Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Nancy Holder

Nancy HolderNancy Holder is the New York Times bestselling co-author of the young adult dark fantasy series, Wicked, which has been picked up by DreamWorks.  She also writes young adult horror for Razorbill; and paranormal romance, adult horror, science fiction and fantasy, women's action, short mystery fiction, literary fiction, and comic books.  She has written novels, short stories, novellas, and episode guidebooks for "universes" that include Hellboy, Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Saving Grace, Kolchak: the Night Stalker; Zorro; The Spider, The Domino Lady; Nancy Drew; and Sherlock Holmes.  She has edited two anthologies, one of which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.  She has received four Bram Stoker Awards for her supernatural fiction, including Superior Achievement in a Novel; and her work has appeared on bestseller lists that include USA Today, LOCUS, Borders, Mysterious Galaxy, Dark Delicacies, and others; and reading lists that include the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age; the American Library Association; and the American Reading Association.  In addition, she writes essays and articles for popular culture publishers such as BenBella Books (Finding Serenity and others) and I.B. Taurus (Cult TV.)  She is also a columnist for the Science Fiction Writers of America Bulletin.  

Her new young adult dark fantasy series, Crusade, will debut in September 2010.  

Selected Publications:

Daughter of the Blood (Silhouette, December 2006); Pretty Little Devils (Razorbill, 2006);

The Rose Bride (Simon and Schuster, 2007.)


How I Teach:

The Talmud says, “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.”  I take that as my teaching mantra. 

Popular fiction writers usually work on two levels:  the need to create, and the desire to sell.  I believe that once a writer has established a firm foundation in the basics of craft, he/she can use that toolkit to write with growing confidence in a variety of genres and forms, such as the romance novel or the horror short story. 

I use a three-pronged approach to help my students develop as popular fiction writers.  A good reading list is critical, both for breadth and depth.  Some students start out as fans of a genre, and it’s crucial that they become informed about the history/classics of that genre before they spend months reinventing the wheel.  I encourage my students to watch movies and/or TV shows, and to listen to music (particularly soundtracks) that will help them develop a sense of authority over their material.  I don’t assign craft books beyond the first semester, but I do encourage my students to put them on their reading lists and write annotations on them.  I still read craft books myself.  I have no preference among the accepted styles of annotations as long as my students respond to their reading as writers seeking models to embrace or avoid.  

Workshopping is the second of my three prongs. In the workshop setting, writers can take their pieces out for a “test run” and, as readers, see how another writer works.  It’s also a place to find validation that the “popular” in popular fiction doesn’t mean derivative, mediocre, or less worthy than “literary” fiction.   I have guidelines for workshopping:  Before commenting, each participate needs to ask:  “Are my comments kind?  Are they specific?  Will they help this writer tell her/her story (as opposed to the story I to write?)” Since I believe that a popular fiction writer can create a portable set of skills by concentrating on craft first, I know that students can productively workshop writing in a variety of genres other than those which with they are most comfortable. 

As for the third prong, when I’m privately workshopping with a student—that is to say, acting as a mentor—I also use a nurturing model that seeks to help the writer get better and better at transposing what is in his/her head (and heart) onto the page.  I try to help the writer take what s/he already has and push it to the next level.  My mentoring style is to write extensive margin notes (often using the backs of pages) on a hard copy of creative work, then summarize the comments in a cover letter.  I am happy to assign writing exercises that will help the student sharpen the tools in her/his craft kit.  I also read and comment on annotations, shaping my responses to that the student learns to read the work of other authors in a metaphorical workshop setting, always seeking to make connections between what someone did well (or not) and what the student hopes to accomplish in his/her own writing.  I don’t usually make additional comments about the annotations in my cover letters, simply let the notes on the annotation pages speak for themselves. 

I feel that at least one phone call or face-to-face meeting is important, especially when a student and I begin to work together.  After that, I tend to communicate via email and send hardcopy back through the mail/other delivery method to the student.  I also check in via email with a few words of encouragement and/or suggestions, industry news, etc.  I enjoy exploring world-building.  I’m very comfortable with fantasy and mystery, and I’d love to work with more romance, romantic suspense, and horror authors.