2016, April 2016, Archives, The MFA Years

An Inside Look With Kellie Carle, Spalding University ’16

Image: Edsel Little

Note: Thank you to first year contributor J.R. Dawson for providing me with these questions!

How does your residency work and how it is paced?

Spalding University’s Low-Residency program offers several options students can complete while enrolled in the program. The option selected decides the time they will attend residency. Some students, like myself, choose to attend residencies held on Spalding University’s campus in Louisville, Kentucky in the Fall (November) and Spring (May), residing at The Brown Hotel located in close proximity to campus. However, the program is designed with the idea that life happens and everyone does not have the ability to follow a rigid schedule. This flexibility allows students the option of attending in the Fall, Spring, Summer (the residency being held in an international locale overseas) or any combination that works for students as long as they complete the graduation requirements within ten years.

During residency, students attend lectures taught by faculty and guest speakers regarding craft techniques, opportunities after graduation as well as readings by faculty and students. Discussions are also held regarding the Program and Faculty Book in Common, opportunities to become acquainted with and selecting a mentor for the semester. Other program activities include lectures given by the graduating class, lunches and dinners organized by class or genre (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, screenwriting, playwriting or writing for children and young adults) concluding with graduation.

Before arriving, each student is required to read the Program Book/Script in Common (PBIC), the Faculty Book/Script in Common (FBIC) as well as submit a piece to be workshopped. Everyone attending is required to read the PBIC in preparation for the question and answer section with the author regarding the construction of their work and their writing process. The May 2016 residency focus genre is non-fiction and everyone attending will read Michael White’s Travels in Vermeer. The FBIC is read by everyone in the same genre. My fellow fiction writers and I will be reading Roy Hoffman’s Come Landfall. In reading the PBIC and FBIC students are given the opportunity to analyze the work of an individual they will meet during residency, fully prepared to question the decisions the author made in the creation of their novel or applaud the moments they found especially successful.

The workshops are safe spaces to discuss works in progress, a faculty leader ensures that every student is heard and every opinion is appreciated and every writer receives an equal amount of love notes and suggestions for improvement. This is my favorite time during residency. I am thrown into a room where I am familiar with the student’s story before getting to know the person. The most interesting part is listening to moments of praise and confusion. Something that appears so clearly in my mind might confuse someone else in my group. Also, everyone offers different viewpoints regarding how the author may approach this point of concern but the overall emphasis is on the discussion where everyone’s opinion matters and is taken into consideration. The entire residency is a learning experience, providing students with the skills necessary to become better writers.

How do you stay in contact with your mentor and your classmates during the semester? How do you work with them when you aren’t face to face?

Technology plays a large role in staying in contact with my mentors, past and present. One of the program requirements is for students to have a midsession and end-of-session phone call with their mentor. However, this session may also be conducted through the use of video conference or Facebook Messenger if you prefer typing rather than engaging in phone conversations.

I also communicate with my mentor through the required packets we exchange; some mentors prefer receiving the packets through email, while some prefer snail mail. Each packet begins with a letter. The preliminary pages allow each student to express their concerns regarding the enclosed material and also offer an opportunity for the writer to ask how the mentor/student is doing, checking in before diving into questions, comments and concerns regarding the enclosed materials.

As for the friends I have made while attending residency, we stay in touch through Facebook, email, texting, and video conferences. Google Drive is extremely helpful when uploading new stories and sharing them with my friends. They can leave their comments on the story or view what other people are saying, thus generating a discussion. Forming bonds in a matter of ten days before going our separate ways encourages me to ask for phone numbers, check in and see how they are and share new material that I would otherwise save for future workshops. The time between residencies also adds to the excitement when returning to Spalding, meeting with your mentor and friends in the airport, hotel or on campus. Some of my friends and I are planning ahead, trying to determine if our flights arrive around the same time so we can meet for breakfast and catch a shuttle to The Brown Hotel together.

