Tag Archives: Flyway

MFA Application Season! Iowa State University’s Program

This post is dedicated to anyone who is in the process of filling out MFA applications and might wish to consider adding one more program. It’s also for anyone thinking about attending an MFA in the future. I was of on the fence about doing a post about the program I currently attend, thinking it might come across as biased, but then I decided: why not? You love the program and would say these things after graduation as well. It’s a program I believe is truly unique and amazing. It also has an application deadline of January 5th, so there’s still time to apply! I’ve previously talked about some of the details of the program for The MFA Years. But here I’ll go a little more in-depth.

So, onward and upward, I currently attend Iowa State University’s MFA in Creative Writing & Environment. Now, I think a lot of people hesitate when hearing the “& Environment” portion. However, the environmental aspect is broadly interpreted in the program. What professors look for is that a writer has some defining idea of “environment.” This can be tackling environmental causes in your work (Two of our illustrious alumni, Stefanie Trout [graduated] and Taylor Brorby [current student] are eagerly awaiting the release of an anthology they edited about fracking in America). It can also mean being a nature writer. However, it can also mean thinking about human interactions with the spaces around them: be these natural spaces or cultural/ societal ones. It can be having writing with a sense of place or history. For an example, of my own, I often write science-fiction and horror. So the environments might be manufactured, advanced, or not even on this planet. My thesis is a multi-genre work that focuses on folklore and its effects on human interaction and lives.

Speaking of multi-genre, one of the best and most innovative aspects of this program is its focus on multi-genre. Everyone in the program writes in more than one genre (and four are offered: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and play/scriptwriting). You are not only encouraged to explore other genres, but also can play around even within the boundaries of those genres. The wonderful Tegan Swanson, a graduate of the program, has recently won publication and an award for her thesis: a series of “false documents.

And, maybe most importantly, this is a program that supports its writers fully and amazingly. Not only is the program one based on support instead of competition (as Professor KL Cook puts it: “We intentionally strive to make our MFA culture nurturing rather than cutthroat.  We believe that the competition is in the library, not in the classroom. We strive to make this an authentic gift community–intellectually rigorous and emotionally supportive.”) It also supports all admitted writers fully for three whole years with one of the best funding packages around (details here!). It not only includes a full tuition waiver and healthcare, but also is an extremely generous stipend (which with the low cost of living in Ames=actual savings during grad school which is a small miracle).

And, if you don’t want to solely rely on the words of Dear Pints, than here are the words of my fellow third-year, the lovely Erin Schmiel: “Iowa State University has been a whirlwind of experiences, and yes, that’s not just because of the Cyclone paraphernalia. There have been so many opportunities to meet great authors like forager Ava Chin, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, and poets Natalie Diaz and Ned Balbo. I have been inspired by their visits and work. Another great thing about our program is the Emerging Writer’s series that allows us the opportunity to read and get practice being in front of a crowd of peers. While there are ups and downs of a small program, I appreciate our tight-knit community as well as our tucked away location of Ames, Iowa. There is support, camaraderie and comfort here.”

If you have questions about the program, let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, @PintsNCupcakes

 

For more info on the lovely Erin: Erin Schmiel is a third year MFA Candidate in Creative Writing and the Environment focusing on a creative non-fiction thesis. She has enjoyed being a part of the Everett Casey Nature Reserve as a student coordinator and getting a chance to see the wild places of Iowa, because they do exist!

Or any of our other talented current students, check out this link!

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Tony Quick: The Interview

I promised you, dear readers, more EBCP (my series of interviews with Extremely Brilliant Creative People) and now we’re back with an awesome bang! Tony Quick is an amazing writer who I’ve been lucky enough to work with, read the work of, and talk to about writing. His writing excites me because it feels like he’s doing something new and never standing still—I’ve yet to read a piece by him that feels the same. Also, and more importantly, he manages to create worlds that feel both excitingly new as well as completely lived in.

I think his answers to these questions help to reveal just why exactly he is such a gifted writer. And I hope you, Dear Readers, will check out the links to his work and website which can be found below the interview so that you, too, can become quick fans of Quick (I apologize, but there was no way I wasn’t saying it).

Tony Quick

  1. When did you begin writing and why?

I started writing when I was six or seven years old. I’d take sheets of paper, fold and staple them to make little booklets, then write stories heavily inspired by the Arthur and Magic School Bus series. I’ve never wanted to be anything but a writer and thankfully, as I’ve grown older my writing has matured with me.

