Tag Archives: Dublin

What kind of Writer Am I? Changing Names and Staking Claims

After a four month hiatus, I am back! It’s been a hectic few months with my final graduate residency, assignments for my practicum, and domestic duties, but I am determined to get back in the saddle with my blogging. I’ve missed you WordPress, did you miss me too? Wait, don’t answer that yet. Let me tell you all of the exciting things I have been doing in the absence of writing my blogs.

11 jam-packed days of Irish authors imparting a sense of wonder and fulfillment into the already exciting world of writing. What better way to inspire a troupe of starry-eyed amateurs on the road to master the craft. Dublin greeted us with tropical temperatures and new friends that made this residency especially memorable. While the details of the trip could fill two more blog posts, I will summarize as best I can. My family of writers in the residency gave me so much hope and encouragement that I was truly meant to be in this field. I am nowhere near professional or even expert status in the ways of publishing or even writing, but I can shout it from the highest point of Pittsburgh, PA that I am writer. Hear me roar, er, type?!

hesterOne of the effects of being in Dublin was a restored sense of confidence and at the same time apprehension of what kind of writer I will be now that I have proclaimed myself one. The question plagues me to this very second of what my audience, my readers, and the world will think of me and my writing. The only comparison that I can think of is a flashback to Hester Prynne from undergraduate American Literature class. She bore the weight of society’s judgement the first time she walked with Pearl out to the scaffold with a self-confidence that I never developed. Like Hester, I will eventually carry my manuscript baby to face the judgement of the world’s opinion.  (Yeah that metaphor just happened!)

Sure, I think some of my writing will be good someday, but what will people think? I would be a fool to tell myself that it doesn’t matter because in reality I am writing for my audience, not my family (who will tell me it is all great) or myself.  If my goal is to change how my readers view themselves or life, then I should care about the overall impression of me as an author.

I’ve spend most of my teenage-young adult life experimenting with the way I look to find my identity. Like some women I have dyed my hair to fit my personality Example below:

Matches my quirkiness, but does it really make me who I am?

Matches my quirkiness, but does it really make me who I am?

While I may be happy with my Nymphadora -esque hair, it doesn’t change the fact that my writing is still without an identity. I can move from genre to genre without too much trouble, but how do I make myself a truly unique writer?
To start, I have finally named my manuscript after a year and half of having my main characters name as the title. It is now Dollhouse Daughter. Yeah, yeah an alliteration, but I don’t care. People, more specifically my readers, will remember the title better and it fits me as a writer. I wish I could be one of those authors who doesn’t use cliches, pop culture references, and alliterations. Then who would I be? Not me, that’s for sure.

So, now that I have my first novel title chosen, I figured that my identity as an author would speak through my work. And then I googled myself. Everyone has done it at one time or another (whether you want to admit it or not is up to you) and although most of the results were the Amanda Young from the Saw Series, there was one author who popped up. She’s already fairly popular on Goodreads as an erotica, romance novelist. I shouldn’t have an issue sharing my name with an established author because I’m sure it has happened many many times before, but it is her content that may confuse my personal identity as a writer.  It is a perfectly acceptable genre to write in, and in any other circumstance I would have no issues sharing my authorial name with her. At the same time, my newly named novel is specifically young adult. How will my readers know the difference between an established author and my name when they are one in the same, especially if my books are geared toward a PG-13  audience and not rated R?

Tough choice, huh? I could risk keeping my name and relying on my writing to show who I am or pick a PEN NAME?!Plenty of authors do it every day. My author friend Melissa Drake changed her last name from Davis to Drake—awesome pseudonym, right? My name is not so easily changed. I’m  a fickle Gemini, and I can’t seem to settle on one thing. So, I wanted to share my process of coming up with one pseudonym that I think has potential. I feel like the main aspect of a pen name is the importance it holds in your life. For me, just changing my last name might not be enough. Maybe this is my chance to be someone else–to create a name to match the personality I want the world to see.

