Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Important Dates and Info--MFA Fall 15 and Winter 16

IMPORTANT DATES AND INFO—Fall and Winter Quarters

Fall Quarter 2015

Tues. Sept. 29: On-Campus cluster begins at 6pm in the LUCC Conference Room; first assignment due--see all cluster info at the link below:

Sun. Oct. 4: Online class shells are ready for student view in Blackboard—class info posts are linked on the post at the link below:

Mon. Oct. 5: Online classes begin; First Assignment attendance post due by 11:59pm CST.

See more important Fall Quarter dates at the MFA Academic Calendar post at the link below:

MFA Registration for Winter Quarter 2016

Nov. 9: Winter Schedule and New Registration Instructions emailed to Lionmail accounts.

(NOTE: Newly accepted students who do not yet have a Lionmail account will receive this email at their personal email address for their first quarter.)

Nov. 9-15: Students email Beth to request portal to be enabled for self-registration; include tentative class choices (this does NOT guarantee enrollment in these classes; advisor contact is a university policy for self-registration).

(NOTE: Newly accepted students who have never enrolled in our MFA classes will need to send class choices and back-up choices to Beth this week, and Beth will handle initial registration for their first quarter; their portal will then be enabled for any schedule changes they wish to make.)

Nov. 16: Registration begins: Students may enroll themselves beginning at 7am CST (if they have emailed Beth to enable portal—be sure to choose term WIN QTR 16).

(NOTE: Some classes will fill very quickly, so students are encouraged to register themselves as early as possible. Each class section must have at least 5 students enrolled in order to be offered. The cap for each class is 14.)

Nov. 17-Jan. 3: Registration continues: Students may drop or add classes during this time without notifying Beth.
(NOTE: If a class is full, it is not available for registration. There are no wait lists with the new registration process, so if students hope to enroll in a full class, they must check the portal during this time to see if a spot opens up, and then must enroll themselves immediately before that spot is filled by another student.)

Tues. Jan. 5: On-Campus Cluster begins; first assignment due.

Sun. Jan. 10: Online class shells are ready for student view in Blackboard.

Mon. Jan. 11: Online classes begin; First Assignment attendance post due by 11:59pm CST.

See more important Winter Quarter dates at the MFA Academic Calendar post at the link below:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

LU MFA Academic Calendar 2015-2016

SUMMER QUARTER 2015 (remainder of current quarter)
AUG 28: Last day to withdraw with a Withdraw/Pass grade (does not affect GPA; email Beth to drop classes)
SEPT 7: Labor Day holiday
SEPT 26: Quarter ends
SEPT 28: Grades posted in Student Portal by 5pm; complete Course Evaluations

AUG 17: Registration begins
SEPT 29: On-Campus Cluster begins in LUCC Conference Room; first assignment due
OCT 4: Online students may view fall classes on Blackboard
OCT 5: Online classes begin; first assignment post due for attendance by 11:59pm CST
OCT 6: Author Amy Stewart, LU Speaker Series, 7pm in Spellmann A-B (on-campus cluster will attend as a class; instructor will provide details)
NOV 20: Last day to withdraw with a Withdraw/Pass grade (does not affect GPA; email Beth to drop classes)
NOV 26-27: Thanksgiving holiday
DEC 6: Commencement Ceremony 2pm
DEC 19: Quarter ends
DEC 21: Grades posted in Student Portal by 5pm; complete Course Evaluations
DEC 30: Deadline to apply for March or June graduation (complete app form in Portal)

*NEW processes go into effect for Registration, Email Correspondence, Teacher Grant Forms, and Publication Notifications--click HERE for details*
NOV 9: Class Schedule email sent to Lionmail accounts
NOV 16: Enrollment opens at 7am CST; follow new Registration Process
JAN 4: On-campus cluster begins this week (weekday TBA); first assignment due
JAN 10: Online students may view winter classes on Blackboard
JAN 11: Online classes begin; first assignment post due for attendance by 11:59pm CST
FEB 26: Last day to withdraw with a Withdraw/Pass grade (does not affect GPA; email Beth to drop classes)
MARCH 26: Quarter ends
MARCH 28: Grades posted in Student Portal by 5pm; complete Course Evaluations
MARCH 30: Deadline to apply for September graduation (complete app form in Portal)