Now why exactly I started writing is a harder question to answer. I was just as awkward as a child as I am as an adult so I suppose writing was a release valve on my imagination and a way to use up the mental space most people set aside for social cues and remembering people’s names.

  1. Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.

Often, I’ll get a visual in my head that won’t leave me alone—a character, a setting, a situation playing out—and let that churn in my mind. That means daydreaming, spinning out scenarios, and letting the idea grow until I have something to harvest. From there, it’s a matter of sketching and outlining (I’m a firm believer of plotting on paper before writing the actual prose. Even if I veer off script, having a road map saves me a lot of time that would otherwise be spent wandering in the boondocks).

Music also plays a role in transitioning from idea to narrative. When I find a soundtrack that suits a story, it acts as an emotional primer that sets me in the scene and I can use it to return to a similar state of mind to the one I possessed during my daydreams or planning process.

  1. You’re currently working on a novel. What has that experience been like? Can you tell us a little about the book?

I’ve been working on a novel titled Scarecrow and Locust about three young people—Hugo, Phoebe, and Demetre—who live in a famine-ravished world after a plague decimates the planet’s crops. Desperate to survive, the three decide to assemble a team and pull heists against Scarecrow, the private military corporation that traffics what little food there is through Baltimore’s ports. As you might imagine, the situation quickly gets out of hand. Their group gets caught up in a war between the Scarecrows and the Ravens criminal gang in a struggle for Baltimore’s future.

Writing a novel is an arduous, backbreaking ordeal. Scarecrow and Locust began as a terrible short story that Rick Bass politely described as “Confederacy of Dunces-esque.” Not quite what I was going for. Renovating that original botched story into a serious first draft, then rewriting that from scratch took persistence, faith, and sixteen months of my life. That’s what writing a novel takes: tenacity, trust, and time.

Support also helps. I’m fortunate enough to have fantastic first readers such as yourself and Stefanie Brook Trout (a remarkable writer who I’m convinced will become a future favorite to scores of readers when she makes her debut). Having two talented writers tell me I’m not crazy for playing Ahab with this particular whale has been instrumental in keeping me afloat.

  1. You also write poetry. Did you come to one genre before the other? What sort of differences do you find between your writing process for these two forms? Do you prefer one over the other?

When I first came to study at Iowa State University, I kept a yellow post-it note over my desk that read “Fiction First” because I wanted to remember that my commitment to story came above all else. But poetry has always been lurking in my background. I had the opportunity to study with poets Karen Anderson and Jeff Coleman as an undergraduate at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and during my brief stint at Iowa State, I took a poetry workshop that grew my appreciation for the form.

Studying with Debra Marquart, I realized how useful examining the minutiae of language and the constraints of writing poems on such a small canvas helped my prose. I also realized how much I enjoy engaging in wordplay and manipulating structure in ways that wouldn’t quite fly with straightforward prose. And they can cross feed one another. All my poems have a narrative weaved into them and my short story “The Dictator’s Daughter” was first written as a sci-fi poem.

I’d highly recommend anyone that’s interested in strengthening their prose seriously consider studying and writing poetry. Trust me.

  1. Could you describe what you consider your overall style?

Honestly, I’m not sure yet myself. I’m early enough in my writing career that I’m still experimenting with different approaches and molding my style. The problem with evaluating one’s own writing is that you’re likely to project what you hope your style is rather than what it actually is. (You’ve read more of my writing than most. I’m curious to hear your description of my style.)

  1. We’ve had a few conversations about “Genre” vs. “Literature.” Can you talk about your feelings on that debate?

There are some writers and editors who prefer to segregate between capital “L” literature and small “g” genre. And there are some on the other side of the fence who love their genre fiction but won’t read any works that lack speculative elements. But I think it’s important to remember these prejudices, like most, are constructions without any real bearing. Many literary classics—Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Hamlet—have speculative elements. This need to divide and subdivide seems to speak more about those who take part than the content of the work itself.  The quality of writing is what matters in the end, regardless of whether the protagonist is a 19th century ghost in Louisiana, a middle aged academic battling alcoholism and age, or a 22nd century detective locked in orbit.

