Alpha Interview: Lara Donnelly

Hopefully, the other interviews have helped you realize that Alpha is the best thing ever. But just in case you haven’t been convinced to apply or donate, I have another interview for you. This one gave me all sorts of warm and fuzzy missing-Alpha feelings.

LaraLara Donnelly is a 2007/2008 alum of Alpha and attended the Clarion USCD workshop in 2012. She is the latest of many Alphans to win the Dell Award (go tweet a congrats at her!). Her genres of interest are historical fantasy, fantasy of manners, urban fantasy, dark fairy tales, and there was this one time she wrote a sci-fi story.

Why did you decide to apply to Alpha?

I decided to apply to Alpha when Holly Black mentioned it on her LiveJournal. I was and still am a massive, slobbering Holly Black fangirl (she taught at Clarion USCD last year, which is why I applied).

I can’t remember exactly, but I think I had just missed the 2006 application date. I decided I would work all summer to pay for the workshop if I got in the next summer. And I did, and had an incredible time. I was asked back in 2008 to teach as a beta, a peer instructor.

Can you give potential future Alphans an idea of what they should expect at Alpha?

At Alpha, do not expect to sleep. But DO expect to get into the best and weirdest conversations you’ve ever had, with people who meet you right on your nerdy, book-loving level. You will not have to explain to these people the anatomy of a hippogriff, or the concept of the singularity. You can get right down to arguing about whether androids do or do not dream of electric sheep.

Expect to work hard. You have a week to write a polished story, and to read and critique four or five other stories, while you attend lectures (and, in the case of betas, GIVE lectures), travel to readings, and chat with staff and visiting writers. One week is NOT enough time, and you still have to cram it all in. Remember what I said about not sleeping?

But expect, most of all, to sink into a warm, welcoming community of people just like you. With your classmates around you, I can guarantee you will actually ENJOY sinking into the insanity.

How does Alpha compare to other writing instruction that you’ve had?

Alpha taught me more about writing and workshopping than four years of college classes, and I think it had a lot to do with the community at the workshop. I had some wonderful professors in college, but at Alpha, every student is driven and enthusiastic. They are all incredibly well-read, and they are already coming into their own as writers. I read stories in senior-level creative writing classes that would not have passed muster as Alpha application stories. These students are pros.

It was at Alpha that I first heard about Clarion, from staff member Thomas Seay. I heard more about it from alumna Sarah Miller, who studied at Clarion with Neil Gaiman. Clarion is widely regarded as a proving ground for speculative fiction authors, one of the best and oldest speculative writing workshops in the country. And having attended it, I can say Alpha is on a level with Clarion in terms of the workshop intensity and the enthusiasm, and focus of the students. If you sliced a week out of Clarion, you’d have Alpha.

If you could give any advice to young writers going into Alpha, what would it be?

If I could give any advice to Alpha-bound writers, I’d say brush up on your frisbee skills. I’d also say, this workshop is incredibly important, if you plan to pursue writing. Keep in contact with the people you meet at Alpha. They are the beginning of a network that you will absolutely need and use as you move through the writing world.

There’s a rich Alpha alumni community doing amazing things: signing with agents, publishing novels, winning awards…not to mention giving each other some stringent, constructive critique on all sorts of manuscripts. Alphans don’t pull punches when they read your stories.

How has Alpha continued to impact your life since attending?

Alpha got me to my first con: Confluence, in Pittsburgh. And it got me to come back to that con even when I wasn’t a student. And it helped me place in the Dell Magazine Awards four times, and finally win a fifth. And those awards got me to the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (along with a pretty astonishing number of other Alphans who have placed and won over the years), where I met authors and editors and academics who I now consider friends and nodes in that all-important network. Alpha is the reason I applied to Clarion, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

The Alpha alumni community is a constant source of support, both for writing endeavors and personal difficulties. Problem with a plot hole? Email an Alphan. Problem with a relationship? Kumquat (kumquat, by the way, is the Alphan way of saying “ditto”).

Alpha is like the big bang: a short, intense experience, from which an observer can trace every aspect of my writing career.

Alpha Interview: Malina Suity

Have you donated to Alpha yet? For just $5, you get a copy of a short story anthology written and illustrated by Alphans, and trust me, it’s awesome.

If you’re interested in applying, remember that the deadline is coming up on March 3rd. You should probably start your story. (I finished my first submission story an hour before the deadline. I got in, but I really, really don’t recommend that path.)

Interviews with Alpha alumni continue! Yesterday, Sarah Brand posted a great interview with Jill Hardy that you should definitely read.

MalinaFor today’s interview, I talked to Malina Suity. She attended Alpha in 2005 and 2006, and then came back in 2007 as a staffer. She has a BA in English and Medieval Studies and a Masters in Public History. She’s written high and historical fantasy short stories, and is currently researching a historical mystery novel set in the 1930s.

How did you hear about Alpha?

I was a freshman in college, procrastinating on an Art History assignment, when I stumbled on what I thought was a reading Tamora Pierce listed on her website. I had been a fan of hers since middle school, and I was excited to tell my sister about the reading we could attend that summer. I clicked on a link and it brought me to the Alpha website. I had been dabbling in writing since I had started reading Tamora Pierce novels, but I had never really finished a story. So, I decided to give it a try. I talked to my advisor and she read my story when it was finished. I sent it off and was wait-listed until I heard at the last minute that someone had dropped out and I could attend Alpha. Fortunately, I live about 40 minutes away from where the workshop was held, so it wasn’t a very big hassle to change my summer plans.

Why did you decide to be a staff member?

