A Little Inspiration with Coffee and May

The entire title of this post should read “A Little Inspiration with Coffee House Fiction Anthology 2010 and May Kuroiwa.”But that’s rather long for a title-and May knows a little something about titles.

May Kuroiwa is visiting here today on the WOW blog tour as one of the judges for the Coffee House Fiction Anthology. This anthology is made up of the winners of the fifteenth Dame Lisbett Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest. These short stories are the best of the best, a variety of genres and subjects sure to inspire you on your own writing journey.

And May is sure to inspire you, too. She’s stopped in to answer a few writing questions, on a variety of different subjects.

1. May is currently pursuing an MFA in a low-residency program offered by Warren Wilson College. What influenced your decision to take on an MFA program when you were published and already enjoying literary success?

If my final measure of writing success was to be published, then seeing one of my stories in print would have been enough and I’d have moved on to other easier projects–like learning how to firewalk. But I want to tell stories and do my best at making them accessible to readers. That means pursuing craft by attending conferences and workshops and taking classes, being willing to experiment with genres and tools like point of view, and searching out excellent mentors. Pursuing an MFA was the next step.

2. What’s a low-residency program and how does it differ from other programs? How do you know what’s best for you if you’re considering an MFA?

To decide whether a full-residency or a low-residency program is the best fit, consider these questions:

Do you live within commuting distance, or are willing to move close to, a full-residency program? If not, investigate low-residency programs. You only have to attend 8 – 10 day residencies twice each year.

Are you willing to build one on one mentoring relationships, and to receive your instructor’s feedback on your work by e-mail, snail-mail and over the phone? Or would you prefer a traditional in-classroom setting?

If you must continue working and have family obligations, are you disciplined enough to dedicate 25 hours minimum each week to schoolwork? Low residency semesters are six months long; you won’t get summer or winter breaks.

Can you afford the tuition? Some full-residency programs offer complete funding but it’s rare to find financial aid in low-residency.

3. May has also judged literary contests, so can you share with us what catches your eye immediately that makes you think a story or a poem might be a winner? And what makes you say “No” at first glance?

As a judge at Coffee House Fiction and for high school scholarship contests, I must say that although the first sentence is important, and that first paragraph, many writers neglect to carefully construct their titles. A story that opens with an authoritative line contained within a beautifully written paragraph, and which then fulfills on the promise of its title, just might be a winner.

First glance no-nos: colored ink or paper, strange eye-bending fonts and formats, and cute illustrations. My advice is to allow the story to stand on its own merits.

4. I’ve been watching Hawaii Five-O (the new one, but okay. I’m old enough that I watched the first one, too) and I find the island culture so interesting! I know you grew up in Hawaii and wonder how much of that culture finds its way into your work?

I watched Hawaii Five-O while growing up too.

The act of writing is revealing. My cultural background and the way life is unfolding and what I’ve been wondering about all influence my work. Some of my short stories include surfing, discovering the bones of ancient warriors in beach sand, and Hawaiian chants, but all my stories are about relationships. I write about that intersected space between family and friends, between a character’s self-image and the story’s reality, and the past and the present and what sort of future that relationship promises. I hope my stories can transcend cultural barriers by dealing with the issues of being human.

So now you should be good and inspired. Or should it be well and inspired? May can let me know. She’ll be dropping in today to answer any and all writing questions. Oh, and don’t forget to check out Coffee House Fiction to find out how you can order the latest anthology!

16 thoughts on “A Little Inspiration with Coffee and May

  1. Yes, I am well and inspired! :)Interested in researching low residency programs, so good to know that you seem to appreciate them.Thank you, and will go check out Coffee House Fiction.

