The Growth Chart: Volume 5

The Growth Chart is a series that intends to mark and celebrate the presence, progress, and evolution of our current Fresno State Master of Fine Arts students. During their graduate studies with our program, they will be gaining new professional skills and experiences. This occasional series is an effort to capture and acknowledge their development and give space for them to reflect on their MFA years in progress. In sharing their journeys, we hope that it will make visible what it means to grow as a writer.

Compiled by Nou Her
for The Growth Chart series

Jer Xiong
Creative nonfiction, 1st year

From Chico, California and willing to transform into a peach if need be, first-year graduate student Jer studies creative nonfiction.

What do you hope to accomplish in your graduate studies at Fresno State?

The main goal is to have a manuscript ready for publication. While I’m working on that, I want to gain more editorial and office experience working with The Normal School and other magazines and literary journals. It’s also important for me to work with various communities to do some kind of writing work. I’m still figuring it out, but my hope is to work with my Hmong community.

What’s your current writing process like?

If I want to be completely focused, I’ll put on ambient sounds, like rain, fire, coffee-shop noises. Once I’m in a zone, I can go for almost an hour without taking a short break. If I’m just listening to any audio, or audio that fits the theme of what I’m writing, I’ll do my best to just write without editing, but my brain is always automatically editing as I write, so it’s a slow start. Then I take a break—wash dishes, make food, take my dog out—anything that takes my eyes away from a laptop screen. My head and my body will hurt if I’m sitting and typing for too long.

After I have a very rough draft, I’ll organize the structure to see what is most effective. Maybe I’ll move some things around but then I’ll keep fleshing out the work until I don’t have any more time to spend on it. I put it away and look at it the next day or in a couple days. During that wait period, ideas will come to me and I’ll take notes. When I return to the work, I’ll add it in and think more about how the overall writing is working. When I have something decent, I read it to my boyfriend or let him read it silently. He’s a critical reader so I trust his opinion. Sometimes I read it out loud.

What writing styles or genres are you curious to experiment with?

Fiction. It’s funny because I became a creative writer through fiction, but I haven’t gone back to it in several years. World building is not easy and it’s my biggest weakness in this genre. However, I’m always up for a challenge. One of my professors during my undergraduate career inspired me when he talked about his collection of flash fiction, a style he had never tried before. He said he wanted to do it because it would make him think about the works differently, about what things to considered and what to keep. I’ve taken up that mindset too. This semester, I’ve learned to try different writing styles through writing imitations and breaking down the craft of different works. It has helped me to see what’s effective and useful in my own writings. One book that stood out to me so far is “Suite for Barbara Loden” by Nathalie Léger. It’s a translated book, originally written in French, and the craft choices, the layers between the writer, subject, and other persons/places/things have pushed and questioned the way I think about writing creative nonfiction. This is a long way of saying I’ll experiment with anything.

How do you hope to grow as a writer?

Through having a community of writers—trusted friends and mentors who understand the work I’m doing and trying to do—support me and encourage me. Through different opportunities to work as an editor, as an assistant, as a presenter, etc. Having different kinds of skills can only in the long-run. Through reading a lot of different kinds of works that is contributing to human stories.

Esmeralda Gamez
Poetry, 2nd year

As a second-year graduate student writing her collection of poems, Esmeralda enjoys the smell of those random candles found that say “fresh breeze” or “fresh meadow” but then smell like freshly done laundry or whatever random body spray her partner uses.

What so far are you trying to accomplish with your thesis manuscript?

I’m working on a collection that explores relationships, what a home is and isn’t, and what coming home really can mean.

What concerns you the most about the process of writing your thesis manuscript?

I think just finding a balance of writing strong poetry that is honest but also relatable. Making sure my collection is something that I’ll be proud to have out in the world.

How have the things you’ve read so far shaped you as a writer?

Before coming to the program, I hadn’t read much from writers besides those that are always mentioned and always taught. Now, I’ve been able to read not only writing from poets of all different backgrounds and beliefs, but also the talented writers that come from this city and this program. It’s slowly breaking me out of my shell and slowly helping me learn to experiment with my own writing more.

What reading experience do you hope your writing will give to readers?

I just hope they can connect with my poetry and that it makes them feel something. We spend so long feeling like we’re the only ones having certain feelings or like we’re drowning in life, or that our families aren’t there like we want them to be and I want to give readers the bit of comfort that, no, they’re not alone in whatever those feelings are. I guess that sounds a little cheesy but hey, we all need it once in a while.

Additional comments:

I’m having such a great time in this program. Even though sometimes I bite off more than I can chew or don’t connect and interact as much as I’d like with the other writers, I’m so excited to see what everyone ends up making and where they’ll go after.

Jessica Ruth Turney
Poetry, 3rd Year

Beginning her MFA graduate studies in poetry in August 2016 and ending this May 2019, Jessica wishes for the superhero power of languages: to understand and speak to everyone, regardless of language.

Looking back, what moments stand out to you most about your MFA experience?

There were many wonderful moments: working as a graduate assistant my first year, being a part of The Normal School, reading manuscripts for the Philip Levine Prize contest, experiencing the AWP conference in both Washington D.C. and Tampa, working on the San Joaquin Review journal, and, to my surprise, teaching poetry to undergrads. These were all very special to me and I feel very lucky to have had a part in all of these happenings. Oh! And meeting some badass writers and people. Such beautiful people here.

What do you think your next step will be as a writer after the MFA?

To write. To always write and hopefully get better and better at it–and of course, to keep working on my manuscript and hopefully a second and a third.

What’s something you wished you may have done differently?

Nothing. I only say nothing because I really don’t know how to do the program “right.” You do it the best you can, and I think I did. I at least tried to do everything with gumption.

How have you grown as a writer?

Slowly! But I have grown. I came into the program eager to write but I was a sporadic mess–still am. But I truly love what I do and I have become patient with my work. It takes time, at least for me. I’ve had the greatest mentors to turn to, and they taught me how to trust my work, how to care about my work–every line is important.

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