And we’re back with another Alpha interview! Check out Sarah Brand’s last Alpha interview and look for my last interview later this week.
Remember, the Alpha application deadline is March 3rd, so get going and apply! You should also donate if you can! Every little bit helps. If you haven’t been convinced yet, go into the comments and tell me what else you’d like to know about Alpha that could change your mind.
Now, let’s move on to today’s interview. Madeline Stevens attended Alpha in 2010 and 2011, and returned as baby staff in 2012. Her genres of concentration are science fiction and fantasy, and she works hard on queer representation in fiction. When not busy being awesome and having her head eaten by cats, she studies public action at Bennington College. She is also an intern in the Vermont House of Representatives.
What advice would you give to young writers who might be nervous about applying to Alpha?
Don’t be! I’ve heard from a lot of people that they don’t think they’ll get in, because their writing isn’t good enough, or that they’re not sure they’ll be able to attend if they are admitted. The latter is something to worry about after the admissions process, and for what it’s worth, we’re working really hard on the scholarship fund to help you out. For the people with the first concern, I’ve been there. But I gritted my teeth and submitted a story I wasn’t sure of, and I’m so glad not to have passed Alpha up. I’ve also had friends who didn’t get in. That’s hard, but you can apply for as many years as you’re eligible. I can personally attest to the fact that the people handling the applications are great, and sensitive, and love writing as much as you do. They also love reading fiction by young writers. Your hard work will be treated with respect no matter what.
What are your top three Alpha memories?
In no particular order: Ellen Kushner hearing out my shipping theories on her characters, then telling me I was right; staying up all night en masse to finish our first drafts mere hours or minutes before they were due; and participating in a three-hour explanation of relativity, the question of free will, and welfare programs for dolphins.
Alpha is a sf/f/h workshop, so let’s talk time travel. Say you can go back in time to talk to yourself before you go to Alpha for the first time. What advice would you give yourself?
It would definitely be, “Tiny me, do not be afraid to talk to the authors. You’ve spent your entire childhood idolizing them, sure, but they’re actually really nice, easygoing people. They want to talk to you at lunch, and do not care that you are tiny, and not at all famous.”
How does Alpha compare to other writing instruction you’ve had?
Alpha stands head and shoulders above. The format, the instructors, the peers, and the intensity of a live-in writers’ education combine perfectly. For ten days, you live and breathe fiction alongside thirty others doing the same, and you all flock together to write and discuss genre conventions over lunch and compare notes on the lectures. If you require an explanation of an advanced scientific concept, or any historical period, to complete the scene you’re working on, chances are someone in the room can help. You have experienced instructors and industry pros, the two not being mutually exclusive, at your disposal, and everyone is willing to take a little while with you to help you work something through. And every day, these people get up in front of you and the other students and explain to you, with time for questions, their takes on the fundamentals and finer points of writing quality science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I came out of the process enormously improved.
How has Alpha continued to impact your life since attending?
Aside from the obvious huge gains in writing skill? Two things. The first is access to the world of professional writing; before Alpha, I wrote but didn’t really know anything about getting published. Now, I know which publishers might take a given story I write, and I have the confidence to send my work to them. I know contests that take undergraduate fiction, like the annual Dell Awards, which Alphans often sweep. And through Alpha I’ve made acquaintances and even friends in the business.
The greatest benefit that comes from Alpha long-term, though, is Alphans themselves. It’s an incredible thing, to walk into a room in Pittsburgh and suddenly find yourself amongst people who click with all your strangenesses, and having had that experience, Alphans tend to hold on to it. We maintain a pretty big online network of past and present Alphans and staff, with listservs for critiquing each others’ work and encouraging publication, with writing advice, brainstorming, and a chatroom just to hang out in. Alpha reunions, as writing retreats or as friendly meet-ups at cons, seem to be increasing in frequency. Personally, I met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known at Alpha, and have had the privilege of becoming friends with a good number of them. I don’t think my experience is unusual.