Monday, May 18, 2015

Fun With Flash Fiction

By Mary Moeller, class of 2015, Creative Writing minor

Going into Dr. Jayne Waterman’s Short Story class, I expected it to consist solely of analytical exercises. While we did do quite a bit of reading and analyzing short stories from a wide variety of very talented authors, I was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Waterman informed the class that the final paper would be a creative piece rather than an analytical one. The assignment was that every student in the class had to write a piece of “Flash Fiction,” which is a very brief short story. Specifically, our assignment had to be about 500 words or less.

Writing such a short story seemed almost impossible when we first received the assignment, but Dr. Waterman had the class keep a creative journal throughout the semester in order to help us generate ideas for our pieces. She also had us read short stories she chose specifically to help inspire us as we wrote. She was very diligent about reading our journals and giving feedback to help steer us down the right path when writing our stories. With her guidance, the task became much less daunting and much more enjoyable.

During the final class period, Dr. Waterman brought in pizza for all of the students and had us read the final products of flash fiction. Reading my piece out loud in front of the class was both nerve-racking and rewarding, and Dr. Waterman was both curious about our stories and encouraging of our creative talents throughout the entire class. What I enjoyed most about the exercise was that it allowed us to take some of the various storytelling methods we’d studied and find ways to make them our own. For example, many of the stories we read throughout the semester ended with a surprising twist, and I used that technique in my flash fiction piece. Altogether, it was a truly rewarding assignment that helped the class interact more with short stories than we would have otherwise and gave us a deeper appreciation of all the work it takes to write one.

Read Mary Moeller's flash fiction piece below:
A Wedding

I stood at the altar in a rented tux with a red rose pinned to the lapel, her favorite color. Bridesmaids and groomsmen surrounded me, and my best friend Jesse smiled by my side. The music from the piano swelled until I worried the church wouldn't be able to hold it anymore, and it gave way only when the doors opened for the final time and the bride stepped through as a vision of beauty. I can't remember much of what she was wearing; I know it was white, but her smile captured my attention and I couldn't look away. No one could. She looked like a dream come true, like the reason behind every cliché about falling in love. Looking at her filled my heart with such emotion that I worried I might explode.

"Here Comes the Bride" played too quickly; suddenly, she was at the altar and her father was kissing her cheek. My heart raced, my palms sweated, but she looked perfectly calm, like she'd been preparing for this moment her whole life. Her eyes glistened with happy tears, and I remembered pulling all-nighters with her through college, laughing at 3am TV shows until our guts hurt like we'd been shot and we were crying. I remembered the meals she used to make before she learned to cook, how I teased her for months about setting macaroni on fire. Her smile was so bright it lit up the past like an airport runway. But planes can only fly forward, so I faced the altar and stood patiently while the priest said his part.

She pulled a piece of paper out and her smile grew shaky as she read the vows she had written herself to surprise the man she loved. She spoke softly, only worried about one person hearing her. I could hear them just fine. She spoke of days to be shared, of a life full of laughing at stupid jokes and being too busy to get a good night's sleep. She vowed always to love and cherish her husband, and that word made my heart jump like a rock on a trampoline. She swore to face life's challenges together, said she'd never love another soul as much as she loved the one in front of her. Her words touched something inside me and it was everything I could do to remain standing at that altar, staring at her, when all I wanted was take her into my arms and whisk her away. I loved her more in that moment than I ever had in my entire life, and I knew the more time I spent with her the deeper in love I'd fall. God, she was wonderful. So sweet, so perfect. Besides Jesse, she was the only person in the world whose happiness mattered more to me than my own. And so I smiled as the priest gave permission for the newlyweds to kiss and Jesse stepped forward to claim his bride.

Freshman Creative Writing Major Discusses Opportunities to Meet Authors

By Madison White

This year in English 405: Problems in Creative Writing, two authors graced the class with their presence: Michelle Herman and Dandi Mackall. Michelle Herman is an English professor at The Ohio State University and has written many books, including Missing, Dog, and Like a Song. Dandi Mackall has written over 350 books, ranging from children’s books to adult books. Some of the titles include, The Silence of Murder, Larger-than Life Lara, and Crazy in Love. One novel, My Boyfriends’ Dogs, was also made into a film.

For me, having these two women come in and talk to our class about writing was just phenomenal. I, myself, aspire to be a writer someday and listening to these authors about the writing process and about writing in general is just inspiring.

Michelle Herman commented that the name of the class,
Problems in Creative Writing, was appropriate: “Story of my life,” she said. There are quite a lot of problems in creative writing, believe it or not. And one of them is just being able to write something.

Dandi Mackall  commented that sometimes, even when you think that what you’re writing is "crap", you just keep writing. Sometimes you might be able to salvage something from that crap. That is actually a beneficial piece of advice because for many writers, there are “problematic points” in their writing; some would call this writer’s block; others would not. Dandi Mackall herself does not believe there is such a thing as writer’s block.

One piece of advice Michelle Herman gave, which I found helpful as well, is that when you’re writing a piece of work that has two different time periods, just write each piece how you feel it, meaning don't worry if the reader will want to be submerged in that particular storyline for that particular chapter. Ultimately, if the writer is immersed in that section, the audience should also be.