First I decided to scrap using my given name all together. Instead,  I could use my initials (which spell the name Amy) as  an easy way of choosing an alternate first name. Take something from my real life and just tweak it a bit to fit a different persona. Because choosing a new name in any sense is incredibly difficult. I could pick something I feel strongly about in the moment, but twenty years from now I may regret the decision.  So the task is to choose something that will last me for my career and sound realistic enough to be an actual name. I’ve spent hours pouring over Celtic mythology names to get an idea for a last name and for a while I thought that coming up with a last name was impossible. It’s difficult enough to choose from ordinary surnames, but trying to find one in ancient mythology that doesn’t make me sound like a character made for Skyrim is nearly impossible. Mythology may be one of my favorite topics to read about; it is nowhere near suitable enough for a pseudonym that editors could take seriously. My next step was taking key words and translate them into different languages to see if that produced some useful results. Bad idea. They were either too simple or too complex to use as a realistic last name.  So I was forced to go back to the mythology, this time focusing on my favorite number-13. It is said that the number thirteen is lucky for left-handed people (not that I can disprove this connection in my case) and it has also been a reoccurring number in my life. This fact along with the magical influence of the number 13 became a viable option for my pen name as long as I could find a connection between the number and a name I could use.  

Eventually, I was able to find the perfect myth to base my pseudonym on, which I will share in the not to distant future. My method is one of a thousand ways to discover a pen name that can separate you from a shared name or embody a name to match the writing you plan to publish.

At this point in my pre-published career, I’m not too worried about the pen name I’ve picked. I have some ideas, but ultimately it stems from a need to secure my place in the publishing market as an individual writer. For now, maybe it’s best not to have a name picked out or a set genre to write in. Maybe it’s just my insecurities about my current manuscript or if the audience I’m writing for will really enjoy my characters and stories. Thus, I leave you dedicated readers with this question–Do you care about the author’s identity once you have fallen in love with their writing or it is honestly just about the stories? 

Happy reading/writing!!!

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What is a Story? Don’t Worry, Claire Keegan Answers

During my residency in Dublin with Carlow’s MFA Program, I had the pleasure of meeting Irish short fiction author, Claire Keegan.  She presented the most unique perspective on writing for her fiction workshop, and I fervently wrote down every word.

Claire Keegan-Irish short story author

She began the workshop by asking the students what should be the easiest question to answer: what is a story? I was speechless. I thought I knew what a story is enough to answer, but I reluctantly stayed silent.

Other people suggested plausible answers, but none were acceptable for our fiery guest speaker. She graciously provided her vision to us. Although her opinion isn’t the only one, the strength behind the words moved me.

She passionately described writing stories as a temporal art. You cannot live in the past while writing. One human truth is that we are irreversibly moving forward into the future, and our writing should match that.  If you think visually of the incision, especially for a short story, you can understand where the story can begin. For Keegan, a story is an incision in time in which the author shows the character in a situation, where they desire something they don’t have. Conceptually, her answer has so many good points, and I attentively listened to her every word because it made perfect sense.

Our passionate speaker proceeded with what perspective she believed should be used in a story. What other perspective than that of the character?! By looking through the eyes of the character, the reader understands everything he/she is experiencing. Keegan explained very simply that thinking about your story through your character allows you to know what their desires are and to write about that.

Now onto the most important part of any story–DESIRE! What every human being has bubbling inside them, desire is the fuel for anything we do. Naturally, it should be the driving force for the character in your story. As an author, how do you know what desires to choose for your character?

Well, Keegan has the answer. “Desires comes from what we have seen.” Seems like common sense for us to want what we have seen, but it’s difficult to change  our way of writing to accommodate her strict guidelines. Keegan insisted that giving pictures to the reader will help guide them through the incision in time that you have decided to write about.  She said, “Readers will follow your pictures as long as you provide them. Give them the time, place, and person so they know who/what to follow.”

