Author Archives: Erin Underwood

Take the Post MFA Experience Survey

Written by Matt Switliski.

As I’d mentioned in a prior post here on the Stonecoast Community Blog, I had a massive crisis of confidence combined with a debilitating case of writer’s block a year after graduation. And at the reunion I’d discovered I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. Pat Barletta and I talked about this in detail, wishing that someone had warned us about this possibility.

Cue light bulb.

We discussed this with Annie and she suggested a presentation on the post-MFA blues could be useful to students preparing to finish their formal Stonecoast experience. We’ve been preparing over the past few months for our presentation at the coming January 2013 residency, doing some research, expanding our scope to include the malaise some people feel between residencies. We’ve got some good info.

But we need more. And we’re hoping the Stonecoast alumni can help.

Pat and I—but really, she deserves most of the credit here—put together a short survey about students’ experiences following graduation. The survey includes ten questions, mostly multiple choice, aimed at understanding how other people felt upon earning the MFA degree.

If you have a few minutes, please follow the link and fill out the survey. All responses are anonymous, and you’d be doing a big favor to the Stonecoast community. It’s our hope that others will discuss this topic at future residencies—people sharing their experiences and their ways of coping.

Thanks in advance for your help!

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Create your AWP Portfolio Page

I’m putting together portfolios to feature our alumni and faculty at AWP and other public gatherings in which we can showcase our collective work. If you’d like to be included in the portfolio, it’s really easy. Each person gets ONE page in the portfolio, which will comprise a series of 3-ring binders arranged by Stonecoast concentration.

I’ve included two different ONE-PAGE samples based on my own work that you can use as an example when putting together your portfolio page. Feel free to take a look at them and copy the style or come up with something of your own that you feel adequately represents your work. I think something along these lines is good since it gives you an opportunity to display book covers as well as text. However, the choice is yours. Use your one-page of space wisely. The only part of the portfolio that needs to be identical for everyone is the header since that is what I will use to organize the pages within each binder.

If you want to be included in the AWP portfolio, please be sure to send your ONE portfolio page to me as a WORD document no later than January 31, 2013. Please do not send late submissions. Note, whatever you send will include in the portfolio. So please make sure that your page is perfect before submitting it to me. Thank you for your understanding.

When submitting your page, please email it to Erin Underwood and include “Portfolio Page” in the subject line so that I can easily search my email to ensure that I don’t miss anything. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Cheers, Erin

Examples:

Portfolio Pages Received:

  • Armistead, Cal
  • Bouthillette, Emma
  • Bovenmyer, Karen
  • Martin, Amy
  • Rhodes, Steve
  • Roessner, Michaela
  • Schmitt, Catherine
  • Underwood, Erin

 

 

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Community News & Updates August 2012

As you may have heard Stonecoast is transitioning to a printed newsletter that will be published twice a year and will likely not have room for publication announcement and other news related updates from community members. So, the SCAA is going to take over the news and updates, which will be published on a monthly basis. To get your info included in the update, please email Robert Stutts and include the words “August News” or “September News”  in the subject line. Also, please remember to type your news as you’d like to have it printed in the news post. If there is an associated cover image, you must supply the URL. The news will be published once a month around the first of each month.

~

The first bit of news is that the SCAA is looking for a volunteer to manage the news for the Community blog. All you have to do is collect emails from people, compile their news into a single/monthly post and publish it Easy. If you’re interested please contact Erin Underwood.

**UPDATE: **Alumnus Robert Stutts PF W’10 is the new News Editor for the Stonecoast Community Blog. If you have news items, please be sure to email them to Robert. You can get his email address by clicking on this link to “Email your news to Robert.”

ALUMNI NEWS

Linda K. Sienkiewicz (fiction, S ’09) has a poem titled “What Every Mother Hopes For” in the Summer 2012 issue of Mobius, A Journal for Social Change  http://mobiusmagazine.com/ Linda also won an Honorable Mention from Springfed Arts for a short story titled “Gut Wrenched in Barnstown.”

