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Resources for Teaching Creative Writing

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Back in the Saddle with a Blog Hop!

Hi again, Wordamour readers.  I’ve been wanting to get this blog re-started and Anna Leahy’s writing process blog hop seemed a great way to do that.  Anna tagged me here and I encourage you to check out her blog, Lofty Ambitions.

It’s hard to keep two blogs going and I’m trying to commit to posting at least once a month on Huffington Post, which is a super-time costuming venue.  But this will still be where I cross post those links and tell you about other things going on in the writing life that don’t fit on Huffpo.  Anyway, here we go.  Answers to questions about my writing life and the writing process with the next bloggers tagged at the end.

What am I working on?

I’ve got a couple of projects going. I’m working on a book length version of my Huffington Post blog, The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life, which is almost finished. I’m also deep into the research/backstory writing for my next novel, very tentatively titled The Gift, a multigenerational tale about a family in Queens, NY arising in the aftermath of the General Slocum Steamboat fire in 1904 (a disaster that claimed over a thousand lives) and moving through the twentieth century to the 9/11 tragedy. I’m also working on a few edited scholarly collections on creative writing and am hoping to draft a memoir in the fall called Dear Madeleine: Letters to the Daughter I Never Had, about gender in the 20th/21st century and the reasons why I am glad I have sons (hint: so I don’t have to watch a daughter go through some of the struggles I went through and that still burden women).

As of this Thursday, I will be on sabbatical through Fall 2014. Can you tell?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write in two genres, fiction and creative nonfiction and what’s actually a more interesting question to me is how my voice differs dramatically in each. My fiction voice is spare, precise, serene and empathetic. On the other hand, my creative nonfiction voice is edgy and funny, occasionally dramatic. Each seems to be written by a different Stephanie I carry inside me.

Why do I write what I do?

I write fiction to try and explore what puzzles me in life, namely how people survive overwhelming loss, and because I think these puzzles make for interesting stories. This was the theme of my last novel, The Lost Son, and, of course, it’s the theme of The Gift. In my creative nonfiction, I’m hoping to reach out to others, to help them find their way as writers (The Geek’s Guide), to stir up the often stodgy world of creative writing (Rethinking Creative Writing), or to call attention, again, to the situation for women in our culture (Dear Madeleine). I don’t know if anything will come of that last book, but I have been wanting to write it for a long time and after attending an inspiring session on women’s creative nonfiction at the last Associated Writer’s Programs (AWP) conference, feel ready to get it out.

How does my writing process work?

During the school year, when I have a full teaching load and direct the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop, I work on whatever is on the top of the priority list, drawing inspiration from whichever writing project has the closest deadline. I write about ten to fifteen hours a week, sometimes during the week, sometimes on the weekends. If I write during the week, which I often need to do to keep my sanity, that means I do a lot of other work on the weekend.  In the summer or when I’m on sabbatical, I write about twenty to thirty hours a week and spend the rest of my time doing writing-related tasks, researching, reading, posting about writing on social media, mentoring other writers.

I have a small but lovely studio/office at the back of our century-old house where I can write and where my books and bulletin boards inspire me—I’ve spent years perfecting this space, my “room of one’s own,” so to speak, and I feel very lucky to have it. Our dog, Mario, has become my muse and devoted writing companion however, and in that cliched, middle-aged way, I find myself preferring his company to that of a lot of people. So until I can find a way for him to lay beside me in my studio (I’m working on it) I do most of my writing on the sofa in our living room, with a large mug of coffee on my right and Mario curled up on my left. In fact, he’s right here while I work on this post.


I lean heavily on forces like National Novel Writing Month and similar structures to get those first drafts down. Drafting is incredibly hard for me and the part of the process I’m most likely to procrastinate about, so I know that I’ve just got to get something on paper or into my computer as quickly as possible so that I’ll have something to work with. Once I have something to work with, it’s fairly smooth sailing. I love to revise. My sabbatical will be spent getting a lot of words out and down because for me, that’s the biggest challenge and what demands the most time, angst and coffee. When it’s over (sniff sniff) and I go back to teaching in Spring 2015 (I love teaching but it’s a whole other full-time job) I hope to have several drafts to work on and bring to completion in the months to come.

