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My first semester at Stonecoast is about halfway over. The last few months have been pretty difficult, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. I have read more books than ever because I've switched to commuting to work by train. What a difference that has made on my study time!

I've also submitted several annotations and two stories to my mentor, and I've just received his comments on my September packet. Clearly, I still have things to work on (which is why I'm here), but I see a shift in his comments. He's no longer focusing on the predictability of my characters and the flatness of my stories. There is improvement! Yeah!

The feedback that I received this month was much more engaging than what I received on my previous stories. My mentor was able to comment on the complexity of the characters and layers of the plot rather than just focusing on story mechanics. As a result of his evolving feedback, I'm struck by the notion that the best way to see your improvement is through the criticism that you receive, and I'm definitely starting to see a change in the type of comments that I receive on my work. This is very exciting stuff! This is exactly why I enrolled in the Stonecoast MFA program.

The month of October is going to be a killer with 3 stories due in early November. I'm really going to have to kick into high gear to get my pieces ready, but I have this nagging fear that I'm going to be submitting 1st or 2nd draft work for the January workshop.

This raises the question of how polished do you make your work before sending it to a workshop? If you polish a story to the point of gleaming, is it worth workshopping? Is it better to workshop a story that has problems so that you get some new perspectives on potential fixes? I'm not sure what the best solution is on this front. Does it really matter as long as the prose is readable and your critiquers won't be distracted by annoying line editing issues. What do you think?
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 12:33pm on 10/09/2007 under , , , , ,
In the spirit of using Sherwood's idea of using LJ to network, I thought I'd put this request out for everyone's review......

For my 3rd Semester Project at Stonecoast I am going to be adapting a screenplay from an 18th Century lyric poem (which I don't want to name here). In addition to writing a full-length screenplay, I'll also be writing a paper on the adaptation process. As part of my research paper, my program director also wants me to do research on other screenplays that have been adapted from poems.

As part of my research, I would love to interview a couple of writers who have adapted screenplays from poems, short stories, and novels. I'd also like to interview authors who have had their work adapted into a screenplay by someone else. If you have done this and would like to be interviewed by me or if you know of another writer who would like to be interviewed, please send me an email at: erin_underwood at hotmail dot com

I'm still in the developmental phase of my research, but I'd like to get a few interviews lined up for the near future. Realistically, I'll want to start interviewing people between November 2007 and March 2008. I'm happy to work with your schedule and to do it in the most convenient way possible for you, including email or phone.

..... Ok here's the crazy part of the request .....

I would really value being able to interview Neil Gaiman since he has not only adapted screenplays from novels, but he's also adapted the new Beowulf film from the poem. Since I don't know Mr. Gaiman, I thought I'd throw this request to the wind and see if there really is magic in the world.


Thank you for your time and consideration. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Erin M. Underwood
Stonecoast MFA Program, Popular Fiction S'09
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I need your help with this.....

I'm starting to plan one of my big projects for Stonecoast in which I will adapt a poem into a screenplay. My professor asked me to also include research on other poems that have been adapted into screenplays.

As I'm just starting this research, I thought I'd ask you if you know of any poems that have been adapted into screenplays.

This project is going to be so fun!

Thanks for your help!
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 08:37am on 17/08/2007 under , , ,
How did this happen? I'm utterly exhausted. I think I could sleep a week away and I'd still be tired. Argh! I need more time in the day, which means I can't waste what I have sleeping, but that's exactly what I've been doing all week.

In any case, I've just finished my final revision of "Give and Take" and sent it off to F&SF. We'll see how that goes. It's a bit darker than their usual fare, but it seems like it would still be a good fit if they like it. This is one of the stories that I workshopped at Stonecoast and I received some great feedback. Learning how to incorporate workshop feedback is an interesting process. You can't take it all. So what do you take? This is a difficult question, especially when the feedback you receive is from someone you highly respect.

I think the only solution is to find what resonates most with what you're trying to do with the story. So, I took their advice and ruthlessly cut some of my favorite stuff, added in some new prose, and left a few items that I felt needed to remain. I'm really curious to see how others react to the story. Hopefully, this story is an improvement. I feel like it's better, but sometimes it's just too difficult to judge "level of improvement" for myself.