Even after graduating from the opportunity, students are more than welcome to return to residency for SpaldingCon, a post-graduate writers’ conference. Alumni may participate in a master class, workshops in their chosen genre, seminars, faculty lectures and publishing/production sessions. The MFA program encourages constant communication between faculty, students and alumni whether through email, Facebook Groups or returning to residency as a Post Graduate Residency Assistant or for SpaldingCon.

Why did you choose low-res vs. going to a full-res?

We just fit one another. I was getting ready to graduate with my MA, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. However, I did know that I loved writing and wanted to keep learning everything I could to make myself a better writer. One of my professors saw the hunger in my eyes and suggested I look into the program at Spalding University where he mentors and teaches.

I was drawn to the program because of its complete immersion, being surrounded by writers and authors whether you have read their books or not, then going home and learning to block out and create time to fulfill the requirements of the program. I was afraid that without the campus atmosphere throughout the week, I would drown. Initially, the following questions circulated through my mind: How would I stay in touch with people I only had the pleasure of knowing for ten days? How will my mentor get to know me as a person if we are just sending packets to one another? Will I be able to meet all the deadlines with all the temptations and distractions being at home provides? Instead, I find myself thriving, participating in opportunities revolving around the school. I am slowly becoming comfortable having one on one discussions with my professors, realizing that instead of being all powerful beings who have complete control over my grades they are human who, like me, enjoy the writing process.

My writing is receiving the one on one attention I desire, I am constantly learning even when I am not on campus and find myself able to relax and enjoy the experience without fear of judgment. Spalding University’s Low-Residency program launched me out of the shell known as my comfort zone, encouraging me to be more active in forming contacts and strengthening my communication skills especially in regards to my writing. I am able to notice flaws in my stories, develop characters with desires but most importantly, I am able to articulate questions and concerns pertaining to my work in order to make it successful.

What do you do between school terms?

I love to sit in my hammock, hanging between the two Japanese Maples my father and I planted when I was five, sipping sweet tea while reflecting upon the works of John Steinbeck, Octavia Butler and Julie Otsuka.

Just kidding but those are some of my favorite authors. When I am not attending residency, I am at home working on packets that will eventually make their way to my mentor. Each packet is a maximum of 50 pages in length; the content of these 50 pages varies per semester. Since I am currently a third semester student, several of my five packets contained drafts of my Extended Critical Essay (ECE). The ECE represents a student’s ability to analyze and provide critical insight surrounding the craft techniques utilized by various authors. After completing the essay and celebrating the fact that it will be added to the library of Extended Critical Essays, I am able to send my creative work in preparation for my thesis semester.

However, I must also prepare for the upcoming residency. As previously mentioned, students are required to read the PBIC, FBIC and submit some creative work to be included in the workshop booklet. I should be receiving my workshop booklet in May, filled with works of fiction to be read and critiqued before arriving at residency. Even though I am not in a classroom several times a week, I am constantly writing, reading, taking notes and critiquing. I also work as a graduate assistant for the program adding to the workload but I know that I am doing all of this because I am working towards something important.

The best moments outside of residency is when I open my mailbox or email and see my packet with comments from my mentor waiting for me. Then it’s Christmas in my house all over again, ripping the seal of the envelope and excitedly absorbing every word because each moment of praise or suggestion for change means that someone is taking the time to closely read something I am invested in and is a representation of my hard work. That moment of recognition makes everything worth it.

You can follow Spalding University on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and via their blog.


Kellie Carle currently lives outside the greater Philadelphia area where she sits in a poorly insulated office, contemplating the struggles all writers face on a daily basis. Kellie earned her BA from Old Dominion University in Virginia, MA from West Chester University in Pennsylvania and is currently working towards her MFA in Creative Writing-Fiction at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. She is a lover of literary, historical and speculative fiction,  journeying to conferences in hopes of finding adventure and forming connections with fellow writers that share a passion for their craft. Her short story entitled, “Gone Fishing” is currently available on Pennyshorts’ website.

If you’re a current student or a recent graduate of a creative writing program and are interested in being interviewed, visit our submissions page.

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