Who’s next in my writing process blog hop?

 John Gallaher:  Read Poet John Gallaher’s blog hop on next week! John Gallaher is the author of the books of poetry, Gentlemen in Turbans, Ladies in Cauls, The Little Book of Guesses, and Map of the Folded World, as well as the free online chapbook, Guidebook from Blue Hour Press, and, with with the poet G.C. Waldrep Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, BOA, 2011. His next book will be the book-length essay-poem In a Landscape, coming out in 2015 from BOA. Other than that, he’s co-editor of The Laurel Review and GreenTower Press.

John Vanderslice: No, not the indie songwriter.  My husband, John Vanderslice, who writes at  John has published over sixty short stories in journals and magazines all over the world.  His first short story collection, Island Fog, is due in September from Lavender Ink/Dialagos Press.

Dorothy Johnson: A lifelong dweller of the writing and publishing world, you can find out more about Dorothy here on her about page:  The link to the page where she will be posting her answers to the blog hop questions is here:


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Back up at Huffpo! MFA vs. NYC Vs. CT

So I’ve been blogging pretty nearly monthly at the Writing Geek on Huffpo since last year  but I haven’t posted any links in a while.  It’s hard to blog on both sites, especially when the Huffington Post blogs often take a long time to write and perfect.  But I do want to keep this page open and communicating so I’ll be posting links to my pieces their over here as well.   Hoping I can get back to posting more regularly here as well but until then,

Bye y’all,


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Over at Huffpo: Heading to AWP

The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: Dear AWP First Timer is up over at Huffpo.

Wordamour and Wordamour Jr. are currently in Worcester, MA smack dab in the middle of the Great Mother Son College Tour of 2013, heading in to Boston to check out Northeastern University tomorrow and checking in to AWP.   The dance card is pretty full for the conference; our panel is on Saturday, check us out


Room 309, Level 3 S178. Creative Writing Under Siege: Setting the Record Straight. (Stephanie Vanderslice, Anna Leahy, Dianne Donnelly, Tom C Hunley, Tim Mayers) Detractors of creative writing, via sweeping generalizations and straw men, have long criticized the field. What is the responsibility of those within the field to demythologize and demystify creative writing to the public? Find out happens when, in response to Anis Shivani’s particularly scathing criticism in the Huffington Post, a group of writers representing a wide cross-section of the field (undergraduate and graduate writing, public and private universities) set the record straight.

Bye y’all,


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Wordamour does The Next Big Thing

Wordamour was thrilled to be tagged by Anna Leahy (of “Six Degrees of Anna Leahy” fame) and her writing and life partner Doug Dechow in The Next Big Thing, a writer’s meme going around the internet that promotes the projects we’re working on and that, one day, hopefully, you can look forward to reading.  Check out their Lofty Ambitions blog here and the post that describes their book, Generation Space, here.

And now, without further ado, my answers to the meme’s questions about some of the “big” things I’ve been working on.


This photograph is actually very close to a scene from the book.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The working title is The Lost Son.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The seed for The Lost Son comes from a family story I learned when I was in my twenties.  I discovered that my Great Grandmother, Julia, was actually my step great grandmother and that her first husband left her right after the birth of her second child.  He and the baby’s nurse kidnapped the baby and ran away together to Germany, their home country,  leaving Julia with their older son, who was only 3.  Somehow she survived, but of course, decades  later she had to cope with the fact that her sons were fighting on opposite sides in World War II.

The scope of her trauma was difficult to even comprehend and became more so when I had my own children, and then after 9/11, when we were all traumatized.  I found myself trying to imagine how Julia could have endured the loss of her child while having to fend for herself and a toddler in a foreign country and then, decades later, how she was able to trust my great grandfather enough to fall in love with him and marry again. I also struggled with how and if she could even have forgiven her first husband.  I was obsessed with these questions and conjured The Lost Son to answer them for myself.

