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SPOTLIGHT: Eliot Parker

Posted on January 26, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Eliot Parker

 One Writer's MFA Journey.


I’ve always wanted to be a writer; however, I did not begin writing creatively until I was in college when I needed a break from the rigors of academic writing. After I graduated with my Master's Degree in English from Marshall University and began teaching full-time at Mountwest Community and Technical College in 2007, my creative writing was stifled by the requirements of class preparation, grading papers, office hours, and committee work. Yet, I renewed my passion for writing during summer breaks.


I had read about MFA programs in several writing magazines and even consulted with some classmates from my days at Marshall who had gone on to pursue an MFA at other colleges and universities throughout the country. For a while, I refused to even consider getting one since I had been out of school for too long and wondered if I could balance the responsibilities of work and being a student. In the Fall of 2010, I decided to apply to the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University Not expecting to be accepted, I was thrilled when my portfolio of work was reviewed and I was offered a chance to attend.


As a student in the program, I was prepared academically as well as artistically for the field of fiction writing. I had a chance to study and analyze materials written by other writers in addition to polishing my own craft. Moreover, the winter and summer residency opportunities in Lexington, Kentucky, and Edinburgh, Scotland, gave me a chance to immerse myself in my writing and focus on craft. In addition to becoming familiar with two wonderful cities like Lexington and Edinburgh, I was able to workshop my writing with other classmates, visiting writers, and faculty. I met and was mentored by award-winning authors, including Jim Grimsley, Amanda Eyre Ward, Kristin Iversen, and others. 


The low-residency program at ETSU helped me maintain my full-time job and work toward completing the degree. The experience helped me further realize my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I found my classes to be intellectually stimulating, and my classmates and professors created a classroom culture of openness and acceptance which allowed me the confidence to experiment  with my writing and not be afraid of subjects and themes that had long been percolating in my subconscious. Many of my fellow classmates are also my best friends today.


The guidance and coaching I received during my two years at EKU have been invaluable to me as a writer. I still maintain relationships with those writers who mentored me, and the faculty at EKU make themselves available anytime I want to talk about writing or seek advice. I left the program a more confident and capable writer, reader, and learner. I was able to successfully balance teaching full-time with the rigors of the program which made me even stronger in areas of time management.                              


An  MFA might not be a good fit for everyone, but if family obligations and full-time employment can't be avoided, then a low-residency program is a good option to consider. I’m glad that I set aside my doubts and concerns and made myself apply in 2010. Completing my MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) was one of the best experiences of my entire life.


Eliot Parker is the author of the novels The Prospect, Breakdown at Clear River (nominated for a Weatherford Award in Outstanding Fiction in 2012) and the upcoming novel Making Arrangements (Spring of 2014 from Sunstone Press). He currently teaches writing and literature at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington, West Virginia. Learn more about Eliot at his website



