UConn Creative Writing Contest Winners!

Congratulations to the 2017 winners of UConn’s English Department Creative Writing Awards!

Keep an eye out for some of these pieces in the upcoming 20th anniversary edition of Long River Review this spring.

The Edward R. and Frances Schreiber Collins Literary Prizes

Prose Winner: Breanna Patterson, for “The Times”
Honorable Mention: Stephanie Koo, for “Where Do Birds Go to Die?”

Poetry Winner: Emma Kraner, for “Uffizi Gallery”
Honorable Mention: Emma Kraner, for “Dissection”

The Jennie Hackman Memorial Prize for Fiction

First Place: Lilia Shen, for “The Picasso House”
Second Place: Sten Spinella, for “Angus”
Third Place: Jeremiah Dennehy, for “Constance”
Honorable Mention: Brianna McNish, for “In Another Life”

Wallace Stevens Poetry Contest

First Place: Anna Ziering
Second Place: Brian Sneeden
Third Place: Jillian Cundari
Honorable Mentions: Akshayaa Chittibabu and Samantha Bassman

The Aetna Children’s Literature Award

Winner: Jameson Croteau, for “Moon Bound”

The Aetna Translation Award

Winner: Matthew Ryan Shelton, for “Transubstantiation”
Honorable Mention: Matthew Ryan Shelton, for “Etched Away”

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Awards

Undergraduate First Prize: Noah Bukowski, for “Guilt Treatment”
Honorable Mention: Kiana Cao, for “My Home, Your Home”

Graduate First Prize: Nyanka Joseph, for “Marrow and Mopping”

Long River Graduate Writing Award

Winner: Kristina Reardon, for “Crumbling Walls”

Congratulations to all winners!
Long River Review would also like to extend a very special congratulations to our staff members.

For more information about UConn’s creative writing contests and how to participate, please visit the department website.

How to Surive an Attack from an Ex-M15 Agent: Eleven Steps to Getting the Most out of Your Writing Workshop

By: Jameson Croteau

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(Creative Commons/ Google Images)

Someone told me— right before my transatlantic flight—that Englishmen hate confrontation. Flash forward to my writing internship in London and I have an ex-MI5 agent, veins popping purple through the Skype window on my 16-inch laptop screen, about to burst from my criticism of his second to-be-published novel. His vitriol, hardly avoiding curses, were being hurled across the internet, burning the connection lines along the way. I think that I had touched a sore spot in his relationship with his work. I had probed, innocently I can’t quite say, the motivation of the protagonist. And now, I was going to pay.

“I don’t need an American twig without a degree commenting on my work.” He had said (read: screamed) to my advisor as I was shuffled safely away and out of the screenshot.

I could’ve been gentler, sure, but I was convinced that his main character didn’t have a reason to go back to the Falklands midway in the third act of his sprawling Paris thriller. This mishap, though scary at first—the distance over Skype between myself and the ex-MI5 agent felt about as sturdy as a printer paper shield—confirmed to me the importance of being a successful workshopper. Had Mr. ex-MI5 been a bit more receiving of criticism, I assure you that he’d be a better writer. All it takes is some etiquette and the right mindset to progress. This being said, here are my eleven steps to acquiring the most from your workshopping experience.

Step 1: Breathe

Inhale deep. Hold. Exhale.

It’s as simple as that.

Every writer has anxieties about their work, regardless of that person’s level of experience (or lack thereof). Once you hit submit, your work is in a state that won’t change until after you hear the feedback from your peers. Therefore, there’s nothing left for you to do but sit back and ride the wave that you just created…hoping that it sends back a ripple or two.

Step 2: Breathe

Yep. Do it again.

Now put down your papers, your notebooks, your laptop and let your work breathe. For the purposes of the workshop, you and your art have just been through a somewhat messy break up. Give it time before you start sending it late-night pining texts.

Stephen King in his memoir of the craft, On Writing, suggests a six-week period of breathing space before working on the second draft of a piece. I won’t say your break has to last that long, but allow yourself space so that you can return to your work with a fresh eye. You want to be able to let your critics’ comments rattle around in your head before you see what sticks. Then, hopefully, you’ll be back at your desk with some new, evolved ideas and a fire in your gut.

Step 3: Shut Up and Shut It Down.

The workshops that I have been a part of tend to thrive when they are open discussions with one caveat: the writer’s whose piece is being critiqued is not allowed to talk. Sure, this rule is broken all the time, but trust me that the less talking that the author does during the critique of their piece, the more likely they are to get an honest opinion.