Well, they weren’t going to let me come back for a third year otherwise. But really, I had been the oldest student in the group my first and second year (technically in my second year I was no longer a teenager). I liked helping out the younger writers. I felt that some of the lessons I had been learning (and pointedly NOT learning) in my history literature, and writing courses in college could benefit the new Alphans coming up. And, actually, I felt that I had so much more I could learn from the staff and the new students.

What do you think young writers gain most from Alpha?

I have written most of my body of work at Alpha. This is because of my own work ethic and stress levels – I’ve been in school for most of the time I have not been at Alpha – but I find myself at my most creative when I am around other creative people. By bouncing ideas of of each other formally and informally, sometimes by just being silly, Alphans inspire each other. I’ve seen and experienced first-hand the way these working relationships and friendships last years and span miles.  Alpha provides young writers with the kind of support network every writer should have.

What are your top three favorite Alpha memories?

The Realistic Dialogue Lesson I gave my second year. I was so nervous, but it turned out really fun and helpful for people. It gave me a lot of confidence in my own ability to teach.

Workshopping a story on our own time with two students, out on the grass in front of the dorm during my staff year. It was a great, open dialogue of what worked and what didn’t and how to make it even more awesome than it was already.

I can’t pick one – but all the pop-culture, book, movie, music conversations that led to my recommending all the things I love and find new things to love by listening to other nerds.

If you could give advice to young writers going into Alpha, what would it be?

If you don’t write a good story, you don’t send your story out to publishers, you don’t finish your story, or you never revise your story – even if you never complete anything or never write at all after Alpha – you don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed. One day, when you want to, or you feel you have to, you’ll get back to it. And the Alphans that you knew and many more you didn’t will be there to help you start up again, to inspire you, and to tell you where it’s awesome and where it might need a little work. Seriously, don’t stress about your creative process. It won’t make the piece better and it will make you feel worse.

How has Alpha continued to impact your life in the years since?

Alpha has given me lasting friendships that have trickled into other parts of my life. I lived in New York City with a friend I met at Alpha. I found a friend from grad school a place to live in DC for a few months with a friend I made at Alpha – and now they’re friends! And every year, a bunch of my favorite people come back to my favorite city (Pittsburgh!) and I get to see them.

It’s also given me a sometimes vague, sometimes clear goal of what I want to accomplish with the stories in my head. Even if, after both degrees are done, I still can’t find the time to get my ideas down on paper, I know that one day I will. Then, I will still have the tools and the support to get those ideas into print.

Alpha Interview: Rachel Grinti

I’ve briefly mentioned the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers on this blog before. It’s a workshop that changed my life as a writer. I got the chance to work with amazing writers like Tamora Pierce, Holly Black, Timothy Zahn, and Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Tamora Pierce is at the workshop every year, and the 2013 Alphans will also get to work with Theodora Goss and Scott Westerfeld. Needless to say, I am jealous. The admissions deadline for Alpha is coming up on March 3rd, and in the meantime, Alpha alums are working on promoting the workshop and fundraising.

My part in this is that I’m one of two blogs that will be posting interviews with Alpha alumni both old and new over the next couple weeks. Go check out the blog of the brilliant Sarah Brand for the others. If you’re an eligible 14-19 year old writer, we hope to convince you to apply. If you’re not, we hope to convince you that Alpha is worth donating to and supporting.

rachelgrintiFor the first interview, I talked to Rachel Grinti. She attended Alpha in 2002 when she was 17. She later obtained her Masters in Library Information Sciences, and now runs a weekly writing group for 4th-6th graders at her library. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and has attended their regional writing conferences. Her debut novel, Claws, written with fellow Alpha alum Mike Grinti, came out in 2012 from Chicken House/Scholastic.

Why did you decide to apply to Alpha?

I’ve been making up stories my whole life, but when I was in high school, I started thinking about trying to get something published. I joined an online writing forum to meet other writers. I met Diane Turnshek, and found out she lived in Pittsburgh, too. A year or so later, she told me she was starting a writing workshop for teen writers. I’d get to meet other writers my age who were serious about writing genre fiction and learn from published authors. Sounded great to me!

What are your top three favorite Alpha memories?

The “ask me anything” Q&A with Tammy Pierce.

Staying up way too late writing and talking.

Finding out I really like critiquing.

How does Alpha compare to other writing instruction you’ve had?

Before Alpha, I hadn’t had any writing instruction. A few years later, I took a couple creative writing courses in college. Nothing in those college classes stuck with me. Every college writing course is different of course, but the ones I attended were not useful to me. At Alpha, we gave critiques and learned how to respond to constructive criticism. In my college writing classes, I risked Glares of Doom from the class at large if I criticized a story when it was time for feedback. Students at Alpha aren’t writing for a grade, they’re writing because it’s their passion. It was a big difference.

If you could give any advice to young writers going into Alpha, what would it be?

Hello future Alphan. You are a cool person, you will meet other cool people, you will have fun and learn things and it will be awesome. Don’t stress. Okay? Cool.

Be open to trying different things with your writing. The authors/editors/instructors at the workshop will all have, at least to some extent, different methods, different advice, some of which may be contradictory. And that’s okay. It’s good, in fact. Try everything, and figure out what works best for you.

Also, remember that you can learn as much or more about writing from giving critiques as you can from getting them.

How has Alpha continued to impact your life since attending?

Oh, in tons of ways. I volunteer to critique student’s application stories each year. I’d love to return as staff someday — I’d love to be a resource for young writers and a friend and source of support, just as people I met at Alpha were (and still are!) for me. I’m part of the workshop alumni Google group where former students I’ve met and many more I haven’t keep in contact, share news, and critique stories. I still keep in contact with people I met through the workshop. And I suppose I should mention I’m now married and co-authoring books with Mike, who eleven years ago was some kid I met at Alpha. (No, I’m not saying go because you’ll find True Love. But you’ll definitely find some true friends!)