. Despite the dusty, musty smell, and the knowledge that I've got several loads of laundry to do and an insurgence to launch against the summer clothes occupying my closet, this ritual is a precursor to my absolute favorite time of year. Once I've done this, Fall may just be a little bit closer. (Two other rituals of the cinematic type include watching Runaway Bride--who doesn't love rural Maryland in Autumn, small-town shenanigans, and a little Julia Roberts/Richard Gere action?--and also pulling out my complete seasons of the Gilmore Girls. For some reason, I'm hooked on cool-weather settings, small towns, and witty dialogue. For some reason, it makes me feel like Fall.)
Moving along. This time of year, things are in a flurry. There are my classes to be taught (if you saw the state of my desk, and the stacks of papers to be graded--by tomorrow--you'd wrinkle your nose in disgust), my daughter to get squared away at preschool, my house to be cleaned and dusted and prepared for closed windows and heat, a lot of football to be watched, a website to be created (for my novel, Keowee Valley, forthcoming from Bell Bridge Books in Fall 2012... cough), writing--any writing--to be done, a yard to be cleaned and a wilting summer garden to be cleared, and a decidedly insane (though inspired) journey back to graduate school--and all the work this entails--for which to be prepared. I've also got to actually pay attention to my husband. Really. The man gets lost in the shuffle, and though he's understanding about it, I'd like to remedy that.
In the midst of the flurry, I am determined to live deliberately. To embrace the chaos. To become adept at my many roles. I swear it: the attempt will be worthy.
In other news, I'm still doing the happy dance (even in public) about my novel being published by BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books in Fall of next year. The official title: Keowee Valley. My official "author name": Katherine Scott Crawford. (Which is my real name, by the way. Really.) Currently, I'm working on the author/novel website and on building social media with two friends, high school buddies who are web designing and PR pros. My husband, a marketing guy, is set to be guru. I'm hoping to have these things--web site, Facebook site, etc--up and running by the end of this year. Then, in January, editing should begin on my novel, and I couldn't be more excited and ready for, and open to, the entire process.
In the meantime, I'm looking for advice for managing the chaos, embracing the moment, and enjoying Fall to the fullest. On the menu: cooking black bean chili later today, heading to Death Valley to watch Clemson play (and hopefully, whup up on--sorry, Seminole fans) Florida State on Saturday, grading essays while possibly enjoying some Gere/Roberts repartee (don't tell my students), and apple-picking at a local orchard with family and friends, later in the month.
What are your big plans for the Fall? Here is my dog's plan:
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Four years ago on an October afternoon, I was driving away from the Gallatin Field Airport in a purple P.T. Cruiser and into the curving gold of the Montana hills. I had a Montana highway map and a fat mug of airport coffee on the seat beside me, and my husband on the cell phone; he was following my route from his office back in North Carolina. The day was deepening, hills growing subtly darker, and as I drove the snow-capped Rockies began to engulf my little car. I felt free and fine as a bird in flight.
I started this blog because of that trip: I'd been awarded a full fellowship to the Montana Artist Refuge, an artists' enclave in a tiny, former mining town in Southwestern Montana called Basin, and I wanted an easy way to keep family and friends posted while I was there.
The fellowship couldn't have come at a better time. My husband and I had been married a little over three years, I was teaching as an adjunct English professor at a small, liberal arts college in Western North Carolina--a job I loved and poured my energies into, but one that took its toll on my writing (and our meager finances)--and I'd just begun to emotionally recover from a miscarriage that had occurred only four months before. An adventure was in order.
So many wonderful things came of my time at the Montana Artists Refuge, most of which are chronicled in my earliest blog posts from 2007 (see "Bring it On, Big Sky" to start). I wrote, and wrote; I slept alone for the first time in years. I hiked, and hiked, in some of the most incredibly stunning and patently visceral country I've seen in my life. And, I made a great friend. An essay I wrote about my time at MAR, "Deep Breathing Under Big Sky," won Third Place in the Santa Fe Writers' Project 2007 Literary Awards Program, judged by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. But so much more than this came of that one shining month.
