Tell us a little bit about your background before VCFA, and how you came to decide to enter our program.
I had been in publishing for a number of years, writing on the side and not taking myself seriously. But, after my grandfather died I had an epiphany and decided to devote myself to my writing. I started working on a novel that is now under the bed, but it got me into my first writing workshop at Banff Arts Centre where I met Alan Cumyn. He told me about VCFA and a few weeks later an application arrived in the mail. I sat on it for a long time, but then I decided to apply and see what happens…take myself seriously.
What year did you graduate from WCYA and what was your class name?
I graduated in January 2013. My class are called The Dystropians
Was there one lecture in particular that you can recall an a-ha moment that reinforced that you belonged in the program?
That’s so hard because all of the lectures are excellent, and they all gave me something. Here are a few favourites.
Martine Leavitt’s “Tom Finds a Trope,” which inspired our class name.
Louise Hawes’ “Wabi Sabi: The Extraordinary Power of the Ordinary.”
Sarah Ellis’ “Sticky Toffee Pudding: Sentimentality”
Amanda Jenkins, “The Dragon: A Discussion.”
But, I feel like I’m leaving out…like everyone.
Could you talk about your experience in lectures or during your semester work with advisers and how it may have shaped the writing life you are living now?
Being in the lecture hall with everyone made me feel like I was becoming part of the community, we were all learning from one another. We were sharing something special, sacred and creative. It was transformative.
The workshop model works because everyone is involved in the process. I remember the feeling in each one of being heard, there was respect for the work and for the writer. The techniques we learned in workshop, to be observant, to ask questions, to listen, is what I do now with my students and critique partners. It is about helping them find their story, not what you think their story should be.
Each advisor taught me something different about writing. Sharon Darrow taught me about going deep into my emotion, she encouraged me to be open to my cultural experience, write about being Jewish—something I was very uncomfortable with doing and what I’m now stepping into with both feet. Mary Quattlebaum taught me the technical things about writing, plotting, grammar and structure, but also about play in writing, being open to the process. I hear her voice in my head when I’m copyediting. Rita Williams Garcia taught me to stand in my voice, not rely so heavily on what other people say. And, Sarah Ellis? Well, she brought it all together for me, helping me fine tune and find the humour. She pushed me to get a bit more grounded and focused. All of them prepared me for the writer/editor experience of receiving feedback and moving forward on your own to revise, revise, revise. I’m indebted to them.
What about VCFA affected your career and where you are now?
VCFA helped me become a writer and, I think, gave me some credibility with agents and editors. One of the reasons the editor approached me about writing Maud was because I had been attending VCFA. I’ve noticed that agents are willing to talk with me because I went to VCFA. The MFA also helped me get a college teaching job.