FEB 15: Class Schedule email sent to Lionmail accounts
FEB 22: Enrollment opens at 7am CST; follow new Registration Process
APRIL 4: On-campus cluster begins this week (weekday TBA); first assignment due
APRIL 10: Online students may view spring classes on Blackboard
APRIL 11: Online classes begin; first assignment post due for attendance by 11:59pm CST
MAY 20: Commencement Ceremony 7pm
MAY 27: Last day to withdraw with a Withdraw/Pass grade (does not affect GPA; email Beth to drop classes)
MAY 30: Memorial Day holiday
MAY 30: Deadline to apply for December graduation (complete app form in Portal)
JUNE 25: Quarter ends
JUNE 27: Grades posted in Student Portal by 5pm; complete Course Evaluations

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fall 2015 Class Schedule

Click class titles for instructor course descriptions and textbook info. 

ON-CAMPUS CLUSTER (9 credit hours):
The Prose Cluster: Fiction & Creative Nonfiction
Andrew Pryor
Tuesdays starting September 29
LUCC Conference Room

ONLINE CLASSES (3 credit hours each):
All online classes begin October 5.
Read the full First Assignment for Online Classes post for instructions on the first required post and Blackboard login instructions.

Adv Studies in Craft of Poetry--Catherine Rankovic
The Rockstar Poets & Writers--Julia Gordon-Bramer
FULL Ekphrastic Poetry--Eve Jones
FULL Fiction Craft & Workshop--David Hollingsworth
Literary Novel Draft Workshop--Wm Anthony Connolly
FULL Flash Fiction--Kelli Allen
Flash Nonfiction--Mary Anderson
Narrative Journalism--Tony D'Souza
FULL Magical Realism Literature & Workshop--Eve Jones
Genre Fiction as Literature: The Graphic Novel--Zachary Vickers
The Literary Journal: Production & Publication (for TLR issue 6)--Beth Mead
     NOTE: It is recommended that all MFA students take at least one section of The Literary Journal during their time in the program, as it is a valuable opportunity for writers to experience the other side of the submissions process. Students may take up to three sections total of The Literary Journal.

If Fall Quarter is your final quarter in the program, you must include in your registration email that you wish to be enrolled in the thesis for fall. If you would like to request a specific midterm reader, include your request in your registration email. Read the full thesis guidelines HERE

Deadline: Writing sample must be received by Beth no later than Wednesday morning (8/19).
Please check your email for an internship opportunity (creative nonfiction blogging for The Art of Women Foundation) for 6 credit hours for fall quarter. Interested students should email Beth with a brief creative nonfiction writing sample to apply for this internship. Up to four students will be accepted for this exciting opportunity for our writers. This internship is open to all LU MFA students, whether on-campus or fully online (out-of-state) students.

NOTE to MFA students: Beth will email you by the end of this week (8/14) with class details and registration information. Then you will email her your class choices. Beth will register students (in the order of emails received) by the end of next week (8/21).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

2015 MFA Reading

Congratulations to our readers on their outstanding work!

Jordan Hosmer, Chris Scribner, Teressa Rose Ezell, Stacy Gorse,
Adrienne Draper, Jacqueline McGarry, WD County, Jason Rubin, Sam Imperiale

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

LU MFA Foundations: Top 5 Books--LU MFA Faculty

For our final post in the LU MFA Foundations series, our faculty members share their Top 5 books that have influenced them as readers and writers:

Eve Jones
1. A Death in the Family by James Agee
2. Howard's End by E.M. Forster
3. The First Four Books of Poems by Louise Gluck
4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

My whole life I've read, hungrily, literature of every kind, but these are five titles I turn to again and again as a reader/writer and as a human, books with resonance well-beyond admirable craft or entertainment...books that, I think, are actually important. While disparate, these books have challenged the canon's status quo, have done something fascinating & unconventional with writing, have altered me in some way. No author I'm aware of has entered the head of a character more exactly and completely than Hilary Mantel has with Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall. To say that she knows him, centuries later, is insufficient; he is alive and flawed and marvelous. James Agee's A Death in the Family is a posthumous autobiography-of-sorts, a story of a family that dips, beautifully, as life does, in and out of narrative. In Howard's End Forster illuminates and questions the rigid socioeconomic norms of Edwardian England: “Only connect,” he tells us. One Hundred Years of Solitude makes a useful gateway into magical realism, in which the wondrous always running alongside/against/within/above/below/through/under us is realized. Louise Gluck is a prolific former Poet Laureate, but it's this collection—her early poems—that showed me how razor-sharp, how wonderfully harmful language can be. “Fish bones walked the waves off Hatteras” she begins “Cottonmouth Country,” finishing the poem just as unexpectedly: “Birth, not death is the hard loss./ I know. I also left a skin there.”