I felt like a writer. Sitting in that sparse room at my laptop, away from my world at home; hiking through the snow; talking and laughing with other writers; driving my ridiculous car to places I'd only dreamt about, like mysterious Yellowstone National Park and the haunting Big Hole Battlefield; floating weightlessly in the Boulder Hot Springs, talking of life with a friend and watching mule deer venture forth from dusk-lit spruce; buying groceries like a local in Butte; giving a novel reading at the Helena Book Festival; and doing it all courtesy of a fellowship: this was something BIG. It gave me hope.
Virginia knew what she was talking about when she said that in order to write, "a woman must have ... a room of her own."
Sadly, the place and the people that gave me my first true room of my own are closing their doors. These brutal economic times are taking their toll, and many are suffering, including the Arts and the Montana Artists Refuge. I can never repay their generosity, their hope in me, with neither words nor money--though I've attempted with both.
When I left the Montana Artists Refuge there was snow on the ground. Yellowstone National Park had closed to motorized vehicles for the winter, the highways and roads in the high mountain passes were littered with gravel, and I felt, driving away from it all, certain that I'd return.
I was, just maybe, a writer.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Good things DO come to those who wait. (And persevere. And pray. But that's another story.)
I'm pleased to announce that I've sold my novel, KEOWEE VALLEY. A mainstream historical adventure and romance, it will be published in Fall 2012 by Bell Bridge Books. Set in the Revolutionary-era Carolinas and in the Cherokee Country, it's part the story of an independent young woman making a new life for herself against all odds, and part the story of an incredibly beautiful and dangerous country--and a mysterious, powerful people on the verge of life-altering change.
Whew. It's difficult to describe a 450+ page novel, particularly your own. I plan to get better at this as the year moves forward. The Publisher's Marketplace announcement does a much better job.
I couldn't be happier with my publisher(s). Bell Bridge Books is an imprint of Belle Books, a small to mid-sized (depending on whom you ask) press based in Memphis, T.N., which was founded and is run by smart, savvy women--most of them prolific authors. I had a chance to meet three of them in Asheville, N.C. a couple of weeks ago, and I walked away sure of my choice and hopeful for the future of my novel and my career. (I think I floated down the street. I wonder if anyone noticed?)
Going with a smaller press has many advantages, one of them being the opportunity to formulate and enact my own marketing plan in addition to the publishers'. So, while editing on the novel won't start until after the new year, I'm going to take the Fall to build a web site and to develop other opportunities for social media, etc. I've got some great guys helping me--my husband, and two of my best friends from high school--who are all experts in their fields (marketing and public relations).
This is going to be fun!
More about the process to come in the following weeks and months....
Monday, August 1, 2011
In life, there are the big moments--movie climax moments, when the sun is setting and the important music is playing, the music crescendoing, when everything becomes golden and exciting and full of promise--and then there are the small moments, when the background music is the hum of the neighbor's lawn mower, the feel is the touch of a hand, the knowledge settling that there is hope to be had in the next week, the next day, the next few minutes.
It takes quite a while to understand that we've got it all backwards; we've let our lesser selves pull a switcheroo. The big moments, truly, are the small ones.
My daughter turned two years old on Friday. This is not a huge deal--toddlers turn two to parents around the world, even parents like my husband and me, every single day. Bigger stuff has happened. This event, instead, was a small moment--of the best kind. We celebrated with friends and family and balloons and cake and sprinklers and hot dogs. We dealt with the after-effects of a sugar high (courtesy of a massive cupcake my husband and I thought would be fun to give our daughter the night of her real birthday) and over-stimulation (courtesy of the crazy backyard waterfest that edged into naptime on the day we threw her party, in addition to a trio of far-too exciting overnight guests: her aunts and cousin).
