Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So Long, Farewell

The time has come to Kevork the blog. And rather than leave the 3 Ps lingering with half-thoughts in cyberspace forever, we decided, before signing off, to sum up where we are three years later. Our 31 followers will be relieved to know the three of us remained friends as we travailed, and that we will continue to write and be friends as we continue to travail.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson

Firstly, mostly, and lastly, I have a book coming out this September—My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself. I can now be found at kellykathleenferguson.com.

As for the past three years:

Moved to New Orleans. Helped start a writers’ group. Wrote a book proposal. Caught a golden coconut at Zulu. Landed an agent. Golden coconut turned bright turquoise with mold. Lost the agent. Accepted to creative writing PhD program at Ohio University. Signed with Press 53. Moved to Athens. (Not Greece. Not Georgia.) Wrote a book. Published one short story, one profile, one poem, one list and three book reviews. Survived 56 rejections (15 for one story). 2 “encouraging” rejections (same story). 4 no reply. 5 pending. Presented at two conferences. Total student loan debt running at $18,000, but no panhandling. Yet.

There’s also a few thousand hours of time elapse photography of me either staring at my laptop and/or face down crying.

And, coming full circle, I will be reading at the Montana Festival of the Book in Missoula this fall, my first trip back to Montana.

Trina Burke

I moved to Seattle. There was freelance editing and then a friend got me a job in her office at the local university (Networking: It really does work!) It was a temporary job as an administrative assistant. I almost got laid off, but a coworker left and I just happened to have the skills to move into her position on a temporary appointment. Then my appointment was almost up, but a coworker almost died from swine flu and another coworker did die of a heart attack. So I moved into another role. Then I got a permanent appointment. All in three years, all in the same department. I still freelance, but with less frequency.
On the home front: I got married. I moved three times within the same city. The people around me have been marrying, divorcing, and having babies with abandon. I've been to Europe a couple of times. I have a burgeoning pumpkin patch in my back yard. I have a back yard! I'm wickedly happy.
And then there's the writing. I've been rejected a lot, which comes as no surprise. But I've had some small triumphs, too: I won $200 in a contest, published some poems in some journals, had a chapbook accepted and published by Dancing Girl Press, wrote some reviews, attended some seminars abroad. More important than all that, I've managed to keep up a sort of writing practice. Yes, the flood of inspiration and output during the MFA years has diminished, but new work still finds its way out on the regular. I imagine it will continue to do so, regardless of whether any of it gets published.
I don't know if my experience is typical. It has been an exercise in sitting back and seeing what happens. And what I've realized is that nothing happens quickly, or dramatically. This epiphany has allowed me to conclude that there is no deadline for success. If I look back and try to think about what my goal was in getting an MFA, I don't so much find a goal as a nebulous bunch of hopes. I hoped to amass a body of work, which I did. I hoped to read a lot of poetry, which I did. I hoped to meet some awesome people, which I did in spades. I hoped to publish a book, which hasn't happened yet and might never. I think I still came out ahead, though.
It's been a kick. Thanks for reading the blog and best wishes!

Laurie E. White

Adieu! Looking back, working backwards:

[September 2011 – September 2010] I’m in Chicago working as a writer at NogginLabs, designing instructional software (read: eLearning) for Fortune 500 companies. Recently bought our first home in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Adopted a dog; he’s still our neurotic co-pilot.

[September 2010 – January 2009] Wedding (married fellow Montana MFAer Travis Fortney). The 3Ps were together again. A chapbook from From Yes Press. Before Noggin, Research Coordinator for the Department of Chemistry at Northwestern University. (Chemistry?!?) Four poems were picked up for the second issue of > kill author. Adopted a fat cat.