  1. What is one thing you think every writer should know?

Persistence. Persistence. Persistence. Returning to the keyboard day after day, soldiering forward when the words aren’t flowing, and then honestly assessing what can be used in the next iteration and what must go requires tenacity. Especially when it comes to novels. Short stories are flings—fun, exciting, and meant to come to an end after a few weeks or months. Novels are relationships, commitments that last for years. That means work, adaptability, and compromise.

Don’t quit. Soldier on. To me, the difference between a capital “W” writer and someone who just likes to write is the willingness to continue putting down words even when it doesn’t seem fun, even when rejection letters are piling up. There’s this line in John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire that I always come back to. “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.”

Stay obsessed.

  1. Things you’d most like people to get out of your writing.

Entertainment, above all else. I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember and my favorite books are those that I have to put down while I’m reading them to say “Holy shit!” and digest the latest development before continuing on. I feel like a shill for Big Library saying this but reading should be fun! And I don’t necessarily believe that entertainment comes at the expense of character development, theme, or any other element of craft.

Prose writers are competing with the golden age of television, so-so cinema, and the omnipresent world wide web. Rather than complain about potential readers opting into these diversions, we need to make sure we’re creating content worthy of competition with these entertainment juggernauts. In a non-stop world we’re asking people to set aside time to read our words and it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re giving them a good time in exchange. When someone reads a Tony Quick story, I want them to take their next steps barefoot because I’ve knocked their proverbial socks off.

9. In some of the writing of yours that I’ve read, there has been some dealings with ecology and environmental issues. When/how did this become a part of your work?

Ecological issues began to feature in my writing after I began to study at Iowa State University. The MFA program has an environmental focus and though I decided to leave the program, I was still interested in writing about some of the potential challenges that come when man clashes (or cooperates) with the nature.

That said, I’m not interested in using my fiction as a soap box or political treatise. The pandemic in Scarecrow and Locust, for example, is the result of a mutating version of modern day wheat stem rust. As a fiction writer, I’m less interested in writing about how mono-cropping and the lack of diversity in agriculture makes us more susceptible to this particular brand of ecological devastation than speculating on how characters might react and adapt in the midst of that disaster. I trust my readers to negotiate their own interpretations.

10. Writer or writers you’d most like to meet.

John Irving

Stephen King

Lauren Beukes

Karen Russell

Jonathan Lethem

William Gibson

11. Things you are most proud of in your writing?

“When your characters are stuck in a tree, start throwing rocks.”

I don’t know which writer is responsible for that line but it’s advice I try to follow as best I can. The problem is that my characters become more tangible and dear to me the longer I’m with them and scuffing them up mentally and physically as the story progresses wrenches my heart.

Hard as that can be, there is something gratifying in sculpting characters that feel—to me at least—like real people that I worry for and fret over even as I’m putting them in harm’s way. Kind of a bizarre thing to be most proud of, huh?

12. Questions you wished I would have asked?

I’m actually impressed by how thorough you’ve been so this is a hard question. Maybe a question about what I’m reading right now. I’m cycling between Plot & Structure, a craft book by James Scott Bell and Women Destroy Science Fiction, a gargantuan 400 page special issue of Lightspeed Magazine featuring female authors. I’d particularly recommend “A Burglary, Addressed By A Young lady” by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall and “A Guide to Grief” by Emily Fox.

13. The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Can I answer in haiku form?

The hardest part of

Writing words on the keyboard

Is the lack of ducks.

14. What is up next in the world of Tony Quick?

I’m planning on writing some new short stories and editing this second draft of Scarecrow and Locust. I’m beginning to research literary agents for later down the road when I’m ready to send out queries. I’ve also marked out a couple of days for crossing my fingers and picking four leaf clovers because, you know, better to be lucky than good.

Check out some of Tony’s writing here: “The Dictator’s Daughter” (in Devilfish Review)

To find out more about Tony, visit his website here

Tony Quick is an African American fiction writer and poet, born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in nearby Prince George’s County. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and has held various positions, from undergraduate English instructor, to accounting assistant, to fiction editor for Iowa State University’s literary magazine, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. His fiction has appeared in the quarterly speculative online magazine, Devilfish Review and his poetry is featured in Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland.

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Writing Place, Writing Environment

I think about place in writing quite a bit. I’m currently in an MFA program that puts a lot of emphasis on writing place and writing environment. I work for a literary journal that considers itself devoted to place and environment. But what does that actually mean, I often wonder to myself. What is place in writing? What makes writing environmental?

