Category Archives: Regular Features

Gretchen Stelter : Making Books Happen

Gretchen Stelter got her BA in English from Ball State in 2003. She studied in Australia before receiving an MA in professional writing from Portland State. Since then, she has worked with writers as an agent and editor for more than a decade. More than 500 books she has worked on have been published by traditional publishing houses. She’s worked on writing at every stage, from development to copyediting and proofreading. She also writes for Books for Better LivingHealthline.com, and Elephant Journal. See some of her work here.

Gretchen lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

Gretchen Stelter. Image from her website: www.gretchenstelter.com.

After I finished my English degree at Ball State, I went to graduate school for a degree in professional writing with a focus in book publishing at Portland State. From there, I actually helped start a literary agency with a classmate, which I co-ran with her for five years before I started editing and writing freelance full-time. The writing skills I gained while at BSU, as well as literary analysis, have helped me in both roles as the editorial director of the agency, and as a writer and editor.

Truly, the ability to read a manuscript and discuss what makes it strong, what makes it appeal to a specific demographic or not, and what sorts of themes it contains has served me very well in my career.

What’s a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me is one when I work from home, which I do about 99% of the time if I don’t have in-person meetings with clients or colleagues. I respond to emails in the morning, because I live on the West Coast and most publishing house clients are on the East Coast. By the time I’m up and at the computer, I’ll have a few queries or check-ins I need to respond to.

After I’m done with emails in the morning, I get started on whatever my most pressing deadline is, which I devote the bulk of my day to. That could mean proofreading, copyediting, developmental editing, or writing. I like to have a variety of projects at any given time, so if I hit a wall with my concentration, I’ll start work on one of my other projects to give myself a mental refresh. For pretty much all of my work, I’m on the computer with a number of files and internet windows open to do research, update style sheets, and double-check dictionaries and style guides. I work into the evening, but how late depends on just how pressing my deadlines are. I’ve been known to work until midnight when I’ve got something due soon. On a regular day, depending on how long my lunch break was and how quickly I got to work after my emails that morning, I work until somewhere between six and eight.

Throughout most days, I post on social media any book or writing news I have, like my articles being published or books I’ve worked on having their pub days, getting good reviews, or winning awards. I set aside one day a month to put those updates on my website. Most of the time, that’s the only publicity I worry about, as I get most of my work through referrals these days. On any given day, I may have a call or online video conference with a client, but most days, I’m in front of my laptop for the vast majority of the time.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

Don’t be afraid to explore careers that you’ve never heard of or know nothing about.

When I was approached by a classmate to see if I wanted to start a literary agency with her I enthusiastically said yes…and only then asked what a literary agent did.

Also: network, network, network. When I transitioned from agent to editorial director, and then to full-time editor and writer, I had many, many colleagues who were also agents, editors at publishing houses, production editors, publicists, etc., who were ready to recommend me to authors, both agented and published, and those looking for representation/publishing contracts. When I was starting out, it was the contacts I’d made, the way I’d treated those people, and my work that got me clients. Don’t just avoid burning bridges, but actively try to build them.

Meet Prof. Alex Kaufman

Although originally from Philadelphia, Alex Kaufman comes to us from Auburn University at Montgomery, in Alabama, where he was department chair and Professor of English. This summer, Dr. Kaufman was named the Reed D. Voran Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Ball State. He teaches courses on Robin Hood, outlaws and banditry, historical literature, medieval literature, and medievalism. He is the co-editor of the book series Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture from Routledge Publishing and is  the co-founder and co-editor of the scholarly journal  The Bulletin of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies. Click here to see his Academia page.

Dr. Kaufman will give a talk at 4pm Monday, February 5, in AJ 175 on “Robin Hood and the Outlawed Literary Canon.”

After Dr. Kaufman got settled in to Muncie, we sat down to get to know him a bit.

What led you to Ball State?

I was drawn to Ball State’s commitment to the liberal arts and the humanities, especially in the undergraduate curriculum. Both the Honors College and the Department of English underscore the intellectual and professional value of an education focused on immersive learning, critical thinking, diversity, and an engagement with social concerns.

How did you become interested in Robin Hood? 

I was very fortunate to study with Thomas H. Ohlgren at Purdue University during my graduate studies. Tom was, and remains, one of the leading scholars of the early Robin Hood poems, and his enthusiasm for the subject was contagious. With Robin Hood – and other outlaws in literature and history, from the medieval period to the present day – I am drawn to those individuals and groups who are marginalized by the society in which they live, and I seek to understand why and how society creates these outsiders, and how these marginals attempt to survive within their literary or real worlds. The outlaw will always be relevant and a presence in most contemporary contexts.

