Muse-Inks: Do you need an MA/MFA?


(And a couple series discoveries)

Yeah, so I kind of fibbed again on Thursday because I wasn’t aware of some of my deadlines and involvements.

Today, I’m going to be doing double duty. I’m posting my first DIYMFA launch team post and covering the two series that hadn’t debuted/returned before I went to CanCon last October and then plunged into the lost month that is NaNoWriMo (binge writing).

I’m also reading the ARC of Jane Ann McLachlan’s new YA SF, The Salarian Desert Game, as part of her launch team. That review is due up on the interwebz on Monday, and it will be, but I’ll be holding off on putting it up on my blog until next Saturday.

So. Let’s get to it, shall we?

I’ve written about my MA experience as part of the My history as a so-called writer category, which has been a bit of a confessional/lessons-learned-from-the-writing-life kind of thing.

 The story of my MA

I was in my last year of my BA in English, Rhetoric emphasis, and I was rocking it. I’d gone into university this time (I’d started, dithered, and left to learn some life lessons) with the focused intention of becoming a better writer. I’d been writing for years, since I was in grade three, but had only recently come up with my first idea for an epic fantasy novel.

That intention had provided me with the fuel to really begin my writing life in a more serious way. I’d placed in a local writing contest with a science fiction short story, excelled in my academic writing, and been asked to write an editorial piece for one local magazine and a science fiction short story for the debut issue of another.

Through the creative writing course I’d taken, I would have another fantasy story published in an anthology. I’d written poetry and read my work at various open mic nights and reading series.

In retrospect, I should simply have continued to write. I was developing a kind of momentum that further schooling would only disrupt, but I had no idea about that then.

My friends had all departed for further schooling, teachers’ college and literature MAs, and I was still at that tender stage in the process where I had no confidence in myself. I thought I needed further validation. I thought that attaining my MA would make me a more attractive property.

I was wrong.

In Canada, at the time, there were only four universities offering MFAs: the University of New Brunswick, Concordia University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria. Two others, Windsor and Saskatchewan, offered the option of doing a creative thesis along with your degree in English literature.

Initially, I just thought I’d apply, see if anyone would accept me, and then make my decision whether to go or not. I’d just gotten married the year before and my husband wasn’t finished his undergraduate degree yet. I wasn’t so keen on being separated from him for so long.

All the MFA programs rejected me out of hand (I should have seen that as a sign). Only one of them, UNB, threw me a bone: we’ll take you in the English Literature program, but not creative writing. Windsor was the only university that accepted me. It was the closest, too, though it was still a nine hour drive away.

I thought at the time that it was doable. I’d be back for breaks and summers. Phil was supportive. We could do this, if it was what I really wanted.

I went for it without giving serious consideration to my chosen genre. I write science fiction and fantasy. Even my more literary efforts contain the element of the otherworldly, ghosts, dreams, visions. I thought that, just like my BA, my MA would yield to my passion and desire.

Then, I attended my first critiquing class. My fellow hopefuls were all of a more mainstream, if not literary, mind. One eventually defended her thesis which was a collection of poetry, all sonnets. I never learned what the other students had chosen to work on.

No one was particularly keen on what I wrote. Well, there was this one guy, but he wrote genre as well. I got stubborn and dug in. My advisor looked at my submitted stories in dismay. What is this? What is real about this story? We weren’t on the same page. We couldn’t relate to each other. He couldn’t help me become a better writer. He just wanted me to be a different kind of writer.

I did my graduate assistantship, which was essentially teaching the first year composition course (without supervision), took my classes in methodology, pedagogy, and English literature of various eras, and tried to write.

I didn’t get a lot of fiction written in those years. I basically revised already existing material and scribbled poetry, the only form of writing I could manage in the time I had between other obligations.

I eventually had a blow out with my advisor, who told me to stop wasting his time (and mine). I withdrew from the program, worked contract jobs, and collected employment insurance in between.

A year later, one of my former students emailed me, telling me that my advisor was going on sabbatical. A Canadian poet, a woman, would be taking his place. I reenrolled, and, over the next year, emailing, and flying down at intervals to meet in person, I wrote my creative thesis, defended it, and fulfilled my final requirement to achieve my MA in English Literature and Creative Writing.

Even so, I’d compromised. I chose the more literary of my stories and, framing the collection in the context of shamanism and shamanic awakening (anthropology and religious studies), I cast an academic light on my fantastic tales.

In the wake of that experience, though, I went into creative withdrawal. I’d internalized the criticisms of my first advisor and was, essentially, blocked.

Throughout the years of my MA and afterward, I continued to win writing contests, in both fiction and poetry, and continued to get published. I tried my hand at publishing a poetry journal with another writer friend of mine, but, after a couple of years, the effort folded.

I continued to work contract jobs until I was invited to apply for my current job by my sister-in-law. Once I worked full time, the writing went underground altogether.

