by Abigail Fellin
While doing this series on BVU grads, we could not forget one of last year’s editors, Kacee Baker. Below is our interview with Kacee by Abigail Fellin.
Where are you/what are you currently doing?
I’m getting my M.A. in literature at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV.
Why did you choose to go to grad school?
I had such a great time studying lit at BV that I just wanted to keep doing it.
What about BVU properly prepared you to go to grad school?
Small classes with engaging instructors and thoughtful students prepared me really well for the challenge and atmosphere of graduate school. All the extracurricular opportunities—like helping with Hot Dish and FACES, tutoring at the CAE, and working as an academic assistant in the English department—were also awesome because I was totally immersed in the world of English just like I am now. I could go on forever about how much I love and miss the BV English department.
What is something unexpected about grad school you wish you knew before hand?
How easy it is! I had this perception that I was going to be totally out of my depth and constantly drowning in assignments. The workload and classes are challenging, but I would have felt much more confident and relaxed starting classes if I had fully realized how well prepared I was and how doable grad school is.
What do you miss most about the Midwest?
I think people in the Midwest are the perfect mix of reserved and friendly, and I miss that. Also, the food: Hy-Vee chocolate chip cookies, Godfather’s banana dessert pizza, my mom’s chicken croissant casserole… When I came back home over Christmas I had a long list of Midwest-only places I wanted food from and (hot) dishes I wanted my mom to make.
Is there anything you would like to say to someone considering studying literature as an undergrad?
Do it! It’s engaging, thought-provoking, fun, and challenging. I feel so lucky that I got to go to classes and talk about books every day. If you’re worried about not getting a job or knowing what to do with the major, just put everything off by going to grad school!
Do you have any current book recommendations?
I just finished a great one! If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino is an awesome, accessible postmodernist novel. It moves between a story about two people trying to read the novel itself and the beginnings of several other books that the readers happen across. It’s clever, emotional, engaging, and fun. I read it after coming across its great last line: “And you say, ‘Just a moment, I’ve almost finished If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino.’”
by Dalton Machholz
As part of a new series of blog posts, we are interviewing Buena Vista University graduates to see how their life has been since BV. Paije (Wee) Wilson graduated in 2016 as an English major, biology minor. Here is an interview with Paije by Dalton Machholz.
What is it that you currently do? And why did you choose to go to grad school?
Currently I attend the University of Iowa's graduate program in Library and Information Science, and I'm employed as a student worker in special collections as an archival processor and at the department of dentistry as a research assistant. I chiefly decided to go to grad school because I loved academia, and have always wanted to remain a part of the fast-paced research environment. Dr. Gwen Hart was the one who ultimately directed me towards library school, and therefore a position where I can help professors, students, and even medical practitioners in conducting research while having the opportunity to pursue my own research interests.
How did BVU help you prepare for what you are doing now?
BVU prepared me for grad school in a number of ways. Specifically, my degree in English has helped me to be a critical thinker (which has fueled my research in critical literacy in academic environments), has given me the skills to write grad-level essays, and has made me a confident and successful researcher. My minor in biology has also sparked my interest in encouraging interdisciplinary research, has contributed to my ability to acquire a mentorship with the medical library, and had helped me to acquire a student position at the department of dentistry. In sum, BVU is an invaluable contributor to my success in grad school.
What activities were your favorite to attend while you were at BVU?
My favorite activities at BVU included being an assistant editor for the FACES literary magazine, and, of course, Humans vs. Zombies!
What is something you really miss from BVU?
The thing that I miss most about BVU is the small-town atmosphere of the campus. I loved being able to study in any building at any time of night, and being able to talk to professors of pretty much any discipline.
Name you favorite Midwest, or Iowa food.
My favorite Iowa food would be sweet corn, of course! =)
by Abigail Fellin
“The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little less alone in this world.”
When I first picked this book up at Barnes & Noble, I was intrigued by the image of kids chilling in a field, staring at the sky on the cover. Who are they? What is their story? And why are they all staring at the sky? Basically, I judged this book by the cover and decided I liked it instantly, giving the story high expectations to live up to.
Spoiler alert: It did.
We All Looked Up follows the story of four high school seniors as they realize it is not graduation they need to worry about, but the end of the world. An asteroid, affectionately called Ardor, is set to hit Earth in 8 weeks, ending life as they know it. This gives them two months to really live.
