Thesis matters

Wednesday May 28, 2008 @ 12:36 PM (UTC)

It occurs to me that I haven’t talked too much about the nuts and bolts of my MFA program here, which is generally by design; however, now that this site is more officially part of my semi-professional authorialness, I thought I would mention my thesis.

I quickly resolved, on joining the MFA program, to work on short stories. I didn’t feel that I wanted to commit to just one story (a novel) for the whole time, and wanted to work with different voices, settings and styles as I learned. This dictated a collection of short stories as my final creative manuscript (dubbed ‘thesis’ in the program.) Then, my first semester in the program, I wrote two thematically similar pieces of fabulism which my advisor thought particularly strong, and he suggested I pursue the theme further.

So it is that I ended up writing fourteen short stories and two microfictions in the program, but only putting seven stories in my thesis. “Burgerdroid” and four other viable stories (two are dead-end drafts) are not in the manuscript.

So I have a somewhat odd accomplishment sitting in front of me: seven carefully arranged stories under the title of “Sea Selves”. Though it fills 120 pages in the program-approved format, the collection might only be 70 book pages, too short for a legitimate short story collection. I feel like I have no more ideas for this theme – and yet, I felt that way before the last story or two, some of the strongest, were written. Is this a full book? Have I written a book? And yet, even if I have, short story collections are rarely saleable. Whatever my pride and enthusiasm may dictate, I will probably just send the stories off individually to markets and work on my first novel.

But whatever the pragmatic verdict on my ‘first book’ may be, I am proud and relieved. This was a strange, ambitious project and it came together. Came together well, I dare say. I managed to discipline my creative impulses and turn them, more and more each semester, towards one goal. I even wrote my longest story yet, 29 pages, a much different mental task from the 10 page tales I often write. All these are important steps towards being able to finish a long manuscript. A few days ago, I took the important symbolic step of putting pen to paper, writing down a working title and the first few lines of dialogue. My first novel is underway. Graduation is one month from today. A world of change beckons.


Your energy here is infectious. I’m not in an MFA program, but as I’m in the “writing” track, I feel I should be doing something cool for my thesis. As of yet, I am scattered and unorganized, but my diagnostic review is coming up in a few months and I need to prepare. In short, I am proud of and inspired by you. And do you have other story ideas that are similar to fabulism but not quite? Cuz you know how those things work. Something obliquely related can be included in a collection.

You’re very flattering with all this pride and inspiration talk. Have you tried telling your scattered ideas to someone (out loud)? That seems to help, in my experience of my MFA essay (semester before last) and talking to other people ‘bout their MFA essays.

There’s actually a bit of a range already in the thesis collection. Most of it I’d call fabulism, there’s one or two indescribables I might call interstitial as a cop-out, and there’s one (the long one) that I consider honest-to-goodness slipstream. But it’s the subject matter more than the metaphysical genre that needs to match, and after writing seven ocean stories, I don’t feel any more coming on for a while….

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