New group on campus works to edit, publish students’ writing

Junior Dex Fitch (right) and senior Brittany Britto (top) offer junior Krystal Moore (left) feedback on her short story during a PYA at UMD meeting on Nov. 2. Photo by Marlena Chertock for The Writers’ Bloc.

By Marlena Chertock

Published first in The Writers’ Bloc.

If you walk into Jimenez 1215 on Wednesday nights, you will be covered in conversations about form, word choice and details.

“There’s an emotion behind why someone is scared or hesitant, maybe explain or show it more than just dot-dot-dot,” one editor said on Nov. 2.

“Punctuation is a visual explanation of emotion versus actual explanation of emotion,” another said.

This was the fourth meeting of the Promising Young Authors program, a new group on campus that makes the University of Maryland the eighth school with a Promising Young Authors program. The program offers student writers feedback on their pieces and the opportunity to be published in the Washington Pastime Literary Magazine, in DC.

The PYA program is run through the magazine. Senior Vanessa Munoz runs the PYA chapter at this university.

There are currently PYA programs atJohnsHopkinsUniversity, La Roche College, James Madison University, St. Francis University, Mount St. Mary’s University, Duquesne University, North Carolina State University and since the start of this semester, this university.

Though PYA at UMD is not an official university organization, the staff is looking into getting recognition, according to Hannah Garland, the senior editor of PYA at UMD.

Munoz started PYA at UMD by accident.

“I found out about the program from the English Department Friday Facts email about three weeks into fall semester,” Munoz said. “I applied for the position of student support manager thinking that the group already existed on campus. I was surprised to find I was being asked to start the group from the ground up.”

So she sent emails to her document editing course.

Now PYA at UMD has four staff members. Munoz is the student group manager,Garlandis the senior editor, senior Brittany Britto is an editor and junior Dex Fitch is an editor.

“The program is deigned to have three editors, but a lot of the others universities have more numbers,”Garland said. “It depends how many people submit their creative writing pieces. And if we get popular we’re definitely going to need more help.”

The editors are all English majors and want to go into editing or publishing.

Fitch, an English major, had a class with Munoz, who pitched the idea for PYA at UMD. He joined PYA because he transferred fromTempleUniversityinJapanand wanted to get involved on campus, he said.

“I really want to see a University of Maryland student get published,” he said.

Fitch is interested in the entire production process of writing, he said. He has friends from MICA who are illustrators and animators, and he can add writing.

“We thought we’d combine our talents,” he said.

Garland comes from an editing standpoint and wants to go into copy editing or publishing.

“The other two editors have backgrounds in creative writing and so does the student group manger.”

The editors and Munoz complete the first round of editing, pointing out flaws in the plot, grammatical errors, too many clichés.

“They take care of bulk of the editing,” Garland said.

Then she reads through the submissions for the second stage of editing, refining the pieces and not changing too much.

“I look to see if the writers listened to the suggestions our editors have,” she said. “I’m just another sounding board, basically.”

By the end of finals, the editors will collaboratively decide on the best two submissions and send them to the Washington Pastime Literary Magazine, along with submissions from other colleges with PYA groups.

Munoz is happy with the submission process.

“The number of people who have expressed interest in the program is exciting,” she said.

PYA offers all submissions feedback, but doesn’t accept every submission for consideration by the Washington Pastime Literary magazine.

The most difficult part of editing is turning down a submission, according to Fitch.

“I feel bad letting people down,” he said.

Most of the submissions the group has received have been finished or nearly complete,Garlandsaid.

One submission is an excerpt from a longer piece of writing, whichGarlandsaid is acceptable as long as there is a clear plot.

Submissions have to be less than 6,000 words and can’t contain elements of erotica. They can be fiction and literary nonfiction. The magazine is mostly looking for short stories, so PYA tries to let students know that, Fitch said.

PYA at UMD has had four meetings and about five submissions. The meetings are the second step of the process, after students submit their pieces through email to the editors.

Workshops generally consist of a calm or heated conversation about someone’s writing, style, what readers liked and connected to and where the plot became confusing or less strong.

“I love walk-ins,” Fitch said. “Every time someone walks in unexpectedly and joins the conversation, it’s great. It’s an extra voice.”

Junior Krystal Moore’s short story about a boy with wings who was kidnapped and trapped in a carnival for years was work-shopped on Nov. 2.

The editors offered feedback on her voice, Moore said.

“The fact that they told me it’s better to have more in a story than less was most helpful, because I was always told if you can say it in less words, do it,” she said.

One member travels from DC every Wednesday for the meetings.

“You have to make your own community,” said Madebo Fatunde, a junior creative writing major at George Washington University. “It’s always good to meet other writers.”

George Washington University does not have a PYA program and there’s nothing like a group of students who edit each other’s writing there, Fatunde said. He heard of the program through Britto.

He has attended two meetings so far, adding comments to the feedback discussions, and plans to bring in his own writing soon.

“The most rewarding part has been the opportunity to give other students a chance to get their work published,” Munoz said. “It’s really what all young writers aspire for. It’s really nice to be a part of that.”

To find out more or become involved with PYA at UMD, attend the weekly meetings on Wednesday, in 1215 Jimenez Hall, at 6:15-7:15 p.m. or contact umd.pya@gmail.com.

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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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