I had very little to go on, just what I’m telling you here, in creating the story, so beyond that kernel, everything else is complete invention.   This, I think, is a good thing; as a writer I wouldn’t have wanted to be limited by the real story.  The novel even ends differently from the way it did in real life and that’s all I’m saying about that.

What genre does your book fall under?

I’ve been calling it upmarket women’s fiction or commercial literary fiction.  My agent seems to agree.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That is really hard.  The easy answer would be Ryan Gosling for the male lead, Paul, because he’s so good at those earnest, heartthrob roles but Paul is actually Black Irish so I’d look for someone more along those lines.  On the one hand, Liam Neeson (especially for the intensity, though he’s not really dark enough), and Gabriel Byrne come to mind but that’s because I don’t have a strong sense of who the great younger Irish actors are right now.  I hear Allen Leech, who plays Tom on Downton Abbey, is a big heartthrob across the pond at the moment and he’s experienced in playing a chauffeur ( Paul’s occupation) so he might be good, although he’s still not dark enough (maybe I just have to get over my Black Irish obsession, although if you know anything about my husband, you know where it comes from–and truth be told, my weaknesses for  “tall, dark and Irish” began long before I met him. Anyone remember Tom Fitzsimmons or Boyd Gaines?).   As for Julia, she’s German but she’s also a darker German.  Perhaps Rachel Weisz or Julianna Marguilies. Thinking about this is really making me feel old because to answer this question I think I might need to have, in general, a better sense of who the great actors are who are about ten years younger than I am.  Julia and Paul are in their early forties, but their stories begin when they’re in their early twenties, so the actors need to be able to span quite a long period of time.  I guess that’s what casting directors are for.


If I could choose a theme song for the book it would be Christina Perri’s  “A Thousand Years.” When I first heard it I couldn’t believe how perfectly it fit  Julia and Paul’s love story, and I often listened to it when I was re-writing.  For a number of reasons, I was disappointed to discover it’s the theme for one of the Twilight movies.  Can a theme song be used twice?  I wish.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Lost Son is the story of one woman’s struggle to overcome heartbreak, find her own peace and risk love again later in life.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I’m very lucky to be represented by Anne Bohner at Pen and Ink Literary.  I trust her completely; she reveals at every turn just how much she knows what she’s doing.  She used to be an editor at Penguin and her editing instincts are razor sharp; she really helped me see how to revise the book.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A long time, because I was also working on 3 other academic books (all published) that seemed, believe it or not, more time sensitive.  I started writing it in 2005-06, finished a first solid draft during NaNoWriMo in 2009, revised peripatetically and then full on in the summer of 2011, did another revision in sumer 2012 and started sending it to agents then.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

In terms of subject matter, The Lost Son can be compared to The Postmistress and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society though I like to think the love story in my novel is more intense.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I’ve answered that already but ideas about loss and heartbreak, not just in terms of romantic love but in terms of other kinds of love, have always been an obsession of mine.  It’s also the subject, reduced to a nutshell of course, of my next novel, which is a generational story that begins in the aftermath of the 1904 General Slocum steamship disaster in New York City, in which almost 1500 people, mostly women and children, died, and ends in the aftermath of 9/11.  How do people find the strength go on after unthinkable loss?  I want to tell those stories.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The Lost Son is not just a romantic love story but also the story of the love between parents and children and the love between brothers, what it means to search for someone and the long term, ripple effects of a kidnapping.  It’s a story of World War II from both sides.  Baking, Coney Island and Incubator Babies also play roles in the book.

In keeping with the rules of The Next Big Thing, I’m pleased to introduce to you four more authors and their work.  Click on the links below next week and find out what they’ve been up to:

Garry Powell

Mimi Thebo

John Vanderslice

John Gallaher

Bye for now, y’all


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Writing What Only You Can Write

The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life, on envy, competition and writing what only you can write is up over at the Huffington Post this week.  Check it out.

