Top 5 Places to Write at SUNY Purchase

By Vee Weeks

Stephen King wrote his famous book, The Shining, while spending a night at Stanley Hotel, supposedly haunted and located in Estes, Colorado. J.K. Rowling composed some of the Harry Potter books at the Elephant House, a café in Edinburgh, Scotland with a view of Edinburgh Castle. But not everyone has the money to travel the United States as extensively as Stephen King did in the 1970s and 80s, and the “cafes” in this country feel more like a noisy Starbucks than a writer-friendly place.

If you’re a Purchase student who’s looking to write, you know this struggle all too well. Too broke to travel further than White Plains and without easy access to cafes, you’re stuck writing on campus. Your dorm room and the library might seem like obvious writing spots, but you’ve no doubt learned by now that roommates, lack of available computers, and the general noise of people working in a public space make those options dreadful. If you have the above problems, you’ll benefit from reading this article. Whether you write creative pieces or you just need a relaxing place to complete a paper, take two minutes of your life to read about five great writing spots on campus you probably didn’t know about.

  1. That Area in the Main Gym Entrance After You Go Down the StairsPicture1

With various types of seating, this area of relative silence makes it an ideal writing spot. The huge, glass windows at the gym entrance let in rich amounts of sunlight, perfect for making you feel more positive and productive.

  1. Couches in the Visual Arts Building Basementcouches purchase

The VA basement is mostly a long hallway with a couple of water fountains, but there are couches at the very end, next to Room 0005. With soft seats and the silence of an abandoned hallway, this is a great writing spot if you seek a relaxing experience. Plus, looking at all that art on your way downstairs could be inspirational.

  1. Commuter Lounge (after 6 pm.)


Those of you who live on campus probably never give the Commuter Lounge a second glance. Even if you have, you probably walk past it during the day and can’t imagine getting any writing done with all that noise and are they fighting with chairs in there? While watching chair fights is always a good time, the Lounge doubles as a writing space, becoming a ghost town after the commuters go home. As you can see, the Lounge has two rooms. So even if the main room is noisy, you can find solitude in the back room. With an abundance of seats and the Hub a short distance away, the creative juices will flow in no time.

  1. Tables in the Woods between the Neu and the Dance Building


If you’re an outdoors writer, you’ll find yourself at home in this spot. Walk down the pathway between the Dance and Music Buildings in the direction of the Neu and you should see woods to your left with two tables sitting there. Well-hidden and surrounded by nature, this spot gives you an opportunity to thrive on scenic views, especially now that it’s fall

  1.  Third Floor of Student Services


The noisy first and second floors might discourage you from trying the third, but I assure you it’s deserted up there. This is the absolute best spot, combining a quiet atmosphere with comfortable seats and a scenic view of the campus’s main plaza. Watching all those people is bound to provide inspiration for characters. Each chair even comes with a wooden “table” that’s the perfect laptop size!

Hope this information was helpful. Now go out and decide which spot is best for you. Happy writing!

From Paperback to the Big Screen: Is it Worth the Watch?

By: Taylor Johnson

Every year it seems like more and more books are being adapted for the small and big screen, and the same question follows its release: which is better, the movie or the book? I struggle with this decision as well: whether to watch the movie or read the book first. I fear that by doing one, I’ll miss something about the other, and the overall story that the author intended for me to know will be lost or tampered with in some way. I enjoy both mediums of storytelling, but I wonder if  in some way I betray my writer-self for liking a film adaptation more than the book on which it was based.

Everyone has their reasons for why they feel one is better than the other. Remember the Harry Potter debate? The 8 book series was still being published as the movies were released, and in some circles, one could be dismissed for even considering watching the films before finishing the books. These people, the purists I like to call them, only read the books and didn’t dream of watching even a minute of the films. They feared that the book would lose its integrity, that the story would be lost in the vast world of CGI and special effects. Others only ever watched the movies, never cracking the spine of the actual texts.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (who recently won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature) is a dystopian novel that was published in 2005. The film was adapted five years later  Both received critical acclaim in their respective fields, but it is no secret that the two have their differences—the most apparent being its treatment of character development. I watched the film first and then read the book and after doing so, discovered an unsettling change. In the book, it is made abundantly clear that Kathy and Ruth (the story’s two female protagonists) are close friends throughout childhood which informs the difficulties they face as adults. In the film, on the other hand, this relationship is not as apparent, and changes the story quite a bit. They are distant as small children and Ruth is painted as sneaky and selfish when they become teens, which creates an audience bias for Kathy. The film made me dislike Ruth, whereas the novel made her more relatable and sympathetic. After reading the book, I felt as though the movie cheated me a bit. I didn’t know the characters as well as I thought I did, and it made me wonder how many other stories I really didn’t know simply because I’d watched the movie instead of reading the book.