On the reading front, I've just finished Jurassic Park, which was a heck of a lot of fun to read! Now, I'm starting on Alice in Wonderland. I've got the Penguin edition, which has an introduction by Hugh Haughton. The introduction has blown my mind. I wish I could say more, but I won't until after I've read the book completely. I love good books with scholarly introductions!

Yikes! It's 9:05! I better get to work. Have a great day everyone.
Mood:: 'tired' tired
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I've recently added World Fantasy 2007 to my schedule. It looks like a great con, but I have to tell you it looks a little daunting. Check out how many people have already registered and the con isn't until Nov 1-4. The size of the con is huge. HUGE!

The theme for the con is "GHOSTS AND REVENANTS: Memory, History, and Folklore". Here is the official blurb from the site:

    GHOSTS AND REVENANTS, MEMORY, HISTORY, AND FOLKLORE -- An exploration of the tradition of the ghost in literature as a harbinger, as a manifestation of guilt, conscience, memory, or the past; and as manifested in the folklore and history of the northeastern United States and Canada. This covers everything from Native American folklore and storytelling through "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" to Straub's Ghost Story and Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. We will explore the tradition and the uses of the ghost story, and how it continues in contemporary fantastic fiction and mutates in a 21st century environment. While we expect to have panels on such topics as "M.R. James and His Successors" and "The Legacy of Shirley Jackson" we might also have something as up-to-the-minute as "Ghosts in the Machine: The Supernatural and Computers."

If you are planning to go to World Fantasy 2007, you better sign up soon. It looks like the hotels within walking distance are nearly gone! Also, be sure to let me know if you're planning to go. :-)
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 11:04pm on 18/07/2007 under , ,
If the world were an ideal place, the July 2007 Stonecoast residency would have been perfect. But life happens and things aren't always perfect, but sometimes that lack of perfection just makes the experience all the richer.

Three days into the residency I found out that my father had passed away. Although he had been ill, very ill, hearing that he was gone still shocked me. For twenty years my dad has been beating death off with a mighty big stick - and winning the better part of the battle. This time when death called, I believe my dad welcomed him like an old friend stopping by for a refreshing drink on a hot summer day.

Love deeply, live passionately, and follow your dreams. That's what my dad always told me. So, that's what I did. I followed my dreams all the way to Freeport, Maine where I found some of the most incredible people I could ever hope to meet. The support and concern that the administration, faculty, and my fellow students showed me after my dad passed away will always be a testament to the strength of the Stonecoast program.

My fellow popular fiction students not only became part of my tribe, they became part of my family. They were there to sooth and comfort me when I needed it. Even better, they were there to kick my ass too.

The intense learning environment at Stonecoast was amazing. I could have gone home, but my dad wanted me to stay and I'm glad I did. The seminars given by graduating students and faculty, along with the daily writing workshops, helped me to understand writing on a whole new level. I began to see the fullness of my characters's lives even before they hit the page; I finally realized how to thread multiple plots together; and I learned ways to show character motivation through the use of well placed details within the prose.

As much as I'd like to spell out the secrets to writing, it's just not possible because my way isn't your way. The biggest lesson I've learned is that writing is a journey that we each need to accomplish on our own. It's a journey that we all take at our own pace, one step at a time. If we're lucky, we have friends to help us along the way.

Somehow, I managed to luck out and get Jim Kelly as my mentor this semester. I guess paying off the Fates worked in my favor. Yep, I'm pretty damned lucky. JPK is a story doctor extraordinaire and he's mine to torture all semester long. My pal Linda got the lovely and talented Kelly Link as her mentor and sweet Diana got the Queen of Suspense Julia Spencer Fleming as her mentor. I can't help but to feel like we have just embarked on an amazing adventure and we're going to have one hell of an experience along the way! :-)

If you'd like to see a few pictures of the residency, check out these photos .

Thanks again to everyone for your support over the last week. It hurts like hell to lose a parent, but each kind word makes the string a little easier to bear.
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 06:04am on 06/07/2007 under , ,
This is it! In two hours I will be in my car and driving to Maine. This is the first of my 5 10-day residencies. The next one will be in January. At this residency, I'm going to meet all of my fellow students and instructors, I'm going to have a mentor assigned to me, and I'm going to develop my study plan for the semester with my mentor.