Catherine Rankovic
1. The Bell Jar (novel), 1973, by Sylvia Plath
2. The Vegetarian Epicure (cookbook), 1972, by Anna Thomas
3. Notes of a Native Son (essays), 1955, by James Baldwin
4. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (workbook), 1992, by Julia Cameron
5. The Passionate, Accurate Story (creative-writing guide), 1990, by Carol Bly

Each of these books changed my life. That’s what I want from a book. They raised my ambition or curiosity, or deepened my sense of responsibility. The title essay in Notes of a Native Son made me an essayist. On the spot. No looking back. After a long creative drought, desperately I took up The Artist’s Way and it surprised and reawakened me. The Passionate, Accurate Story challenges writers to write nobly and seriously, like adults. It radically changed my revising and teaching. The Vegetarian Epicure and its Volume Two, wonderfully written, showed me a new approach to daily life, and I savored their company through the leaner years. The Bell Jar, which I read while in high school, led me to Plath’s poetry and journals, which fascinate me still.


Tony D'Souza
1. Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
2. Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
3. Gilgamesh by author unknown, various translations
4. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
5. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner/ Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

In my early childhood, around second or third grade, Ronia the Robber's Daughter addicted me to reading; a real adventure tale starring a girl and with a love story at its core. In sixth grade, I read Clan of the Cave Bear. I got so immersed in that world; that book let me know it's ok to like genre. (I can't read the book now; I tried and the writing in it is so contrived and silly.) In high school, Gilgamesh really captured me and made me think about the origins of human writing and the written story, about universal stories, about the shared human condition. My freshman year in college, Hemingway's In Our Time made me want to be a writer with its simple lines about serious stuff. The final book on my list are ones I aspire to, books that have keep me in love with literature in my adult life, the best books I know of and that I have enjoyed most of all.


Mark George
1.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2.  Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
3.  Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
4.  Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko
5.  My Life as a Dog by Reidar Jonsson

These are all books that had a huge impact on me as a young reader/writer transitioning away from the pulp/genre stuff I grew up on. Gatsby needs no explanation. I still feel that it is the best novel ever written in English. A girl I fell for in high school (and later married) turned me on to Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five is still my favorite novel of his, a perfect mix of comedy and tragedy. (She disagrees, preferring Breakfast of Champions. So it goes.) Nineteen Eighty-Four is the best of the literary dystopias I read in my late teens and early twenties. It still terrifies me. The Silko novel I picked is less celebrated than her debut, Ceremony, but had a far greater impact on me when I discovered it in an undergraduate native american lit course. It's a ridiculous, sprawling, undisciplined book to be sure, but its strength of voice and gonzo sensibility proved to me how malleable the fiction writing rule book can. Finally I have chosen to include My Life as a Dog on this list, a great, idiosyncratic Bildungsroman that takes place in Sweden during the 1950's. I bought a translated copy at a used book sale in college and fell in love with it. It is another rule-breaker, often confusing in its eccentric voice and structure but remarkably humane and insightful nonetheless.


Beth Mead
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
2. Our Story Begins (story collection) by Tobias Wolff
3. The Love of a Good Woman (story collection) by Alice Munro
4. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
5. The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

The Road is at the top of my list because after completing my own MFA program as a student, I had to remember how to fall in love with reading again—reading for me, for the love of it, not for a school assignment, not to analyze it and pick it apart. I read The Road like I used to read books when I was young (like The Velvet Room and A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Goldenrod and Under Plum Lake and The Case of the Snowbound Spy): all in one gulp, curled up for an afternoon in the world of the book, not stopping until I was done. It was lovely to read like that again, to be so fully swept up in a story that it was all that mattered at that moment. The other reason The Road had a strong impact on me is that it’s a completely different style of writing than I had usually loved—very unlike Munro and Atwood, two of my very favorite writers—with the spare, removed feel of its language, which still allows such emotion to come through. It was a huge shift for me, both as a reader and as a writer. From the first line, I was hit hard by the relationship between the father and son, shown through a simple action, but also through the music of the language: "When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him." I read that line at the bookstore, looking through the shelves for a new book to move me, and I immediately knew I had to read this one. I was struck by the reserve in the father in that moment, the distance in calling him "the child," and the safety of showing fatherly affection while the boy is sleeping. It felt heartbreaking to me, the pull of his love for his son, which was difficult for a man like him to express, as he tried to protect him and do what was best for him. It's interesting what speaks to us at different times in our lives, how a certain style of writing can shake us up.