While this sounds like it could just be another apocalyptic story filled with high school drama and teen angst, it is so much more than that. Wallach takes stereotypes—the jock, the slut, the slacker, and the nerd—and turns them into three dimensional characters with insecurities, desires, and fears. The characters quickly change from stock characters to relatable people that readers can easily find a bit of themselves in. While multiple point of view stories can become a volley of going back and forth between different stories, Wallach does an excellent job of weaving the change of POVs together in way that makes the story seem continuous without giving all the characters the same monotonous tone.
This story is not without its shortcomings. Although Wallach was able to create multidimensional characters, he does fall into the trope of having a lopsided love triangle—unfortunately, an overused device in books. Despite this flaw (that sadly spans the length of the book), this novel is still a great read that leads readers to ponder philosophical questions on existentialism.
We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach could have crashed and burned like the Ardor is set to crash into the Earth, however it takes on big questions in a non-cheesy, cliché way that intrigues readers from the first page.
by Emily Wedell
Samantha Frehse is a BVU graduate who currently teaches at Newell-Fonda High School. Hot Dish Magazine interviewed Samantha after a presentation Hot Dish editors gave to the Newell-Fonda students who visited BV. The Newell-Fonda students were working on their own literary magazine project, and Hot Dish Magazine was excited to learn about the high school project.
As a BVU alum, how has BVU prepared you for your current work?
There are many things that I could say that BVU has done to prepare me for the work I do as an English teacher. However, the opportunity that helped prepare me the most for the WE Term class, Mustang Mag, was working on the FACES magazine with Annamaria Elsden and my friend Krista Kent. Working on the magazine back in 2011, I was shown a glimpse of the planning, organization, and work required to create a magazine.
Could you tell me a little bit about your students’ new literary project?
During this past year, Beth Olsen and I decided that for our 2018 WE Term Project, we wanted to try something a little different than we had done in the past. Inspired by magazines we enjoy, and our love of learning we thought creating a magazine project would be fun. By allowing the students freedom of choice, they would be able to learn more about the topics they enjoyed. In our group this year we ended up having a variety of magazines. We had magazines about pets, fishing, survival, photography, culture, 4-H Fairs, sports, art, and cooking.
The children started out the process by brainstorming ideas that they would like to look into a little bit more. Some students came together and formed groups based on interest, others decided to focus on a topic that they alone found interesting. Mrs. Olsen and I worked hard to create lessons that would help them with their magazines. We tried to front-load our class with information to help our students sort out their magazine. We also went to some amateur and professionals for a little bit of help in working with our magazines. We got a chance to learn more about photography from Michael Dewey and Danielle Peterson. We got a chance to learn more about creating a magazine and a logo for that magazine from Hot Dish Magazine at BVU. We also got a chance to learn a little bit more about the printing process with the Prairie Lakes AEA Printing department and their graphic designer. Overall, together with our students, we learned that with a lot of work and collaboration, there could be some successful magazines created in even a short time like our two-week class.
What is the most challenging (and/or most rewarding) part of pioneering this project?
One of the most challenging parts of creating this project was not knowing where the kids would go with it. It is hard to plan and prepare for something when you are not sure what type of students will be in the class or where their interests will lie. However, when all was said and done, it also became a really interesting piece of our class. We got to learn more about what the students are truly passionate about. It was fun to see some of the students really enjoying themselves as they read articles to help them become more informed on their topics.
Is there anything particular from the Midwest region that inspired this project or contributed to its creation?
Some of the magazines themselves were inspired by the Midwest region because of some of the unique qualities found here.
Do you have a favorite book or author?
My current favorite author is probably David Baldacci. I love the action and adventure that he brings to his novels.
Since we are a Midwest, "Hot Dish" publisher), What is one "hot dish" type of recipe you typically make (and please include recipe and instructions)?
1 lb ground beef
1 pound mostaccioli pasta, cooked and drained
1 jar Barilla Pasta Sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large skillet, season the ground beef with salt and pepper. Then at a medium temperature, brown the ground beef until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the beef, cooked pasta, and pasta sauce until well combined.
Layer half of the pasta into the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish and top with half of the mozzarella cheese. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture into the dish to form a second layer. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
by Abigail Fellin
We Could Have Been Happy Here, MG Press, can be found online on Amazon and in local bookstores.
