Plotting My Way To An MFA

Why yes; that IS me on the cover of Poets & Writers…

Since May 2011, I’ve been working on an MFA in Creative Writing. Where I grew up, they’d probably say “MFA” stands for “Mighty F’in Awesome” (and to be fair, I’m working on being that, too).

A few courses in, I’ve enjoyed it so far, have read far more than I thought I would and have turned the bags under my eyes into luggage. More importantly, going for a Master of Fine Arts degree has gotten me back on track. After my book, Homemade Hollywood, I just didn’t feel like writing much other than for my job. There’s an old adage that you don’t have to be published to be a writer; you just have to write. Realizing that I was just the opposite—published, but not writing—going for the degree was a very specific move to get myself back in front of a computer screen.

More importantly, I knew it would force me to up my game. While both my books were met with glowing reviews, neither set the world on fire when it came to sales. In one book’s case, that quite demonstrably was not my fault, but bottom line, it was my name on the cover, so I’m the one who has to live with the end results. With that in mind, I realized that regardless of the reviews I’d gotten, the best thing I could do to improve my chances next time out would be to become a better writer—hence, the MFA.

A year in, I’ve written a 55-page play on luxury watch executives; a science fiction story about rogue software; another short about a disastrous police line-up; and even a paper on emotional dysfunction as a motivator in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno (now that was a page-turner, lemme tell you). I’ve also done some reading—plenty of reading. Here’s a little-known fact: Reading lots of books takes lots of time. I know—I was surprised, too.

Our P.O.V. during the Poets & Writers cover shoot.

One unexpected benefit of going for the degree, however, was that I wound up on the cover of the September/October 2011 issue of Poets & Writers for its annual MFA Issue. The concept was to put a variety of students from different programs together in one shot, although none of us actually were quoted within or wrote anything for the issue. Learning about the call for students to meet up in New York City’s Central Park for the cover shoot, I jumped at the opportunity. There was little jumping on that humid July day, however, as we baked in a 98° heatwave. Hats off to the Photoshop pro who tweaked the photo—we look like many things, but moist is not one of them.