She is a bundle of energy and emotion and joy and inconsistency and imagination, our daughter. And for the past two years, we have managed to keep her safe, clean and healthy--and, I believe, happy. (Okay, this possibly qualifies as a big deal.) We're even a little proud of ourselves.
I hope, that in a world full of stimuli insisting that it is only the big moments that matter--the graduations, the big kisses, the rings and the Christmas mornings, bright lights and big city--we'll be able to teach her about the joy in the small things, the common things, the everyday gifts: the sight of stars, the special letter in the mail, the smile from a stranger, cool water on a sweltering summer day, a face full of cupcake.
That these moments are more than enough.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
First of all, my apologies for the tardiness of this post, which was promised weeks ago. Choosing which low residency MFA in Writing program to attend has been an arduous and brain-freezing task--a decision that lately rivaled the one to have children. But, it's been made (can you hear the cheering and yahooing in the distance? That's the sound of my husband and friends, celebrating the end of the madness).
I will be attending Vermont College of Fine Arts. My first residency is this coming winter.
If you're reading this post, chances are you're a family member or friend of mine, or--and here's what I'm hoping--you are, like I was, attempting to choose a low residency MFA in Writing program.
There's quite a bit of information out there in the universe--some useful, some not--about how to go about this process. In this post I'll describe my process, in hopes that it may aid others. I'll address elements of the decision that I did not see covered in the many books, articles, and blogs already published on the subject, I'll share my research materials, and I'll talk about my interactions with each program.
Please note that deciding on a graduate program is an intensely personal process: when it comes down to it, and the research has been exhausted, you just have to "go with your gut." Annoying as hell to hear, right? But it's true.
Off we go:
* For a bit of background information about my thoughts on the decision to return to graduate school, see "Once More Into the Breach," posted on April 4, 2011.
First, I decided on low residency programs, instead of traditional. This was easy: I've a husband, daughter, dog, and mortgage, among other things, that keep me rooted. Second, I chose seven programs to which I'd apply: (these are in no particular order)
1. Pacific University
2. University of New Orleans
3. Lesley University
4. Goddard College
5. Queens University of Charlotte
6. Vermont College of Fine Arts
7. Spalding University
The reasoning behind this initial culling (there are over 100 low residency programs in the U.S. at this time) was simple:
1. Pacific: I'd always wanted to spend time in the Pacific Northwest, I think they have the most aesthetically pleasing website and program information, and Pam Houston--a long-time favorite of mine--teaches there.
2. University of New Orleans: The study abroad aspects of the program (you must spend a month abroad each summer to complete the low residency degree) were enticing.
3. Lesley University: Reputation was a big factor; also, the idea of being in such a literary epicenter like Cambridge was appealing.
4. Goddard College: Reputation, certainly. A chance to be in Vermont.
5. Queens University: Living in N.C., I'd recently become familiar with this newer program, which had been gaining favor and hiring some authors I admire, like Elizabeth Strout.
6. Vermont College of Fine Arts: First and foremost: reputation. And, the chance to study either in Vermont (a state I'd fallen in love with during a writer's residency a few years ago) or abroad, with top faculty and writers... many who'd earned their MFAs from Iowa. Also: alumni publishing success.
7. Spalding University: Only 6 hours from where I live, with an innovative "flexible scheduling" that allowed for mixing 6-month and 9-month long semsters, study abroad options, a chance to study cross-genre (my areas of interest: fiction and creative nonfiction). Also liked the fact that the program director, Sena Jeter Naslund, published successful historical fiction--my own genre.
**Though I know one has to take ranking with a "grain of salt," six of the seven programs were included in Atlantic Monthly's "Best of the Best" and in Poet's and Writers "Top Ten Low Residency Programs." Most had been in the top ten in any sort of rankings taken over the past ten years, especially Vermont College (#1 or tied for first each year).
So, in the Fall of 2010 I worked on my writing samples, garnered my recommendations, ordered transcripts, and applied. By March 2011, I'd heard from most schools. I was rejected by Queens and Lesley, and accepted by Pacific, Vermont College (VCFA), Goddard, UNO (University of New Orleans), and Spalding.