Her sense of character and time presented the students with an opportunity to realize so much more about our work. After the workshop, we had the pleasure to hear Keegan read from her long short story, “Fosters,” and all of the advise she had given was shown in her writing. She effectively painted a series of pictures of a young girl in a specific time, and kept my attention throughout the entire reading. There was never a moment in her reading that I was not captivated by Keegan.

A story for me is no longer something abstract, and difficult to describe. Now, I have a vision in my head of what a story can be if I use the tools that Keegan provided at the workshop.  I hope some of her advice can help you with your writing as it has with mine, and I encourage you to look up Claire Keegan’s work. It is as powerful and fierce as the author.

Happy reading and writing!!

 

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Oh Dublin, How I Love Thee!

After 11 glorious days in Dublin, Ireland, I have returned home with an overflow of ideas and knowledge. What I had hoped to be a disaster-free trip, turned into so much more.

The trip began when I left my cozy, little apartment in Pittsburgh. It truly became an adventure when I finally sat on an airplane for the first time. While friends and family attempted to prepare me for the first trip hundreds of feet in the air, nothing compared to how it actually felt.  The adrenaline rush is akin to riding a roller coaster–only better! And the best part of the ride–the descent through the layers of clouds back to ground.

Once I arrived in Ireland, there was a new world to explore, and I was ecstatic to begin.

The beautiful old architecture that makes Trinity College so amazing to visit

We arrived at Trinity College in the unusual heat of an Irish summer day, and it was beautiful! The feeling you get when you walk down the cobblestone paths (besides exhaustion if you’re dragging a suitcase) is utter enjoyment knowing that Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde have walked on the same ground at one point.  The only disappointment of the campus is that the internet cost 15 euro for a guest, there is a ginormous walk to the computer labs, and my room was on the third floor (requiring me to walk up 8 flights of stairs).  The accommodations were perfect for an 11 day stay including the best shower and  cleaning services every day.

Now that I have established the setting for my stay in Dublin, let me tell you about the classes. Featuring some of the biggest names in Irish writing, the amazing MFA program allowed the students to sit and talk with the following authors/poets:

Edna O’Brien, Anne Enright, Hugo Hamilton, Claire Keegan, Kevin Barry, James Heaney, Paula Meehan, Kevin Power, Brandon Barrington, Harry Clifton, Gerald Dawe, Adrian Frazier, Sean Hardie, Brian Leyden, Molly McCloskey, Mary O’Donnell, Michael O’Loughlin

One of the most astounding qualities of this program is the ability for the staff and mentors to provide the best possible experience for those 11 days. I was swept away by the mystical quality of the speakers each and every day. Not only did I re-discover the passion for my writing, but I found the discipline I had been longing for since I began the program. With the help of Claire Keegan, Hugo Hamilton, and my mentor, Evelyn Conlon, I was able to grasp my purpose as a writer, and lock it safely within myself.

The amount of knowledge that has been stored in my mind hasn’t even been processed yet, but I can tell my writing has already changed in the short time I have been on my trip to Ireland.

The great view of the ocean from Dalkey!

It is from the experiences within the walls of Trinity College and in the streets of Dublin itself that I shall grow as a fiction writer. I will be coming out with more installments of what I have learned as well as sharing the pieces I have written since I left. Professors and professions sometimes say that you should write what you know. I will leave you with a piece of genius I learned  from Claire Keegan: writing what you don’t know is more exciting, and it allows you to truly understand how a character lives if you find out how the story will end with them. So, be prepared for the next few weeks because I will be dumping the mountains of insightful quotes and tips about writing I have learned onto your lap for you to learn as much as I have in the last two weeks.

Happy writing/reading! Cheers!

The bell tower of Trinity

The Sniffy Liffey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden of Remembrance

You have to be told which way to look. Trust me when I say..it was needed! I’m almost going to miss looking down to see where the traffic is coming from

Amy and Rory’s Door!! Minus the sign on the top of the door

 

 

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Place is Everywhere, Captain Obvious!