 I am very pleased to announce that I’ve been tagged by my generous friend Anna Leahy to participate in The Next Big Thing, an author/book promotion meme, and so that’s what you can look forward to in next post, on February 4, which will include some deeper reveals (including who should play the main characters in the movie) about the novel and other irons I have in the fire.  But for now, it’s been at least five minutes since I checked my email, so I gotta go.

Bye y’all,


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Finding Your Tribe at Huffpo and Novel News

The latest Geeks Guide to the Writing Life, about finding your tribe, is up here (oh and a little side note to a certain uncle who reads my blog, I even quoted the Beatles in it.  Hope you appreciated that).


Bye for now, y’all,


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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Revising, revising, revising and the Writing Geek returns


So Wordamour has been quiet the last several months, aside from occasional cross postings when I put up a Huffington Post Geeks Guide to the Writing Life essay (like I did today–if you’re interested in the story of my creative writing Ph.D. or considering one yourself).  That’s because I’ve been busy, busy, among several other projects (including directing the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop), adding 23,000 words to my novel, The Lost Son, under the advice of my agent.

Yes.  My agent.  I still say that with more than a touch of awe.  In fact, every time I email her and she replies, I think “Amazing.  She really does exist.  She really does.” (Writer friends with agents, did you go through this?  Does it ever go away? I kind of hope it doesn’t.).

Anyway, all of you Nanowrimo veterans (of which the novel is an alumnus) are probably thinking: “23,000 words? That’s nothing.  I can crank out 23,000 words in a long weekend.”  But this was a different type of writing, very focused on certain aspects of the novel and it took me 3 months. Well, really two months and a month of revising the new scenes and making sure they fit seamlessly with the old ones.  It was pretty intense and I was pretty exhausted by the end.  It would not be an understatment to say, however, that I loved every minute of it because I never forgot the reason why I was doing it.

Anyway, what’s interesting about revision is how it’s never finished.  For example, I read the entire novel aloud when I was doing line by line edits before I submitted to agents last summer.  It’s always the last thing I do to make sure I’ve caught everything and to make sure the lines sound the way I want them to.  It takes forever, though, at least a week of listening to the sound of my voice.  So this time I thought, “Well, since I’ve already done it once, maybe I can just read aloud the new scenes and go from there.”  I considered it but in the end, decided to start from the beginning and see what happened.

What happened was:  I caught about a dozen important typos in the first thirty pages (see the photo above with the sticky-flags; every flag represents an edit).  Mind you, this was already after the novel had been revised so many times I’d lost count AND read aloud once before.  In fact, the photo above shows the manuscript with all the edits I had uncovered after the final read aloud.

And those  are just my edits.  My agent’s response to the revision was enthusiastic  (yippee!) but she had some more suggestions.  Nothing serious but at least a few weeks worth of work, which I’m deep into right now, and STILL finding the occasional typo (although fortunately it’s become pretty rare).

So revision.  Never ending, but that is, I think, how it should be.   What writing is all about, really.

Bye for now, y’all


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A Literary Wedding

There’s a new Geeks Guide to the Writing Life Post up here at the Huffington Post.  But more importantly, former student, Brianne Spicer and her soul mate, Martin a.k.a. “Bear” Sharum got married today and my husband and I were lucky enough to be at their “literary themed” wedding.

One of the perks of teaching is that we sometimes get invited to our student’s weddings and let me tell you, it’s quite an honor, right up there with watching them graduate.  A couple of years ago we had two weddings in one day, fortunately timed so we could go from one to the other.  “How is this going to work?” we wondered.  It’s going to be crazy. But we’ll give it a try.

You know what?  Getting to watch two couples, two gifted students, begin their lives together, in one day was pretty darned awesome.  At the end of the day I realized: this opportunity may never come again and I was truly lucky I got to experience it.

Fortunately we still get invited to “one wedding at a time” events and those are darned awesome too.  I never get tired of being invited and we do our best to make every one we can.

A toast to you, Bri and Martin and a lifetime of happiness!

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