It took me six years and a bout of depression to begin to come back to writing as something I loved, something I needed in my life, rather than an unrealistic dream. I began with a few workshops, and graduated to conferences and conventions. I took online courses. I started to build my platform (such as it is). I tried online critiquing. I tried beta readers. I tried freelance editors.

I pretty much try anything that I think might help me improve.

I’m a writing craft book junkie and I’ve learned over the years that my process is my own. I never take anything at face value. Like a writerly scientist, I experiment. I try a new technique and see if it has value for me. If it does, I incorporate it into my process. If it’s only partly useful, I’ll adapt those pieces to my process (note, my process does not change to accommodate a particular technique, the technique is adapted to fit my process). If it doesn’t work at all, I discard the technique and chalk up the time and effort to a learning experience. We have to fail—many times—before we succeed.

Two of my science fiction short stories were published in paying markets in 2014. I’ve participated three times in NaNoWriMo, “winning” twice. I now have six novels drafted, one of which I’m actively querying. The rest are in revision.

The bottom line is that writing is a way of life for me. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. It’s not my grab for fame and fortune. I’m going to do this for the rest of my life regardless of whether I get the publishing deal I want or not. I’m doing the work and spending the time to make it happen, though. The two short stories weren’t a fluke.

I’ve been published quite a lot over the years. It’s just that most of those were not paying markets. I just haven’t connect with the agent or publisher who thinks my novel is the bee’s knees yet. Yet. It will happen. And if it doesn’t happen with the novel I’m querying now, it will happen with one of the others.

I persist in hope and continue to revise.

And, I continue to learn. I’m a bit of a learning mutt that way 😉

Muse-inks

Bonus content: Series discoveries Fall 2015 con’t

There were only two series that I didn’t get around to reviewing before CanCon and NaNoWriMo monopolized my time in the fall. I’ll try not to be spoilery.

Supergirl

This is another entry in the DC Comics universe, or should I say universes.

Supergirl started out sunny and entered some darker territory toward the end of the season. On the spectrum, it’s between The Flash and Arrow, but, as The Flash has also started treading dark waters, I guess Kara Danvers is closer to Barry Allan than Oliver Queen.

There’s an almost cloying sense of hope in the series, though, that keeps it from being compelling for me. If I miss an episode, I’m not distressed.

I like the character of Cat Grant, who can be surprisingly inspirational. I also appreciate Kara’s adoptive sister, Alex (so nice to see Lexie Grey back on screen), who works for the DEO, a government agency dedicated to defending earth from alien threats. Kick ass, but real, women characters are something I like in a show.

Bringing Dean Cain (the Superman of Lois & Clark) in as Alex’s father was a fun and smart bit of homage.

Sadly, some of the other elements of the show are lacking. The love triangle (no, quadrangle, no, sorry quintangle) is a bit trite and while I believe Kara’s crush on James Olsen, I never quite bought into James and Lucy Lane, Winn and either Kara or Siobhan. Oh, and I forgot the brief flirtation between Kara and Cat Grant’s son, Adam. Man, it’s a soap opera (!)

Hank Henshaw/J’onn J’onzz is underwhelming. My Martian Manhunter is so much more awesome.

Astra/Non have been weak sauce as Kara’s enemies. Maxwell is a bit better, but still one dimensional.

So it’s a solid meh. My apologies.

Grimm

Things took a left turn last season. Sure, Nick and Juliette’s relationship wasn’t going anywhere, so they had to do something. Her transformation into a Hexenbeist was actually a good thing.

Until it wasn’t.

Juliette’s abrupt departure from sanity and eventual (and apparent) death at the hands of Trubel (the other Grimm) felt more of a convenience than true plot development.

The big question for Nick last season was how he, a Grimm sworn to protect humanity from the evil wessen that roam the world, could live with and love a Hexenbeist, the wessen that is the basis of all wicked witches, ever.

So what do they do this season? They pair Nick with Adalind Schade, a Hexenbeist whose wessen aspect has been temporarily suppressed by Rosalee’s folk cure (herb craft).

Yes, Adalind is the mother of Nick’s child (conceived in a convoluted magical plot that resulted in Juliette’s transformation into a Hexenbeist in the first place), but things progressed quickly from “I have to protect my child and therefore the woman who gave birth to him,” to “I’m having sex with the mother of my child while he cries in the other room.”

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Worse, Juliette returns, somehow deprogrammed, as Eve, who is more Terminator than either human or Hexenbeist.

While the Black Claw plot line holds promise, things aren’t happening fast enough as the writers insist on offering a monster of the week for Nick and his fellow detective, Hank, to fight. Even a trip to the Black Forest and the recovery of an ancient Grimm artefact haven’t saved the show for me.

There are too many moving parts, too many players, to discern the true core story arc.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Grimm doesn’t return next year.

So that’s what I thought of the final two shows I chose to watch in the fall 2015 television season.

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