As strange as it seems, place keeps coming back and slapping me in the face. “I’m everywhere,” it says. “Use me!” And so when I venture to the great Emerald Isle, I will embark on a writing journey completely focused…on place.

How can someone not write about this??

Located hundreds of miles from my tiny apartment is the brilliant city of Dublin where I will learn how the wonderful country of Ireland feels, smells, and sounds.  Place allows everything in a story to prosper if the writer lets it. Too often stories are set in a wonderful place, and the writer kills it before it can build a life of its own. It is in other stories that place becomes the center of the characters’ lives and without it the story falls a part. Ireland brings me an opportunity to experience the world as it was before cell phones, electricity, and even indoor plumbing.

It is the magic of the land that I hope to soak in and apply to my writing. A chance to breath in the history and the myth of the ancient world.  After starting the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, the mystical elements of the land seem into my sub-conscious and beg of me to search for faeries and leprechauns on my trip. I have a goal to wander the wilderness of Ireland in search for the Otherworld, but perhaps that will have to come in my dreams or my writing. Regardless, a trip to this magical place has inspired an idea of epic proportion, which I hope will blossom on my journey to Dublin.

Instead of forests and streams, my trip will be full of the Dublin nightlife, which will hopefully still hold the magic of Ireland!

What magical place have you always dreamed of traveling to and writing about? Share your thoughts here!

Happy reading and writing!!

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The Pitfalls and Rewards of Studying Abroad

I am slowly gathering together the things I need for my awesome June residency in Dublin, Ireland. The cost is insane, but the reward will be priceless. The opportunity to write and learn in one of my ancestral homes has been a dream for as long as I can remember.

My process for getting ready has been slow (due to money issues), but as a first time international traveler I have jumped one major hurdle….THE PASSPORT.

I have finally applied for my passport. Most friends and family advised I  do it almost a year in advance to ensure I received it. I could have been super cautious, but the truth is that if you know the system, you don’t have to work that far in advance. Typically in the off season (not Summer/vacation times) it will take about 2 to 3 weeks for your passport to be processed and arrive (according to the guy at the post office). With that in mind, I am confident that applying only a few months before my departure will allow ample time for my passport to arrive.

It was a hairy process to start as many people already know. For those that don’t I will give you a run-down.

1) It’s expensive, so before you begin save at least $150 to cover the costs of getting the passport.

2) Documentation is the most important aspect of this process. If you have all your ducks (papers) in a row, then the process will go by a lot smoother. You will need first: your birth certificate (and if you don’t have that you’ll need to research the alternatives) with raised seal/lettering and both your parents’ names. For Pennsylvanians, this new rule has posed a huge problem. Until somewhat recently, birth certificates in PA did not require the names of parents, which makes the passport application process more difficult. Next, a photo ID (driver’s license usually) will have to be photo copied front and back on one page to prove you are who you are.

3) That damn picture is one of the most difficult parts of the process. If you do it yourself, there is a list of parameters you must follow before it is accepted. And if you don’t do it yourself, the cost of having the post office or acceptance facility will cost you. $40 with the U.S.P.S. to be exact. It may seem excessive, but if you want it done right, then you’re bound to pay the money if you can’t do it yourself.  Although I know that Rite-Aid (drugstore chain) has been known to do passport pictures, as well as AAA for a LOT cheaper.

4) Filling out the application should be the easy part. One thing you must be careful of when filling out important papers is to use pen with care. Read carefully because your responses must be placed correctly or it will not go through. I found that for U.S. citizens, the passport book will let you go anywhere, but the passport card is mainly for traveling just to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, and Bermuda. Be careful about which one you pick because it will save a minute of your time.

5) Finally, paying the fees. Ensure that you have the money set aside and what forms of payment are accepted. If you can figure out how much and who to write the checks to it will make the process go by quicker. Just be sure to have to money in there because they will charge you tons of extra money if you don’t have sufficient funds.

