March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

April 4

Writing Screenplays: Initial Challenges

The semester hasn’t even officially started yet and I’m challenged.  Before school starts, Spalding has their MFA students send in samples of their work.  The samples are put into similar categories: screenplays with screenplays, Children’s books with Children’s books, Memoirs with Memoirs, etc.  The categories are divided into groups of students.  I think Fiction has the majority of the students so they need multiple groups, where as Children’s and Young Adult writing had so few in that category that everyone was put in the same group.   Everyone then receives a  copy of the samples the students in their group sent in.  Once they receive it, they read and critique the pieces.  The more notes you have on the individual piece the better off you’ll be when it comes to giving the face-to-face critique during residency.

So, what have I been doing?  Preparing my sample for residency.

I could have chosen to try Fiction this semester instead of screenwriting. Fiction is closer to the YA genre I write and I read a ton of it.  Their’d be some changes, some differences, but nothing compared to what I’m enduring trying to get this screenwriting script worked out.  I knew Screenwriting would be a challenge because it is so different from what I’m use to writing, and I wanted to challenge myself, not have an easy semester.  I’ve proven what I’ve always suspected: Screenwriting and Novels are very different animals.

Not only is the formatting different but so is the way you think of how you write. Screenwriting, so far, seems to allow for far more telling.  I’m not needing to describe the emotions of the characters, add thoughts or numerous other things. I tell a lot instead of show. For example, in my screenplay, I have:

Regan: (Incredulous)  You’re husband?

In a novel, I’d write it a different way.  Adding more details so you saw and heard Regan’s emotions instead of being told them.  In that way, screenwriting is easier for me.  Because the emotional aspect of the story has always been a tad harder for me to write than other things. However, I feel like the story is naked without some of the more common elements I have in even my most basic drafts.  It’s unsettling and goes against several instincts.

I think I did okay with my scripts. But I’ll find out for certain how I did when I get on campus and receive my critiques from my peers and mentors.  No matter how I actually did on the screenplays, I know this will be a learning experience that will hopefully help me with my novels.

October 10

Tenderness Critical Review

Almost any writer can tell you that the three act structure consists of Set up, Confrontation and Resolution.  However there are more ways to write a story then the three act structure.  A book could be written with three, four, five or even six acts. Robert Cormier provides a strong example of the four act structure in his novel Tenderness.

According to Larry Brooks the first act of the four act structure “introduces the hero in his everyday life, sets a hook to keep readers reading, establishes the hero’s stakes (what he cares about that will be endangered later), and foreshadows later events. It also introduces the changes in the hero’s life that propel him toward the First Plot Point.”

Readers see the first act in first 100 pages of Tenderness. Readers are in the first Act of the story. In this act we meet Lori, learn about her fixations and see how she gets rid of them with Thrash. Afterwards, while watching the news, readers see her develop another fixation on admitted killer, Eric Poole.  Unwilling to leave town before she gets rid of her fixation on him, Lori finds a temporary refuge at Harmony House.

Eric’s past is revealed through an interrogation by a police officer. He then foils the officer’s plans to keep him in prison. On one of his last days in prison, Eric develops his own fixation on a girl, Maria, who fits his victim profile.

In The Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote the following about act two, “Everything the hero cares about (and readers came to care about in Part 1) is in danger. The hero is usually just reacting to what happened at the First Plot Point—not being proactive. She might try to save the day, but if she does, it doesn’t work yet.”

From pages 100 to 140, readers are in act two. Eric stays at his Aunt Phoebe’s house. While waiting for the media to lose interest in him, Eric thinks about Maria and slowly grows tired of biding his time. He wants to kill Maria. Meanwhile, because Eric avoids the media watching his aunt’s house for him, Lori is unable to see Eric, much less remove her fixation.  She is stalled, non-active beyond keeping a vigil on Eric’s house in the hopes of him coming out.

Eric however has seen Lori through the back window of the house.  She looks familiar to him at first, but he eventually remembers that she was a potential witness to one of the murders he committed years ago and wonders if she might be a lose end he has to kill to maintain his freedom.

Concurrently, one of the girls at Harmony House is trying to get Lori in trouble and Lori recognizes she can’t stay there any longer. Giving up on removing her fixation on Eric, she leaves Harmony House to return home. Before she leaves, however, she swings by his house one final time to say a silent goodbye.