It comes down to the fact that if your work is a finished product you will be willing to let it stand on it’s own. As an author, you will never have the luxury of standing over a reader’s shoulder to explain the reasoning behind your choices. You have to be able to let the voice in your prose or poetry stand on its own.

Part of this process involves shutting down your ego. Even the greatest performers crave criticism. There’s no way to grow if you aren’t open to your work being deconstructed, analyzed, and put back together. Take the time to go over everyone’s comments and concerns from the first-year creative writing student, to the “Guy in your MFA” types, to the perennial published author, and even to your grandmother (though be sure to have a saltshaker on hand). Your audience will always differ, and you’ll never know who out there is going to pick your book up on a whim and starting reading. It’s impossible to appeal to everyone, but make sure that your voice and your work are as traveled and viewed as possible. To make this happen you have to be both humble and accepting.

Step 4: Find Strangers

As hard as it is to separate yourself from your work, it will be even harder for your fellow workshoppers to do so. Finding a talented and driven group of writing strangers is a nearly impossible task, I know. At this point, the experience that you’ve had workshopping is probably with friends or in a classroom setting. However, it is paramount that you receive the frankest (and therefore helpful) comments possible. Nothing makes a workshop blander than an audience who wants to rip your piece to shreds but is afraid of hurting your feelings. Therefore, submit your work to people who don’t give a damn about you. Your work will thank you for it.

Step 5: Write Everything Down

It seems straightforward, but I hardly see anyone ever do it. I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember the sentences I sketch in my head during a shower by the time that I get dressed. Write everything down. Even if you don’t believe it applies, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if the commenter didn’t read your piece all the way through. You’ll want notes when your trying to develop your second draft. Even if you feel like the comments aren’t what you initially intended, these suggestions need space to settle in your mind. If you take notes, you won’t need to go memory fishing weeks later to remember what the “Guy in your MFA” said that could actually be a practical solution the issues that you’re having with your work.

**Semi-pro tip: if even one commenter spends more than 20 seconds talking about a particular aspect of your piece, that section needs to be given a more comprehensive look over.

Step 6: Tally and Rally

After I’ve accumulated my notes from workshop, I’ll jot down the sections that need to be improved and make a tally. I look for similarities in my peers’ comments, and make a note of what keeps reappearing.

This is the point where you should start asking questions. If things aren’t clear in the workshop, they won’t be clear when you go back to work on your piece. Once you’ve gathered your data, start where you got the most “hits” (be it time spent or number of mentions). If it’s a point of contention, consider that section further. You don’t have to get it right, but at least coming at these points from different angles will increase the chances of something about your own work being revealed to you.

Also, the best way to receive a good workshop is to give great ones in return. The next few tips we be about leveling up your workshop game.

Step 7: Be a Doctor

Other than learning how to stare down a PO’ed ex-MI5 officer, the most valuable tidbit that I learned during my internship in London was to “be a doctor.”

Good workshopping, in my opinion, requires you to do three things:

1). Find.

2). Diagnose.

3). Prescribe.

Never be the person that says “Sara isn’t a believable character.” You shouldn’t even say “Sara isn’t a believable character because she has no identified motives.” Be the person that clearly states “Sara isn’t believable, but I suggest doing x, y, or even z to help pin down her character.”

Even if the author doesn’t take your idea (and most times they won’t), they will be forced to think about it. And this process will usually spur some new, more creative thought that will benefit the piece as a whole. Going the extra mile with your suggestions will make your comments more reliable and note worthy. And ultimately it helps the writer, which is always the end goal.

Step 8: Reciprocate

Guy Kawasaki , famous for being Apple’s Chief Evangelist, writes in his how-to startup book: The Art of the Start 2.0, that reciprocation is paramount for creating an enduring company. He goes on to write that trading one resource or activity for another doesn’t create lasting relationships. Trading creates work that must be done, whereas reciprocation creates work that ought to be done. It establishes a relationship as well as an obligation.

So be like Guy, go out of your way to pick out the best few or the most active members of your workshop and go the extra mile for them. Take their piece and do a line-by-line edit. Start a conversation with them about their piece and in turn—while I can’t guarantee they’ll do the same for you—when it’s your workshop slot they will be more mindful about your work.

Step 9: Be Frank and Constructed

Be a writer’s best friend. Shoot them straight, but be pithy and contained. Your comments lose value when they start to rant and become jumbled. A simple tactic I learned in high school that still works well today is that you have to comment on four things when reading a piece: the most and least interesting bit and the most and least convincing. This is the bare minimum I do. Every piece, no matter how terrible or how perfect, will have something that can be represented by each of these four points.

