Interview with SAFTA Fiction Retreat Leader, Mary Miller

 

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Fiction Writing Retreat, which runs from Friday, June 15 to 17, 2018. The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee. This year’s retreat will focus on generative fiction writing and include two break-out sessions “Conflict and POV as Perspective” and “Writing the Travel Narrative,” plus discussions on kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, and all on-site amenities for $250. Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent for $25. Payment plans are available if you reserve by April 17, 2018; inquire via email for details.

The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published fiction writers from around the country, including Mary Miller and Jeanne Thornton.

What are some of your hopes for this year’s SAFTA retreat?

I’m excited to be a part of SAFTA! My hopes for the retreat are simple: to share knowledge and have a good time.

You’ve been published widely, and your works have received great acclaim. In between writing your short story collections, you also wrote a novel. How did these experiences (writing the novel vs writing short stories) differ? What did you find gratifying or frustrating/liberating or constraining about the two?

My novel is similar to my short stories in a lot of ways. For one, it’s a very short novel, around 67k words. It’s also narrow in scope, taking place over a four-day period of time and told from the perspective of one person. I don’t have any interest in writing a multi-generational epic told from numerous points of view. Perhaps that’ll change one day; there was a time when I didn’t think I would write anything other than slightly fictionalized stories from a middle class white woman’s perspective, which isn’t the case anymore.

This is to say: I didn’t find writing that particular novel frustrating. More generally, a story should be as long as it needs to be and I try to remember that.

You unabashedly write about controversial issues in your work, and your characters are both relatable and real. How do you think this might inform your teaching when you work with other writers?

I don’t think of myself as writing about controversial issues or being unabashed or anything like that. I try to be as honest as possible and tell the truth (from my narrator’s perspective). I don’t think there’s any reason to write if you aren’t willing to do this. As far as how this might inform my teaching: I’ll always push writers when they need to be pushed, but I try not to do it in a pushy way.

What/whom are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading two story collections: Jenny Diski’s The Vanishing Princess and Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. I’m actually rereading the Berlin because I’ve assigned it to my students.

I was going to say that both of these books were published posthumously, but I just googled it and the Diski collection was originally published in 1995 in the U.K. but is just now available in the U.S. So sort of posthumously? They’re both brilliant. I wish I’d found these writers decades ago.

What’s next on the horizon for you? 

I finished a draft of a novel recently and need to start editing it soon. Right now I’m working on an essay about Jason Molina, a musician that more people should listen to/know about (I also love living people!). I’m enjoying writing flash fiction again, too. It’s so gratifying to write a draft of a story in a very short period of time.

We have one full scholarship available for the retreat as well as limited 20% scholarships for those with financial need. To apply for a scholarship, send a packet of no more than (15) pages of prose along with a brief statement on why you would like to attend this workshop to Erin Elizabeth Smith at erin@sundresspublications.com no later than April 10th, 2018. Winners will be announced in late April.

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