What are you reading?

I am reading Sean M. Conrey’s recent book of poetry, The Book of Trees. It is an extension of the medieval paradox of the beauty one finds in the external world and the challenge to fully describe and comprehend it. It is elegiac, contemplative, and timely.

What are some of your hobbies or interests?  

I love exploring nature, especially with others, and Indiana has so much to offer. I also love listening to music, especially King Crimson, Warren Zevon, and John Cale, and I never stopped buying vinyl. We lost count of how many boxes of books, albums, and CDs we moved to Muncie!

What advice would you offer students? 

Take full advantage of everything that Ball State has to offer now, don’t wait. And talk to your professors and advisors to create those professional connections – these can only help you when it comes to job placement, applying to graduate programs, and making sense of your studies.

 

Elysia Smith on poetry, marketing, and snuggling with your dog during the workday

Elysia Lucinda Smith is a California transplant who went to high school in Indiana before attending Ball State. She works for Metonymy Media in Indianapolis, where she lives and writes. She declares that she’s  unlearning the habits of  “Midwestern apology and avoidance one day at a time.” Find her writing online at ElysiaLucinda.com.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

Honestly, I never expected to be where I am now. When I finished college, I immediately pursued a Masters of Fine Arts in poetry because that’s what I’d seen my friends do, not because I had much interest in teaching college. Despite this, my MFA was an excellent decision and I was blessed to be able to eat, sleep, and breathe poetry in Boston, one of the most literary cities in the US. Poetry has always been my thing, so if you’d said to me even a year ago that I’d be working in marketing, I’d probably have laughed at you. Although it’s difficult to make a career out of poetry, I’ve been doing community development work for the last five years including running the Writers’ Community at Ball State along with a pop up art show and collective called Glue & Scissors Society. Now, at my current job, not only am I getting to write every day, I’m still running community programs and workshops. I’m in charge of a space in our Fountain Square office called The Green Room and there I run a gallery, host a monthly writing workshop called Indy Word Lab, and am working to create a community flex space to support all types of groups. Most recently, I’ve entered into a partnership with a local group called Face Á Face, and I’m very excited to see what we can accomplish together.

Of all the valuable skills I learned in my English major—communication, writing, etc—the most important to me is the art of revision. Many of my students have been this way—I was certainly the same in college—but I suppose I just didn’t “believe” in revision. I thought of it as fate whenever I wrote something and the value of revision never occurred to me. What it’s shown me is that attention to detail is something you can hone and that extra words or confusing language are unnecessary.

What’s a typical day like for you?

The great benefit of working at Metonymy is that my days never look the same. I’m a pretty movement- and change-oriented person and I need a lot of control of my schedule because I’m typically involved in two external projects at any given time on top of work, on top of my own creative stuff and self-care. Some days I go into the office at 9:30 and work until about 2 pm and then I’ll go to the gym or hang out with my dog, and finish up the rest of my writing at my leisure. Some days I work from a local coffee shop. Some days I don’t work at all and wake up at 3 am and finish my writing then. As long as I can do good work and meet all my deadlines, my schedule gets to stay nice and loose.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

The first thing I’ll say is seriously seriously seriously don’t ever pay for a Masters degree. Find a program that pays you to get an MFA via a stipend, etc. That’s one thing I truly regret is taking out loans to help finance my MFA despite having a stipend. Boston was an incredibly expensive place to live. Other than that, the biggest thing is to get involved. Writers need community because they need connectivity. You want readers, you want peers who spark you, and you want the mobility to meet other writers, publishers, and organizers. Even if you just take time to go to a few readings here and there what you’ll begin to realize is that the writing community is strangely small. It’s homey. Come hang.

Also, publish your stuff! Submit as often as you can. I have a rule that whenever I write a new poem I just submit it immediately to help keep things circulating. If you don’t know where to start looking for homes for your work, check out Entropy Mag’s lists. They’re awesome. Also follow writers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Some of my favorite follows have been Joanna C. Valente, Ariel Francisco, and August Smith!