A thick fog sat on top of the lake. The misting of rain throughout the day had turned into a drizzle as the sun set. It was the first true fall night in Storm Lake, Iowa, as Iowa writer Keith Lesmeister visited Buena Vista University to read pieces from his new book, We Could Have Been Happy Here, a collection of short stories all based in the Midwest. Keith Lesmeister is originally from Cedar Falls, Iowa, but currently lives in Decorah and teaches at Northeast Iowa Community College. He has been published more than 30 times over the last five years, with his first short story, “Looney Bin” being published in Midwestern Gothic in 2012.
The classroom quickly filled up with students, faculty, and a few community members, and Keith started by telling the audience he did not always plan to be a writer. He explained how he was originally a jock and it wasn’t until his late twenties that he started writing. He shared a couple stories of family and Midwest life and then began reading from his book. After reading the first half of “We Could Have Been Happy Here,” Keith answered some questions from the audience involving how he began writing, where he draws his inspiration from, and his experience with publication before bookending the event with another excerpt from “Today Call Me Lou.” Afterwards, a few students lined up at the front of the room to purchase copies of his book and to talk with him a few minutes.
The next morning, I had the privilege of being able to give him a tour of the campus. After seeing the sites and spending time looking at literary journals in the library, we found our way to an office suite where we sat on a surprisingly comfortable tan couch, and I was able to ask him some questions. A transcript of that conversation is below.
Abigail Fellin: Why do you write about the Midwest?
Keith Lesmeister: In part, it’s because of what I mentioned last night in that it’s where I’m from, it’s where I grew up, it’s what I know well, the location certainly, but also the people. There’s a certain practical pragmatic part of this too, which is I don’t want to travel to someplace to get a feel for that location to write about it authentically; but it doesn’t take much for me to travel around the rural northeast Iowa landscape and take in the sight and sounds and the smells, and I can render that authentically in my work. Not just because I’m from here, but I’ve grown up here and it’s just kind of part of who I am.
What’s your favorite part about the Midwest?
Well, its tough to pinpoint any one thing I like more than the other, but I guess for me personally, I like the open spaces. For example, Nebraska is as vast as a landscape as you could ever see. They call Montana Big Sky, but North Dakota or South Dakota or Nebraska could just as easily be called Big Sky. I have a friend that refers to that vast sort of expanse, and the way that big sky is as the Iowa Ocean. I’ve always liked that term. So I like the open spaces. It terrifies some people, it doesn’t terrify me at all. The other thing to, again for me personally, I like small towns. And I like small town ethos. I like the character of the people, the intentionality of community. If, for example, you go to the grocery store in a small town whether you are going for $200 worth of groceries or a gallon of milk, you’re probably going to be there for like 30 minutes, at least. Because you’re going to end up talking to everybody, for better and for worse. The other thing is that I can walk everywhere in Decorah. I walk from the very south edge of town to the very north edge of town in an hour. It’s about two and half miles. There’s something really great about that.
What is some advice you would have for young aspiring writers?
I would say don’t stop writing, read as much as you can, adopt habits and stick to them, and be resistant. When you’re going to get a lot of critique and criticism, you just have to have the confidence to keep going, the self-discipline to keep going, the unrelenting sort of attitude of ‘I’m going to get this finished.’ And just, keep reading, keep writing.
Do you ever struggle with writing?
All the time. Every single day. It is honestly something that I have never felt a kind of mastery for. Like every project is new, every short story is a different short story than the one before, so to say that writing them is like anything else you do, or any other story of the story before that is simply not the case. Every story is like starting some brand new all over again. Of course it’s built on the same ideas, the same language but yeah, I struggle with it all the time. I’m just as fearful and insecure and self-doubting as ever before. Even with the book out, but that’s just being part of a writer, learning to manage and deal with those insecurities and self-doubts and persisting in the face of those things.
What is the most challenging and most rewarding part of publishing your book?
I don’t know if there is a challenging part other than the process of going through all the edits with the editors. In terms of rewarding, think of how much great television is there is out there, how many great movies there are, how many great books there are. People have all of these wonderful options. You can hang out with your friends, you can sit and drink coffee and watch a television show. And then I hear about people who have taken the time to read my book, and its immediately sort of flattering to me, and I’m always surprised to hear when people engage with the book because there are so many other great things they could be doing with their time. So the fact that anybody takes the time to read it is a wonderful thing, and on some level maybe the most rewarding is hearing from readers who engaged with the book at a very deep and personal level.
Do you have a favorite book?