I heard from UNO and Spalding first, then Pacific, VCFA, and Goddard. Queens and Lesley came in so much later than the others--I'd had to contact both to check in--that by that point I'd already culled the group, in my mind at least, to Pacific, VCFA, and Spalding. (Note: Goddard did come back onto my radar after a great conversation with the interim program director, Elena Georgiou, who took special note of my love of writing historical fiction, and steered me to the writings of a similar faculty member.)
When I'd initially started thinking about heading back to graduate school, it was the summer of 2008. Though my application process was cut short by the unexpected news that I was pregnant, I had already done quite a bit of thinking about where I'd like to go. For some reason--mainly the idea of traveling to the Pacific Northwest and studying with Pam Houston, Pacific became my #1. When, last year, I started and completed the application process, I still felt the same way.
After being accepted to programs, I did everything possible in order to narrow down my choices: talked to faculty, alumni, current students, administrators; looked at rankings and placement; studied each school's literature (especially faculty bios and mentoring philosophies); considered all costs, including possible scholarship and assistantship options; hounded my friends and family (some of whom are professors); spent late nights with my husband just hashing it all out ("it's your choice," was his oft-repeated reply); looked at study abroad options and whether it'd actually be feasible for me to factor this in (what with the daughter, husband, and dog); and researched websites, blogs, and books about the MFA in Writing.
In the end, I even resorted to coin tossing.
The resources I consulted:
The Low-Residency MFA Handbook by Lori A. May
The Creative Writing MFA Handbook by Tom Kealey
Poets & Writers magazine (in addition to perusing years of articles on the MFA in Writing, I spent quite a bit of time at the Speakeasy, their forum)
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs
The Writer's Chronicle magazine (from the AWP)
The Atlantic Monthly magazine
Assorted essays by Linda Formichelli, Erika Dreifus, Seth Abramson, etc.
www.sethabramson.blogspot.com "Seth Abramson"
www.bestdamncreativewritingblog.com "The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog"
www.creative-writing-mfa-handbook.blogspot.com "The Creative Writing MFA Blog"
www.erikadreifus.com/blogs/practicing-writing/ "Practicing Writing"
Any blog by any graduate of the programs I was considering.
One thing that made my decision different: I am already an adjunct instructor of English at 4-year and community colleges. A specific reason for me to earn a terminal degree in writing is to have the necessary degree to be competitive for a full-time, tenure track position at a college or university. (I know that a MFA is not a job quarantee, but the sad fact is that if you haven't published a book or books yet, and you want a full-time position in higher ed teaching writing, this degree is necessary.)
So, my search changed. I began to consider: which programs graduated alumni who garnered full-time teaching jobs? Which program would make me the most competitive in the higher ed workforce?
What I learned, from conversations with several folks in higher ed (including, but not limited to, graduate school MA in English professors, undergraduate writing professors, administrators, and my current boss, who is head of the humanities division at a small, liberal arts college) is that "pedigree" matters. The reputation of the school from which you will have earned your MFA degree matters... a lot. After publications, of course.
While many of these people did profess that rankings are a crap-shoot, and that I should go where my "gut" tells me, several did admit that when it comes to larger state universities (the sort of places I'd like to work), English departments aren't as hip to writing programs--so, they look at the more (dare I say) superficial qualities of a candidate, like where the degree was earned.
I had to take into consideration the fact that when I do complete my MFA in Writing and am searching for a full-time position, I will be competing (in an already saturated market) with other candidates who've earned their MFAs from traditional, residential programs. And though low residency programs are gaining ground and beginning to be respected by highering committees, there are still many programs that refuse to give them as much credit as the traditional degree. (Consider the faculty member at the University of Georgia, who revealed in an email that going for a low residency MFA "just wasn't worth it." Ouch.)
The main bit of advice from each higher ed type: It's your publications that get you the job. Then, your credentials. One former professor of mine said, "When it comes to getting a job teaching writing, it's all about your publications and who you know."