Anthony Connolly
1. The Alphabet of Grace by Frederick Buechner
2. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
3. Ulysses by James Joyce
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
5. Beloved by Toni Morrison

James Joyce writes that language is a weak instrument, but it's all that we've got. Writers who use the language to bring grace and beauty to the page and a distinct voice in the chorus of voices always bring to me a sense of hope and humility. I seek transcendence when I read, these books take me there, and higher.


Kelli Allen
1. Trickster Makes this World by Lewis Hyde
2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
3. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
4. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
5. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

Deciding on five books to dub “the most influential” for me as a writer and as a teacher seems a Herculean task. It is also a task with an end-result that is completely changeable and fluid. If I consider which books have shaped me as a person, as a Self, the list will be populated with fairytales, myths, and wild poetry. If I consider the list with only books that have informed me as a scholar, there will be much Foucault, Eco, Lawrence, and Paglia. My lists as a poet and my lists as a fiction writer are dramatically, thrillingly different and often opposed. So, for today, in this moment, when I think “what words have helped craft my own?” these five books leap from the brain cradle.

Yes, these are books by men, and yes they are each aggressive and tender, both. The most common thread among them is intention—to teach, to offer salve in a nonsensical world, to help us pretend vertigo is elegant, necessary for reaching just far enough toward this or that ledge. 


David Hollingsworth
1. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
2. Neuromancer by William Gibson
3. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
4. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
5. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Each of these books raises the bar for fiction writing—for both novels and short story collections. What I especially enjoy is that each book is dynamic. I admire the writers who take chances, whether they succeed or fail. The risk stretches the limits of fiction into vivid, new directions. As a reader, I love to find works that keep me guessing, keep me wondering. As a writer, I love the books that keep me invigorated and inspired and longing to exceed my own limits.


Scott Berzon
1. Flamingo Watching by Kay Ryan
2. Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
4. The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch
5. Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow

In the case of the poetry collection, Flamingo Watching, I continue to shake my head in disbelief as to the apparent ease with which Ryan's poems land on the page. Each micro poem has whimsy and rhyme but at the same time is deeply metaphorical and metrically interesting. 

I give high praise to McCarthy's and Doctorow's novels for their emphasis on character. You can't help but deeply care about these fictional people within the first few chapters of the books. 

Tan's and Lynch's books were both soul-searching journeys for me. One is completely fictional and wordless (Tan's) and the other (Lynch's) tackles the realities of mortality head-on.


Mary Anderson
1. Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan
2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson 
3. Now and Then, Poems: 1976-1978 by Robert Penn Warren
4. The World According to Garp by John Irving
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

As I made this list, it was hard to remember when I read what and it was tempting to include works by Fiztgerald, Faulkner, Pynchon, and Hesse, but if I really think about it, I found those later. The ones I listed above are the ones that affected me the earliest and shaped me as a writer and a person. In fact, I read Chapter 5: Breakdown on Paradise Boulevard in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing over and over as I travelled with various companions across the deserts and mountains of the American West in search of my self. To these “classics” you must add the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, and the 70s cowboy music in Austin, Texas, for they were always playing in the background.


Zachary Vickers
1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
2. Airships by Barry Hannah
3. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
4. Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
5. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

Infinite Jest: By far the most orchestral opus I have ever read. Some of the most funny, memorable, intellectual and observant, horrific, grotesque, disturbing, and poignant moments I've ever read have all come out of this novel. Its complexity is only superseded by its beauty.