That’s a tough one. Let me just point out some individual stories and authors who helped shape my early writings. I would say “White Angel” by Michael Cunningham, “You’re Ugly Too” by Lorrie Moore, and Charlie Baxter’s “Gryphon.” Those were some of my early influences. I could name those and maybe even a dozen more whose stories and story writers who’ve shaped my early writings and have continued to shape me as a writer today.
After the interview ended, another student I took him to lunch, and then had the opportunity to speak with him in one of our classes. Experiences like these are both educational and fun for students who want to interact with people who are currently involved in the publishing and writing world, and are a great aspect of the experience students at Buena Vista get to have. I’d like to thank Keith for coming here and sharing some of his work with me, giving his time to talk to classes here on campus, and connecting with our literary citizenship initiative on campus.
by Emily Wedell
Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing by Heather Sellers is a short guide on how writers (or anyone, really) can fine-tune their writing habits. A successful poet and author herself, Sellers has written and published memoirs, children’s books, and countless short stories. Page After Page was published in 2005, which was after her collection of short stories was published. The main objective Sellers had in mind while working on this book was how to get people started on writing, and how to encourage them to continue to write. Each chapter addresses a slightly different aspect of developing yourself as a writer, from engaging with other authors, to defeating the infamous “writer’s block,” to dealing with rejection. Sellers uses many personal experiences and examples, as well as a few exercises at the end of each section for the reader (or the writer who happens to be reading) to try. While the advice Sellers gives seems geared towards budding writers who wish to practice creative writing, her exercises can help any writer further develop their skills.
There were a few parts in particular that I liked. First, the chapters are short, focused, and each discuss a specific topic (though they are all interconnected). The exercises Sellers gives at the end of each chapter may at first sound trite or irrelevant, but any writing will help develop a writer’s voice and help that individual get into the practice of writing. Next, Sellers encourages aspiring authors to write whenever and wherever, and even goes as far as to take a night off and sit and write. She explains that writers should be outlaws: free to write whenever, wherever, and to do as they please, because inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. As nice as this sounds, restraints such as jobs, responsibilities, and time usually prohibit taking writing time to oneself, but Sellers still encourages writers to try it, for a break and to see how much progress that writer can make with this method.
Overall, Seller’s book Page After Page offers lots of helpful advice about multiple different aspects or topics concerning writing. Even though some of her tips may not be entirely possible for one to practice due to prior responsibilities, the best advice she offers to aspiring writers is to simply write. She stresses that in order to succeed, writers must be dedicated and devote time to their craft. Her advice is useful for students, teachers, professional writers, or anyone who wishes to write.
Review by Soulinda Somvong
Writing Blockbuster Plots is written by Martha Alderson. She is known as the Plot Whisperer for her books on plot and for winning an award on the blog she manages, The Plot Whisperer, which has been awarded top honors by Writer’s Digest from 2009 to 2015.
Writing Blockbuster Plots was published in March 31, 2016, the book is divided into parts: Plot Planner and Scene Tracker. Both parts provide step-by-step instructions on how to maximize the impact of your scenes and strips the confusion out of the plotting process.
The book helped me tell the differences between scene and summary. Alderson states that a scene shows the action, while summary tells. Each scene has a tiny plot structure of its own, beginning with a goal or desire, followed by some sort of conflict and tension, and ending with an unanswered question or a cliff-hanger, something that makes the reader want to continue reading.
Summary is a place to rest; I can use summary to compress time when appropriate. The use of summary is helpful in moving quickly, so that I can focus on creating scenes to show the moments that are more important to my plot.
By the end of these book reader will be able to:
Review by Sarah Nicholson
Mare Barrow has a terrible life. Her brothers are conscripted into the never-ending war for the King of Norta and by her next birthday she will be too. Poor, desperate, and willing to do anything to keep her family alive, Mare sets out to steal enough to buy her freedom, but fate has other plans. The world is divided between the Silvers and the Reds. Those with Silver blood have abilities; stealth, metal manipulation, the ability to invade the minds of others, incredible strength, able to heal immediately, Silvers are as beautiful as they are deadly and they rule everything. Those with Red blood, are plain. There are servants and cannon fodder for the Silver’s never-ending war with the neighboring Lakelanders.
Mare is a Red. Mare can control electricity. Mare should not exist. When the Queen finds out about Mare’s extraordinary talents she is launched into the den of the people she hates the most. Now forced to hide her Red blood at all costs, or risk her family’s safety from the wrath of the Queen, Mari must fight not only for her own freedom, but for all the Reds.