With all of that said, I am looking forward to receiving my passport. I have dreamed of the day I could leave the country, and travel to some of the most exciting places in the world. The postal service employee was intrigued to know why I was going to Ireland, and when I said writer he was surprised. It was nice to received such an optimistic response from a stranger. Some people don’t have respect for the craft, and automatically assume you’re a dumb, starving artist roaming the world for some useless inspiration.

At the same time, he encouraged my dad to get a passport in case I was “hit by a shalelie” and I needed my parents to come get me. Not that I disagree with younger kids going on trips, but I’m 22. Anyway, he continued his monologue by saying that he could easily change my name on my passport if I happened to, you know, get hitched while I’m over there. I was flattered at first by the assumption I was enough of a pretty young thing to attract all of the eligible Irish bachelors.

However, I am not the shallow, insensitive type to fall for a guy with an accent. It is a disgrace for women from America to fall in love with men they don’t know just because they’re from a foreign country. Yes, I’ve just described hundreds of harlequin romances, and every hopeless romantic girl’s dream. I just can’t see it happening. For me, going to a new place is fantastic, but it truly takes longer to know and love someone.

As much as any young woman would be swayed with a drink or two and a crooning Irishman: I have a prince charming already, so hitching a foreign guy would be a waste of a perfectly good relationship right here at home.  Too many women make rash decisions with their fleeting emotions, regretting them soon after. It is easy to feel like you fall in love, but the lasting flame of a strong relationship will overpower the allure of a foreign country. I wish all of the single ladies good luck with their dream to make P.S. I love you come to life, but there is a comfort knowing I will have a devoted man that I know to come home to after my trip is over.

So, the first step in my preparations has been completed. I await the arrival of my passport in a few weeks in addition to saving necessary money for the plane ticket, and the trip. The excitement grows with every mention of Ireland, the writers, and the places we will see. It is the epitome of my life so far, and I will be glowing as I reach the most beautiful place in the world (in my mind).

Dublin, Ireland will be beautiful no matter what anyone says and I'm not even there yet!

Now I must get back to my paper, which is due two days before St. Patrick’s Day.

Happy reading and writing all!

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The Gathering Week One

Well, the first book I have to read for my residency with acclaimed western writer, Jane Boyer (Candia Coleman) is The Gathering by Anne Enright. Now you must be thinking, what is a western writer doing assigning an Irish writer to a bunch of first years (freshman so to speak)? The answer would be my upcoming trip to Dublin, Ireland in June. Why Anne Enright? Because she could very well be there during the residency and she is a fantastic example of Irish writing.

The copy I'm currently reading looks like this 🙂

I’ve had some experience with Irish writing. Mostly James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, and William Trevor. My experience first came in a Irish Short Fiction class during my junior or senior year of my undergrad. It would have been an amazing class if it had not been at 8 o’clock in the morning three days a week. There is just something about 8 a.m. that makes the brain want to work less. It was interesting nonetheless and I expect my time in Ireland will be much better than sleepy mornings in the basement of the library.

Returning to the purpose of the post, I have spent the last few days starting Anne Enright’s book.  The book is set in Ireland and England, so far. To me, they are exotic enough that just the areas she describes excite me to read more. As much as I enjoy her use of vocabulary and detailed scenes, I force myself to slow down. Too frequently, readers forget how to read slow and simply skim over the words only processing half of them. My friends and family may think I’m a fast reader because I finish books quickly, but that is not the case. In fact, I would describe myself as a slow reader on purpose. I want to savor the moments of a book whether it is for school or for pleasure. Reading shouldn’t be a race to get to the end of the story. A book should be read at the pace that it’s written.

For example, Carrie by Stephen King, I read in one sitting or a few hours. It was relatively small for a Stephen King novel, but the fast paced nature of the story is what led me to read it quickly. The author somewhat dictates how fast or slow you read the book, but the story also does that.  For the books I’m required to read for school, though, I deliberately take my time to savor and analyze the book. As I have  learned from my first residency, there is a difference between reading as a reader and reader as a writer. I struggle automatically to differentiate the two while reading.