The pre-residency jitter hit me yesteday and I freaked out just a little as I struggled with the "I suck" blues. I talked to a few writer friends and they smiled with that knowing gleam that says, "Hey, we all suck!"

This weekend, Readercon will be going strong in Burlington, MA. Writers from all over are coming and part of me wishes that I was going there, too. I would really like to attend an underground panel (everyone would be nameless, of course) that is titled "You're always going to feel like you suck so just deal with it and keep writing". :-)

Ok, it's time for me to sign off for now. I've got to bush my hair, pack the car, and zip over to the train station in Salem to pick up Jason McCarty. Poor guy is likely to be waiting there in the rain.

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With only a week until my first Stonecoast residency I figured it was time to read Ursula Le Guin's essay "Prides: An Essay on Writing Workshops". Although Le Guin admittedly comes down on the side of supporting workshops, she does so with some reservations.

She explains that although workshops have their advantages, they have some significant dangers. One of the less harmful dangers is that people often go to a workshop thinking that they will learn how to write. When in actuality, learning how to write is done outside the workshop as you cycle through writing new drafts and writing new stories.

One of the more dangerous problems with a workshop arises when a student or an instructor brings his ego with him to the workshop. Le Guin even goes as far as to say workshops should come with a warning not to "feed the ego". Why? Because egos don't serve any educational purpose in this type of setting. In fact, it interrupts the process of learning, especially if it is the instructor who brings the ego to class. Egos often serve to undermine confidence, show favoritism, or destroy the dreams of others - none of which are justifiable actions within any educational setting.

Another danger that Le Guin points out is the "eternal returner", otherwise known as workshop codependency. This is primarily targetted at people who haven't written a thing in years, yet they continue to go to workshops, submitting the same piece time and again, and telling others what this famous person or that famous person said about the story. Essentially, this is a waste of time for everyone if that workshop attendee doesn’t get down to the business of writing new material.

But there is good news! Le Guin admits to being a workshop junkie. One of the most valuable assets of a workshop is the experience that the instructor brings to the table. According to Le Guin, "Maybe nobody can teach anybody how to write, but, just as techniques for attaining profit and prestige can be taught in the commercial and establishmentarian programs, so realistic expectations, useful habits, respect for the art, and respect for oneself as a writer can be acquired in work-centered workshops."

In addition, workshops help to you learn how to practice the craft of writing. This is done through exercises assigned by the instructor, reading and critiquing of other students' manuscripts, learning how to take criticism, and learning how to work together as a group of writers. The best workshops are those where everyone works hard together. "This is such a rare and valuable experience that it's no wonder good workshops almost always spin off into small peer groups that may go on working together for months or years," says Le Guin.

Although you may not "learn how to write" at a workshop, you will learn "what it is to write". She describes the workshop as a pride of lions gathering around the waterhole for a drink. I can't help but to agree with her on this point. And, yes, "it is something to have belonged, even for a week, to a pride of lions."

As an aside, to my friends who attended the Viable Paradise 10 workshop: Thanks for being my pride of lions.
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posted by [personal profile] e_underwood at 06:06am on 28/06/2007 under , ,
I haven't been posting much in my LJ recently because I've been writing like a bat out of hell. With Stonecoast looming in the near future (next week!) I seem to be struck by inspiration.

Over the last couple weeks, I have written 3 new first drafts. Plus, I have 2 other first drafts that were done about a month ago. I figure this is a good way to start the program since I'm a slow writer. I hope they don't mind that I've been stockpiling first draft stories for about two months so that I can use them in the MFA program. I can't imagine that they would mind.

The great thing about having finished this fistful of stories is that I feel really productive. For the first time since I have started writing, I truly believe that I can produce at least two decent short stories per month; maybe more if the muses strike!

Now, it's time for revisions and getting these guys in shape to give to my mentor ... and then send them out into the big bad world of publishing. Wish me luck!
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The road to Stonecoast

One of the things that I am going to do with my Live Journal account is to document my time spent at Stonecoast. I want to capture the experience to remind myself of what I have been through and to share it with others who are curious about this program.

With my first residency looming close, only two weeks away, I thought it was time to capture the experiences that have brought me this far along the path to receiving my MFA. This post is longer than my average Stonecoast related post because it seemed silly to capture all of this pre-Stonecoast “stuff” in small bits and pieces.

And the saga begins … )


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