Act three, according to Larry Brooks, is when “the hero becomes proactive, and begins to seriously fight back against the antagonist. He also starts to fight against the inner demons that are holding him back.”

From pages 140 to 214, readers are in the third act structure.  In this act, Lori and Eric finally meet or are reunited as the case may be.  However Eric is suspicious of her and wonders if he needs to kill her. They spend some time together, during which Eric decides Lori isn’t a threat to him and Lori manages to get rid of fixation of him. By then she has grown to care for Eric though and realizing he has not been freed of his fixation on Maria, Lori encourages Eric to go after her. Maria is a trap however. Lori realizes this and stops Eric from hurting Maria, before he has done anything the police can arrest him on. The police threaten to arrest Lori for interfering and she runs into the woods to escape them.

In the Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote that in Act four “Everything in the previous three parts comes together in a final climax, in which the hero shows that she’s overcome her inner demons. After that, there’s a bit of time for tying up loose ends.”

From page 217 to 229 readers are in the fourth act. Once Lori and Eric find each other again, they decide to celebrate their near escape and rent a canoe in the park. They trust each other, are fond of each other and feel they may be together for a while.  However Lori falls out of the canoe and into the river.  Eric tries to save her. However Lori dies and Eric is sent to prison for her accidental death. In prison, Eric mourns for the loss of a living creature for the first time in his life, which ends the four act structure.

Cormier is a master storyteller, who uses the lesser known four act-structure to tell the story of a serial killer and his would-be accomplice.

Works Cited

Brooks, Larry. “The Four-Part Structure.” Squidoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. .Cormier, Robert. Tenderness: A Novel. New York: Delacorte, 1997. Print.
September 15

Tenderness by Robert Cormier

Eighteen-year-old Eric has just been released from juvenile detention for murdering his mother and stepfather. Now he’s looking for some tenderness—tenderness he finds in caressing and killing beautiful girls. Fifteen-year-old Lori has run away from home again. Emotionally naive but sexually precocious, she is also looking for tenderness—tenderness she finds in Eric. Will Lori and Eric be each other’s salvation or destruction?

This was an interesting book. I was expecting this story to go down a different route, to have a different focus than it proved to have but it was still an enjoyable read.

Both protagonists in this book are anti-heroes, and anti-heroes, especially female anti-heroes are extremely rare no matter the genre. For that alone this book is worth a quick read.. But structurally, there are several reasons to do so. I had twenty pages left to read of  Tenderness when I realized that the book switched between third and first person throughout the entire novel, which is something I normally notice immediately. But it never jarred me making the switch between the different personages.

This book however did not sit well with me in several ways.  Both Lori and Eric felt older than they were in the book. I would have believed Lori closer to 17. Eric felt more in his 20s. However, the plot wouldn’t have worked with the characters those ages.  Once you read the book you’ll know why. I don’t want to spoil anything.  But…I don’t know, it rubbed me wrong.

Other than that, I really didn’t have any issues with the book.  It was a bit on the dry side for me.  And it will probably never be a book that I have on my must keep shelf.  But it kept my interest the entire way through, which is always a good sign.  I would recommend this book more for the structure and the story than the entertainment value.  But that’s my taste.  I know some of my friends will completely and utterly love this book.

 

September 14

Holes: A Critical Review

No Holes in Emotional Arc
Louis Sachar’s Holes is about fifteen-year-old Stanley Yelnats, who is falsely accused and charged with theft. He is sent to Camp Green Lake instead of a Juvenile detention center where he endures and survives inhumane conditions. Sachar gives Stanley a strong, and believable emotional arc through the entire story.

When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake he is overweight, he has no friends and no self-confidence. He’s miserable at this term of his life and at the circumstances that brought him to Camp Green Lake.  Despite his emotional dislike of himself, Stanley does still feel sympathy for the guard and bus driver that took him to Camp Green Lake, which is conveyed after the guard grumbles about the return drive: “Stanley thought about the long, miserable bus ride and felt a little sorry for the guard and the bus driver (13).”

However Camp Green Lake is hard on Stanley.  Digging Holes in desert heat, Stanley begins to grow physically stronger, and loses weight. His body, like his personality,  begins to harden due to the harsh conditions of Camp Green Lake.  This is perhaps best demonstrated when Zero, another camper, admits he can’t read or write and would like Stanley to teach him.  Stanley’s reaction is unsympathetic and unkind:

After digging all day, he didn’t have the strength to try to teach Zero to read and write. He needed to save his energy for the people who counted.