Airships: One of my favorite story collections—Hannah was a lyricist as much as a fiction writer. This book taught me many things about the bizarre and the deeply-felt, but above all it showed me how to weaponize the sentence, and I still look to this book to teach me how to wield it.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: All of Saunders work has been a tremendous influence on me (as well as his tutelage and mentorship as well). These were the first stories I read of his—and they taught me how humor juxtaposed to poignancy creates a real emotional fission—how one devastates the other. "Isabelle" is one of my most-favorite stories, as is "The Wavemaker Falters"—the characters are unforgettable and heart-breaking in their clumsy decision-making. Their pathos placed in our modern times demands the question: is surreality the new reality?

Jesus' Son: Johnson, much like Hannah, taught me the poetics of fiction. How a sentence can carry on in an infinite echo. How four or five words can be much larger than the space they occupy on the page. This book is a master of language compaction, urgency, and energy.

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth: This graphic novel has forced me to reconsider the way a memory or an observation unpacks itself on the page, and how thought is constructed both visually, textually, and in collaboration with each other. It is a deeply somber look into the pathos of pathetic men, and it shows how sometimes the most honest thing a book can do is tell you that things sometimes only get worse, and that "Happily Ever After" can be the biggest fiction of all.


On-Campus or Fully Online (No Residency Requirement)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

LU MFA Foundations: Defining Young Adult Literature--Beth Mead

The simplest way to define YA:
The term Young Adult literature usually refers to novels featuring a main character within the age range of approximately 12 through the early 20s. The content often deals with issues faced in these years of life. The primary target audience is expected to be readers in that same age range.

The reality of defining YA:
Effective literature, including Young Adult, can appeal to a much broader audience than its intended age range (as with films, tv shows, artwork). The appeal of YA books to older readers may be due to lush and thorough world-building that immerses the reader in a different reality (one that mirrors their own in some way, or one that offers escape from our reality); it may be due to a connection with well-drawn characters, whether through self-identification or through characters we fall in love with; and it may be due to a connection with subject matter and experiences that hold nostalgia for older readers, or that offer a parallel struggle to issues faced by adults.

Why study Young Adult literature in an MFA Program?
The books I chose for my YA lit class—Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, Pure by Julianna Baggott, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon—are all examples of effective literary works with broad audience appeal, and they are all written by authors who publish both adult literary fiction and young adult fiction. These books illustrate how the use of literary fiction techniques can strengthen YA-specific writing and broaden the appeal of the work to a wide age range of readers.

In writing exercises in my class, and in other YA classes in the LU MFA program, we will write from the perspective of characters in the YA age range, dealing with issues experienced during those years, but we will remember the importance of the techniques we study and use in adult literary fiction: complex characters (not character types); a vivid setting that creates tone and atmosphere; interesting uses of language (not dumbed-down or overly-simplified to give the impression of youthfulness); and a plot arc that offers believable conflict, resolving in a way that both surprises the reader and feels exactly right (not trying to shock readers for the sake of being shocking, and not relying on cliché or the most expected outcome).

An MFA Program offers instruction and feedback for sharpening language skills, polishing literary techniques, enhancing your voice as a writer—all aspects of writing craft that can be applied to any form, including Young Adult literature.

What is the distinction between YA literature & adult literary fiction?
The line dividing YA lit and adult literary fiction can be blurry. For the purposes of studying YA as literature, it’s good to embrace those fuzzy lines, to focus on content and impact rather than focus on categorizing. Often, but not always, the age of the main character is the main determining factor in the way a book is categorized.

Sometimes adult literary fiction can have a young narrator or main character, of course. Often when this is the case, there is also an adult perspective introduced in some way—whether it’s through showing this character later as an adult, or through the adult voice dropping in occasionally to reflect on moments from a later perspective (or in a flash-forward at the end), or through the use of an unreliable narrator, where you as the reader are aware of layers in a scene, and potential repurcussions of actions, which are not realized by the young speaker.

In both literary adult fiction and YA lit, character change is an important element. When writing a literary short story, often a good starting place is to fully develop a character, and then ask yourself what situation or event would force this specific character to make a choice, to realize something, to change. Those are the moments our life is built on. In a YA story, change is inevitable, as the main character is on the cusp of growing up, learning some hard truths about life. Growing is changing, and while this can be approached in a more metaphorical way in adult fiction, the impact and the journey can feel very similar.