Erin Underwood (popular fiction, S’09) sold her short story “The Foam Born” the Ticonderoga Press for publication in their new anthology Bloodstones, edited by Amanda Pillar–available October 2012.

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FACULTY NEWS

Vanquished, the final book in the Crusade series, by Nancy Holder (popular fiction) and her coauthor Debbie Viguie will be available on August 28, 2013.

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Stonecoast Writing for Social Change Project Update

Thanks to all of you who responded with your interest in the Stonecoast Writing for Social Change project.

The first step is to collect and share the stories of Stonecoast community members (students, faculty, and alumni) who are actively using writing to promote social justice. If you’ve been involved with work like this, I’m hoping you’ll send me a short (150-200 words) description, preferably including a jpg photo (of you or the activity), and at least one resource (e.g. book, website) to help others get involved with similar projects. I’m hoping to have these available to post on the Stonecoast website by mid-October.  Please send to ellenmeeropol@verizon.net

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Announcing Stonecoast Writing for Social Change

One of the exciting things to come out of the recent Stonecoast alumni reunion was a new project called Stonecoast Writing for Social Change. Three of us – Jeff Kass, Amy Alvarez and Elli Meeropol – met to begin the work. Like many of you, we are compelled by injustices of our world to use writing as a tool for social justice, and that’s what this project is about.

The goal of the Writing for Social Change Project is to create opportunities for the Stonecoast community to use our passion for and skills in writing and reading to create social change locally and globally by:

  • Collecting the stories of Stonecoast alumni, faculty and students involved in projects that use writing to empower targeted or vulnerable members of our communities, or to promote social change in other ways. Sharing these stories with the Stonecoast community along with resources, and encouraging other alumni, faculty and students to become involved with writing-related social change activism,
  • Deepening the commitment to writing for social change (race, class, gender, environment) in the MFA curriculum by offering ongoing residency seminars, workshops, and readings, facilitating third semester projects and internships for social change, and preparing writers for careers with underserved communities.

If you’d like to join our working group on the project, please email Elli at ellenmeeropol@verizon.net before August 5, 2012.

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Stonecoast MFA Community Directory

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Life Happens: The Post-MFA Blues and the Process of Learning, Forgetting, and Remembering Again

by
Matt Switliski PF W’11

While I was a student at Stonecoast, I was always excited to see alumni show up at the graduation ceremony and reception. For me, there was this unshakeable sense that, after my friends and I walked across the stage to receive our degrees, we wouldn’t see each other again. Life, I know, is far too unpredictable, filled with too many vagaries for me to make a pronouncement like that with any certainty. Still, it remained a definite possibility, one I dreaded. So to see these old friends and fellow writers appear again unexpectedly was a pleasure. In some small way, I needed them to confirm that life after Stonecoast would not be the bleak vision I had imagined.

When I spoke with these alumni, I had to ask, had to know: “Are you still writing?” While many people responded yes, I received far more no’s than I’d care to count. Most people looked sheepish about it. Some wanted a respite after two intense years of study. Others needed to arrange priorities now that they weren’t in school and paying for a degree. Yet, as often as not, they felt burnt out or—worse—wanted to write but felt incapable of doing so. The MFA had become an anchor, weighing them down.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen. And, for a while, it didn’t: I set a writing goal for myself the year I graduated and, despite a few rough patches, reached it. I may not have been as productive as I’d have liked, but, once I’d proven to myself I could remain disciplined without external deadlines or being accountable to a mentor, I felt confident about setting my goal incrementally higher.

So went my rationale.

As 2011 wound down, my life started to unravel. I lost someone very important, I scrambled to finish my PhD applications at the last minute (for good reason, but that’s beside the point), and I was juggling three jobs, one of which was teaching a new course at a new school, with a curriculum unlike any I was familiar with. It’s little wonder that my writing fell by the wayside.

