Susan Conley’s novel, Paris Was the Place (Knopf 2013) is an Indie Next Pick, an Amazon Fall Big Books Fiction Selection and an Elle Magazine Readers Prize Selection. People Magazine called it a satisfying cassoulet of questions about home, comfort and love, served with a fresh perspective on a dazzling city. Her memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune (Knopf 2011), won the Maine Literary Award for Memoir, was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine and was an Oprah Magazine Top Ten Pick of the Month. Other work of hers has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Huffington Post, Ploughshares, The Harvard Review and elsewhere. Shes received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Breadloaf Writers Conference, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. A former faculty member at Emerson College, she also teaches at Colby College and is a contributing writing to Maine Magazine. In addition, she's the co-founder of The Telling Room, a nonprofit creative writing lab in Portland, Maine, where she lives with her husband and two boys.
The Foremost Good Fortune (Knopf, 2011)
Paris Was the Place (Knopf, 2013)
How I teach:
I believe that working one-on-one with a mentor offers students something incredibly rare: the chance to take risks on a piece of writing while guided by a deeply supportive teacher. As a mentor I like to locate the heat in your writing and identify the threads that can be pulled and braided through the whole work, until you arrive at the story you most want to tell. I’m one of those people who thinks that writing begets writing. So in that sense I believe the writing process is generative and that it’s a very good thing when you don’t know where you’re going on the page or how your piece will end. I’ll try to excite you to produce as much material as you can, even when you have no idea where the work is headed. I’m a very encouraging teacher who will also push you to stretch on the page so that your narrative contains a real voice and has tension and urgency and moments of pure emotional transcendence.
I read each manuscript very closely and do lots of line-edits. I enjoy taking both this close-up of your work as well as the wide-angle. I want you to grow as a writer and to push your writing forward so that you move out of your comfort zone. Sometimes writing exercises that I assign—various prompts that might shake up your narrative or give you new access to a character—will help jump start you. Throughout our time together I will work hard to help direct you towards your most charged material and to shape a writing semester that is rigorous and full of surprises—both in what you write and what you read.
I teach stubbornness too—which is partly about showing up at your desk and partly about banishing the censor. I’m both a fiction and a non-fiction writer and I’m very comfortable teaching both genres. I like curating eclectic and diverse reading lists together that help feed the themes and styles you’re working in your own writing. I’ve taught literature for many years, and I think immersion in the reading life while trying to live a writing life is a crucial way to crack open your own work. While you read I’ll encourage you to track the books for strong plotlines and tension and conflict and all the other mechanisms of good story.
I like to receive your material via email. Then I prepare detailed pages of response and mail those back to you. I like to have an in-depth phone conversation after you’ve received my material. I also put comments on the critical annotations and grade them pass/fail. I think annotations that model different writing styles are very useful. Lastly, I enjoy getting to know my students well. I think this familiarity with one another is one of the other real gifts that the mentor model offers. I get to understand your writing and your desires for how your writing might grow and change within a larger context. I look forward to a rich conversation that will unfold over the months we work together.