Bev Magennis, 2010 Emerging Voices Alum, writes about her experience of being a visual artist for many years before venturing into writing. Her favorite component of the fellowship was the UCLA Writing Extension class with author Ian Wilson.
“In the spring of 1993, my ex-husband and I moved to a remote county in southwestern New Mexico where 3,000 people and 10,000 elk occupied 7,000 square miles of wilderness, without one traffic light or fast food restaurant. At 51, I had a successful career as a visual artist and would earn a living with continued gallery sales and commissions. Full of enthusiasm, we said ‘adios’ to city life, ‘hello’ to home-cooked meals in front of the fireplace!
Elk grazed along the creek, hawks circled above, swallows dipped into fields streaked with wildflowers. Mountain lions, foxes, coyotes, wild turkey, and bear dated and mated outside my back door, leaving tracks for me to identify. No street lamp lit the sky for 100 miles. The rooster’s crow replaced the alarm clock and squabbling jays, flapping ravens’ wings, and tapping woodpeckers made me pause and listen, really listen. I thought I’d gone to heaven.
But paradise had its downside. The locals were a tough bunch, resistant to regulations of any kind. They clung to local tradition, good or bad, and did not play well with others. Eccentricities flourished and were encouraged. Open space transmitted news at record speed and I got sucked in, eager as anyone for the inside scoop on the latest scandal. After 15 years, I understood how isolation strains relationships, how, without distractions, tensions grow unchecked and explode. Far from civilization’s eye, the county operated according to its own law; survival of the fittest applied not only to animals, but humans as well.
Inspired by local characters and conflicts, I wrote a short story, and then began a novel based on one of the county’s unsolved murders. Writing seemed the perfect creative outlet for my position as resident and observer in this unique landscape. However, I knew nothing of literary craft. The university was four hours away. I searched the Internet for intensive writing programs and applied for the 2010 Emerging Voices Fellowship.
Suddenly, I was in Los Angeles writing at the library, encouraged and supported by Emerging Voices Fellows. I met authors and went to readings and workshops and worked with a mentor. Most importantly, I took Ian Wilson’s class at UCLA. Each student’s work was critiqued with emphasis on character development, structure, exposition and summary, setting, the arc of the story, point of view, and pacing. I was inspired to stretch my imagination, test various approaches, to think about land as a character! We evaluated writing as literature, applying elements that comprise good story telling with an ear for sound, sensitivity to nuance, and recognition of theme. The UCLA class cracked the door, offering a peek into the adventure ahead, exposing the complexity and depth of the craft. It provided the solid foundation for formulating my ideas and experiences into a cohesive written work.
The Emerging Voices Fellowship not only supported my choice to write, it gave me the tools to do so in earnest.
Begin. It’s never too late.”
Bev Magennis was born in Toronto, Canada. In 1971 she received an MA in art from the Claremont Graduate School, located in Claremont, California. After a 34-year career as a visual artist she started writing literary fiction, inspired by people and events in the remote New Mexico wilderness where she lived for 17 years. In 2009, Bev was accepted to the Iowa Writers Workshop summer graduate class. She has been awarded a 2010 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship and received a 2011 Norman Mailer Fiction Fellowship.
Bev has been published in r.kv.r.y Literary Magazine, The Rattling Wall, and Bosque, and is currently represented by the Susan Schulman Literary Agency.
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