Robbie Maakestad : Editor, Author, Award Winner

Robbie Maakestad is an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus and is writing a biography of place about the City of David archaeological park in Jerusalem. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Ball State and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from  George Mason University. He has been published or has forthcoming work in Essay Daily, Bad Pony, The MacGuffin, Free State Review, and Bethesda Magazine, among others. In 2017, Robbie was shortlisted for the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer Award. Follow him at @RobbieMaakestad.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

Without a degree in English, I certainly would not be prepared to teach or edit as I do now. After getting my BA in English from Taylor University and my MA in Creative Writing at Ball State, I attended George Mason University in Fairfax, VA (where I still live) to get an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. After graduating in May ’17, I started editing for The Rumpus and teaching nonfiction as adjunct faculty at George Washington University (GWU)–both positions that would have been unattainable without the experience afforded by my degrees. Studying English in undergrad forced me to practice critical thought in regard to my own writing and to the writing of others, which has proven essential in both my teaching and editing. Workshop in creative writing courses laid a foundation for leading discussion in my own classroom and for knowing what to look for as I select essays to publish.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Mondays and Wednesdays I teach at GWU in Washington D.C., so I commute an hour into the city by metro, teach two sections of Historical Creative Nonfiction, hold office hours, and put in several hours of my own work before heading home. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I head to the library for 8-10 hours and grade, lesson prep/read class materials, and read and edit essay submissions. I’m currently about two-thirds of the way through writing a history of the City of David–an archaeological site in Jerusalem–so I also spend a lot of my library time working on the book, and reading archaeological reports, biographies of archaeologists, and texts about ancient Jerusalem in order to mine the history for a narrative.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

It’s probably cliché, but if you know what it is that you love to do, position yourself in order to make it happen as your career. Post-undergrad I thought that I might want to teach college English, but I wasn’t sure, so I pursued my MA in order to get teaching experience while getting a writing degree. It turned out I loved teaching at the university level (and I’ve always loved writing CNF), so for me an MFA was the next step in pursuing both of those passions. During my MFA I edited Phoebe Journal where I learned that in addition to writing my own work, I love publishing other writers, so after graduating I found an editing position. Things fall into place eventually; it’s just a matter of networking and gaining experiences that will qualify you for the job that you want eventually.

Melissa Glidden : Freelance Writer, Copyeditor, and Mom

Melissa Glidden has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Ball State University. She has translated her college learning into editing, copywriting, and marketing. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter, knitting, and reading.

How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?

I have a B.A. in English, an M.L.S. (Master of Library Science), and an M.A. in Creative Writing. There are so many skills I gained by studying English that I use today as a copywriter, copy editor, and marketer, but to keep this from getting too long, I’ll just highlight one.

Succeeding as an English student—whether you’re studying literature or writing—requires you to look at an object (like a novel, short story, or poem) and see it for more than face value, for more than just the words on the page, or the chronological list of events that unfold in a story.

For example, if you ask the average person what the Harry Potter series is about, they’ll probably tell you it’s about a bunch of wizard kids doing wizard kid things and saving the day. But ask an English student, and they’ll tell you it’s about friendship, bravery,       sacrifice, and so on. An English student won’t just tell you that Harry Potter is a wizard boy who survived an attack by a really bad guy. They’ll tell you something about how Harry is a symbol of mankind’s ability to leverage kindness, bravery, and morality for the betterment of humanity in spite of our innate flaws and imperfections!

Copywriters (and editors, and marketers) need to be able to see A.) the product (a can of Coke) and B.) the audience (the person choosing between Coke and Dr. Pepper) for more than what they really are. Successful English majors are majorly good at this!

What’s a typical day like for you?

In addition to any copywriting work that comes through my agency Burgeon, I have a full-time job as a copywriter for a company based in San Francisco—a company that used to be one of my freelance clients! Both roles allow me to work remotely, so I can literally work from wherever I want.

Usually, I get up at 6 A.M., and drop my daughter off at school by 8 A.M. Until I leave again to pick her up by 3 P.M., anything can happen!

Typically, I have a to-do list of things that need to get done—maybe some copyediting for a client’s website, or an email marketing campaign. Sometimes, I have a phone meeting either with an agency client or someone from work.

Between all of that, I run errands or try to do something a little fun, like eat lunch at a restaurant or knit.

The greatest value of working remotely is that you aren’t forced to be in one location from 8 to 5 each day, so whether you get 30 minutes or 4 hours of downtime, you can use them more productively. You can take off all those annoying “administrative” life tasks, like waiting in line at the B.M.V., or you can give yourself an extra 20 minutes to craft the-most-perfect froyo treat at Berrywinkle. You know…priorities.

Some days, my daughter is with her father, which means I have more hours in the day to finish work. Other days, I may have a lot of interruptions like emails, phone calls, texts, or last-minute work requests. Other days still, I may simply be having difficulty concentrating, or I may be out of town (usually in San Francisco where my partner lives, and my company is based) which can mix things up even more.

The only thing that is truly consistent—I get to spend my days playing with language, meaning, sounds, and finding ways to connect people with products that have the potential to improve their lives.

Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?

