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.

Series discoveries, fall 2014

So I think I’ve seen all I want to of the new and returning series this fall and I’m ready to give my report.

I’m going to start with the earliest premieres and then progress by day of the week.

Please remember, these are my opinions only. Just because I’ve not been impressed doesn’t mean that the show is crap, nor does my approval carry with it any kind of magical power.

I just calls ‘em and I sees ‘em.

Saturday night – Doctor Who and Intruders

I was eagerly awaiting the new series and new Doctor, perhaps too much so. I’m sorry to say that I’m not enjoying Doctor Who this year.

Yes, I know, HERESY you shout, but let me ‘splain.

I get the thinking behind the whole gestalt. With a new set of regenerations, the writers are returning to the original Doctor for inspiration.

William Hartnell’s Doctor was clearly an alien. He was a bit imperious and his downfalls often resulted from his inability to relate to his human companions.

So I really tried to like the nod to the original. Unlike previous incarnations, including Hurt’s War Doctor, I haven’t been able to warm up to Twelve.

Maybe it’s that Nine’s “fantastic!” Ten’s “allons y!” Eleven’s “geronimo” and even the War Doctor’s “no more!” have been exchanged for Twelve’s “shut up, shut up, shut up (you stupid humans)!”

Perhaps it was his childish argument with Robin Hood about who would save the day, and Clara, while Clara went off and did it for them. Yay, Clara, but . . . really?

It could be all these hints of an overarching plot that aren’t going anywhere.

And maybe it’s the Doctor’s apparent cruelty in making Clara choose the fate of the moon/egg, and of humanity, Clara’s enraged, though justified, response, his inadequate apology, and her sudden 180, which not incidentally involves her becoming a big, fat liar to Danny. This is not going to end well.

BTW, I missed last night’s episode, so if any of these concerns have been addressed therein, I may yet recant.

So far, however, DW has been a bust for me. I hold out hope, but it’s a dwindling one.

Intruders turned me off in the first episode when, without context or explanation, a child drowned her cat rather than committing suicide as it appeared she was going to do. This was pure sensationalism for me and not even John Simm and Mira Sorvino could get me back after that.

Sunday night – Once Upon a Time and Outlander

OUaT continues to throw new Disney characters into increasingly bizarre situations. Now Will Scarlet (The Knave of OUaTiWonderland) has joined the cast as well as Anna and Elsa of Frozen. I keep wondering why Regina wants her ‘happily ever after’ when she sees in front of her that the happily ever afters that have occurred in Storybrook aren’t that happy.

Snow White is trying unsuccessfully to be mayor at the same time as she’s clinging desperately to her second child for fear of losing him (or otherwise screwing up colossally as she did with Emma). Emma, having lost everyone she’s loved so far in one way or another, can’t let herself be loved by Killian (Captain Hook) and Killian’s old piratical evil is surfacing ala Idol Hands. Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin), may be married, but he’s deceiving his wife and up to his old tricks. Even Robin Hood, though back with his wife, Marion, no longer loves her and his wife has been struck with a freezing curse.

All these happy endings are pretty miserable, but that’s what keeps me watching 🙂

I have loved the first half of Outlander so far. It’s been lush and evocative, and the acting has been excellent.

There have been some deviations from the novel, but they’ve been, in my opinion, well-chosen for the television adaptation, and necessary to tell the story in that form.

The only thing I’m unhappy with is having to wait until next year for the rest of the dear thing 😦

Monday night – Gotham, Sleepy Hollow, and Castle

Gotham’s okay, but since I know the eventual fate of the main characters, finding out how they got there hasn’t been enough of a hook to keep me watching. And the mob bosses? Meh.

Sleepy Hollow is still good, in my opinion. I like the supernatural retelling and the creative pulling in of various odd historical facts around some of the historical figures with whom Crane was acquainted. The writers of this show know how to torture their protagonists. They’ve clearly studied how to construct a story that holds interest. It is supposed to be about the apocalypse, you know 😉

I’m still hanging in with Castle. I was getting a little weary with it for a while. Kate’s getting a job with the FBI was clearly not a fan favourite and they killed that story line quickly and awkwardly. Since then, though plans for the wedding were progressing, Castle’s character hasn’t been. They went too far back to the days where Castle was a thorn, albeit an entertaining one, in Kate’s side.

With the new season and the new overarching mystery of where Castle was for two months, things have revived a bit, though I must say, I’m still waiting for Castle to develop a few skills. He’s only been assisting the police with investigations for, what, five, six years? His dad is a black ops specialist. I’m thinking something has to come of all this, and soon, or it might go the way of Bones in my books.

Tuesday night – The Flash, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Forever

The Flash isn’t promising for me. Characters seem to change their behaviour on a dime. Even if it’s for a good reason, it’s not realistic.

Yay for Canadian actors, though. It’s nice to see Tom Kavanaugh on the screen again.

MAoS is another series I’m hanging in with. Just when a mystery gets to the irritating point, or a character’s behaviour becomes too bizarre, the saving reveal happens.