The literary journal where I’m currently the Assistant Fiction Editor, and am taking over as Fiction Editor soon, is Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. Recently, our group of incoming editors was talking about what makes place for us and what makes environmental. It seems we all had different ideas about the subject, but all our ideas also found common ground in some ways.

I consider place and environment in fiction to be simple: as long as I feel grounded in the work and get a sense of it belonging to a distinct world than I feel “place” has been satisfied. Place can be an alien world recently being explored as long as I get a sense that this world is fully alive within the mind of the writer and that translates to me as a reader. I think that ghost stories are intrinsically about place—what is a haunting but an entity tied to a place?

The environmental aspect is the same to me. One doesn’t have to be writing directly and concretely about saving forests, for one example. In fact, it’s the stories that don’t tackle things directly which most often have a profound effect on me as a reader.

So, what do the other editors of Flyway have to say?

Our awesome Social Media Editor, Erin Schmiel, says this: “Place to me is an ever moving thing. It begins in the rocks underneath me, but I travel over those quickly, from glacial beds of the Midwest and over the continental divide where the Earth’s plates thrust out of the ground and we call them the Rocky Mountains. Place for me is this Earth and all the activities on its surface and all the land features I call home. “–Erin, Ohio, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Montana, Iowa

Our wonderful poetry editors, William Bonfiglio and Samantha Futhey, have this to say:

“My first published poem was featured in Highlights Magazine™ when I was eleven years old.  The piece, ‘In the Climbing Tree,’ examines the link between nature and the speaker, and my current poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and plays continue to build on the idea of place and the relationships between setting and characters.  I use that word ‘relationships’ deliberately because environment, in even its most basic form, embodies that idea of interaction. No character is immune to the influence of place, and the best writing will reflect these ideas.”—William

“When I think about place-based and environmental writing, I first look at how the environment or place is portrayed. Can I image this place, even if it only exists in the imagination of the writer? Can I hear, smell, touch, see this place? If the place doesn’t have an authentic feel in the details, the place/environment must not be important to the story, poem, play, or essay and also not important to the characters/speaker or plot of the piece. I want to feel grounded in a place, whether its Yellowstone National Park, the narrator’s living room, or an urban gas station.

Environment also does not need to be limited to forests, rivers, and other so-called “wilderness” places. Man-made environments are places too.”—Samantha

So, here’s a question for you, Dear Reader, to consider: what do place and environment mean to you? As a reader? As a writer? What place can only you truly write your way into? Take this up as a challenge next time you’re working on a piece of writing. And, maybe, consider reading the wonderful pieces up at Flyway or send us some of your writing!

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Top O’ The Snow Day To You!

Well, the snow is falling outside and the chai is hot. I’m not sure where exactly I was going with that, but anyway, it is time for blog writing and news!

Ol’ Pints here is working on a new grouping of stories. As readers of this blog may know, I have an unhealthy obsession with the form known as the story cycle (novel-in-stories or interlinked story collections are other names for it). I’ve just about finished drafting the entirety of a new story cycle (previously, I wrote one as my undergrad thesis). A couple of the stories I have been working on for a bit and they have now safely found loving homes with wonderful literary journals! Stay tuned to the blog (and, especially my “Writings” page) for news on when those pieces come out. As always, I’m also on the lookout for recommendations for favorite story cycles of people. I’ve read a ton but I always want to read more of them!

In other writing news, I am working on a grouping of poems that are very connected. Some of these poems have found homes as well and I’m excited to see where this writing project goes. The linking topics include: demons, magic, and abandoned places. (Also fun fact: This collection’s inception has been heavily influenced by watching a whole lot of Supernatural. So, that’s something.)

And in other news, I just wanted to put some great information out there for all of the writerly folks: the wonderful literary journal Flyway is in the midst of its annual Sweet Corn Fiction contest. It has a pretty low fee and a wonderful prize of $500 AND organic Iowa sweet corn. Noms! The judge this year is an author I’ve mentioned on here before as amazing: Dean Bakopoulos. So definitely, if you’re a writer or know someone who is, check out the contest info here.

Well, that’s all for now. If you’re in a snow-drenched area, make some cocoa and crack open a good book (and or watch some Supernatural. It might lead to some poetic inspiration!).

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