For starters, know that it is very hard to make it in whatever industry or career you’re considering. There is a lot of rejection, and not a lot of money.

Some people would call this bad advice, but here’s mine: do whatever you want to do.

Most people know, deep down, what it is they want to do, and who it is they want to be. What do you do when you’re procrastinating? What tasks do you procrastinate, and what tasks do you not procrastinate? What’s something you loved doing as a child, or were always really good at?

It’s things like that that motivated me to work on my website, tweak my portfolio, and spend hours marketing myself when, perhaps, it would have been easier to just keep doing what I had been doing (and I’ve had several less-than-fun jobs.)

Sometimes, I got exhausted and quit for a few days. Sometimes, I cried. Sometimes, I still cry! But I never lose sight of my motivation and the things that got me where I am today.

Be smart. Make a living. Do the right thing by working hard, supporting yourself, and being generous to the people who rely on you. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Your professors didn’t—their journeys were long and sometimes arduous, and now they make a living writing and studying things they love.

You can too. 🙂

 

Sometimes, Writers Live ‘In a Lonely Place’

By Anthony Miglieri

There are a whole lot of films, and great films at that, about screenwriting. A few of the best are Barton Fink (1991), written and directed by the Coen Brothers, and Adaptation. (2002), directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. However, few films I have ever seen are able to paint such a vivid and violent portrait of a screenwriting artist as the under-appreciated noir piece In a Lonely Place (1950), which was directed by Nicolas Ray, screenwritten by Andrew Solt, and adapted by Edmund H. North from a Dorothy B. Hughes story.  

When this film opens, Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) is bitter and frustrated. He hasn’t had a hit in years and his latest assignment is to adapt a popular novel that Dix is sure is trash. Unwilling to read the bestseller himself, he has a celebrity-obsessed young woman relay the plot to him at his home. Soon after she leaves, she turns up dead and Dix strikes up a relationship with a sultry new neighbor who has doubts about his professed innocence in the case. Continue reading

M.A. student Rachel Lauve on studying Creative Writing

Rachel Lauve is a new graduate student working toward an M.A. in creative writing from Ball State University. She earned an undergraduate degree in English Education from Ball State in May 2017

1) What degree are you pursuing (i.e., PhD in Literature, MA in creative writing, etc.)? What is it about this degree/program that interested you?

I’m currently pursuing my MA in creative writing. This particular program interested me because I felt like my time in Ball State’s creative writing department had only just begun in my undergrad, and I wanted to keep studying with this particular faculty; additionally, the fact that this program doesn’t require a genre concentration was appealing, as when I was applying, I was still figuring out which genre I really preferred. There’s always something to be learned from other genres that can be applied to your primary genre, too (e.g., I’m already itching to apply what I’ve learned about meter in poetry to my creative nonfiction essays).

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M.A. student Justine Waluvengo: “Graduate school is fun!”

Justine Waluvengo is a new graduate student working toward an M.A. in literature from Ball State University. She studied linguistics and literature at the University of Nairobi, where she earned a B.A.

1) What degree are you pursuing? What is it about this degree/program that interested you?

I am pursuing an MA in Literature. I believe the English Department at Ball State, not just the literature area, is well established and capable of offering the challenge that I need to develop my career.

2) Where did you attend undergrad? What did you study?

 I am a graduate of The University of Nairobi, Kenya, with a BA in Education. My subject areas were Linguistics and Literature. I majored in Literature. Continue reading

Jared Linder: From English Degree to Career in Technology

Jared Linder is a two-time Ball State graduate, once as undergrad with the English department, and again as a graduate student earning an M.S. in Information and Communication Sciences at the Center for Information and Communication Sciences (CICS). He is a recent graduate from the MBA program at Butler University. He also serves as the Chief Information Officer for the State of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration.

Most people would assume that a student who majored in English would never have a job as a Chief Information Officer. How did you move from English to a career in information technology?

When I graduated from Ball State in late preview-full-Jared Linder.JPG1998, the world was heavily focused on IT jobs, especially Y2K and the possible issues we would face if things did not go well. I honestly had a hard time finding a job. I did not really know what I was looking for, and had not prepared well for what my post-college life was supposed to look like. I started a job working at the lowest rung at an IT company when soon someone realized I could write and communicate. That was when I became confident in my liberal arts background as a positive force for my success. I began to change my career mindset to focus on solving problems and helping people vs merely working in IT. That made all the difference; I just applied my learned skills to the reality of working in a 21st-century growth industry. I used to tell my mom I worked around computers; now I tell her I help people get things done. I started to gravitate towards client relationships and working with project teams and management.

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