My First Guest Blogger – Victoria Thompson

I’m happy to give the podium to one of Seton Hill’s finest. The prolific Victoria Thompson is an instructor and Mentor in the Writing Popular Fiction Master’s program at Seton Hill University, in Greensburg, PA. Vicky also happens to be an Edgar nominated mystery writer, specializing in Historical Mysteries. Her Gaslight Mystery Series are centered around New York City at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Her first book, Murder on Astor Place was released in 2009, and the latest book for that series (number 15) is about to be released on May 7th. It’s called Murder in Chelsea. Vicky has published thirty-five novels so far and I don’t see her slowing down.

Today, she is going to give writers a few tips on what to do when we feel like we don’t know where to take the story…

WRITER TO THE RESCUE
So what does an author do when she’s written herself into a corner and can’t for the life of her figure out how to get out of it—all while thousands of fans are clamoring for her blood?  That’s the situation in which I found myself last year at this time.
If you are a fan of the Gaslight Mystery Series (Berkley Prime Crime), you know that Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the New York City Police and Midwife Sarah Brandt have been solving mysteries and gradually falling in love over the first 14 books in the series.  Unfortunately, I had started the series by creating insurmountable barriers to their ever getting together, never realizing that the series would become so successful or that readers would become so invested in Frank and Sarah’s lives.
Now let’s face it, how many mystery writers are lucky enough to have a series that runs for 14 books? I count my blessings every day. But in the spring of 2012, I realized that if I didn’t take care of Frank and Sarah’s relationship, readers probably would not keep reading. But how to do it without ruining the dynamics of the series? I was getting desperate, so I vented to my classmates.
Classmates?  Yes, I was just finishing up my master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.  One of my classmates, David Wilbanks, who writes Science Fiction and had at that time never read anything I’d ever written, took my challenge and sent me a list of about 20 things that could happen.  Unlike me and my fans, Dave was unencumbered by knowledge of the characters involved, so his solutions didn’t have to be feasible or even sensible.  His ideas were outside the box.  Some of them were even outside the Universe.  But one of them was the perfect solution to Frank and Sarah’s problems!
If you’re expecting me to tell you what that solution is right here, I’m sorry.  I write mysteries, so I’m not giving away anything that might  spoil the book for you.  I will say that in MURDER IN CHELSEA you will finally get to see Frank Malloy propose to Sarah Brandt. Of course they also solve a couple murders and locate the birth parents of Sarah’s foster daughter into the bargain.  This is a mystery series after all! And to thank Dave for his help, I named a major character after him in MURDER IN CHELSEA.

So this is how a fellow writer rescued me, saving me from the wrath of frustrated readers!  You can see how he did it by reading MURDER IN CHELSEA, a May 2013 hardcover release from Berkley Prime Crime.  It’s also available in all electronic formats. Please let me know if you like the solution by contacting me though my website, www.victoriathompson.com or liking me on Facebook at Victoria Thompson Author or following me on Twitter @gaslightvt.

Clear Ether!

Why this MFA?

Photograph by Sean McGowan

I know I haven’t posted much since I started my MFA program. I’ve been busy reading a lot of Fantasy books for one of my classes and doing a lot of writing and revising on my new story, which I’m very excited about. There are so many good things about the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction Masters in Fine Arts program. I want to share some of them with you.

First thing is in the title. It’s focused on genre fiction. Most programs at this level are centered on literary fiction, which to me seems pretentious and self-serving. There is still a strong faction within the academic community that looks down on genre fiction, but I think the writing in genre fiction is much more active and vibrant. The editing is tighter and the plot…there actually has to be a plot, moves faster and has purpose. We are taught that every scene should have a purpose and to focus on story and strong characters. There are lots of ways to write a book and the way the program is designed it’s flexible and demanding at the same time. They have a large (and growing) stable of mentors that work with students to offer advice on not just the writing but the larger career and business aspects.

The community of students, alumni and teachers is unparalleled. They may not be famous (yet), but they are smart and warm and talented. Some are well known in there genre and getting more attention all the time.  They stay connected and help each other daily. It might be the best part of the program. To be included in a large and growing community of people who write a lot and understand what you are dealing with is huge. It’s bigger than huge, since writing professionally is a fairly solitary endeavor, having a group to be part of makes all the difference in the world. And the expertise that’s available is rich and diverse, providing a deep pool of experience to draw from when you are writing about something you may not be all that familiar with.

The program orbits around the thesis and the thesis is designed from the beginning to be a marketable novel. The focus is on developing the writer’s skills while continually writing and revising the novel, getting feedback from other students and mentors along the way. It’s a built in team effort and it’s something special to have this much focus on a book during the development. Having writing partners is fantastic. Not only do they give your story fresh eyes, but they also encourage and push. I feel blessed to have such wonderful writing partners in the program. I hope that we remain partners as our writing careers go on long after we graduate the program.

They recently added the “F” part of the MFA which makes it accredited and allows a person to teach at the collegiate level. They have allowed prior graduates of the program to return and get their “F”, which is very cool. To me that’s just gravy. I don’t know if I will ever use it, but it’s nice to know that will be there.

The program only requires five days a semester to be on campus. It’s one of the lowest commitments of any program in the country and makes it much more palatable for those of us that have time consuming day jobs. It was the biggest factor in my choosing Seton Hill, but I couldn’t be happier with my choice. The residency is packed full, but the time we spend together is not only constructive but fun. We have time in the evenings to socialize and have special events, like book readings and dinners and even balls. The compressed time gives the residency an immediacy that serves to get a lot more involvement by everyone. I’m really looking forward to the next one.

If you have any interest in getting an MFA I give the Seton Hill program my highest endorsement. Good luck in your writing.

Clear Ether!