However, I’m not alone as it is a skill acquired with time and practice. It is easy to enjoy a story and read for pleasure. It is another to read from an academic point and analyze potential literature for archetypes and common themes. It is another point all together to read as a writer. It is completely different to read thinking about style, voice, and point of view. To understand how a writer wrote such a fantastic story from the inside is a task not easily handled. So, I have only delved 1/5 of the way through the world Enright has created.

I am following an Irish family as they suffer through one of many deaths. The main character, Veronica Hegarty, is suffering most from her brother’s suicide. Although, from the first few pages, their deranged mother seems to be suffering more than all of her remaining children combined. I think the casual nature that Enright brings in the dysfunction of the family appeals most to me. Everyone thinks they have the most dysfunctional family, until they look at the house next door or down the street. It is that familiarity that your family infuriates you (Veronica being the responsible one and having to take care of all the arrangements) and soothes you (hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it will) without you even realizing it. She depicts a playful relationships with the past and present of Veronica’s life in addition to an imaginative past of her grandparents’.

I am struck by how quintessential family can become in just a few chapters. It doesn’t have to relate at all to your own family because people always find similarities in the smallest things. It is simply the struggle of dealing with family and death that makes this book so easy to connect. Two elements that in one way or another shape every human being, every living creature on the planet. I look forward to each page, attempting to understand the bits of Irish culture embedded in the  story as well as the overall feeling of Enright as a writer. If I do have the chance to meet Enright, I will surely faint for the sheer fact that she is an acclaimed Irish writer. More importantly, I will again be in awe of those much more experienced and eloquent doing the most valuable thing in the world, writing.

So, I leave you reader to return to The Gathering and coincidentally my cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Hope you will check out this little piece of Irish life as I prepare to write a paper about it.

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Inside the Life of A Grad Student

I have stated before that I am currently seeking my M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Carlow University. Pittsburgh is my setting for the next two years and it is an under rated place for writers.

My master’s program is unique because it is low residency in addition to studying abroad. It leaves me with a lot of time to write and amazing places to see. My first residency began almost a month ago and ended 11 intense days later. The low residency allows me to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Eight hours of seminars, workshops, and guest speakers with little time to breathe. I learned so much I can’t even write down the enormous amounts of knowledge I have now. You might not think 11 days can teach you a lot, but when you get a group of energetic, lonely writers together knowledge flows like a fountain of wine. I can tell you that already I have made life long friends in under two weeks. It is astounding what can happen when you put people with a common interest in the same room.

As the residency came to a close, I felt sad knowing I would have to go out into the world alone and use my new knowledge to write. It was so comforting to share my ideas with people who truly cared about giving constructive comments to improve my work.

From the end of the residency until June, I have some assignments and a lot of writing to do. Hopefully, though, I can count on the comments from my readers on here to help me with my fiction and guide me until my next residency.  Tomorrow I will have to e-mail 10 pages of my fiction to my mentor and in another two weeks I will have to  prepare a critical essay from a book I’ve read. Seems pretty simple for a graduate program, huh? Well, the easy part may seem to be the lack of work. In reality, the freedom and self-motivation become the difficult parts. Lucky for me I am a page away from my assignment due tomorrow.

The book I will start to read is The Gathering by Anne Enright, which is fitting because in four months I will be getting on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. My next residency is at Trinity College in IRELAND?! Since I am not a well-traveled young woman, this trip will be the first of many adventures I will have the pleasure of taking. Thanks to Carlow’s required study abroad aspect of the program, I get to visit a country I have dreamed of seeing for my entire life.

Only 11 days of class, four books, four papers, and then  trip to Ireland. How can life get any better? Let me tell you, I am one lucky girl that I can spend my days writing my heart away and my nights comfortable in my bed dreaming of four leaf clovers and Irish pubs.

I truly am grateful for the opportunities given by this program and enjoy every second of my new life as a full-time writer. My friends, colleagues, and family get to read what I do every day and see the happiness writing can bring a person.

Besides, how can a writer not be happy with this library to look forward to?

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