2016, Archives, June 2016, The MFA Years

End of Semester Reflections on Moving to Alabama and Publishing a Novel

It’s early June, about a month since I intended to write this post. My initial thought was to write something about the first year of the MFA in review, but the idea of covering so much ground was enough for me to leave the blogging for tomorrow and catch up on Veep and Silicon Valley instead.

Rather, I decided to reflect on two major points that have proven to be important learning experiences this year: moving to Alabama and publishing my debut novel.

1) I moved to Tuscaloosa, AL and I have mixed feelings about it. Part of the growing process for me has been learning to manage my expectations.  

Okay, so the fact that I have mixed feelings about living in Alabama should come as no surprise (don’t we all have mixed feelings on everything to some degree?) On the one hand, I really like the MFA program at Alabama. The classes are interesting (for instance, so far I’ve taken courses on Comedy, Detective Fiction, and Fabulism, just to name a few). The writers around me are creative, thoughtful, and bring to Alabama with an exciting variety of aesthetics. I’m constantly reading others’ work and thinking, I should try something like that! Or reading the notes they give me on my pieces and thinking, Yes, you’re right, that ending does need work.

I enjoy going on swims in the various lakes, hiking, playing pick-up soccer, and doing Friday night trivia at the local brewery. Since entering the program at Alabama, I’ve constantly been generating new writing. I’ve had pieces published (or picked up for publication) by Juked, decomP, Jersey Devil Press, Crack the Spine, The Adroit Journal, and The Santa Ana River Review, and I’ve received honors from Glimmer Train and Plougshares.

But there are also things I don’t like about living in Tuscaloosa, especially having come from Los Angeles. I miss the constant availability of arts and culture and comedy and film. I miss living somewhere with an abundance of amazing food and cheap restaurants. I miss living somewhere where my social life is less insular, where there is less drama and gossip and all of the other things that naturally emerge in the university setting. I miss living somewhere where the default image of a man on Tinder does not involve a gun and a bloody deer carcass.

I’ve realized, however, that so much of my experience in Tuscaloosa is about managing my expectations, and that it is okay to not fall in love with a place. It is okay for graduate school to not be the best time in my entire life. It’s easy for me to look at others in my program and to feel envious of how much they seem to be loving it, to feel like I’m doing something wrong because, for instance, I only want to stay for 3 years rather than 4, and I’m not especially eager to return after spending the summer in L.A. But everyone is different. Some people find a community in graduate school that they were desperately yearning for before coming. Some people really appreciate living in a small, quiet-ish college town like Tuscaloosa and the idea of living in a big city sounds terrible. Some people have found love in Tuscaloosa, have found the person with whom they’d like to spend the rest of their life. And the realities of some people’s feelings about Tuscaloosa may be different from the perception they give off.

I felt the same way about college. I had such an idealized view of what college should be, of how it would be “one of the best times of my life,” and that’s not what happened. Sure, there were many good things about college, and there were many things for which I was grateful, but there were also elements that were really challenging as well.

All of this is to say, there is no single legitimate MFA experience. Some people will love it. Some people will hate it. And many, many people will have feelings in between. And I’m beginning to think that’s okay.

2) I published a novel and it is both exciting and slightly anticlimactic. But in the end, I feel good about it.

My debut novel, Glass Shatters, came out on April 12, so it’s been in the world at large for almost two months. (Shameless plug—you should buy my book! You’ll really enjoy it: http://www.amazon.com/Glass-Shatters-Novel-Michelle-Meyers/dp/1631520180/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465253657&sr=8-1&keywords=glass+shatters+by+michelle+meyers). It’s a strange feeling to have your first novel finally available to the world, especially when publishing with a small press, where you’re not going to be getting half-page spreads in the LA Times or the NY Times espousing the many virtues of your brilliant story-telling (okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you get what I mean).

So all the good things—according to the Internet and feedback from folks I know, people who are reading Glass Shatters are really digging it. While individual tastes may vary, nobody has panned the novel, and much kind praise has been heaped upon it. I’ve gotten great reviews from Booklist and Foreword Reviews and I was featured on spring reading lists from Hypable and Bustle. I just had a well-attended reading at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles and I’m making preparations for readings in Boston and NYC this summer.

The more challenging things—I’ve realized that I was probably overly optimistic about the kinds of sales I could achieve going with a small press. Even though I think that there could be a large audience for this novel (it’s a combo of literary fiction, science fiction, and thriller—think a mash-up of Gone Girl, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Memento), given that I’m a relatively unknown author publishing her debut novel with a small press, I may not get many people to buy my book beyond those who I know personally or peripherally. Most small presses won’t sell over 100 copies of a given title, and while I will surpass that, it may not be by as much as I would have hoped.

I decided to go with a small press because I wanted to maintain more creative and artistic control over the work. I’m happy with the novel itself, the so-called “end product,” but the trade-off is that Glass Shatters isn’t going to have nearly the potential publicity and marketing that a novel from a big publisher may have available. There are times when I think that maybe I should have gone a more traditional route, querying agents and aiming for a publisher with a wider scope instead of choosing a small press. But at the end of the day, I’m also pleased with the integrity and artistry of the novel that was released and the fact that I didn’t have to make any significant sacrifices for the sake of commercial viability, which likely would have happened with a larger, more profit-oriented press. While I will likely seek out an agent for representation of my next novel, ultimately I think I’m glad that I went with a small press for my first novel.

I know it’s summer and all we (I) want to do is read and watch TV and write stories and go on long walks with the dog, so I’ll leave it at that! Stay tuned for more updates this fall J

Currently Cooking: Seared Scallops with a White Wine Broth and Tomato-Corn Salad

Currently Watching: Veep (almost through Season 3)

Currently Listening: Hamilton (like everybody else?)

Currently Reading: A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball


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