“You don’t have to teach me to write,” said Zero.  “Just to read.  I don’t have anybody to write to.”
“Sorry,” Stanley said again. (82)

Later, Stanley gets in trouble when one of his fellow campers steals a burlap sack of sunflower seeds.  Stanley takes the blame for it and is sent to the Warden’s for the theft.  When he returns to finish digging his hole, he finds that someone has nearly finished digging his hole for him. He realizes that Zero, who hadn’t been involved in the theft, had done the work for him. Zero’s act soften’s Stanley toward him. He agrees to teach Zero how to read. From this point on Zero and Stanley begin to grow as friends.

The hardness Stanley developed earlier does not completely disappear though.  It’s just changed into a different kind of hardness–he becomes less sensitive, more confident in himself and as a result, willing to stand up for himself and others. On page 138, the Warden tells Stanley that he can no longer teach Zero how to read. Instead of accepting this as he would have at the beginning of the book.  He stands up to the Warden.  “‘Why can’t I dig my own hole, but still teach Zero to read?'” he asked.  “What’s wrong with that?” (139)

Thus completes the emotional arc of the story. Stanley starts at an emotional low at the beginning and concludes the arc as a strong, confident and emotionally empathetic guy.

September 12

Girl Meets Boy: Critical Review

Please note: This is a critical review.  A overall review will not be provided for this book.

No Clue, Aka Sean by Rita Williams-Garcia is the companion piece of Sean + Raffina by Terry Trueman and vice versa.  Through these two short stories, readers can see the point of view of the boy and girl as they try to start a romantic relationship. In a few short pages each, Williams-Garcia and Trueman reveal a lot of information through voice.

According to Julie Wildhaber, “Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work.” Voice is often conveyed from a mixture of things, namely word choice and sentence structure. Williams-Garcia and Trueman have developed very different voices. Even though the narrators are talking mainly about the other person, reveal a lot of information about the narrators.

In two paragraphs we know that Raffina is a confident, black teenage girl who is perhaps a bit aggravated with her love interest:

What a bug-out. Here I am watching you pretending not to watch me.  I’m not turned off by shy, but shy will get you sitting by your lonesome. Shy will get you watching from the sidelines while I’m stepping out with some other guy.  Come on, Sean.  Let’s get in the game.  Say those two words as only you can say them: Hey, Raffina.

I have to admit the whole shy thing is part of the appeal.  Sean’s a complete switch from what I’m used to dealing with.  A girl can’t eat a hoagie in the caf without some playa rolling up, trying to get those digits. Now that’s a turnoff.  Guys assuming too much, too soon.  It’s not just because I’m fine–which I am, but because I’m Gary’s sister.  The Highlander Hero. Holds the state record for the most triple doubles in a season.  Scores thirty-two points on a slow day. So you know what that means.  Everybody’s scouting. Recruiting. Rubbing up on him, trying to get to know him.  Yeah. Even if they have to go through me to be in with Gary. The guys want to part of the entourage.  The chicks want to be the girl in the prom picture when ESPN takes a look back on the life of Gary Frazier. (p. 103)

Outside of what Raffina actually tells us, we learn a lot by how the narrator speaks, thinks and the vocabulary she uses. Words like “bug-out”, “stepping out”, “caf”, and playa” all let us know she’s a teenager.  Lines like Come on, Sean, lets readers know of Raffina’s discontent with Sean. There is also a rhythm to the words that mimic the African-American cadence.

With Sean we get a totally different voice. In two paragraphs we have the same affect, learning more about the characters than they are actually saying through voice:

Her name is Raffina, pronounced “ruff-eena.” I’m not even sure I’m spelling it right.  Maybe it’s spelled Ruffina, but I don’t so.  I glanced at a homework assignment she turned in for Human Relations 2, and I’m pretty sure it was an a not a u.  Whatever, it doesn’t matter what her name is, or how she spells it anyway–what matters is that I wanna hit on her, and I’m not sure if I should or how to even start.