I’m impressed with Forever. It’s a medical drama/police procedural like so many others out there, but the introduction of an immortal character and the quirkiness with which his particular affliction manifests is fascinating. His relationship with adopted child (now apparent father), Abe, is lovely, and the mystery behind the other immortal is compelling. Good job, so far.

Wednesday night – Arrow, Criminal Minds, Stalker, and Dominion

Arrow, like The Flash, is okay. I stick with it despite the soap opera like regularity with which the characters fall in and out of love (and with whom) and the bizarre family secrets the just seem to keep on popping up. I like the dual plotline that seems to carry Oliver Queen’s time on the island (and elsewhere) apace with current events in Starling City. That’s about it, though.

Criminal Minds is a kind of guilty pleasure for me. Even though I know profiling has not been proven to solve a case on its own, I just can’t help but tune in to find out what depraved psychopath the BAU is tackling this week. The addition of Jennifer Love Hewitt is an interesting choice as well, and I’m happy to keep watching for my favourite eye candy, Shemar Moore.

Stalker isn’t my favourite of the new season (that place has to go to Outlander), but I like Maggie Q’s damaged character. I’m not so fond of Dylan McDermott’s character, though. I don’t think it was a wise choice to make the man a stalker himself. Even though his concern is his son, I can’t help but think ‘sleazebag’ every time I see him trying to wriggle his way out of the tight corners he repeatedly gets himself into.

Plus, he’s really convincing as a sleazebag. His character is not meant to be sympathetic, and no matter how much he helps the stalker unit bag the other baddies, I think his character is not intended to be a series regular and that Maggie Q will put him away when the truth emerges.

We’ll see.

Dominion didn’t capture me at all. In the opening scene of the first episode, we see a lone man take on a whole bar full of fallen angels. He’s snuck out of his walled city without permission and battles one of the enemy all the way home, his driving a jeep and the fallen angel flying in to smash windows and nearly kill him.

Once he’s revealed to be the “chosen one,” lost his love to an arranged marriage, and the true strength of the enemy is understood, he becomes this uncertain sniveller. Even seeing Tony Head on screen again wasn’t enough to save the series for me. Then again, I was never enamoured of Merlin, either.

Thursday night – Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, Gracepoint, and How to Get Away with Murder

Bones has gone the way of the dodo for me. It was suffering too much from the same kind of character stagnation as Castle, but moreso.

It’s been on for nine slogging seasons and still, Temperance Brennan hasn’t learned the nuances of human behaviour, colloquialism, and though she started the series as a true kick-ass character with wicked martial arts skills, she’s taken a back seat, becoming the brilliant but alien squint/baby momma.

They keep on killing off characters or putting them through hell, but I can’t care anymore.

Grey’s Anatomy, post-Christina Yang, is still decent drama. Like, Criminal Minds, it continues to be a guilty pleasure of mine.

Gracepoint. I’m watching it, but really, I’m wondering the whole time why they just didn’t show Broadchurch instead. Why do North American producers feel compelled to recreate BBC shows for the NA audience? And David Tennant with an American accent . . . I’m sorry, but no.

How to get away with murder is interesting. It’s also a departure for creator Shonda Rhimes. We have another dual storyline, each being told from a different end of a single university semester. While the chronologically earlier storyline progresses at a galloping pace toward its already revealed climax (this was a savvy risk to take), the other storyline repeats the events of a single night, revealing new and intriguing details each time. All of this awesome storytelling is wrapped in the case of the week as Analise Keating puts her students to work for her law firm.

There’s all kinds of unethical going on here, but I don’t care one bit. Unlike Gotham, I need to find out the how of the what, what, what the hell?!??! that lends the series its name.

Friday night – Grimm, Constantine, and Z Nation

Grimm continues to hold my interest (surprise, surprise). Another creative re-imagining of how fairy tales might be “real.” It’s just started, so I don’t have a lot to say about this season yet.

Constantine is another DC comic brought to Network TV. So far, so good. Constantine is another damaged character who is unapologetic about it. He’s also well aware of what an asshole he is, but he’s determined to save the soul of a girl that he lost to hell, even if it means he’ll be damned in the process.

Technically, he’s already damned, but he’s trying, and that’s what’s hooked me.

Z Nation was another series that lost me in the first episode. A Walking Dead wannabe, the story is one of a world that has fallen to the predations of a zombie plague, but there’s one man who’s survived an experimental vaccine for the disease. He’s the only man who’s immune and he must somehow get across the country to a research facility that could use his immunity to manufacture a cure.

What lost me? When they stop off at a town, they rescue a baby from a car crash. There’s no evidence it’s been bitten, and yet, it turns, and when it turns, it somehow starts running around like a speed demon and develops a malevolent intelligence.

That was it for me . . .

I had to be picky. I’m not into comedies or dramas much, so there are a lot of new offerings I haven’t sampled.

For what it’s worth, that’s my opinion of the new television season.

Have any shows struck your fancy this year? I know, some of you are good, and you don’t watch television, but let me know what you think anyway.

TTFN!

Series Discoveries