Given the demands on our time, I wonder whether other people face this dilemma: to read first or just watch the movie?

Unblocking Writer’s Block

By Ashley Fields

At the start of spring semester 2017 every time I picked up my notebook and pen, or opened my laptop to continue a piece, my hands froze over the same scene:

“The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the man from the night before.”

 I couldn’t seem to write past that line. I had a goal in mind; my character would wake up the morning after a one-night-stand and have that awkward moment with her future romantic interest. But I couldn’t seem to manage to write beyond that first sentence. After weeks of pushing the story to the side, I turned to my other pieces only to realize I had the same problem. That’s when I knew that I had writer’s block.

Writer’s Block is one of the most frightening things I have ever gone through, because I felt like I was failing as a writer, the one thing I want to do with my future. However, I wasn’t a quitter. I started researching strategies to get back to my writing. I tried many tactics, but the following eight are what I found the most helpful.

Follow A Prompt: Sometimes following a different prompt can be great practice, or it push your work in a different direction and perhaps change your story for the better. Some helpful books I’ve purchased to play with prompts are “The Writers Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-start Your Imagination” by Jason Rekulak, and “Complete the Story” by Piccadilly.

  1. Listen To Classical Music: I found it distracting to listen to regular pop music, or any music with lyrics. I’ve found Classical music a better way to stay focused on a task.
  2. Set A Daily Goal or Deadline: It was easier for me to write after I’ve set a goal for myself whether it be write 1000 words, or finish a chapter, or a specific section a day. This helped me with my time management.
  3. Read Your Work Aloud: Reading my work aloud has given me a chance to catch errors or fix up story logic and sometimes would inspire me to write a different scene or new phrases. Try messing around with wordplay and cadence in the work.
  4. Write In The Mornings: After a good night’s sleep, and after hours of dreaming, the mind is more imaginative and creative when you wake up. Also, it’s much more quiet and peaceful in the mornings.
  5. Step Away For Anything Creative: Sometimes it’s best to step away from a piece for a bit when blocked, but it’s even better to step away and do something creative that gets your creative drive moving. Try coloring, drawing, crafting, or even photography. When I have a block I begin to doodle anywhere in my notebook and my mind drifts as I draw, next thing I know an idea springs to mind.
  6. Play A Writing Game: My favorite game to play is “Hot Laptop.” It requires a small group of people, but it’s worth it. It can be played on a laptop, or in a notebook, as long as each player has something to write on. The game starts with each player having only two minutes to start writing a story, whatever they like. After two minutes, everyone passes their stories to right, and the player to the right continues the story. This pattern continues until everyone has their original laptops, and then you share your stories. It’s an entertaining method and is a great way to get the mind moving.
  7. Write to Write: Sometimes it’s good to just write whatever is in your head, not worrying about mistakes or rambling. Just get all of your thoughts out and worry about corrections later.

Through my research, I’ve slowly learned that Writer’s Block is just an illusion. It’s a wall writer’s create subconsciously, due to many reasons-Fear, Perfectionism, and Timing. A writer might have hesitations and doubts in their work, feel like their work is not good enough, or might not have time to write at all.

It’s natural to feel stuck or hesitate in the writing process, but it’s something you must push aside in order to produce good work. We should have faith and trust in our writing abilities and we must make time for it, because we love it.

The Necessary Stress of the Workshop

By: Madeline Bodendorf

My first workshop was held on the last day of finals of the first semester of my freshman year. A mouthful, I know, but the point here is that I had literally the entirety of a semester to prepare for my first creative writing workshop. I should have been emotionally ready by then, right?