I wanted to keep writing, though. As paradoxical as it may seem, writing is how I stay connected with the world even as it takes me out of it. It’s how I process my thoughts and experiences, how I keep parts of my brain active that would otherwise atrophy. (As a teacher and a Scorpio, I don’t consider it a viable option to run on anything besides all cylinders.) To not be writing creatively was disorienting, to put it mildly. So, I made an effort to incorporate writing when I could and to not flog myself if I couldn’t always follow through. For about a week, I made progress. I’d been a few months out of practice, so the prose was rough, and my synapses fired more slowly than I’d grown used to. But I had words on the page, the beginnings of a story. Then life intervened again. It was another month before I returned to writing.

Click here for more graphics and gifs!Suddenly, I couldn’t do it anymore. I sat for hours by a blank notebook, trying in vain to put down even vaguely connected ideas. I assaulted myself with questions I’d learned to ask during Stonecoast. I worried about every sentence, every word. It was, as I’ve detailed in a personal journal post, the worst case of the centipede’s dilemma I’d ever had. I was afraid of writing badly, because I knew I was capable of better. Instead of having more confidence with the MFA, I had less; I was thinking too much, instead of trusting my normal process: Just write and worry about fixing all the problems later.

At the recent reunion, I discovered that graduates from all over the spectrum had encountered a similar problem. Some had worked through, but others were still figuring out how to lure the Muse back. How to simply write again.

Talking with Stonecoast students past and present shook loose a number of thoughts for me. One, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I came down with the post-MFA blues. Graduates of intensive workshops like Clarion and Odyssey, for example, often need some fallow time afterward, letting the learning sink in—or recuperating after six straight weeks of writing. Some stop writing altogether after those pressurized experiences. In my case, the blues set in later, after I had fewer things to occupy my time and attention. Thus, it was easy to obsess over my writing—so many questions and too few answers—in a way that hindered my productivity. Thinking too much in advance seems to be fatal to the work of a steer-by-the-headlights writer like me.

Another thing is that, even though graduation meant a change in the dynamic of the Stonecoast community for me, that didn’t mean it had to end. Yes, I wouldn’t see my friends for ten days every six months to talk writing, but these conversations can—should—happen in other ways. Texting, phone calls, Skype, or even old-fashioned letters can maintain the bonds created over the past few years. Doing so can be essential for many writers. I know that’s true for me. I had an amazing support network of fellow writers during my undergrad years. But as that network became more far-flung and more tenuous, my output slowed (but didn’t stop completely, thankfully). At Stonecoast, I found the support I’d been lacking and hadn’t known I craved. It’s not that I need encouragement, however much I value it. I need solidarity. People to commiserate with when the writing goes slowly or not at all, people to share victories with, people to test ideas on, to listen to. Writing often feels like a solitary endeavor, and it can be maddening if you don’t have someone—a patient spouse, a writing partner, sympathetic co-workers—who understands you and this vocation.

If I’m going to accomplish anything, I need to forget what I learned. Or at least let that learning inform the work I do without being self-conscious about it. I’ve read plenty of great stories that break some of the sacred “rules” of writing. Know the rules before you break them; I get that. I spent the past two years learning, to say nothing of the time I invested prior to starting my MFA. I know the rules, more or less. Now, I need to use them without giving the process too much thought. The centipede didn’t get on its feet again by concentrating on the act of walking.

What I can’t forget is the community I became part of at Stonecoast. They’re out there in the world, doing great things, ready to help each other. Willing to listen, share experiences, offer insights. It may not always seem like it, but we writers are all in this together. Sometimes we need to remember that.

***

Have you ever struggled with the post-MFA blues? How did it affect you and your writing? What did you do to work through it?

***

Matt Switliski (Popular Fiction, Winter ’11) is a tutor and teacher at several colleges in the Philadelphia area. His publication credits include poetry, short fiction, book reviews, and news articles. In the fall of 2012, he will start a PhD in Composition at the University of New Hampshire. He keeps a blog on writing, books, and other topics at iamrazorwing.livejournal.com.