  2. Thanks, Deb!And thanks for dropping in, Marisa! I was excited to finally learn what a low-residency program is…and I'm doubly impressed, now that I know how disciplined May is. 🙂

  3. Debra — You are very welcome. Keep scribbling!Marisa -My research of low-residency MFAs convinced me that becoming an apprentice-writer, was the best way to work at my craft.Low-residency programs attract star writing professors from big-name universities. For instance Warren Wilson's winter 2010 fiction faculty currently teach at Iowa State, U. of Utah, Columbia, Southern Methodist, Marqette, and U. of Houston, and includes the Chair of the Dept. of English at U. of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. I'd be thrilled to receive feedback on my work for six month stretches from any of them.Although every low-residency program includes lots of reading and writing annotations, intense residencies with workshops, lectures and seminars, and writing a graduate project (usually a collection of short stories or a novel), each program is a little different. Most include poetry students, some creative non-fiction writers, even screen-writers, alongside the fiction students. At least one program, Goddard, requires a teaching semester; another electronic workshop interactions with other students.If you have favorite authors, writers you would love to study with, find out whether they teach, and where. There are no guarantees that a great writer is also a good teacher but the schools screen for that. Do contact me through Sherri Woosley at Coffee House Fiction if you have any particular questions about low-residency questions. And Sherri has an MA, if you want to ask her about that track.All the best,May

  4. Great question Madeline.First impressions count. How often have you picked up a book, or decided to read a story, because of its title? After enticing someone into the story the title serves as a guide, a promise of what's to come, and the reader then watches for associations.Which of these stories would you most want to read?"Under the Red, White, and Blue""On the Road to West Egg""The Great Gatsby"These were all possibilities that F. Scott Fitzgerald considered for his novel. He decided to direct the reader's attention to the protagonist. That's one way to choose a title, to focus on a CHARACTER. Junot Diaz did the same with "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao", as did du Maurier for "Rebecca". Heinrich von Kleist chose "The Marquise of O—" for one of his short stories.You could focus on the story's SETTING: "Wuthering Heights", and Jhumpa Lahiri's short, "A Choice of Accomodations".If you want to highlight an EVENT within the story, try something along the lines of "Sophie's Choice", or Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery".Sometimes it's an OBJECT that lies at the heart of a story, as in Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray", and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried", and Guy de Maupassant's heartbreaking short story, "The Necklace".It could be something UNEXPECTED or UNIQUE in your story that leads you to the perfect title: "Wise Blood" by Flannery O'Connor, and Lee K. Abbott's collection of shorts, "The Heart Never Fits Its Wanting".I like using working titles while I draft and revise stories. They help to jog the story along and make me feel like I'm working on something real, something with a name, that exists outside of my head.Hope that helps,May

  5. May, thank you so much for amazing and thorough answers!I often try several titles before settling on one for a story. Not surprisingly, the stories where I struggled with a title and never really found one I liked, ended up not doing well out in the world. SO much rests on a title!Here's a question I've been wondering about for the Coffee Fiction Anthology…were there any flash stories chosen? And how do you feel about flash fiction? (Not because I write mostly flash…just asking 🙂

  6. Aww, Mohamed, you make me blush! And how is your second novel coming?I enjoy reading, and writing, flash fiction but I don't think Coffee House Fiction received a flash submission in 2010. There are none in the 2010 Coffee House Fiction Anthology. It's very difficult to write a satisfying, complete story in 1,000 words or less; perhaps that's why.A couple of my favorite flashes: Alice Walker's "The Flowers" (565 words), and Kate Chopin's "The Story of An Hour".If you enjoy the challenge of capturing a story within the space of a flash, consider trying your hand at poetry. I use poetry to work on my imagery skills, single sentence crafting, and selecting exactly the right word for exactly the right spot.Zoetrope.com is a good website that includes critiques of flash fiction. The membership also gives feedback on novellas, short stories, poetry, and screenplays. It's a huge free-for-all (e.g., every month there are over 200 short stories posted for reading and reviews) and the quality of the feedback varies, but you'll get to read the work of and interact with writers from all over the world.

  7. Congratulations, May on continuing your education in such a challenging way! Now I understand why you're so observant of the writer's styles and techniques — as a writer yourself you're really in tune with what the writer is trying to do.Good luck on completing your MFA.Kay Saucier

  8. May, thanks again for dropping in today to field writing questions.You're welcome here, anytime!Oh, and thank you to all the new visitors here today at the Hall of Fame. Come back soon!

  9. May and Cathy, what great comments and feedback. I'm so pleased that May forwarded this link to me. Cathy, I'm really enjoying your humor. May, I'm very impressed with your informative and clear responses to the comments and questions.Much success to both of you!

  10. Ellie, thank you so much for stopping by! I hope you'll visit often-I feel something funny coming on nright now :-)And yes, Arlene, May had such insightful answers, didn't she? I learned quite a bit, too!

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