But not a single publication I'd consulted weighed, in any manner, which low residency program would most aid a writer-teacher in finding a job. Here, I was on my own. And though it's easy to argue with rankings, the fact that VCFA had been #1 in placement for the past several years means something to me. This is not the case for everyone, of course: many, if not most, people considering or currently working towards their low residency degree in writing already have full-time jobs and don't plan on quitting them. Most simply want to develop their craft, to become better writers.
Becoming a better writer is, of course, the ultimate goal of a MFA in Writing. It's imperative that a potential MFA student look into which programs provide the best teacher-writers--those writers commited to his or her students' work and progress. Like the "which program will help me get a job" category, this one, too, is mostly unquantifiable. What's left to us here are teaching philosophies and faculty bios. Those can and should be studied as closely as possible. I searched each faculty member of the programs I was considering, researched their websites and publications, looked into the English departments at the schools where they teach, and at where they earned their own writing degrees. But again, it's a crap-shoot.
* In addition, I looked at the faculty of several small-to-large universities in my area, in order to discover where they had earned their terminal degrees. I considered faculty at places like Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Western Carolina Univeristy, the University of North Carolina (at Chapel Hill, Asheville, Wilmington), N.C. State, the College of Charleston, Winthrop University, Converse College, Presbyterian College, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina University, etc. Most had earned their degrees from traditional MFA in Writing programs, or earned PhDs in English.
When my husband and I began talking finances, I was forced to give up on my initial dream of attending Pacific. The cost here, mainly for travel (I live on the East Coast), would be too high. There aren't as many options for cross-genre study there, something in which I'm interested. I'd been accepted only in Fiction (as choosing one genre is the only option) at Pacific, while at Spalding and VCFA I'd been accepted in both Fiction and Creative Nonfiction.
Now it was down to two: Spalding and VCFA.
Spalding has so many things going for it: a study abroad option, cross-genre study, flexible scheduling, very, very happy and satisfied alumni, and a great spokeperson in Associate Program Director Kathleen Driskell. Kathleen was (and is) knowledgeable, genuinely friendly, easy to talk with, and willing to go out of her way to answer questions and to try to get the potential student the help she needs. Another item in the Spalding "yes" column: a small merit scholarship, and an assistantship working as a student editor and reader for The Louisville Review for as many semesters as I'd like. (Spalding is the rare low residency program that offers financial assistance.) In addition, Kathleen made it clear that Spalding really wanted me to come there--that they were excited and happy about me being part of their program. (This enthusiasm was the exception to the rule with other programs.) Spalding was rapidly becoming a program I'd have a hard time turning down.
VCFA also has a great spokesperson in Louise Crowley, who answered all my questions, spoke honestly and often with me about the rigors of the program and the small possibilities for financial assistance (outside of student loans, of course). The program at VCFA is long and lauded, and Louise is experienced and friendly. She immediately sent me a packet of information that included a sample residency schedule and course offerings, which were varied and exciting. The study abroad option at VFCA is unique in that it is ten days, and takes place in lieu of (and at the same time as) the Vermont residency, so a student can choose which to attend. This was quite appealing to me, as I'm a travel junkie with a family--the least disruptive the travel is to my family calendar, the better. And though the Vermont website does not supply nearly the amount of information the Spalding site does, it does provide faculty teaching philosophies, and these I found enlightening and helpful.
Both programs--Spalding's and VCFA's--provided information on alumni successes (i.e. books published). Both are impressive, but VCFA, being around for longer, seemed to have a great number of alumni publishing books.
I tortured myself (and my husband) with the decision. In an unethical move I'm not proud of, I resorted to telling both schools "yes" so I'd have longer to make my decision... a decision I quite literally could not make. One week, I'd be sure of one school, and the next I'd change my mind to the other. I went on long hikes with my dog, prayed about it, meditated about it, and drove my friends and family crazy asking the same questions over and over again.