It was interesting as well to hear about how each writer works and learn more about her writing process; each writer worked differently. Whenever the opportunity to pick apart the brain of a writer arises, take it because you never know when you might learn something useful.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Alumni Spotlight: Alyssa Berthiaume

From Ashland University to Ashgate Publishing— How Ashland’s Creative Writing Program Set My Course and Helped Me Succeed
By Alyssa Berthiaume, class of 2007, Creative Writing major 

Around this time thirteen years ago I was a junior in high school and my mother took me on a road trip to visit colleges on my spring break. Our first stop was Ashland. When we arrived, the weather was nothing short of miserable: thunder rolling around in a sky thick with gray, drizzle coming down intermittently, and puddles along the sidewalk as we walked from the student center, passed the quad, and into a huge brick building housing the English department. I had really high hopes for attending Ashland despite my parents’ wishes I go somewhere closer to home (Vermont) and I was determined to not let the weather be any indication of things to come.

The hallway inside seemed abandoned but calm, lights low. A few feet ahead an office door was left slightly open and a professor leaned back in his chair flipping through a paper. As luck or fate might have it, that office was the very place I was meant to be. My first appointment during my visit was to meet with Joe Mackall about the creative writing program and I really wanted him to like me. Thankfully, his dry sense of humor and occasional sarcasm was exactly my style and I felt at-home instantly. Before I left, I had two complimentary copies of Passages, some literature on the program, and the hope that I would apply and come to Ashland the fall of 2003. And I did.

Flash forward to 2007 and I graduated from Ashland with a bachelor of arts in creative writing and psychology. During that final year, Joe, after serving as my advisor for those four years, tried hard to encourage me to abandon my pursuit of a master’s degree in psychology and go instead to an MFA program for creative writing. He knew that I had an irrepressible passion for writing. Unfortunately, the practical side of me— the one that wasn’t convinced I could ever earn a living doing anything with books— won out and I accepted a spot in the University of Akron’s marriage and family therapy program. Shortly after the start of classes that fall, I found myself spending more time in class writing stories about my professors in the margin of my notes than paying any attention to ‘this’ or ‘that’ theory. I realized quickly I had displaced myself. Joe had been right and I needed to make a change. By summer, I switched programs and began the Northeastern Ohio Masters of Fine Arts Program (NEOMFA). I concentrated in nonfiction and earned my masters in December of 2010 with a fully drafted memoir to show for it (that is still waiting to make its debut).

In July 2012, I took a position at Ashgate Publishing, a leading independent academic press, as a marketing coordinator and this past August (2014), I transitioned into my current role as an editorial assistant. In this role, I provide support to the commissioning editors of our art and visual studies and literary studies lists. I facilitate the peer review process for proposals and manuscripts we are deciding whether to contract; I solicit endorsements from scholars in the field to include on the back jacket and in the marketing materials of the books due out for publication, sometimes performing light copy editing on the returned endorsement text; I review ‘final’ submitted manuscripts, making sure they are ready for production; and I perform a variety of other tasks in working closely with our authors, reviewers, and endorsers. I am happy and fulfilled in this role.

Outside of my work as an editorial assistant, I serve as the President of the League of Vermont Writers (LVW), a statewide non-profit organization, originally founded in 1929, that serves all writers across Vermont, providing programming and workshops around the craft and professional development of writing. I help to organize a biennial event called Writers Meet Agents. During a day-long conference, writers attend with the intent of pitching their book projects (anything from YA to sci-fi, to memoir) to a roster of literary agents we’ve brought in from the surrounding areas—Boston, New York and beyond. Most recently, I spearheaded an internship program between LVW and a local college that has a professional writing program, recognizing the importance of real work- experience for the college-age population prior to graduation.

I owe my success in both these roles (editorial assistant and president) to the education I received at Ashland. First and foremost, being a part of the creative writing program at AU was the first time I was within a community of people where writing, wanting to write, and wanting to make some sort of life by writing, was acceptable and encouraged. This climate was present and persistent in every creative writing class I took and was nurtured by the instructors, especially Joe Mackall and Stephen Haven whose enthusiasm for and dedication to the craft was inspiring and contagious. This shared respect and devotion to the written word, from both students and teachers, provided me an unwritten license to do the thing I always loved. And it was that same license that eventually led me into an MFA program and changed my perspective from, “How will I ever ‘make it’?” to “I will make it. And I will make it work.”

Beyond attitude and perspective, serving on the editorial board for Passages introduced me to literary journals, and the production, editorial, and peer review process. The variety of workshop classes I took facilitated my ability to provide and accept constructive criticism, to think critically about my own work and the work of others, and to learn to work and communicate with a variety of personalities. The comprehensive curriculum, including the requirement to take classes with foci in other genres and a certain number of credits in literature, provided exposure to a vast literary canon and further sharpened my critical thinking and textual analysis skills, as well as my own writing. All of these things I apply day-to-day as I work closely with authors on the development of their manuscripts, or writers across the state, emerging or established. They all have high hopes of positioning themselves within an ever-growing and changing body of literature—academic or trade— and I have the privilege of helping them get there.

I am thankful for the AU experience and education which set my course and equipped me with the right skills and abilities that have helped me be successful in a job that pays me to do what I love and what I always wanted to do – work with books.