Cue the workshop anxiety.

By some miracle, I was chosen to workshop last.

I got to see my classmates get workshopped before me – some being poetry majors and having to muster up an entire short story. At least I had an advantage in that. However, one girl did already have a book published…

. I had always written fantastical stories and here I was in a workshop full of contemporary, non-genre writers, and I felt like an outsider. I was sweating.

Twelve voices spoke about my work for an entire hour, and I remained silent taking notes about what they had to say. I noted the people I knew were just mean, and put hearts next to the comments that made me feel good. I stressed over nothing. I was unsure of my work before workshop, but I left knowing it had potential. The same people who said they loved the entire piece also gave me constructive criticism to make the story better – not make me want to never look at it again. No one laughed at me or told me my writing was bad. If anything, they wanted to read more. Now, I’m reworking that first short story as part of my senior project.

I wondered if my peers also had similar fits of anxiety prior to their first workshop. I spoke with my only creative writing friend at the time, a poet, who said her first workshop in narrative techniques gave her such bad anxiety that she wanted to leave the hot room on the third floor of the crumbling natural sciences building to puke in the bathroom. She made it through, though, and used that piece as a submission to a lit mag.

One of my classmates didn’t even show up for her critique, and we as a class did not talk about her story. It was forgotten. Whether it was anxiety that kept her from attending her workshop or not I am unsure, but she missed out on the best opportunity to get feedback on her work from a class of her peers.

One of my other friends switched her major to creative writing in the middle of her college career. She was absolutely terrified to workshop with writers who have been through the ringer more than once. But as someone who didn’t consider herself a writer prior to joining the major, she came to see her own potential through the workshop. “It gets easier with each one,” she said.

Someone in Fiction II workshop wrote bravely about rough sex and bondage and went in to critique holding her head high. She was proud of her work and eager to hear what her classmates and professor thought about it. Not all of us can have this same confidence, but remember that this is normal. Everyone in creative writing writes to be critiqued – that’s just what the program is about.

The workshop works best when the author is silent and listens to every suggestion for their piece with attentiveness. Many creative writers do not even get to workshop until the graduate level. This is an amazing opportunity for us as undergrad writers to hear what our peers have to say and be noticed for our work.

If you’re going to put your work in the world, people are going to judge it. The workshop model may not be best for everyone emotionally, as they are faced with multiple people telling them what is bad about their writing. I cannot be an advocate for this model working one hundred percent of the time, but I can say that the workshop is the model widely used in creative writing programs. You will experience harsh judgment, but it will be in a safe space.

Writing, Wonder, and Wit: An Interview With Joanna Valente (excerpt)

By: Finola Mc Donald

(An except of an interview with Alumna, Joanna Valente, in our upcoming 2017 issue)

Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Sexting the Dead (Unknown Press, 2017) & Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, BUST, Spork Press, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. 

FM:  What moves you to create?

JV: The need to be seen, to change the status quo, to change how women and queer people are viewed. For me, being an artist of any kind means you see what others don’t. Being an artist is intensely political to me, and while I don’t necessarily think all artists have to be, I also can’t imagine not being political, not fighting for equality or the betterment of people. I want us to live in a kinder, better world, and that is what writing is for me, to highlight experiences that aren’t seen as “norm” and to normalize them. To highlight the nuances of human interaction, because we live in more grays and shades than extremes.

FM: How and when did you first get into writing?

JV: I was 11 and I had just gotten my period and started listening to music like The Cure and Tori Amos and began reading Emily Dickinson, and I think the combination of all those things led me to it. That being said, I was also intensely shy and introspective and was deeply into visual art (often I could be found painting or drawing), so in some way, it was just another outlet for me to express something, myself.

Rebellion is also a big part of art for me. And I think my English teacher at the time would always give me 89% on essays and I wanted so bad to get a 90, so in some strange way, I think that really prompted me to excel at writing because I knew I could, I knew that I was capable. The same running theme of rebellion has always been the case for me. As I got older, being a femme was something that was a barrier, being assaulted, being silenced. And I’ve rebelled against that.

