Monday, April 07, 2014

Thesis Defense and Reading!

Sorry I disappeared last week, but I had good reason. I was in the middle of the last big step I needed to take in order to graduate in May - my thesis defense, and reading. And now that both of those things are behind me, I'm happy to report that everything went very, very well!

In lieu of a photo of my actual defense.
The Defense

Two Fridays ago, I had my defense. I had to teach two classes right before, and I'm sorry to my students, because I was very distracted and nervous, despite the fact that I pretty much knew it would go well. The thing about the MFA thesis defense is that it's almost impossible to fail. If your project isn't ready, your advisor will tell you to put the defense off a semester or two - mortifying, but better to hear it beforehand than in front of your whole committee. I knew my advisor and at least one of my committee members thought my book was solid. I knew I wasn't going to fail. And yet the idea of sitting down with three people I admire and respect, and listening to them discuss my book, was almost more than I could bare. But bare it I did. and it ended up being one of the best hours of my life, even though listening to them discuss my characters and their lives was surreal. After two years of working on this novel, finally letting other people into their world was strange - I felt protective and strangely territorial of my characters, and I haven't yet decided if that's a good thing or not. 

I'm still processing everything that was said (I took a million notes and recorded it with my iPhone) but the consensus was that I have written a good book and after one more round of edits, I should feel confident about trying to get it published. (Side note: AHHHHHHH.) I have plans and ideas and ways that I would like to go about this final revision and the submission process, and I'll write more about that later. And by more, I mean a lot more. Get ready! 

The Broadside

After my defense, I still had to design the broadside for my reading. I don't know if other MFA programs are as into broadsides as UNCW, but I hope so, because they're awesome. Basically, a tiny portion of your thesis is printed on a beautifully designed piece of paper and distributed at your reading. We have a wildly talented staff of students that work in our Publishing Laboratory, and you can ask them to design your broadside on your behalf. Or, you can choose to do it yourself. 

Because I never do anything the easy way, I chose to do it myself. I took Bookbuilding last fall and learned a little Photoshop and the basics of InDesign, and I thought, "How hard can it be?" Well. Two days, five hours, and tons of help from Ana, resident goddess of the Pub Lab, I finally had a broadside I loved. 

I ended up using one of my own photos, taken a year or two ago (you can see the original towards the end of this post). I wanted a smaller broadside, and printed it's about 8.5 X 6.5ish, which was just right. (Some people go even smaller, some choose poster size. It depends on the person and the project, but since my book is a quiet, realistic novel, a modest broadside seemed most appropriate.) Not only does it capture the mood and style of my book, but it's also a neat way to commemorate the event, and serves as a classy keepsake to send to friends and family who couldn't come to the reading. And speaking of the reading... 

The Reading

What can I say? It was awesome. I read this past Thursday night, with six other amazing writers who I've been working and writing with for the past three years. I was the first reader of the night, my thesis advisor gave me a touching introduction, and I made it through my thank yous without crying (shocking, I know). I always get nervous before a reading, and my voice will often go shaky at least once, but not this time. Maybe it was all the love and support in the room. Maybe it was the generous gin and tonic I drank in the sunshine earlier that evening. Whatever it was, it worked. I was so happy to be standing behind that podium, sharing my work with friends and colleagues. A great night, and a wonderful way to end the thesis process. 

What Next? 

Well, I'm still taking one class (fiction workshop, which I'm loving) and I'm still teaching two undergrad classes. The last day is April 30, and then there will be a million end of the year events and going away parties and a graduation ceremony and all the tears I didn't cry during my thesis reading. For now, I'm going to soak up these last few weeks of MFA life and do my best to worry less about what's next. <3