I'd applied to the two schools for different reasons: Spalding, because it was new and innovative and I'd heard good things, and VCFA, because I knew its stellar reputation and was sure I wouldn't have a chance of getting in. When Spalding rose to the top for a variety of reasons, and I was actually accepted to VCFA, I was stumped. Hornswoggled. Flummoxed, discombobulated and foxed.
In the end, I just couldn't let the idea of VCFA go. I tried, but I couldn't. And I was utterly exhausted by the process. It doesn't hurt to add that my husband really wanted me to go to VCFA. And so the choice was made.
I'm thrilled about the decision, anxious about the affects on my family, but excited to begin. I'm ready to move ahead with my craft and my career.
Note: This is just my process, and everyone does it differently. If you are considering a MFA in Writing, or are trying to decide between programs, I wish you the best of luck. Because I've been in the trenches, so to speak, I'm more than happy to answer any questions.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
Thankfully and wonderfully, I have been accepted to Pacific, Spalding, UNO, Vermont College, and Goddard. I'm thrilled that these fine institutions think enough of my talent and promise as a writer to ask me to join their writing communities. But now's the tough part. I have to decide.
To be honest, it's keeping me up at night. I've not been sleeping well for the past two weeks (and neither has my poor husband). I've done all the research I can, read the right books, talked to the right people. I've narrowed it down to two schools, which, out of respect and since I haven't officially "accepted my acceptance" anywhere yet, I won't mention here... yet. But these last two schools, and the deciding between them, is quite literally making my head ache. I know I can't go wrong with either, that I'd have a great experience at both, and that what I do with the degree is up to me.
However, I'm still pondering this unqualifiable program characteristic: the power of "pedigree." Writing the word "pedigree" creeps me out, but it's a sad but true fact of academia--where you got your degree matters. Would I be hurting my (somewhat future) teaching career--because I know I wouldn't hurt a writing career, not by any stretch--by not attending a top ranked school?
It's a point to ponder. And ponder it I will, again, all day and probably into tonight. Look for a future post about what I finally decide, to come later this week. And one, after, about how I came to the decision (i.e. my research, other tools, the process). As I know from personal experience, there's a great lot and a great little information out there in cyberspace, about going for your MFA in Writing--and sometimes, a first-hand account can be helpful.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
- Keowee made it past the Pitch round to the second round, and is now a Quarter-Finalist.
- Excerpts are up from all the Quarterfinalists, and are available to read at www.amazon.com/abna. To read an excerpt of my novel, go to the left side of page, see "Quarter-Finalists by Category," click on "Historical Fiction," and look for Keowee by K.S. Crawford. If you have a Kindle, you can download the excerpt for free; if you have a PC or Mac, you can download "Kindle for PC or Mac" for free and read it that way.
- If you're interested, you can also review the excerpt and give it a rating (between 1 and 5 stars). Please be kind (she asks humbly).
This is pretty exciting stuff, and I'm grateful and of course a wee bit proud. The going gets hairy from here: judges narrow the 250 Quarter-Finalists (in Fiction) down to 50 Semi-Finalists; those results will be posted on or around April 26, 2011.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
An essay of mine has been published in the February 2011 issue of the magazine Western North Carolina Woman. It's entitled "Procreation Meets Really Gross Grits," and it was written (obviously) before I had my daughter.
If interested, you can see it online (click the title of this post), or if you live in WNC, you can pick it up for free at newstands in the area.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
I'm not making this up--my little back yard is a crime scene. The whole thing unfolded like a cozy small town mystery, one of those pretty little books with the painted covers... except, of course, for the fact that the criminals live behind us.
Over the past few months, a series of small crimes--things taken from cars, like wallets, Ipods and sunglasses--have been committed in our neighborhood. We live in a small town in the N.C. mountains; our pretty little street with its mix of bungalows, cottages, the occasional old Victorian and a few unkempt houses veers into another street that leads shortly to downtown. We are a town of mountain folks, wealthy retirees, outdoorsy types, college students and artists, and nothing much ever happens here... which is how we like it. But over the weekend, a rash of burglaries on our street had us all on edge.