Even in my MFA program, my writing was often seen as “women’s work”, as if writing about womanhood or queerness was seen as something other that men didn’t have to be interested in. Being non-binary, of course, is doubly erased by people, so right now I’m trying to write to that experience. Perhaps it’s half-rebellion and half just me trying to understand myself better, but finding your real identity is a rebellion in itself.

The Story Behind the Violence: Storytelling in Professional Wrestling

By Zarira Love

Combining the drama and camp of soap operas with the physicality, athleticism, and violence of combat sports has proven to be a winning formula for the world’s largest and highest grossing wrestling promotion, World Wrestling Entertainment which classifies itself as “sports entertainment.” Here, a team of creative writers—and CEO Vince McMahon—formulate storylines which are translated to “the thousands in attendance and the millions sitting at home” through lengthy promos and backstage interviews and confrontations which culminate in (usually a series of) matches. Most wrestling feuds, in and outside of WWE, are between heels (bad girls/guys) and faces (good girls/guys). If all goes well, the heel gets their comeuppance, or when things go awry (or creative wants to draw heat for the heel) the heel stands tall over the face. Ambulance flipping, illegitimate children, and burning the remains of an evil witch have been part of recent WWE storylines.

New Japan Pro Wrestling classifies itself as the “king of sports,” focusing on in-ring action and long-term booking (a wrestler’s matchups, win, and losses), to tell the story behind the match. Based in Japan, most of the promos and interviews are given in Japanese, making this mode of storytelling vital for wrestlers to convey motives and personalities of their characters. Tetsuya Naito has become New Japan’s most popular talent through his “Tranquilo” character, cultivated while he was in the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre promotion in Mexico where he joined the heel stable Los Igobernables de Japon in 2015. While Naito’s promos and interviews are given in Japanese, his behavior (which includes hocking loogies at opponents and the crowd, his Tranquilo pose, and destroying the IWGP Intercontinental Championship), allows him to convey his ungovernable personality. And while seemingly reactionary, there is a story behind Naito’s current character.

After winning the 2013 G1 Climax tournament, Naito, then a face, was slated to main event Wrestle Kingdom 8 in a match against Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. However, a fan poll placed the IWGP Intercontinental Championship match in the main event (which may also explain why he destroyed this belt after winning it in 2016). A year after losing to Okada in the second to last match at Wrestle Kingdom 8, Naito debuted his “Tranquilo” character whose blatant disregard for authority, his opponents, and fans has given him anti-hero status. With newfound popularity, Naito advanced to the finals of the 2016 G1 Climax tournament, yet lost to Kenny Omega, who became the first gaijin (foreign) wrestler to win the tournament, but ultimately came up short to reigning champion Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11. Naito and Omega crossed paths again in the final of this year’s G1, where Naito was victorious. Before the match began, Omega did his signature finger gun pose in the middle of the ring, representative of the stable he leads, the Bullet Club. True to character, Naito leaned into the gun, showing he was unintimidated and would stop at nothing to secure the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12.

Regardless of promotion, wrestlers tell stories in-ring through wrestling maneuvers, taunts, and trickery among other actions, all in the pursuit of overwhelming and defeating opponents. Whether the drama surrounding the match, or the physical and mental rollercoaster of competition is emphasized, the central story is always the desire to win. Much like in literature, our satisfaction with the end of the story depends on how we get there.

The Joys of Another Art

By Rosa Sugarman

Image by Kurt Vonnegut

When authors come to SUNY Purchase for a reading, one questions always seems to reappear during the Q&A: What advice would you give to young writers? The answer is always different and often contradictory to other writers’ advice. Some say to treat it like a 9-5; work tirelessly to perfect your craft. Some say don’t study it at all, let it be your private joy and keep capitalism out of your artistic pursuits. While it’s difficult to reconcile this mishmash of artistic practices, there is a way to allow your inner artist space to breath while putting in the hours necessary to honing your craft. You need a second art.

I practice two other arts: painting and drumming. I’m no Louise Bourgeois and no Tobi Vail, but I feel no pressure to perfect my secondary artistic pursuits. These arts are strictly for me. When I feel due dates and criticism discouraging my natural urge to write, it can be humbling to return to an untarnished medium to remember why exactly I make any art at all. Then, I can take that same energy over to the page and finish a piece I’m proud of before the deadline.

