Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Robin Oliveira lectures at Pacific residency

upstreet Fiction Editor Robin Oliveira delivered a lecture on “Demystifying the Editorial Process” during the Pacific University MFA in Writing Program Winter Residency at Seaside, Oregon, on Saturday 17 January. Robin’s lecture began with an overview of upstreet’s history, policy and practices, including submission guidelines and the qualifications of the editorial staff. She described the submission-evaluation process, giving a brief statement about what each of the genre editors is looking for.

Regarding fiction, Robin emphasized her belief that character is desire. “If your characters don’t want something,” she said, “there is nothing for the reader to hold on to, and ultimately, no reason for the story. The conflict has to be up front, beginning with line one. A character wants something, and is up against some person, thing, or other obstacle that prevents him from obtaining it.” She went on to discuss various story elements such as scene, dialogue, subtext, time, and drama at the sentence level, citing Douglas Glover’s essay, “The Drama of Grammar,” in the Canadian journal The New Quarterly (No. 105, 2006).

Robin concluded by saying that she thought the biggest challenge for writing students is story structure. “When I’m reading a shortlisted story,” she said, “I discover that it is almost always the ending that fails. When you are editing your stories, check the through line. Boil down your story to its complication, action and resolution to see if it has the architecture to carry it through to a successful end. A successful story is a story in which a character comes to grips with his or her desire through a series of actions in which emotional change takes place that is of significance to the character, and therefore to the reader.” She went on to discuss three stories—Charles D’Ambrosio’s “The Point,” Tim O'Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” and Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”—reducing the stories to their architecture to illustrate successful resolutions.

Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing is a low-residency program in which each student creates a portfolio of fiction, nonfiction or poetry under the supervision of writer advisors. The Atlantic Monthly’s 2007/08 Fiction Issue rated the Pacific program as one of the nation’s top five low-residency MFA in Writing programs, along with the programs of Antioch University, Bennington College, Vermont College of Fine Arts, and Warren Wilson College.

Robin Oliveira, who lives in Seattle, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel-in-progress, The Last Beautiful Day, was awarded the 2007 James Jones First Novel Fellowship. An excerpt from the novel appears in the 2008 issue of Provincetown Arts Magazine. The upcoming upstreet number five is the third issue for which Robin has served as Fiction Editor.

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