She’ll be the first girl I’ve tried to ask on a date since I got TKO’d in the seventh grade.  That’s if I ask her.  I’m not sure about that yet.  If you’d been coldcocked by a petite blonde when you were thirteen, you might hesitate to think of yourself as God’s great-red-hot-lover-boy gift to girls too.  I owe my nondating history to Debra Quarantino. (p. a111)

The reference to homework and the slang, like “wanna hit on her” and “TKO’d”, let us know that Sean is also a teenager. The minimum rhythm to the sentences makes it read like a caucasian is the speaker in this one.  He isn’t as aggressive as Raffina comes across, nor aggravated with his love interest.  He just seems, as Raffina accuses him of in her story “shy.” 

With the help of word choice and sentence structure, Rita Williams-Garcia and Terry Trueman create voices that convey a lot of information by letting the narrators’ voice speak louder than their words.

Works Cited

Crutcher, Chris, Joseph Bruchac, James Howe, Ellen Wittlinger, Rita Williams-Garcia, Terry Trueman, Terry Davis, Rebecca Fjelland Davis, Sara Ryan, and Randy Powell. Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story. Ed. Kelly Milner Halls. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 2012. Print.

Wildhaber, Julie. “Understanding Voice and Tone in Writing.” Web log post. Grammar Girl :. N.p., 1 July 2010. Web. 09 Sept. 2012. .

August 22

Holes by Louis Sachar Review

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.

I remember that Holes was popular when I was a teenager but it just didn’t interest me enough to try to read it at the time. Left to my own devices, I still probably wouldn’t have picked it up for myself.  Surprisingly the story has a lot of elements to it that I’ve always enjoyed–magic, friendship, a historical timeline–at least part of the time, and society values and perspectives, mixed in a modern, realistic world, or what was modern when the book was published. I am a multi-genre lover after all.

Their weren’t really any surprises anywhere in this book for me. But I can’t say whether or not all of it was because I picked up on the clues, I’m too old for the book, or because I have very vague memories of listening to six or seven book reports on the book as a child.

Stanley is an interesting character–not something I normally ran into at that age. He’s heavy and tall, which gave him the nickname of “Caveman” while at Camp Green Lake. However he is bullied in school, and by a kid smaller than him…a fact that confuses his teachers. He starts with low confidence but slowly finds his voice and who he is at Camp Green Lake, despite the degrading circumstances he finds himself in. It’s a coming of age story that feels realistic. Some of the stuff stretched the coincidental line.  I would rather have seen Stanley or Zero somehow get out of the mess with the warden and the lizards instead of having both of them saved by a patent lawyer. But, I believe, in the end every character got what they deserved.

The book was a quick read and something I would recommend reading, especially to those around ten or eleven years old.

June 26

Response from Lesléa

I got an initial response from my mentor, Lesléa, about the material I sent her for my first packet. I got a lot of positive feedback on Shadowed and my short critical essays. However Entangled, unsurprisingly, needs a lot of work.  I agree with most of the comments she made. And suspected some of the issues she mentioned.

Entangled needs a work and right now, with the initial comments thrumming in my head, I’m not sure how to make some of the changes, specifically, how do I get Maline into his role without readers going, “A real mother would question that”? I’ve had a few people who have already made suggestions on how I could possibly make it work.  I really like a few of them, but I need to see what kind of changes that would mean for the draft I have and how to make them all work, or use those ideas as inspiration.

Does anyone have ideas?  Anyone else willing to look at the fifteen pages I’m working on?  Or someone who is willing to just play sound board for me while I figure it out?

Lesléa’s email was encouraging but she did not hold back on what she thought needed improvement. So far, I only have an email from Lesléa. From what I understand she’ll be sending my submissions through the mail with her notes in the margins.  So I may get more detailed notes on the material when the packet arrives.  It seems to take mail a week to reach me from the East Coast, so I probably won’t get it until late this week, early next week. But I will let everyone know when I get it.

I also will be reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke instead of How It Ends by Laura Wiess. If you recall, How It Ends was on my original reading list at the very beginning of the semester. So far, no other books have been switched out.

For my next packet I plan on reading:

  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  • Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
  •  Girl Meets Boy This is due around the time my packet is but isn’t necessarily part of packet 2.
  • Make A Scene: Crafting A Powerful Story One Scene At A Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld  This one is more to help me make the changes I needed to make and not a necessity for the school semester.

I now have a Goodreads account for those who would like to follow my reading progress.

I’ll keep all of you up-to-date.
Thanks for the help and support.

Edited: Got the Hard copy packet today.