Once you have found your points, expand on them as far as you can. This will allow you to be as real as you’re able to while giving feedback that is structured and straight forward. It works because it clearly states where the writer succeeds and where they had some slipups. And it’s short and simple. Remember the trimmer the vessel the more it can carry.

Step 10: Be Thankful

We have to admit it, writers can be an overbearing bunch, even to each other. If we’re lucky enough to have someone out there look at our first draft drivel or monster manuscripts, say thanks. They just may do it again.

Step 11: Don’t be an angry MI5 agent. Please.

Musings of a Curious Newbie

By: Breanna Patterson

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(Google Images/ Creative Commons)


I’m an amateur writer. I’ve clawed out my own precious corner of my school’s Creative Writing Program and it is in this space that I am continuously attempting to prove myself. That’s the issue with writers: we sit in front of our keyboards, we psychoanalyze our own characters, and we try to develop ourselves through the people on the page. It is thankless work in a lot of ways. There are readers who will relate to our pieces. There are other readers that will see the label “creative non-fiction” or “poetry” and immediately put our work back on the shelf. Being a writer is a lot like shouting into a theater where the only response is your own voice calling back at you. Or worse – being a writer is like posing a question to an audience that refuses to look up from their phones. 

I remember hearing Jerry Seinfeld say in an interview, “Being a comedian is having to prove yourself every 10 seconds.” I like Jerry. He’s a funny guy, and he knows the importance of a good punchline. In his routines he takes a few seconds to build up his audience, establish an expectation, and then subvert it with the joke’s conclusion. I love it – I love the pace and the formula of a joke that lands perfectly on its feet. But writers don’t get the same luxuries as Jerry Seinfeld. Every word helps to establish who we are, every mistake puts a crack in our relationship with our audience. Have you ever read a book and found a sentence that was, simply put, awkward? There’s a moment of pause. You reread the sentence again because, surely, that wasn’t quite right. And then, like a significant other’s hand that lingers for just a moment too long over another, the mild tension brings the connection into question. Writers are not judged every 10 seconds, they are judged every word. And, to be honest, the anxiety of knowing that one’s piece needs to stand with collective integrity is almost crippling. Yet we keep writing. We desire the investment of our audience so entirely that we are willing to expose ourselves to the criticism of our invisible readership. Our audience is often made up of people we will (sometimes thankfully) never meet, a silent gallery that we hope will connect with us through the universe we are creating on the page. The desire to foster that relationship is so great that we’ll let our readers pick us apart, word by word.

Ernest Hemingway is quoted in saying (quite romantically), “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I love the poignant image of this statement, the idea that writing is simply taking what is already living deep inside and releasing it onto the page. And yet Hemingway invokes blood. He knows that the writing process is more painful than what the reader ultimately sees. Maybe that is why so many artists go absolutely insane. These writers expose the darkest parts of their existence so that a customer in a bookstore in Bumblefucknowhere, USA, can say, “Well, the writing is okay, but it’s not really my thing…”

When I first started writing, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to survive this world’s constant criticism. I wasn’t in the most emotionally stable point in my life (family illness will do that to a person), but I knew that if creative writing didn’t pan out there were other career avenues for me to pursue. In the months that followed, I wrote several truly horrible pieces. I penned entire stories without an ounce of intrigue, plotlines that contained characters with flat names and even flatter personalities. And then, as I was about to banish myself to remaining a buyer of books instead of writing them, I created a story that made someone respond. It was a bland comment, something along the lines of, “Interesting…” But that was it – I was hooked. The high of knowing that my mind had produced a piece that resonated with another person was irreplaceable. It started a cycle of addiction that continues to this day. Let writers be warned: like any great high, the next one you chase has to be bigger. Your next audience has to be more extensive, your next piece more important.

So, let’s move forward in the development of this newbie writer. Let’s assume that in a few years, I’m just not cutting it anymore. I write in my spare time, I work to pay rent, and the stories that I keep sending to my friends and family begin to cross the line between “cute” and “annoying.” Then – is it all over? Will my voice shrink away, resentful that I never pursued a part of myself that showed a modicum of promise? Maybe. If that is the case, I will deserve the lingering hunger of never knowing what could have been. However, if my brief time in the creative writing world shows just one person that writing is important, that will be enough. If I cause someone to question life for a second longer or pursue writing for a moment more, I will have fulfilled my desire to be an author of vague importance.