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Reply Christina
12:19 PM on January 31, 2014 
Your MFA program sounds wonderful. I bet Edinburgh was fun...It is so difficult to write fiction, isn't it? When I began, I thought "how hard can this be?" Twenty years (or so) later, when I cut open the creative vein, only a tiny droplet formed, but I have learned so much. I appreciate hearing about your journey as a writer--it's encouraging. Do Lulu, La-La, and Layla get featured in your work?
Reply Marie Manilla
4:10 PM on January 31, 2014 
Eliot, I just started teaching as a visiting prof. in a low-residency program, so I'm delighted to hear that it was such a positive experience for you. Did you start one of your novels while at EKU? Can you talk about your road to publication?
Reply Paul Martin
8:26 PM on January 31, 2014 
Eliot, much of the character development in Breakdown at Clear River relies on the reader's acceptance of your expertise in incorporating the language of football and of forensics. Which required more research on your part? Did you find that balance difficult?
Reply Eliot Parker
3:20 PM on February 1, 2014 
Christina says...
Your MFA program sounds wonderful. I bet Edinburgh was fun...It is so difficult to write fiction, isn't it? When I began, I thought "how hard can this be?" Twenty years (or so) later, when I cut open the creative vein, only a tiny droplet formed, but I have learned so much. I appreciate hearing about your journey as a writer--it's encouraging. Do Lulu, La-La, and Layla get featured in your work?
Reply Eliot Parker
3:32 PM on February 1, 2014 
Hi, everyone! Thank you for the comments. I was worried about attending a low-residency MFA program at first, mainly because I had been out of school for a while and I wasn't sure I would be able to teach and go to school at the same time. However, I found the experience of the MFA program enriched my teaching and writing. I do not feature my cats in my writing. Sadly, Lu-Lu died on October, but I find that La-La and Layla are always near the computer when I am writing and outlining. I was fortunate with Breakdown at Clear River in that I had played football in high school and was familiar with many of the fundamentals of the sport. In my previous career, I was a sports reporter for WBES radio in Charleston and I was assigned the Marshall beat. Bob Pruett was nice enough to let me sit in on some film sessions and that is where I learned more about football. My uncle is a retired cop in Atlanta and so he was able to explain to me many of the procedural aspects of crimes and investigations. I did get a chance to visit the West Virginia Osteopathic School in Lewisburg for research and the faculty there helped me with researching steroids and its impact on the body, both physically and emotionally.
Reply Laura Treacy Bentley
5:41 PM on February 1, 2014 
Tell us a little about your forthcoming novel MAKING ARRANGEMENTS. When did the inspiration for this book begin and did your experiences at EKU help you?
Reply Eliot Parker
6:28 PM on February 1, 2014 
I actually started writing my new novel "Making Arrangements" in 2008, before I began writing "Breakdown at Clear River." I stopped writing "Making Arrangements" because I had reached a certain point in the novel and I didn't know where/how to advance the story. My MFA program helped me understand some strategies that can help me get out of those "writing corners" that all writers experience at some point. Without the instruction I received in my MFA program, I never would have finished the book. "Making Arrangements" is about a young man named Colin Madsen, whose father, Luke, has died. Luke was a funeral director and he left Colin the family funeral home. Disinterested in the business, Colin must return home and decided to either keep or sell the funeral home. He discovers that the funeral home has languished a bit since Luke's death and Colin gets re-acquainted with people who have their own ideas for what should happen to the funeral home. It's a good family drama. :-)
Reply Laura Treacy Bentley
5:00 PM on February 3, 2014 
When you work so closely with others in an MFA program, do you start to see your work with fresh eyes because of the intensive critiques and comments? Did your latest novel benefit from any new insights? If so, could you mention a couple?
Reply Eliot Parker
9:00 PM on February 3, 2014 
The feedback I received from my colleagues and professors in the MFA program was invaluable to me as a writer. These critiques helped me see the logical gaps that occurred in my writing, especially regarding plot. Most of the critiques from my classmates and professors required some positive aspects of the piece of writing to be shared, along with improvements, and then some questions were asked of me from my critique group. This allowed me a chance to consider aspects of the piece of writing that I had overlooked, for various reasons. When writing "Making Arrangements," some of the feedback I received during those critique workshops helped me during the revision and polishing process of the book. Two of my weaknesses as a writer are dialogue, Many times, my characters will sound the same and "speak" the same way during the first draft. My critique workshops during the MFA program pointed this out to me many times. Thus, I know to watch out for this during my revisions. Also, I sometimes tend to use too much description when "setting the scene" in a chapter. Instead of focusing on one or two primary sensory images, I will try to use them all, which leads to overwriting. Again, this weakness was pointed out to me several times during my MFA critique workshops and I know this is something I need to pay attention to closely as I revise.
Reply Chris Harris
10:41 AM on February 4, 2014 
Eliot: where you find inspriation for your writing?
Reply Eliot Parker
1:24 PM on February 5, 2014 
Chris Harris says...
Eliot: where you find inspriation for your writing?

Hi. Chris! I find inspiration for my writing from the people I meet and the stories I hear. Quite a bit of my short fiction is loosely based on stories I have heard other people tell. Sometimes, the characters I incorporate into my fiction also loosely are based on people that I actually know. I find the "true-to-life" fiction tends to be theme that appears in my fiction (that is, fiction that could really happen). I have found that true-to-life fiction often features elements that are more interesting that anything I can make up on my own.
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