thesis

Where I’m at Part 3: agent search for Wishstone

I finished Wishstone a few years ago as a fantasy novel set in ancient Greece. I pitched it to exactly one agent, an agent who many authors dream of calling theirs. She requested sample chapters and sent a personal, professional, and helpful rejection a couple of weeks later.

It was around this time that my husband and I were trying to have a child. I will not share the details of those years, but let it suffice to say there were a lot of doctors, procedures, hopes, and disappointments, disappointments, disappointments. It was all I could do to keep my teaching career (and myself) from falling apart. I did not write.

After (hooray!) my son was born (well, months laterI was pretty busy with him for a while), I decided to revisit Wishstone. By this time there had been a dramatic change in the world of young adult literature. I was still in touch with friends from the Writing Popular Fiction program. They knew that my stories centered on teenage protagonists, so they suggested Wishstone might be better suited for this expanding young adult market. I had serious doubts. First of all, it had been a huge leap for me to write a fantasy at all. Although the lines between science fiction and fantasy often blur and they require some similar skills, I had never been interested in writing about magic. Likewise I had always considered myself as a writer for people like myself, i.e. adults who had grown up immersed in a spec fic world. Writing for young adults requires a particular talent for resonating with people who have fewer years of life experience and interests/needs I have (mostly) outgrown. I did not think I could do it.

Then I read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. (Kristin Cashore, if you ever read this, thank you for being the writer you are.) Graceling is marketed as young adult. The story addresses themes such as the use and abuse of power, personal responsibility, and redemption. It is a coming-of-age story to be sure, but it is not filled with the angst I associated with young adult literature. Reading Graceling made me think that maybe I could convert Wishstone.

I returned to Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program for a second degree. They converted their MA program to an MFA program, which interested me because it would give me an additional credential to seek a teaching position in higher education. I revised Wishstone as my MFA thesis by cutting the POV of the 42-year-old man and leaving the entire story, minus the prologue, in the POV of the 16-year-old girl. I also added a love story to replace the one I lost by refocusing the POV.

I’m in the process of submitting Wishstone right now. This summer I revisited Prosorinos to see if it could get the same YA conversion as Wishstone, but it’s complexity, I think, makes that impossible.

So, since I’m waiting to hear about Wishstone, I’ve started this website and have begun work on a completely new novel. I’ll keep you posted . . .

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Where I’m at Part 1: from teaching to my first thesis

This three-part post is probably more appropriate to the “About” button, but for my own sake, I’m starting by defining where I’m starting.

In high school I would have been surprised to be told I’d end up as an English teacher. I was pretty set on a career in science. I did, however, enjoy English and took electives in creative writing and journalism because I liked to write. It didn’t matter much to my career plans at the time that I won a major book award as a junior and a major English achievement award as a senior. I was accepted at Dartmouth, and I was going to be a biochemistry major with a future in cancer research.

Then in my sophomore spring, the deadline for Dartmouth students to declare their majors, I took a course on contemporary issues in education. It changed everything. Once I decided I wanted to teach, it suddenly became clear that the subject I needed to teach was English. I did the whole English major and education minor in my final two years. I got a job and taught English for fourteen years.

Throughout my public school teaching, I sometimes regretted that I didn’t choose a medical research path, especially when it seemed like all the care I gave and work I did went unappreciatedor worse, actively railed against. (Many of my students, and some of their parents, didn’t feel the same way about plagiarism/cheating that I did.) For the most part, though, I really enjoyed my job and was content to teach and coach track and field, and advise a class and a club, and serve on committees, and mentor new teachers, and all the other things that went along with my teaching life.

Where I worked, a teacher could receive a pay raise in three ways: 1) yearly contracted cost-of-living increases, 2) moving up a step (which means a pay raise for each of the first few years teaching until you reach a particular year), 3) becoming more educated. I stood to gain a bit of salary by getting a master’s degree, which I didn’t mind doing since I enjoy being a student. The problem was that a traditional degree would mean a lot of time commuting from where I lived, and I already worked a six-day week from dawn until, often, into the dark.

I found a program at Seton Hill University called Writing Popular Fiction and wrote to the director asking how many graduates of the program were actually published. She replied that the program was pretty new so there weren’t any yet (or maybe she said there was oneit was a super low number either way). This was back in 2004. Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program is low residency, which means students only have to travel there for one week twice a year. The program is unique in that it stresses popular, as opposed to literary, fiction. Although I adore much literary fiction, I wanted to write a science fiction story, and the answers I had received to inquiries at other grad schools left me with the impression science fiction would not be accepted with open arms. At Seton Hill it was embraced. Now there are more published authors from the Writing Popular Fiction program (some award-winning ones and some with large national and international followings) than I can count.

Long story shortened, my experience at Seton Hill changed my life. Until that time, I had not really considered a writing career seriously. I didn’t know what a writer’s life entailed. I didn’t think I had enough talent. I graduated from Seton Hill with a completed science fiction novel of over 160,000 words. It’s title is Prosorinos, the name of the planet on which it’s set. I thought maybe I could be a writer.

On to the next post . . .

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Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.

— Tim Noakes