Saturday night, several cars and houses on our street and in our neighborhood were broken into, wallets and checkbooks taken, laptops and money stolen literally while some of my neighbors were sleeping. The thieves walked right in and stole things while people were sleeping. Another neighbor-family had someone literally start cutting the screen on their bedroom window while they were lying in their bed; the dog heard it, barked, and woke them up. This is disconcerting, to say the least. Most of us leave our doors unlocked, windows open, cars unlocked, garages and carports with things like bikes and gear just sitting in the open.
So, back to the criminals behind my house. The house behind us, despite it being a cute cottage that could use some loving from a good owner, has been occupied by a string of unsavory renters since we moved here over five years ago. (Not bashing renters, just stating fact.) Lately, it's been occupied by a group of young guys, high school to college-age, who like to party and who started a band, and who played loudly--and sadly, not very well--in the garage near our property line on weekends. We've been joking about the band with our neighbor-friends to the right of us, wanting them to cut the volumn but not wanting to be those old fogies who call the police. And lately, they'd turned the music down, so we were satisfied. Besides, it wasn't that far of ten years ago we were playing our own music too loud. (Still do, sometimes.)
If we'd known they were criminals, we would've called the police. They fit the demographic: the cops had mentioned they thought it was a group of eighteen to nineteen year-old dropouts, local kids who were probably high and who knew the neighborhood. But we just didn't want to bash on some teenagers because they played music. We were trying to be nice.
Yesterday afternoon, when I let my dog out to do her business, she raced for the backyard fence and started barking like crazy. I stepped out and saw that three men were in the backyard of the house behind us, one of them an older gentlman who was gesticulating wildly. I stepped out, certain this had something to do with the weekend crime spree. I walked back to meet them through our fence gate, which was wide open--and I asked the men if they'd opened it. They hadn't, and they were plainclothed police detectives, and they wanted to dig in my yard. They were pretty sure, thanks to my old gossip-hound of a neighbor (bless his nosey heart) that someone had buried stolen goods in our yard. I warned the detective with the shovel of the fact that the crime scene was in my dog's poop area, and if he was willing to navigate the land mine, he was welcome. They also asked if I could put my dog inside, who was not about to let the men hop our fence; I put her in the house, stuck my toddler on my hip and walked back outside to watch.
After a few minutes of digging (during which the neighbor gentleman's voice rose up an down an octave like an excited old biddy, giddy with being in on the action, "I've never been a part of something this exciting before," he chirped) the detective unearthed a paper bag with over a thousand dollars in it. The money, he said, had been stolen from a local businessman's house down the street a couple of nights ago. The hoodlums renting the house behind us had done it all, and while most were in custody, a few of their friends were still running around, so "be vigilant."
The detectives felt certain that the criminals had probably attempted to break into every one of our houses, and that only effective locks on the doors and windows, and in our case, our 90 lb black dog, had kept them out.
I've swung back and forth on a pendelum between being disturbed and just being angry that someone of ill intent has been on my land, in my yard, around my house and my neighbors' houses. That our lives have been violated by someone else's greed and immorality. That the sanctity of our homes--homes in which live our babies and dogs and other loved ones--has been disturbed. I've never understood thievery, or the urge to steal in general, and this leaves me even more baffled and irritated. Who the hell do those stupid criminals think they are?
The whole thing leaves us all a little more aware, and sadly, a little more jaded about the world in which we live. But I'm thankful that no one was physcially injured, and that we're all looking out for each other in a new way. I'm thankful for my gossipy neighbor, and glad he's keeping his wrinkled eyes peeled while he pitters in his garden. Most of all, I'm thankful for my big, bad dog--who is certainly big but SO not bad--and will no longer be embarrassed when she scares people unwittingly. In fact, from now on when she growls lowly during the night from her lounging position on the couch, I'm going to open the back door and let her out. And whoever--and whatever--is out there can deal with the consequences.