June 14

First Packet Due Soon

The due date for my first packet is drawing near and I’m busily trying to get the last-minute stuff done.  My novel has changed a lot since residency.  I don’t recognize the structure anymore, though the scenes themselves are familiar, except for one. It still has issues that I need to work out–the new scene is throwing me for a loop. I’m not sure what bothers me about it.  However, I’ve spent most of my time on Shadowed and not nearly enough time on Entangled 

Entangled is Lurynne’s book. It’s a story that’s been on the back burner for a while. I have several drafts of the book written out but have never been satisfied with what I wrote. Something has always been off. I’m not sure this draft–the one I’m trying to revise is going to work either. I may simply not be ready to write the book. It’s not time for me to play with it.  But the book–both of Lurynne’s books–dominate my mind. They want to be told. Being in the MFA program may be exactly what I need to get the story down in a satisfactory way.

What do I need to send in for my first packet? The following:

  • A 2-3 page cover letter discussing the enclosed material and asking questions about the material
  • 35-34 pages of fiction–excerpts from two novels
  • 2-3 short critical essays
  • cumulative bibliography in standard MLA format
  • cumulative list of titles of original creative work included in packets

Packets cannot exceed 50 pages length, total.

The cover letter is mostly done. I need to finish working on Entangled, otherwise the fiction pages are done.  I have one essay written.  I’m reading the book now so I can start writing the second one.  I still need to do the cumulative lists.But I think I have enough wiggle room to get everything done on time.

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me by editing my pieces, sometimes multiple times.  I’ll be working on packet 2 soon, which will be even harder to put together than this first one I’m sure. Let me know if you’re interested in reading new edits.  For packet two I plan on them being part of a different section of both books.  So you’ll get a break in that area.

June 6

Spalding: MFA Program Worth It?

I’ve been asked by a few writing friends if I thought the MFA program I’m in at Spalding will be worth the cost of tuition. Obviously I think so, otherwise I wouldn’t be enrolled and I won’t know for certain how I feel about the entire program until after I get through my first semester. But I thought I would explain what I’ve heard about MFA programs, what I’ve seen at Spalding, and what I think of the program so far for those who are curious.

**Please note, I’m not trying to promote Spalding.  It’s the only true reference I have to pull from experience-wise.**

A little information on Spalding first.  Spalding’s MFA program is a low-residency program.  That means students need to be on campus ten days a semester, which they call residency, unless you’re attending a summer semester.  In that case your 10 days will be spent in a foreign country.  This year students went to Paris, France. Next summer, they’ll go to Dublin, Ireland.  After the residency, students work from home with guidance from their mentor. Spalding offers Children’s/Young Adult fiction, Fiction, Screenwriting, Playwriting, Poetry, and Creative Non-fiction.  I learned about Spalding, because I was in close proximity of the school in High School.  I did not know about the MFA program until I saw it listed as one of the top 10 creative writing MFA programs in multiple writing magazines. To learn more about the program go to Spalding’s MFA website.

Creative Writing MFA programs only write literary fiction.

I’ve heard and read this a lot. I’ve also read that because they only write literary fiction, a lot of writing suffered from the program.  The author was a contemporary novelist and the school insisted on him/her writing literary. This was a concern for me. I’m a a contemporary writer and though I don’t mind reading literary pieces, I don’t believe I’d do well with that style of writing on more than a trial basis. This was especially a concern when I realized that the two books we needed to read before residency were both literary fiction.  However, we were required to workshop our peers writing during the residency as well. I found some reassurance in reading the excerpts.  Their were contemporary pieces to critique.

During the actual residency at Spalding, I picked up on a lot of their techniques and logic. They want their students well-rounded. So each semester they focus on a different aspect/genre of writing that they expect everyone to participate in during residency. Of course, they offer lectures on other topics, subjects and material. This semester the focus was on children’s books.  Next semester, from what I understand, the focus will be on screenwriting. They prefer students to do an exploratory semester their second semester–have them try something other than their focus.  A lot of people suggested I try screenwriting out, next semester. I believe you can try a different style for every semester if you like though. The different types of experiences will help the writing in different ways. Poetry for instance teaches rhythm and imagery.  Screenwriting teaches you how to tell a lot in a very short amount of space/time, etc.

No one said anything about restricting oneself to literary fiction when writing.  In fact a lot of contemporary novels were referenced in lectures. I’ve heard that a lot of MFA programs are literary focused, but I do not get the sense that Spalding is.