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July 2012 Reunion Schedule

STONECOAST ALUMNI REUNION 2012
July 12-15 | Brunswick, ME

The Stonecoast Alumni Association presents the 2012 Alumni Reunion held at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The reunion includes panel discussions, workshops, readings, and an opportunity to network with the talented writers of the Stonecoast MFA program. Written below is the schedule for the alumni reunion. You can also SCAA Reunion Brochure.

THURSDAY

2-3:30 pm | Workshops* | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 127

3:30-5 pm | Reunion Registration, Welcome & Introduction | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

5-6 pm | How to Self-Promote and Still Have Time to Write | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

7-7:30 pm | Stonecoast Alumni Flash Reading with Erin Underwood, Lexa Hillyer, Morgan Callan Rogers, Christin Geall | The Inn at Brunswick Station, 4 Noble St, Brunswick, ME

7:30-8 pm | Stonecoast Guest Faculty Reading: Jeff VanderMeer | The Inn at Brunswick Station

8-10 pm | Stonecoast Alumni Mixer | The Inn at Brunswick Station

FRIDAY

9:00-10:45 am | Workshops* | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 127

11 am-12 pm | Broaden Your Horizons: Panel Proposals, Community Readings and Collaborative Projects | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

1-2 pm | To Self-Publish, or Not to Self-Publish: That is the Question | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

2:15-3:15 pm | The Writer Beyond the Writing | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

3:30-4:30 pm | Now and Then and Then, Again: Time in Creative Nonfiction | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

4:30-5:30 pm | Alumni Discussion Open Forum | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

7-8:30 pm | Featured Stonecoast MFA Reader: Nahid Rachlin | The Inn at Brunswick Station

SATURDAY

9-11 am | Workshops* | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 127

11 am-12 pm | Testing the Character of our Characters | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

1-2 pm | Life After and Life with an MFA: Careers and Jobs | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

2:15-3:15 | First Book Stories: From the Muse to the Marketplace | Bowdoin Searles Bldg, Rm 126

4:45-6:15 pm | Stonecoast Reception for Alumni & 2012 Graduates | Stone House

7-8 pm | Stonecoast MFA Graduation Ceremony | Freeport High School Performing Arts Center, 30 Holbrook St, Freeport, ME

8:00-11:00 | Graduation Reception & Dance | The Inn at Brunswick Station

SUNDAY

10:30 am-12 pm | Alumni and Graduating Student Meeting | Stone House, Casco Room Porch

7-9 pm | Community Dinner** | Estes Lobster House, 1906 Harpswell Neck Road, South Harpswell, ME 04079.

*Workshops require pre-registration and additional payment to the SCAA.
**The Community Dinner requires onsite registration and additional payment to Stonecoast.

~   *   ~   *   ~

PANEL DESCRIPTIONS

How to Self-Promote and Still Have Time to Write
Publishers and agents expect you to promote yourself. Being your own marketing director is a full-time job itself, but you can efficiently pare down the duties so you still have time to write. This panel will discuss options for self promotion, how to prioritize which options are best for you, and how create a ten-minute daily promotion plan.
Amy Martin CNF W’12 (m), Erin Underwood PF S’09

To Self-Publish, or Not to Self-Publish: That is the Question
In this digital age of publishing what route is the right one to take? What opportunities might we gain by skipping the traditional publishing track by going direct to self-publishing? What benefits might we lose? This panel will discuss self-publishing from a pragmatic standpoint and will invite the audience to share their own experiences.
Erin Underwood PF S’09 (m), Amy Martin CNF W’12, Kevin St. Jarre

Broaden Your Horizons: Panel Proposals, Community Readings and Collaborative Projects
Attending conventions and conferences for writers is a terrific way to network and connect with people in every layer of the publishing industry. However, there is a point when it’s time for you to participate on one of the featured panels. How do you turn a good discussion topic into a great panel submission? This presentation will discuss the ins and outs of preparing panel submissions and give you tips on volunteering to participate on conference panels where full panel proposals aren’t needed.
Mihku Paul-Anderson F S’10

Now and Then and Then, Again: Time in Creative Nonfiction
A craft-oriented session that looks at approaches to time in the memoir and creative nonfiction. Retrospection, chronology, personae, tense, flashbacks, and narrative distance will be explored using specific examples and exercises.
Christin Geall CNF S’07