Monday, January 24, 2011
It's the first time I've entered the ABNA, which has been around for the past five-plus years. The contest is held jointly by Amazon and Penguin Publishing Group, and the winning manuscript gets a $15,000 advance and published by Penguin or one of its many imprints. There are two categories this year: YA (Young Adult) and General Fiction (all genres). There are several rounds, the first of which is the Pitch: basically, boiling your (in my case, 450-page) novel into 300 or less words that hook, astound, and engage the reader. It's sort of like coming up with the information that would appear on a book jacket, if your manuscript should ever be so lucky to grow up to be a book.
In this contest, the Pitch is everything. Without it, you do not pass. I worked on mine for weeks, starting with the blurb of information from the query letter I'd written to literary agents several years ago. Then I tweaked, got lots of great advice from friends and writer-friends, and folks on the ABNA discussion boards, and finally came up with the finished product. I'm hoping like hell it makes it through.
These are not good odds: the contest allows 5,000 entries in each category, which means there are thousands of writers pitching their hope and work to the stars, right alongside mine. And do not doubt that these are talented writers; I've seen their previews and pitches, and I'm impressed by the quality of folks vying for the goal. Despite the odds, I figure if anything, it's yet another way to get my work in front of people in the industry. And since entering was free, what could it hurt?
Oh, yeah... my neck. My back. My neck and my back. (A little Friday, anyone? Showing my age, here.)
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Okay, maybe that's a bit dramatic. All I've done, like so many others, is make the decision to attempt to go back to school. It's a Master of Fine Arts in writing (fiction) I'm trying for, because--at least at this point in time--the MFA is still considered the terminal degree for creative writers who also want to be professors. I actually started the application process in late summer 2008, and then the life-changing happened that Fall (see the photo above). And the graduate school dream was put on indefinite hold while I navigated pregnancy and hormones and the wonders and stresses and waking dream that is new motherhood.
It's not the first time I've done this: I earned a MA in English in 2004, and I've been slaving away at various colleges and community/technical colleges since then, thoroughly enjoying my job but wanting to find something more permanent and, ahem... monetarily feasible. I know I'm not alone here; there are thousands of us--lowly adjuncts--teaching across the country, working for pittance and wondering why we got the advanced degree in the first place. (This could be a whole other blog, and it's been done, so I'm not going there.)
But I'm not one of those people. I earned my Master's degree in English for two reasons: to work towards a terminal degree (I thought at the time, a PhD), and to acquaint (and reacquaint) myself with the great writers, in order to become a better writer. I never regret school; I feel that education is a beauty "worthwhile in itself." But now that I'm starting the process all over again--and with a toddler, husband, and part-time job in tow--and though I know that it's the right and best thing for me, I wonder if I'm not a little nuts?
What am I thinking? I barely have time for myself now, and I have one child. One. My "free" time is not spent writing, but catching up on school work and bills and laundry and all the sundry and annoyingly wonderful things that come with being a wife and mother in the modern word. I poop out, exhausted, at about 10:30 every night. I'm nuts, I know it.
The thing is, I know that I can do this. I can figure out how to earn (another) degree, be a good mama, a loving partner, a healthy person. I'd just like a magic potion. A pill, perhaps (are you listening, Phizer?). I'll make my best go of it. I just wish it were a wee bit--just a wee bit--easier.
Any advice, you writers-with-children? Students-with-children?
Disclaimer: This post was a result of one week of cancelled preschool due to snow, and three days (so far) of delayed preschool. A bomb filled with toys, magazines, stuffed animals and thermal coffee mugs (don't ask) has exploded in my house, and I just let my toddler wade through it at will. I rock.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
http://www.whlreview.com/ (For the entire issue.)
http://www.whlreview.com/no-5.4/fiction/KSCrawford.pdf (For my excerpt alone.)
It's the first time an excerpt from my novel--which my agent is still pitching to publishers--has appeared in a literary journal.
Hope you enjoy. And a very Happy New Year to all!