Stonecoast: The Hobbit

*This post was originally published on Theodora’s website. 

By Theodora Goss

hobbitI want to write a couple more posts about my experience at the Stonecoast residency this winter. As you know if you read my last post, Stonecoast is a low-residency MFA Program in which I teach, which means that I go up to Maine for residencies in the winter and summer, and then mentor students during the spring and fall semesters. This past residency, I led an elective workshop on writing fantasy. Most of the workshop was spent critiquing the stories students had submitted. But we also talked about the particular challenges of writing fantasy. The first day we talked about setting, then characters, then plot, then style. I thought I would talk for a bit here about creating setting in fantasy fiction, because it presents problems that realistic writers don’t have to deal with.

Basically, when you’re writing fantasy, you may be setting your story in a world that doesn’t exist. It can be much easier for a realistic writer, because he or she will have points of reference for the reader. “I walked through Central Park” immediately conveys an image to most readers (who have been in Central Park, or more likely seen it in movies or on television). “I walked through the gardens of the temple of Ashera” tells the reader exactly nothing. It conveys absolutely no visual image, except perhaps a green horizontal thing beside a gray vertical thing. So as a fantasy writer, you often have to work harder.

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The Rewards of Mentoring

By Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Alumni BooksRecently, a former Stonecoast mentee contacted me with welcome news. Her book was approaching its publication date, and she wanted my address so the publisher could send me a complimentary copy. Last week, I headed to a café uptown to hear another former Stonecoast mentee give a reading from her fresh-off-the-press poetry collection. I had been lucky to work with both of these talented poets on their MFA theses, which they developed into the books now moving out into the world. I confess to beaming like a proud godparent.

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Whatever We’re Making, We’re All Sailing in the Same Boat

By Suzanne Strempek Shea

Suzanne Stempek Shea with readers at a recent event.

Suzanne Stempek Shea with readers at a recent event.

My home in the Western Massachusetts valley is rich with writers living and dead. I regularly park my car at the meter below Emily Dickinson’s bedroom window. Errands and events take me past the Eric Carle museum, and also the house that belonged to one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The only positive aspect of going to an oral surgeon during childhood was that his office was on the same street where Dr. Seuss grew up. Opening the door to a local bookstore, I once nearly smashed into the poet James Tate and a group of his students. Recently waiting to pay for a futon cover at a furniture store, I found Jonathan Harr in line front of me in line.

Around here it’s hard to swing a laptop without whacking into any local ink-stained wretches – or successes including enough whose mantels heft Pulitzers or Caldecotts or National Book Awards. So it would be natural to think we scribes of all sorts socialize, that we attend a writers’ club much like the Elks or the Moose or the AMVETS clubs that dot the landscape. But there isn’t one. Or maybe they’re just not telling me about it.

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Why Blogging Is Good for You


image courtesy of HubSpot, Inc.

By Nancy Holder

There is a secret at the end of this blog post.

Over the years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve found that the most difficult skill for most students to develop is revising.  Revision means to take what you’ve got, give it a long, hard look, and then to see it a different way—to re-envision it.

This is not the same as editing your work. That means to make changes to what’s already on the page. Shifting the point of view from first to third is an editorial change. Rewriting the material so that the protagonist becomes a secondary character and the antagonist becomes the protagonist is a revision.

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You’ve Just Gotten Your MFA! So Now What?

Stonecoast MFA graduates, Summer '13. Photo by Helen Peppe (

Stonecoast MFA graduates, Summer ’13. Photo by Helen Peppe (

By Aaron Hamburger

Graduating with any degree can be a time of nervousness as well as excitement, but when your degree is in fine art, particularly the fine art of writing, sometimes nerves can outweigh the joy of accomplishment.

The summer after I finished graduate school, I sank into a deep self-questioning funk.  What did I do now?  Where could I turn for advice?  Who was going to hold me responsible for meeting my workshop/packet deadlines?

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Lost in Transcription

By Jaed Coffin

In my line of work, I spend a lot of time talking to people. A few weeks ago, I spent a day with a guy who restores BSA M20 vintage motorcycles in his garage. Last Monday, I rode a snowmobile for about 200 miles along the Canadian border with a hardcore libertarian bear hunting guide. Earlier in the winter, I spent several afternoons in an old church in Portland, talking to Reverend Jeanette Good about the role of faith in the least religious state in America (Maine).

The most interesting interview of the year: speaking Spanish with a Cuban man who makes transatlantic voyages on 600 ft. barges loaded down with shipping containers full of pregnant cows. He’d been up since 3am, had just flown in from Turkey the night before. We drank coffee, in a diner, in the easternmost town in America. In his former life, he told me that he’d been a “doctor pediatrico.” I mean, you just can’t make this shit up.

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Dispatch from a Residency, Winter 2014: Photo Essay

At the Stonecoast Faculty Blog, we’ve started a tradition of providing our readers with a window into the Stonecoast residency via photo essay.  Now that the 2014 winter residency has come to a close, we’d like to continue with the tradition of sharing snapshots of our 10 memorable days together in Maine. Enjoy!

(images courtesy of Helen Peppe Photography)

Students Daniel Ball and Kate Johnson

Students Daniel Ball and Kate Johnson share a moment together (and enjoy some of the Stone House’s delicious coffee!).

Faculty David Anthony Durham listening during a faculty presentation

Stonecoast Faculty David Anthony Durham listens during a faculty presentation.

Graduate Amin Es gives a presentation titled "The Translator: A Transformation of Poetry into an Autobiographical Graphic Novel" ..... "This talk is a conversation about how to connect the symbolic intricacies of Iran’s ancient poetry and its contemporary political atmosphere."

Graduate Amin Es gives a presentation titled “The Translator: A Transformation of Poetry into an Autobiographical Graphic Novel.”

Quenton Baker at Alumni Reading (photo by Helen Peppe)

Stonecoast alum Quenton Baker offers the community of friends, faculty, and former classmates his poetry during the alumni reading.

Alumna Helen Peppe signs books after the alumni reading. Helen's new book "Pigs Can't Swim" is out from Da Cappo Press in February

Alumna Helen Peppe signs books after the alumni reading. Helen’s new book “Pigs Can’t Swim” comes out from Da Cappo Press in February.

Faculty Elizabeth and Suzanne

Stonecoast Faculty and long-time friends Elizabeth Searle and Suzanne Strempek Shea stop for a moment to offer a smile for the camera!

Graduate Andrea Lani

Graduate Andrea Lani delivers a student commencement speech.  Congrats, Andrea!


A view of the Stone House, a source of creative inspiration for students and faculty alike!