Monday, May 16, 2016

MFA Year Two Recap

My writing studio at the Art Farm
Hi friends. Since my last post, I’ve finished my second year of graduate school so I thought this would be a good time to recap the past year of my master’s in creative writing.

This time last year, I was heading off to my first artist residency at the Art Farm in Nebraska. In a few days, I’ll be joining some of my Art Farm friends on a farm in eastern Texas to recreate the magic! During my residency last summer, I spent delicious day after delicious day writing, the hours interrupted only by a passing bunny rabbit or thunderstorm. I breathed life into old pieces and conjured up new ones; I am happy to report that all of the writing I did at the Art Farm has found homes in various literary journals and online magazines. But I’m jumping the gun! 

When the fall semester started, I went full speed into submitting my work. This was a new world for me, but I was lucky enough to have an insider’s perspective by working as an editor at Saw Palm, USF’s Florida literature and art journal. Regardless, I dealt with months and months of nonstop rejection, but I used these “failures” as ammunition to keep going. I quickly learned that rejection is a huge part of a writer’s life, and the sooner we learn to deal with it, the better.

Eventually, I got my first acceptance in late October from The Normal School. Needless to say, I was psyched.  A few other acceptances followed, and my first pieces were officially published in early December on The Toast and Lunch Ticket.

All the while, I was enrolled in my first fiction class where I started the project that was to become my thesis. Of course, you might remember that I came into this program as a creative nonfiction writer, so this switch was a confusing but exciting decision. Regardless, I still write plenty of nonfiction, but I decided that I’d rather work on a novel for my thesis than a book-length memoir project. (At the end of October, I attended the NonfictioNOW Conference in Flagstaff and met tons of awesome writers!)

Over the course of the fall semester, I wrote a first draft of my novel and received great feedback from my professor and peers. In the winter, I turned an excerpt from the novel into a short story called “Mango Season” and sent it to a few places.

Oh, and let me not forget that I taught my first creative writing class in the fall. My students were delightful and we had a great time exploring fiction, nonfiction, and poetry together!

Okay, so I had a busy fall semester. The spring semester was no different. I went back to teaching composition, and I registered for four awesome classes: Comics (or graphic narrative), another Fiction Workshop, Craft of Creative Nonfiction (Reading the Lives of Others), and Environmental Literature.
Saw Palm's 10th Anniversary Issue!
[Also, I set some SMART goals in December to keep me on track. More on that later.]

I tried my hand at comics for the first time—and loved it. I set aside my novel and wrote a few short stories for my fiction class (and we properly inducted into the official fiction writer’s club). I read tons of amazing (and sometimes frustrating) books for my CNF and Enviro Lit class. Meanwhile, I was still sending work out like crazy, getting lots of rejections and a few more acceptances. I begin to shift my focus away from literary magazines and started sending work to more mainstream publications. I landed several freelance writing gigs for corporate and governmental organizations. I wrapped up a year-long memoir project with a private client. I gave my first reading in NYC and saw my name in print for the first time! (First in the Reader's Write section of The Sun and then in the Tahoma Literary Review). 

Towards the end of the semester, things started to pick up even more. I was awarded USF’s Anspaugh Fiction award for my story “Mango Season.” I embraced painting and made a full-length comic/children’s book. Then, I had an article published in The Washington Post that was then picked up by The Sydney Morning Herald—completely unbeknownst to me! I was driving somewhere in Alabama when I received a phone call from a strange number. It was a radio station in Sydney and they wanted to interview me on-air about my article. I had no idea what they were talking about, and they explained that my piece about not having wi-fi at my house had been featured in The Sydney Morning Herald that day. Of course, I was more than happy to talk to them about my internet-free lifestyle. J

Now, the semester is over and I’ve returned to my restless ways. I’m on a road trip around the south, visiting friends and family in Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. In the midst of my trip, I got some super exciting news. My short story, “Mango Season,” was awarded the Charles Johnson Fiction Award by Crab Orchard Review! I am over the moon, and more than ready to get back to work on my novel—as soon as I get back home from my travels!

All in all, it’s been a productive and exciting year with lots of "firsts". I’ve done lots of writing, reading, editing, freelancing, workshopping, submitting, pitching, published, drawing, and dreaming. I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received from my family and friends, as well as from my awesome writing community at the University of South Florida! Although I don’t want my MFA to end, I’m excited to see what this last year holds.