Thus begins the first of four books in the Red Queen Series by Victoria Aveyard. This young adult fantasy novel has everything that makes the genre popular-- conflicts, love interests, cliff hangers, and plot twists that keep make you want to devour all the novels as fast as they come out. Aveyard has even included two novellas in the series, Queen Song and Steel Scars. These latest installments that show backstories for two of the series minor characters and tide fans over until the final book in the series comes out. While novella’s serve as nice supplements between the larger books they also provide a good opportunity for authors. When you start writing a world building series, like the Red Queen, you have to consider the back stories of every character, even if you know that information will never make it into the main novel of series. All that work, never seeing the light of day can be a tragedy, so novellas offer the perfect win-win for author and audience. Queen Song follows the story of the Queen Coriane, the first queen of King Tiberias, and her short reign in Norta. Steels Scars likewise follows the backstory of Captain Farley, a leader in the Red resistance. Both stories give us details we would otherwise be forced to speculate on. The novellas let us understand the decisions of the characters in the main series better and give us hope for better outcomes in the present situations, by viewing the past.
The Red Queen series is a full-fledged fantasy that both readers and aspiring writers can enjoy and learn world-building technique from. The last book of the quartet is due out in 2018. Current reading order for the series is Red Queen, Glass Sword, Cruel Crown (physical print of both novella’s), King’s Cage.
Review by Jaleesa Bucheli
Not like your usual writing guidebook, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life allows readers to learn about writing, what comes with it and most importantly, life. Anne Lamott uses her experiences in writing that followed her throughout her life and transforms it into a guide to the writer’s world for her readers. For anyone who writes or wants to write, she makes it clear that there is only one choice available, commitment to the process of writing. Anne Lamott says, "The real payoff is the writing itself, that a day when you have gotten your work done is a good day, that total dedication is the point". Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life was originally published in New York, 1994 by Pantheon Books and with it came great success.
Apart from this book, Lamott is the author of seven novels including All New People, Joe Jones, Blue Shoe, etc. She is also known for her best selling books of nonfiction, Operating Instructions and Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son, and Bird by Bird.
This book is a great read because it is not like your ordinary instruction manual book to writing, instead, they’re stories which allows readers to relate to the writer and her journey to writing and the obstacles she had to overcome. Readers build an understanding of the writing world. We are lead to know that sometimes it is hard, you don’t always get what you expect, things don’t always go as planned, but regardless one should never give up and should continue writing if that is what you love to do. This is what Lamott tries to explain throughout her book, Bird by Bird.
One thing that I enjoyed about this reading is the example that the author gives on one of her published works about her father’s diagnosis with brain cancer. Her father had advised her to turn this tragedy into a story. He told her to pay attention and to take notes, and eventually these writings became short stories that later became published a year after her father’s death. With this example, Lamott demonstrates that although she had her first ever publication, it was not all happiness and success. She still had a lot of work to do, and she explains her journey with her continued writing. Anne Lamott is a serious writer, but at the same time she is honest and puts a piece of herself in each writing which allows her work to become real.
by Claudia Martinez
Now Write! Mysteries: Suspense, Crime, Thriller, and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writer and Teachers was edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. The book was published in 2011 by Penguin Group Inc. Sherry Ellis edited the Now Write! Series. Laurie Lamson is a writer, a filmmaker, and book editor. Lamson has edited the Now Write! Screenwriting with Sherry Ellis as well as this book. The overall purpose of this book is to be able to help writers through the process of writing a mystery book or story. Each chapter is composed of sections. And in every section there is an exercise that the reader could do and get some ideas.
In addition, the different sections have personal experiences of different authors that provide insight on why an activity could be so important to the writing process. One example is the first chapter has a section dedicated to research. The author describes the importance of research and makes it relatable by giving his own experience. When I read the section on research I thought it would have been boring or uninteresting because it is not fun or amusing. But I personally found the different experiences to be very enjoyable.
Stephen Schwartz is the author in this particular section. He had mentioned that he was able to convince all of his professors to let him do research on the Navajo reservations, which allowed him to miss two whole weeks of college. His road trip to gather information was titled research but he realized that it was something that he could enjoy doing. When the author gave this experience it made a difference and truly showed how it could be fun and interesting but also never forgetting its importance.
I believe that others, like students or teachers, would be able to enjoy the book because it is not just some manual that just gives you steps. It provides a different perspective on the writing process and it is also specific towards mysteries. It also provides exercises that could really help the juices flow for a writer.