Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
My book is a nonfiction craft book called Writing It Real: Creating an Online Course for Fun and Profit. Vine Leaves Press is my awesome publisher. My book’s publication date is February 8, 2022. (This book is part of a craft series, with the next book in the serious releasing in April about how to write a reference book that sells and which is available now for preorder.)
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
My book is a teaching craft book with down-to-earth writing craft advice and humorous anecdotes with practical exercises included. It offers insights into creating, teaching, and launching a vibrant online writing class. Whether you’re just getting started on your teaching journey or if you’ve taught for years in a brick-and-mortar classroom and would like to make the leap into online instruction, this book offers insight into topics such as: choosing your class theme or genre, determining target audience, choosing the length and platform of your class, tips for what to charge, determining objectives, creating a syllabus, marketing your class, interviews with experienced online teachers, and so much more! It has an easy-to-navigate chapter format, making it a snap for instructors to skim the Table of Contents to find handy topics at a glance or to read it chronologically from start to finish.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
My book is nonfiction and filled with exercises, a sample syllabus, a self-quest survey about your teaching strengths, and a resources list to inspire instructors of all writing-class genres, class sizes, and skill levels.
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
“The best how-to book of this nature that I’ve ever seen! Comprehensive, inclusive, thoughtful and all offered with a terrific sense of humor and constant empathy. A must-have for any writer seeking to set up an online creative writing class!” –Fred G. Leebron, Director of Writing Programs in Charlotte, Roanoke, Gettysburg, and Latin America, and Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Award Recipient
I had tears of joy in my eyes when I read this blurb from Fred, whose amazing writing and leadership as Director of Writing Programs at Queens University in Charlotte made a huge impact on me while I was a grad student at Queens as well as afterwards and who is a writer and educator I greatly respect.
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
My book is a cross between Sage Cohen’s Fierce on the Page: Become the Writer You Were Meant to Be and Succeed on Your Own Terms, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, with a dollop of Rebecca Stobaugh’s Fifty Strategies to Boost Cognitive Engagement: Creating a Thinking Culture in the Classroom for good measure. My book has a great blend of imagination alongside practical teaching and writing tips to support and inspire creative writers who enjoy sharing their knowledge with fellow scribes while staying refreshed enough to power through the rigors of teaching online (just like with all teaching in any format, there are some challenges as well as joys, and I have a chapter near the beginning of the book that outlines numerous pros and cons to consider).
- Why this book? Why now?
I’ve been interested in online education long before becoming an online educator. I’ve written other craft books about writing that were also published by Vine Leaves Press (about flash fiction and nonfiction, poetry, and photography), and I very much wanted to write more craft books about other topics, this time combining my love for the arts of teaching and writing into a single book.
With our current technological boom, the power of education and the creative arts to reach all ages, socioeconomic and education ranges, and skill levels has never been more life-affirming and life-changing. In my online teaching practice, for example, I teach a beautiful array of writers ages 14 through their 80s, who live across the US and in countries across the world and/or who are active-duty or retired military. I’ve experienced first-hand the leaps and bounds of writing growth students can make with an engaging class topic and format and the technological tools that connect them with classmates and teachers who are also vibrant artists. Teaching and/or taking online classes is a splendid way to create community together, grow one’s writing, and to make strong friendships.
Also, the Covid-19 pandemic has led even more writing programs to offer additional online classes as well as encouraging more writers that freelance teaching and/or mentoring online through their own website or other platform is a meaningful and flexible part-time job opportunity that they’d like to try. Freelance teaching is an area of teaching online that is sometimes forgotten but can be a lucrative and great way to break into online teaching, too.
Plus, most days, teaching online is quite fun. I get to talk about writing and books with smart, well-read fellow writers. #dreamgig
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
The jobs I have now as online educator and editor tie for the best jobs I’ve ever had. Both jobs have expanded my social circle (I’m an introvert, but not in my classroom or in my inbox), put my English degrees to work in a dynamic way, and give me the opportunity to read and give feedback on the work of talented writers who are also passionate about language and story and are walking the writing path just as I am. Talk about motivating!
I also love getting to know my writing students and clients as individuals working towards their writing and/or publication goals as well as experiencing the atmosphere of each class and independent study I teach. No two semesters at my jobs—even no two days—are ever alike in my schedule. Variety is good and keeps my mind and heart awake to potential in other writers as well as within myself and my writing.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
I want readers to walk away from reading my book knowing that teaching an online course is within their wheelhouse—if you want to teach online, there are myriad ways to make it happen. You can do it. I want them to feel jazzed and excited about the kind(s) of classes they can craft and the students whose lives they will impact by sharing what they know. I want them feel confident that they know the practical steps and also have creativity they will use after completing the exercises and self-quiz in the book to launch their own classes and/or to apply to teach at an online school or program. Also, that teaching online is flexible, individual, diverse, fun, challenging, and very fulfilling for teachers and students alike.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
I wrote much of this book in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic, so there was a lot of food involved, since eating was one consistent daily joy in the midst of much of everything else being topsy-turvy. There was a particularly decadent chocolate cake with whipped-cream frosting garnished with cookie crumbles that accompanied me during many writing sessions. There were also a lot of cooking shows and comedies on cable and streaming that got me through and made me laugh and see some lighter sides of a very dark time and kept me writing ever-forward.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I’m in the middle of A.R. Ammons’ Tape for the Turn of the Year, which is a 200+ page poem written (quite extraordinarily) on a roll of adding-machine tape in 1963-1964, and I just finished Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, a craft book by Emma Darwin, that I recommend and read in preparation for a new historical fiction and time-travel story-writing class I’ll teach online later this year. For a book club my sister and I formed, I’m reading a page-turner, My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie. I also have some graphic novels from a manga series on the wobbly stack beside my filled bookshelves that I look forward to reading soon.
Learn more about Melanie on her website.
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Buy the book from the publisher (Vine Leaves Press), Amazon, or Bookshop.org.