A second art form should always be low pressure. Novelist Susan Minot told Donald Friedman (creator of book and art exhibition The Writer’s Brush) “Sometimes when I’m feeling a little burnt out with writing, [painting is] a pleasure…It’s never something I feel, ‘Oh, I better go do that,’ which is what writing sometimes has become, because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.” For Minot (along with the 90 other career writers whose paintings are shown in The Writer’s brush) painting remained a pastime long after she started selling books. One can imagine having too many projects going at once would cause an artistic stalemate, but if treated with levity, juggling projects can bring pleasure back art.

There’s also something to be said about getting into a creative state of mind and staying there. When writing is associated with school or work, it can be tempting to completely shut down after class. Rather than binging netflix or scrolling endlessly through instagram, take out the watercolor set. The same meditative state of mind one gets from consuming media can become productive if it’s channeled towards creation. If the artistic mind is a muscle, there’s no shame in finding low pressure ways to strengthen it.

A writer can also learn about writing from working in other forms. For me, it’s a matter of seeing the same principles passing over. For example, it’s a good idea to sketch an outline before you begin painting. It’s also alright to not stick with it if your vision evolves, simply erase and redraw. An outline for a story can benefit from a similar treatment. In drumming, the pace will stay the same throughout a song except perhaps in key moments. The pacing in a story should follow the same principle.

The best part of adopting an art form you’re not committed to is if you don’t like what you’re doing, or feel you’ll never improve, it doesn’t matter.You can keep a stack of ugly paintings under your bed and never show anyone. You could disassemble your drum kit and sell it on craigslist. Or, you could show off what you’ve done and push criticisms aside with “this is just something I do for fun.” It doesn’t matter. It’s all yours.

Teaching Writing in an Unorthodox Classroom

By Toni Chianese

Photo: Four Women Earning Bachelor’s Degrees from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

I work at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women as a writing tutor. Since coming to college and reading In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott, a repertoire of prison literature, I have wanted to work in a prison environment. While it took some research and persistence on my part to locate an opportunity, not to mention an application process, a TB test, and background check, when I finally started my volunteer position at Bedford, I quickly discovered that it was exactly what I wanted to do.

The women are getting their bachelors degrees in sociology (the only major offered). It takes a great deal of time to get this far. They must already have had their high school diplomas when they were booked, or obtain their GED while in prison. After this, if they stay on good behavior for at least a year, they can apply for the college program. Once enrolled in the program, it typically takes inmates between 10 – 12 years to earn their bachelor’s degree.

I am a teacher’s assistant to Ragnhild Utheim, an anthropology professor here at Purchase. I also work with students one-on-one during my office hours, as well as collectively in class, discussing issues like human rights. Hearing them discuss human rights has grown my understanding. Before teaching in the prison, I thought about human rights as positive entitlements. Now, hearing these women talk, I see human rights as tokens that can be used against you. People in a higher position of power can take your rights away as punishment. This perspective is clearest to me while reading their senior capstones.

The students are all researching projects that focus on a variety of humans’ rights breaches, ranging from issues like health care available for aging prisoners to how post-partum depression is falsely diagnosed as clinical depression, making victims of post-partum depression responsible for their actions in their mentally impaired states. I help them collect empirical articles to support their claims and while doing so, I learn about the absence of human rights that exists in our nation. I talk with them about how they read each article and how it relates to them and to me. I also talk to them about life at Bedford Hills Correctional and how it differs from life outside of the penitentiary. I urge them to tie this into their papers as well. Talking to them gives me the knowledge to think dynamically about every topic posed. Since I began working there, I think about what the inmates would say. While watching the news or even just talking to a friend about a controversial topic, I am always sure to present the issue from my students’ perspective. I’m their tutor, but I’ve learned so much from these women.

These women may be in prison, but in our classroom they are treated like college students. Seeing how the women work collaboratively and teach one another, I’ve realized just how important this program is. Education forges a path that leads to a better life, one of autonomy. Because of everything I have learned and taught, I feel privileged to work at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.