It sure has been a while since I checked in on this blog, but now that I am at the midterm of my first semester in the Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I thought it was time! So, hi, friends!
It seems like yesterday that I happened upon VCFA in a random online search. It seemed like such a special program. It wasn’t long before I was on the phone with their admissions counselor, alumnx and author Ann Dávila-Cardinal. We talked for over 45 minutes, and after that, I couldn’t get the program off my mind. But I worried and put off applying until the last minute. I finally decided, YES, I really, really, really want to do this. So, I put together my application, a writing sample, an essay, and my former editor and a coach for letters of recommendation. Still, I wasn’t sure. Finally, the day before applications were due, I hit submit.
And I was accepted. One afternoon in the middle of November, I got a call from the program director, congratulating me on my acceptance. WHAT!? Me?? Yes. Me. I got in.
I hemmed and hawed on my decision on whether to actually enroll. Something told me I had to, though. There were a few roadblocks, but they all dissolved with a little push, and soon enough, I was on my way. I still went back and forth so many times about actually going, but… there was that inexplicable draw, and I knew I had to honor that.
So, on a cold day in early January, I logged into the new student orientation on Zoom at the start of our 10-day residency. Usually residency is on campus in Montpelier, Vermont, but because of the pandemic, it was held virtually. So for the next 10 very blurry days, I was at my computer on Zoom for the majority of every day, attending workshops, lectures, seminars, and more. Whew. That was intense.
Partway through residency was when each student was matched with their faculty advisor for the semester. The announcement came at 9pm Eastern and leading up to that there was a Zoom dance party (complete with dancing crabs), and then everyone got the email. I was matched with author Jennifer Ziegler!
My doubt in myself didn’t stop there, though, and I kept going back and forth during my first packet assignment work. (This semester I have 4 packets due. A packet consists of creative work, critical essays, reading several books with an annotated bibliography, and a letter to our advisor). It’s a brilliant and innovative model, but I still wasn’t sure I belonged.
My advisor, and the program director, both assured me that I did, in fact, belong.
My Creative Work
So, here I am at midterm. I just submitted my second packet on Sunday, and cannot believe that half the semester is now through. How did that happen?
I went into the semester convinced I was going to write a young adult historical fiction novel set during the American Civil War. Somehow, though, during my first packet work, through lots of sketching and plotting, it turned into a contemporary novel about a teenage girl named Ada. I eked out 25 pages of work (the minimum) for Packet 1. It was okay, but shallow. My advisor advised me to really get to know Ada. I had to draw her out. And draw her out I did, but it wasn’t easy. After three tries, I finally landed on the right music and playlist that worked for her and her story. (Music really helps me write.) I also did a lot of sketching and drawing and writing in spiral notebooks – something that makes me (and my advisor, too) come alive as a writer.
Packet 2’s creative work looks nothing like my work from Packet 1. I totally overhauled the story, and ended up submitting 50 pages of revised and new pages of this novel. Its working title is Angel Windows, named after a geological feature, a double arch, in the Red River Gorge. It was a trip to the Red River Gorge, Kentucky in January with my family that the story first came to life for me. Now the book is set in Kentucky, closely connected to the Red River Gorge. It’s a good thing I know the place so well! My intimate knowledge of the area has come in quite handy. And Ada fits right in. This character has so much to say and to learn, and I can’t wait to keep writing her story.
Writing and Dreaming
I finally feel like I am back, fully, as a writer. Writing Angel Windows, and working with Jenny as my advisor, has brought me back to life. I feel the same elation as I did back when I was writing Going over Home.
I know I was drawn to VCFA for a reason. I couldn’t deny the pull. I have grown so much as a writer, and as a person, just in the last few months, and I know there’s more on the horizon. And I can’t wait for it.
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