So, I leave you with this: a statement can be small or pithy, but a question lingers in the mind for longer. Question me. Question all of the advice that I have just given you about the place of writers, our standing in the universe. Squint your eyes at the customer in the bookstore that insists those books aren’t really their thing, and remember that those are the books that are the most important to read. Absorb everything – dive into the words. Look up from your phones and contemplate the questions that are being shouted at you and don’t be afraid of hearing only your own echo when you shout back. And then, while you are thinking, go to your keyboard. Go to your keyboard and bleed.

Sources:

“Ernest Hemingway Quotes.” Brainyquotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2017. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/ernesthemi384744.html.

Youtube. Ken Jones, 30 Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKY6BGcx37k.

Reflections on Writing, Medicine, and More with Nikki Rubin, former LRR Poetry Editor by Stephanie Koo (2016)

Interview by Steph Koo

I had the opportunity to speak with Nikki Rubin, LRR alum, survivor of UCONN medical school, newly-minted doctor extraordinaire, over video chat this past weekend. Our talk ranged from writing experiences, to her decision to choose OB/GYN as her specialty, to my own anxieties over choosing the pre-medical path. Here are a few things that we talked about, and that I am happy to share with our literary magazine community! Whether you are interested in pursuing medicine as a career or not, everyone is impacted by the decisions of our doctors, and realize that there are more literary doctors than may be stereotypically expected!

On her undergraduate experience:

As an undergraduate, Nikki stayed away from the pre-med group and became involved in her other interests. Nikki’s focus has always been on the people she serves, and she double majored as an individualized major in Human Rights and biology. She has always wanted to be a doctor: “I would watch the show ER as a kid, and my parents would say, ‘Don’t tell your preschool teachers I let you stay up until 10pm!’”

On the lit mag scene:

The writing bug bit her in her middle school years, her first experience with literary magazines. Back then, it was “a typewriter, a copier, and a bunch of staples” holding their work all together. She continued writing throughout high school, and came to UConn, looking for a writing community. After friends and winning a couple of the Creative Writing Department’s contests brought her into the Creative Writing community at UConn, she became involved with the Long River Review. Nikki spent her sophomore year on the poetry panel, and her senior year as poetry editor — Long River Review 2010 and 2012. Her prize-winning poetry can be found on our website in LRR 2013, 2011, 2010, and 2009.

When she entered UConn Medical School, she found that she was not the only one in her class with a creative flair. “The medical community is far more creative than the stereotype of a medical professional lets on,” she said, accounting for the musicians, writers, and artists she met in the next four years of her life.

She was a part of the founding of UConn Health’s literary magazine, Anastomoses*, meaning the reconnection of two previously connected branching structures, like blood vessels (link: anastomoseslitmag.com). Anastomoses is an online-only literary magazine for the UConn Health community. She describes Anastomoses as “a different experience from Long River Review. We were a smaller magazine and were less selective.”

On writing:

I asked about her own writing. Among working, studying, research, and extracurriculars, Nikki describes herself as “not the best model for regimental writing,” but she has found that writing has always come across accidentally. She notes that as a medical provider, “it’s a lot harder to write poetry when you’re used to writing medical writing, which is often restrictive.” She recounted looking forward to journaling for a class during her first year in medical school, which allowed medical students to reflect some things they may not have been ready to process. Narrative medicine often helps with processing and contemplating upon the experiences that people experience within medical situations, from seeing a cadaver to watching a suffering patient or having your first patient pass away.

On Medicine:

I was interested about picking a specialty, and Nikki gave me an overview of her decision making process. “I came into medical school thinking about pediatrics, but being able to choose

The stimulation of the OR (operating room) was something that peaked her interest before deciding on the OB/GYN path. “As a woman with an interest in surgery, I felt as if I had an obligation to pursue my interest,” she said, but ultimately, “my interest in human rights, and the interactions I had with my patients, were more important to me.”

Nikki said that if she wasn’t a doctor, she would maybe be a teacher, do social or nonprofit work, or work within public health. We also discussed that if she could change anything about th emedical system, she would remove barriers patients and doctors have to healthcare, such as the large influence by money-driven insurance companies. “There’s always a third party in the room, and they’re not as invested in patients as you are. They are driven by the numbers.” This effects how a doctor can interact with their patient, from the types of healthcare practices that can be implemented to the amount of time a doctor can see a patient.

For a student who wants to become a doctor like myself, this may be the most comforting piece of advice: Do what you want to do, not something that you think you’re supposed to do. Your passion and your interests will carry you through.

“You have a rapid shift in identity in medical school,” Nikki said. “You’re in this really weird world where you’re not a layperson or a doctor.”

Steph Koo is a third year student majoring in English and Biology. She is the editor of the Fiction panel of Long River Review.