[January 2009 – May 2008] Celebrated in Grant Park on election night. Instructed at an online university; college comp. Copy edited for the Annals of Statistics. One poem in DIAGRAM. Our first Chicago apartment: the super can't distinguish our keys from the 1,000 others on his ring. Proceeds to kick in our back door with his boot, advises us to change the locks. Thisclose to taking a temp job testing Diebold voting machines for the national election in a warehouse for 12 hours/day, $8.00/hour. Drove with one cat, one fellow (see September 2010) and some of our plants straight from Montana to Chicago. Why Chicago? We picked it on a map and drove there. No place to stay. No jobs.

[May 2008] MFA.

What excellent company I’ve been able to keep at 3Ps for 3 years. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Post-MFA Jobs! Teaching

There is much gloom and doom in the post-MFA job marketland, but you know what? I know people getting teaching jobs. Granted, to land as a tenure track creative writing prof, it seems you need three creative books and multiple pubs and a critical theory book and edit a renowned lit mag and quite possibly some trapeze skills, but a regular ole' teaching job? (Summers off! Still!) These can be found. (She blogged optimistically.)

I found the following advice online while randomly trawling around. The writer prefers to remain anonymous. But I thought this solid advice deserved re-posting.

"This is just my opinion, but I think too many MFA grads assume that they can only serve as adjuncts, when in fact there are numerous full-time non-tenure track gigs out there to be had, particularly at large state universities. You just have to play your cards right and be patient.

I graduated from a small MFA program that most people have never even heard of and was able to land a full-time non-tt comp gig at a large state university. I make 32K and have full benefits. These kinds of jobs are out there, and 1-2 years of TA experience can get your foot in the door. In the fall of my second year of my MFA program, I checked Higheredjobs and The Chronicle religiously. I didn't even waste my time on the small liberal arts colleges and went after the "State U" type schools that have to fill 5,000,000,000,000,000 sections of freshman comp per year and don't want to burden their research professors with such "service courses."

In fact, the job that I currently hold was landed because I sent my CV to a large state university on my own; this university didn't even post a listing, but needed full-time instructors come July and simply pulled my file; after a go-through-the-motions interview, I was hired and signed a FT contract on the spot.

So, in short, if you want to teach comp FULL-TIME after the MFA, make sure that you:

1) Target the large state universities; you need to target the universities that have the most sections to fill, which obviously increases your chances of being hired; don't waste your time on the SLAC's that have like 5 sections of composition to fill each year.

2) Be open about location. If you picky about location then you're in the wrong profession. The English job market is dreadful and you might need to be willing to teach for a year or two at Middle of Nowhere State U.

3) Don't just send your CV to large state universities that post listings. Any halfway decent comp director will gladly take your CV to put in a file somewhere that just might be accessed in the summer when administrators are scrambling to fill extra sections. I sent emails to tons of comp directors at large state universities and had my CV in their files within a week.

4) If you plan to teach after your MFA, understand that a fellowship to a program that allows you to not teach might actually do you more harm than good. Yes, obviously the main objective of an MFA is to write and not to prepare yourself to teach freshman comp full-time, but at the same time you absolutely need that 1-2 years of teaching experience to get a full-time gig after you leave your MFA program. For full-time comp gigs, is all about the teaching experience; where you earned your degree or whether or not you're published is meaningless for these kinds of jobs. (Obviously that will change as you work toward applying for tenure track creative writing gigs, but that's a completely different ball game)."

So maybe not so sexy. But practical. I also have friends getting Fulbrights, landing instructorships, or just (*gasp*) getting jobs and writing when they write.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Reading

A down side of higher ed is that it turns the kid who was the library nerd into the Netflix addict. This past year, reading meant Victorian and Romantic lit, critical articles, student essays, reading I’ve assigned my students, workshop submissions, lit mag submissions, assigned reading for workshops, books by visiting writers so I don’t look like a schmo at dinner, etc. Plus, I went to twenty or so readings.

You burn out.

Yes, it’s fantastic that reading is my “job” (although the critical articles take a bit of self-flagellation). This means I have found my vocation. But. When I’m not reading, then I’d rather catch up on the latest season of Mad Men.