First Book Stories: From the Muse to the Marketplace
We’ve all heard the horror stories about getting a first book published. Yes, it can be discouraging and daunting, but it’s not impossible. Four Stonecoast alums (a poet, an essayist, a crime fiction writer, and a literary novelist) share the realities and the surprises – good and bad – in their post-MFA experiences working with agents and finding a publisher for their work.
Ellen Meeropol F W’06 (m), Marcia Brown, Tom MacDonald F W’09, Penelope Schwartz Robinson

Testing the Character of our Characters
As students of writing, we often hear the admonition that our characters should surprise us, that if they don’t surprise us, they won’t surprise our readers either. But how do we create the conditions that allow our characters to surprise us? This seminar will postulate that one effective way to develop characters that surprise the writer is to insert them into morally ambiguous situations without the writer knowing what the outcome will be when the characters face them. We’ll examine poems and prose excerpts and participate in a writing exercise where we’ll encourage our characters to test themselves in order to illuminate who they really are and who they have the potential of becoming.
Jeff Kass F S’09

The Writer Beyond the Writing: What to do and How to be When You Aren’t at the Keyboard
You’ve spent untold months working on your manuscript, and years polishing your prose style. You’ve been mentored by the best. You’ve got a shelf full of books on craft, and a nicely framed MFA. The writing is where it needs to be…but what about you? Is there something holding your career back, something that goes beyond what’s on the page? Join our panel as we share tips to keep your MS out of the slush pile and strategies that will take you to the top of your game.
Libby Cudmore PF S’10 (m), Matthew Quinn Martin PF S’10, Lexa Hillyer P S’10

Life After and Life with an MFA: Careers and Jobs
The Stonecoast MFA has long advised students to regard the MFA as an opportunity to develop one’s talents and not as a vocational degree–like the PhD or MBA. Yet many students still expect to gain access to careers and positions not open to them prior to completing their degree. Are these expectations realistic? How can you make the best use of your new degree? What are SC graduates doing to support themselves?
Bruce Pratt F S’04 (m), Hank Garfield, Bunny Goodjohn, P W’07

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Invitation to Howth – January 2013

Dear Alumni,

Applications will be accepted until Wednesday 18 April for the Stonecoast residency which will take place in Howth, Ireland 10-17 January 2013.  The application deadline is coming up soon. Although continuing students get first priority, alumni have taken part in our last two Irish residencies, and we’d love to hear from you if you’re interested.  Please email SCI coordinator Ted Deppe at theodore.deppe@maine.edu for full information and an application form.  Debra Marquart and leading Irish writers will join Ted Deppe to provide a stellar academic experience–and it is lots of fun, too!

Warmly,
Ted Deppe
Coordinator, Stonecoast in Ireland

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Nominate & Vote: SCAA Elections

Elections for the Stonecoast Alumni Association Board are only a few months away. If you’d like to be a part of this energetic creative group of alumni, please consider running for one of the open positions listed below.

Open SCAA Board Positions:

  • President (8/1/2012-7/31/2013) — filling the remaining year for this term
  • Vice President (8/1/2012-7/31/2014)
  • Secretary (8/1/2012-7/31/2014)
  • Director (8/2012-7/31/2014)
  • Director (8/1/2012-7/31/2014)

Draft Election Schedule:

  • May 1  –  Official Elections Announcement Emailed to Listserve
  • May 15  –  Nominations Open
  • June 1  –  Nominations End
  • June 5  –  Nomination Statements are Due From Candidates
  • June 10  –  Email Candidate Statements to Listserve
  • June 19  –  Email Ballot to Listserve
  • June 20   – Voting Begins
  • June 30  –  Voting Ends
  • July 1  –  Results are Announced
  • July 15  –  New Board Terms Begin/Outgoing Terms End

More information about the elections will be coming soon to the Stonecoast Community Blog and to the Alumni Listserve. You can also check the FAQ page for additional details.

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