Thursday, June 19, 2014

Learning to Keep Going: Alumni Authors

It is increasingly difficult for writers to stand out from the crowd as publishing agents receive thousands of letters each month from aspiring authors. Writers try different tactics such as sending in query letters, including past publications and awards, or directly submitting pieces to editors with the hope of being discovered. Out of hundreds of submissions, an agent will only consider two or three to take on as clients. What, then, makes a writer stand out from a sea of other talented individuals? Emma Bolden ’05M, Jason Mott ’06, ’08M, and Carmen Rodrigues ’10M offer insight into what has made a difference in making it to bookshelves.

Emma Bolden
The primary support for young writers at UNCW is its stellar faculty who can teach by example. Emma Bolden ’05M, author of the chapbooks The Sad Epistles and The Mariner’s Wife, in addition to the book length series of poems Maleficae, was first attracted to UNCW to study writing in multiple genres, but fell in love with the program when she saw one of her favorite authors, Mark Cox, on the faculty list. Emma first began publishing in high school but still worries every day that her work will go unpublished, saying that “even now, when I see my books on shelves, I’m not certain that I entirely believe it."

Though Emma has never used an agent to publish, she shares that the biggest obstacles for any writer to overcome are internal: “learning when work is ready to be sent out, learning when work needs to be put aside, and learning to keep going – and going and going and going.” Recently published in The Rumpus, Emma explains that she is most proud of her essay “About The Human Hymen Membrane (Disambiguation)” which discusses her twenty-two year struggle with endometriosis and was especially difficult for her to write. As an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University, Emma continues to pass along the determination, perseverance and support she was shown at UNCW.

Jason Mott
Like Emma, Jason Mott ’06, ’08M shares an appreciation for the faculty and was first attracted to UNCW when poetry lecturer and MFA coordinator Lavonne Adams visited Jason's class at a community college. Jason, author of The Returned, graduated magna cum laude and is one of only 683 students to earn both a BFA as well as an MFA in Creative Writing at UNCW. His hard work as a student earned Jason the Margaret Shannon Morton Fellowship and the Philip Gerard Graduate Fellowship.

Though Jason’s first published novel The Returned has recently been adapted into the critically acclaimed television series The Resurrected, this accomplishment was preceded with unfruitful endeavors. In addition to collections of poetry, Jason wrote several manuscripts that went unpublished and The Returned, a NY Times Bestseller, received its fair share of rejection letters before it was picked up by an agent.

Working on his writing projects during evenings, after returning home from his full-time job at a Verizon call center, Jason had to stay organized and focused. It was this diligence paired with his literary talents that eventually landed him a contract with a major publishing house and he is grateful for his good fortune. “As a writer, you dream of a publisher who is over the moon for your project,” he said in an interview with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts.  Jason will be sharing about these experiences and more at the Summer Writer's Conference this weekend at UNCW where he will be a keynote speaker and workshop leader.

Carmen Rodrigues
Carmen Rodrigues ’10M is a Seahawk who believes her writing was strengthened by the “fluidity between disciplines” offered at UNCW. Carmen has published two well-received young adult novels, Not Anything and 34 Pieces of You, and is currently working on her upcoming novel Carry You With Me. While Carmen’s novels have been quickly picked up after being seen by several publishing houses, she struggled to find the right agents for her projects. Her experience taught her that agents consider multiple factors before signing a new client, including market trends, the writer's compatibility with the current roster, the project's immediate viability, and their passion for the manuscript. "They may still choose to pass on it," which Rodrigues takes in stride because, "that same agent will provide you with valuable feedback. A wise writer considers that feedback carefully."

Carmen recommends using the rule of five when deciding what to revise. “If five people you trust—agent, editor, teacher, fellow writer, or astute reader - express the same concerns about any part of your project, then listen and understand that some of what you’re trying to do isn’t working…yet.” She urges young writers to overcome rejection and keep working on their craft.

Emma’s professors at UNCW instilled in her what she considers very wise and true advice when it came to publishing her work. “When I was in graduate school, Professor Messer told us that she approached sending out submissions as a job.  You just have to keep going, to keep believing in your work, and to keep working!”

UNCW Alumni Relations/Chris McCall '14