It’s important to recognize that the use of the term literary is not intended to sound haughty or elitist. The definition of literary is not better. When we refer to a work as literary, we’re referring to elements such as creative use of language and distinctive character development, often with the primary emphasis on those aspects rather than on plot. Sometimes when adults get offended by the notion of YA appealing to adults, saying that YA should only be read by the target age range, it is because they assume all YA is a lesser form of writing than adult fiction. The definition of YA is not lesser.

Some readers who argue that YA should not appeal to adults are responding to their belief that all YA fiction has a lower quality of writing. While this is true in some cases, just as it is true with some adult fiction, it is certainly not true with all YA. Rather than generalize and lump all YA into a category of lower writing quality, it’s useful to look at specific examples that spark those types of arguments. Twilight has been criticized for a lack of technique and polish in its writing style, but its popularity shows that its fans responded to the fantasy world built in that book, the immersive concept and story and specific characters that, for many readers, allowed the book to transcend its writing flaws. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has also received some criticism for writing quirks (such as overuse of adverbs in dialogue tags), but again, the world that was built, the characters that were created, impacted readers profoundly. Some writers have a gift with language, with technique, with style and phrasing and the ability to create atmosphere through words. Other writers have a gift for story, for creating realities that are believable even if they are fantastical, for allowing readers to escape completely into their worlds. Both of these things are true gifts. An admirable goal for a writer would be to attempt both things: to build a world that engrosses readers, and to show readers that world through exceptional language.

A related issue is that in contemporary YA, there is a trend toward the use of first person and/or present tense. Hunger Games, Divergent, and Belzhar use both first person and present tense; Pure uses present tense (with third person); Twilight and The Curious Incident… use first person (with past tense). Tense and voice are simply some of the tools we have as writers, serving different purposes, and each choice has its advantages and its limitations. There is no right or wrong choice—there is the choice that is better for this particular character, this particular story, and for your own personal voice as a writer. However, sometimes the limitations of present tense, or first person, or both, can result in awkward phrasing over the course of a novel, and that is sometimes what critics of YA writing styles are responding to.

One reason you may choose to write YA in first person is the way it allows the reader to closely identify with the speaker. A young girl reading a book in the voice of another young girl, who is going through problems or situations that are familiar (or that she wishes were familiar, or anticipates going through), can make it a very personal experience. To read, “He kisses my neck,” has a different impact than reading, “He kissed her neck.” For some readers, for some books, first person is most effective.

As a writer, first person can be limiting, so it’s important to weigh the benefits with the limitations. When using first person, your story remains in one character’s head. Scenes cannot be told from another character’s point of view (unless alternating chapters are used, with two or more characters each speaking in first person in his/her chapter—which helps avoid the limitation, but may become confusing for the reader). One limitation of first person, which can result in one of the “lower writing quality” issues that come up in YA/adult reader arguments, is that the speaker describing his/her own physical appearance or actions can sometimes read as awkward or overly precious. Divergent, an enjoyable book that builds an intriguing world and situation (and that translated successfully to film), falls into this trap at times with phrases like, “my fingernails bite my palms,” and “I press air from my lungs,” and “I press my palms to my face.” However, the reader connection that first person brings to a story can often make it worth taking on its challenges and limitations.

In a similar way, the choice of tense has a specific impact on a story. The use of present tense can draw in a reader closely to the speaker’s point of view, giving the story a sense of immediacy. However, it also limits a writer in a way that past tense does not (past tense and third person allow the most flexibility for a writer in terms of elements such as points of view and the ability to show through description). Again, it is a matter of choice, not a matter of which tense is correct. For some stories, and for some writers, present tense is the most effective choice. It can also be a useful technique to use tense changes to distinguish between the current action of a novel and flashback chapters or scenes within a novel. For example, the Prologue of Pure is in past tense, as it shows a long-past event that feels very distant from the current reality of the main character, while the body of the novel is in present tense, which helps convey the story’s urgency and tension.

When discussing and writing YA lit in an MFA class, remember to be respectful of each other’s preferences, to be open to hearing different opinions, to give insights to the class and be willing to learn and grow from other students’ insights. Remember that we all love writing, we all love good stories, and we’re all here to keep growing as writers and readers together.

