Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

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Pretty on the outside, but bring a pillow for your bottom

I promised you an update on my residency, but must admit is is a few days late. We returned on Saturday and I hit my bed and remained there throughout much of the next day. Yesterday I finally put the clothes back where they belonged and this morning I emptied the last bag which contained all of my toiletries. I can honestly say it wasn’t as shocking of an experience as the first residency in January because the people and places were familiar, the routine was familiar and there wasn’t any snow; however it wasn’t without chaos.

I learned so many things this time around.

(1) Make sure the car keys are in a safe place – anywhere but in the ignition of a locked car. The morning we were supposed to leave, before we could even load the car I had to call a locksmith to come retrieve my keys. $45 later we loaded the car.

(2) Go easy on the luggage.

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When packing I felt sane. When I took this picture I felt a little apprehensive, but knew I could make it work. After I considered attaching a tow to the back of my car and renting a small U-Haul I realized things had gotten out of control. So did I leave anything at home? No. In fact I ended up with more once we arrived. Next time instead of packing for ten days I might pack for three days and just wash and re-wear my pieces. Not only did I damage my trunk, but I ended up with two damaged tires.

(3) If you are out of town and must have any kind of work done on your car – take a man with you to negotiate. I can’t believe I just said that, but sadly our world is a bit twisted. I had a screw in one tire and a nail in another and they were both on the same side of the car. After checking tread depths I opted to replace one of the tires and patch the other. This should not have cost me $146 nor should I have had to wait two hours when I was the second person in line (behind an oil change). Next time I’ll get a membership to AAA.

(4) READ ALL MATERIALS BEFORE RESIDENCY BEGINS. I cannot stress this enough. Each residency I get to work with a different mentor (they choose the mentor). Whoa was I not prepared. The last residency required me to bring two books and my workshop piece. There was a craft book and a fiction novel. The fiction novel was small so a chapter could be read each night. We discussed the craft book but did not do any in-class writing assignments. This residency: three books (medium to large), craft book exercises and readings every day, workshop revisions due during residency (not afterwards), and a presentation on the novel (in this case Room – all 321 pages). I felt as if I were constantly out of sync, like someone had plucked me out of my own reality and dropped me into the middle of a movie where there is nothing but sea. I sank, bud didn’t drown. Next time, bring a life preserver and prepare for the worst.

(5) People Like to Party. This residency we were required to attend a picinic at one of the lovely homes of a fellow fiction writing student I met last residency. It was so kind of her to offer her home, but the logistics were in conflict with my desire to stay afloat. There were so many things I needed to be doing that I didn’t have time to enjoy what I was supposed to be doing. The lesson I learned here is to loosen up. Not everything has to always be about productivity.

I’m thankful for the wonderful people I get to work with at residency. The people who put it together are truly amazing and I’m not blowing smoke up anyone’s butt. I’ve never felt so cared about – anywhere. They want me to succeed and are encouraging along the way. I don’t know about other MFA low residency programs, but the one at Murray State is pretty amazing. I keep saying how blessed I am to be a part of it.

Now that it is over it is nose to the grind time. I have 8 books this time around to read and two of them are craft books. Of the 4 annotations due I also must include thirty new pages of fiction. On a good note I got positive feedback on the novel I’m working on and want to use for my thesis. My undergrad degree is in communication whereas many of the students I am in the program with majored in either English or creative writing. I find myself slipping into the “showing/telling” traps. I start off showing, but sometimes get technical about it and lapse back to my AP writing/tell skills. It makes for a lot of rewrites, but at least it is fixable. My goal this semester is to catch myself when I am doing it.

For the millionth time it seems I am rewriting the beginning of the first chapter. The novel began with my character waking up after having a dream and my mentor suggested I go with something else if at all possible. The great thing about work-shopping a piece is you get to step aside and see from another person’s perspective what can be improved in your story. I agree with her about the beginning. She also suggested I add a map for my fictional town which I think is a terrific idea. The second character I introduced, Jaxon is likeable – but to me he still needs more depth. People seem to really like my first character, Macey. I want them to all be liked for whatever reason, but I need to even the playing field or balance them out. The third character’s entrance needs to be strengthened in my opinion as well which means I’m probably going to move some things that happen in the story around for more impact. The worst thing I think you can do when trying to write a novel is to cause the reader to lose interest. If you are bored writing it – the reader most likely will be bored reading it.

On a final note, I’d like to fill you in on my progress with “In Pieces” since the last time we spoke it was literally in pieces. I read from some of it during our banquet but don’t think it went over well, because it wasn’t a piece that could be done well in under 4 minutes – at least not from where I started reading. I learned a bit about the personal essay at residency and am trying my hand at it with this piece. I’ve edited it to just under 3,000 words and am submitting it (for the first time) to a writing contest. At this point I’m going to be realistic – but try (though I find it easy) to not be pessimistic. Writers get rejection letters and I am totally prepared for that. I’m not so sure I’m prepared for the upside of that equation, but I’ll let you know how I do when we make it there.

Up first to the annotation plate is: “Lunatics” by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel and “A Summons to Memphis” by Peter Taylor.

I’m still working on my African American Literature research paper about the importance of race. I’m studying the way people identify themselves and what role race plays in that identification, particularly if one is of more than one race.

Criminology is still along for the ride as well. Two more tests and I’ll be finished with the criminal profiling course I enrolled in during the summer. Yes, I am taking more criminology classes this fall.

In the meantime, thanks so much for coming along with me on this journey. I’ll upload some photos from both my residencies to a website and get the link to you next time we talk.

Keep reading and writing!

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