Creative Writing MFA programs result in one or two short stories a semester.

I work-shopped with ten students, an alum who was volunteering to help with the program and two mentors. I met several other people outside the group.  None of which, are going to be writing short stories during the semester. I will be working on two novels during my first semester.  Shadowed, and Entangled.

I’ve been editing Shadowed for years, as some of you may know.  I first wrote a rough draft of Entangled at fifteen.  I’ve rewritten it several times since then, in totally different ways, but have not yet fallen in love with a discovery draft yet. I doubt either book will be complete by the end of the semester.  But I imagine Shadowed will be much cleaner, more polished and significantly closer to being ready for publication. Hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how I want to write out Entangled and even have a much stronger discovery draft–if not a rough draft carved out.

I’m hoping to have gone through the first 100 pages of both books with my mentor by the end of the semester.

I’ve heard from a few transfer students that their are writing programs like this–they have you turn short stories in throughout the semester and nothing more.  This often results in students graduating from college and never writing a story again, because they wrote to fill a deadline.  Spalding, I’m told, wants to teach students how to fit writing into their daily life, which is why they have the mentorship working the way they do.

Creative Writing MFA programs don’t teach you anything you can’t learn on your own.

I believe you can learn anything on your own, from car mechanics to archery to martial arts to crocheting.  Classes are always offered in those areas though. So, this statement is true in my mind, but I imagine you’ll learn a lot more and a lot faster with an experienced mentor at your side. Spalding’s mentors have all been published in their field. I know several of the ones in my field of concentration have won awards for their writing and have active careers. Each semester you’re supposed to work with a different mentor, which would give you more/different perspectives and experiences in writing, and in your writing than working with the same person year-after-year-after-year. You’re going to continue learning after the program–you never stop learning, but by the time I graduate from Spalding, I suspect I’ll have a better idea of how to figure out how to improve my writing and use the resources I picked up on, which will make me improve faster, even on my own.

You also meet a lot of great people at the residency, which not only can help you with your writing, or promoting your book but can also provide you with the emotional support you need when times are hard. You also have a great potential resource of information in areas you may need later for other books.  I met nurses, doctors, lawyers, waitresses, career-military, a baker…etc. A lot of great sources you’re not going to easily get on your own.

Creative Writing MFA programs are expensive.

Depending on your program and your income, they can be expensive. The lowest-priced one I’ve heard of is $7,000 a semester. At the moment, Spalding is looking at $7,900 a semester. Some will say that’s chump change, others, like me, will not.  Their are options, grants and scholarships can help with the cost, even for freshman.  Spalding doesn’t offer grants and only a very select few get scholarships, from my understanding.  Spalding does offer an assistantship program for those who want to go that route.  The more you work, the more they knock your tuition down.  I think the minimum they’ll knock it is $1,000. And, of course, student loans. Spalding allows you to stay in the program as long as you need, so long as you graduate in ten years.

My understanding of this is, you can apply for Spalding, pay $8,000 in cash for your first semester.  Wait two years to save up another $8,000, attend your second semester and keep the pattern going until you graduate.  You only need four semesters to graduate. It just depends on what you prefer and can afford.

Another way to think of it is that, sending your novel to a good, professional editor would cost approximately the same amount as you are spending on a semester at Spalding. (I’ve looked into the pricing but not extensively, so please correct me if you have better knowledge.)  I don’t just mean copy editing.

I’ve been told my mentor will read every page, dissect every paragraph and question every comma. She’ll make suggestions on how to improve my story AND help me get the story as grammatically correct as possible. That means I’d get proofreading, copy editing, substantive editing, and  developmental editing.  To get all those services, from what I’ve seen, you’ll have to pay significantly more than $8,000 a semester. All the while learning a lot more about writing than one would from such an editor.  I’m also not required to work on the same piece of writing for all four semesters.  I can work on something different each semester if I want.

To me, with everything I know about Spalding’s program, I think it’ll be worth going to an MFA program. I would recommend it to whoever is interested at this point, but I know it’s not for everyone. If this has tugged your interest and you’d like to know more about Spalding’s program, feel free to ask questions. I’ll do my best to answer them. As I’ve mentioned before, I also plan on recording as much of the experience as I can on this blog.

Are you in an MFA program?  Tell us about your experience. Would you be interested in trying one?  What would you most hope to gain from the program?