—Beth Mead

On-Campus or Fully Online (No Residency Requirement)

In the LU MFA Foundations series, our faculty members 
discuss or clarify foundational elements of the craft of creative writing.
Other entries in the series are linked here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

LU MFA Foundations: Literary Fiction & Genre Fiction--Wm. Anthony Connolly

It can be difficult, but not impossible, to discern the difference between fiction that is literary from fiction that is genre. In much the same way we’d know the difference between classical and hip hop music, we can know the difference between literary and genre fiction. In this analogy, music is music. Well, fiction is fiction, too. Music comes in types. Fiction comes in types. The important thing to remember is that the term literary is not a value judgment, much in the same way the term hip hop is not a value judgment, but rather a way to say what type of music it is.

Literary is a type of fiction. Genre is another. I have published novels in both types. My last novel PKgrrl is genre fiction. The novel I have coming out soon The Smallest Universe is literary.

Let’s attempt to discern between the two:

1. The term literary does not mean high brow. In other words, the term itself has a hard time being understood because at one time in your reading education you were chided for not understanding a story and from that day forward the term for such a shame was literary. Anything literary was this kind of writing only for smart people or the pretentious. NOT TRUE. 

2. Language vs. Story. Here’s a biggie. In literary fiction you notice language (the words used, metaphors, allusions); in genre fiction you notice story (the plot, and then what happened…). If you are reading a book and it’s a page-turner and you can’t wait to know what happens next, you’re reading a genre novel. If, on the other hand, as you are reading a book you find yourself loving the words, the metaphors, the character being developed before your eyes, you’re reading literary. This is not to say a genre novel can’t be literature (a different term): I consider Dune, Frankenstein, Lord of the Rings, Childhood’s End, and others to be literature!

3. Character vs. Plot. In literary fiction the book is developed and focused around the character whereas in genre fiction the book is developed and focused around plot. This is a variation on #2. In other words, the language you use is very very important because you are developing a character. In genre fiction, you are concerned with structure, the structure of conflict-choice-consequences because you are creating a story/plot.

4. Who vs What. By now, you should have a good notion that literary fiction is about who while genre fiction is about what.

Here’s how you can tell the difference here: Take a representative page of your work. Read it and answer the following questions — Do I know more now about the character or the plot? In a work that is literary the answer is the former; for genre, it’s the latter. 

Some other things to consider:
For any specialized writing course — science fiction, the short story, poetry, etc., it is very, very important to read in the specialized area. When you are enrolled in a literary fiction class, I suggest you pick up a literary book or two to use as models. In other words, when you’re stuck or need inspiration go to experts, published authors in the specialized area and see how they wrote, borrow from them, learn from them. While in a literary fiction class, you should be reading literary fiction. Only makes sense. 

When you register for Literary Novel Workshop: Polishing the In-Progress Novel or any course for that matter, you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into, as best you can. This course could have easily been called Fantasy Novel Workshop: Polishing the In-Progress Novel and guess what, you’d need to understand what fantasy means, right; and be interested in writing it! Only makes sense.

5. Literary is incarnation and idiosyncratic. This is the heart of what literary is, it’s also its most hard to understand because it’s not something that can be readily taught. Let me break it down:

A. Incarnation: Make your character real. Simple right? Well, yes and no. To flesh out your character you have to, regardless of POV, see the world through them and in order to do so you must create them, and the only way to create something from abstraction (in your head) to concrete (on the page) is through words. So, in this way, the very words you choose to describe, set, put into action, all are directed toward the character. You get to play at being a god. You decided how words serve as the fire, the fuel, the DNA of the character so much so that when someone reads about your character they’re inside the mind or psyche of that character. Just look at yourself, what are your favorite words? What expressions have you always said? How do you look at the world; and what are the words you’d use to describe it? Because of my journey my words are different from yours because you’ve had a different journey. Think of your character as another entirely different person. Use words to make it flesh.

B. Idiosyncratic: This cannot be taught. I have a love for words and I love to encode my fiction with words that will blossom in the mind of a like-minded reader. I use words like music, in order to instill in the reader an emotion or a feeling I want them to have. I don’t say it outright, I use language to have it arise within the reader. I have a way of looking at the world, and so, I put that down on the page when I’m writing literary, because with literary works not only are you noticing the language, the character, but you are noticing the author him or herself. 
—Wm. Anthony Connolly

On-Campus or Fully Online (No Residency Requirement)

In the LU MFA Foundations series, our faculty members 
discuss or clarify foundational elements of the craft of creative writing.
Other entries in the series are linked here.