Enter summer. Time to read whatever I want!

So what do I choose? Infinite Jest. Way to relax, Kelly. There was, finally, the finite, but there went July. The best advice I can give here is 1) Don’t do this alone. Pick one or two people you can count on and meet once a week 2) Read the introduction by Dave Eggers which explains why this 1,179 page beast is actually worth the investment 3) Have two bookmarks—one for the chapters and one for the endnotes 4) While it’s good to experience the book on its own terms, sans "spoilers," I took advantage of some Wikis to help me keep track. (For instance, there are over 200 characters).

As for my own review? While I experienced definite moments of infinite frustration, I emerged from the book changed. I interact and perceive the world differently from when I began. Is there something more we demand from a novel?

Next: A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan. The chapters morph in setting and time and point of view, and one chapter is written completely in a graphic representation of PowerPoint. Post DFW? No problem. My brain was in fighting shape. Finished in two days. The book has been criticized for reading like collected short stories as opposed to a “real” novel, but I felt the gel. Language, story, characters, plot turns. All there.

Next: House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home, memoir by Mark Richard, an author who, simply speaking, needs to be read. The POV is second person, which could be intensely annoying. Instead, it’s amazing. Here I’ll quote Padgett Powell, “If Mark Richard could not write, you could not read this. Since he can, you can’t not read it. It is unreal, and Mr. Richard has the wit to make it real.”

Also, thanks to fellow blogger/friend Trina, I have received the belated memo on Montana poetry prof Karen Volkman. Right now, though, I’m so obsessed with “Infernal,” I can’t move on to the rest of Crash’s Law, never mind progress onward to the other two books. Poetry for me seems to work like music. I tend to focus on a particular song and turn it inside out. This will take time.

Now I’m swamped in Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I have yet to tire of exclamation point! And that might be the summer. Because I’m also reading all about How to Promote Your Book in preparation for MY book. And I’m planning for my fall class, which means reading with my students in mind. Not the same. But I still might sneak in a murder mystery.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

P is for Publication!

I'm ten years in the writing game now. Admittedly, I entered my MFA with a goal: Be Famous. The naivete sustained me and I have no regrets. I plunged and emerged a better writer.

Although initially wanting in the fiction program, I (confession) applied in nonfiction because the then-director told it was less competitive. I figured once I was there I could do both, which—with finagling and taking two workshops for three out of four semesters—I did. My nonfiction was also more developed at the time (I'd worked in journalism and had publications). I knew that my NF was the stronger writing sample, and looking back at the fiction I had then, chances of my acceptance against all these BFAs with at least one polished story was slim.

One aspect I have discovered I don't care for, as I extend my stay in the academic writing world with a PhD, is genre pidgeonholing. This was why I dropped out of a Lit MA fifteen years ago. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life writing critical articles on Jungian analysis and feminist criticism of Eudora Welty for ten other people in my field. Again, I applied in nonfiction because I had a developed book project. I knew that genre was my strongest writing sample/application. So, my "label" is nonfiction writer.

To be clear, I'm not writing nonfiction to get in programs. I love nonfiction. I have a nonfiction book coming out, and believe me, if I didn't love writing about Laura Ingalls Wilder and researching the 19th century and writing memoir, I could never have finished.

But I have missed writing fiction. I recently entered and won a fiction writing contest for the Ohio Lit Fest, and people came up to me, wondering if the were going to "lose" me, which makes no sense. Maybe, for my academic job, a particular focus is best. Although Montana just hired David Gates, for fiction/nonfiction. So maybe not.

On the other hand, sometimes it's admittedly annoying when people publish in all three genres. Like, make up your mind already. And often, you can tell when an author has a particular strength. Well-known authors, especially, can get their perhaps-not-best-material published in a lit mag because of their name.

Oh well, I just published a poem anyway. What? Although I might like my bio better than the actual poem.