Fiction Apprenticeship: A Guest Post by Mattox Roesch

Okay, good. Come in. You’re late but you’re here. Hurry. The class has already started. You can sit over there next to the guy with the orange hat and the homemade nametag. No need to make a nametag, he did that himself and I’m not interested in your name. Oh, and that reminds me, class, please remove all hats. What was that? No, no, there’s not a 49 Writers policy on hats, I just don’t want to spend the next hour staring at the evidence that you’ve been to Wall Drug. Thanks!

Since you were late you need to quickly turn to the first page of your story or novel. And while we’re waiting for you to peel off that cacophony of jackets, I’d like my cyber audience—the folks reading this on the 49 Writers Blog—to please open their current creative projects as well. Open to the first page. Got it? I’m serious. Okay? Is it open? Good. Here we go.

Read the first paragraph of your novel or story as if I were reading over your shoulder. This goes for my cyber audience as well. Yes, I’m serious. And please excuse my breath as I’ve had a lot of coffee this afternoon. If you don’t particularly like me right now because I embarrassed you publicly for coming in late, or because you’re very proud of your vacation through the Midwest, then, well, too bad. Pretend I’m reading it anyway.  

Ready? Okay, read …


This frantic, judgmental teacher/editor looking over our shoulder might be far too familiar to some of us. It’s absolutely maddening to write with him intruding. It’s stifling and impossible. While it’s important to edit our drafts with a keen and critical eye, we need that dreamy, right-brained self to add, expand, and rearrange the creative material. When the critic is around, the dreamer clams up. We can’t do it alone.

This is why we let friends and family read our drafts—we are asking them to step in so our editor-self isn’t allowed to completely dominate the process. If that guy were always looking over our shoulder, we would do lots of slashing and burning, but no rebuilding. This is where our mentors come in. They are impartial, experienced, and most importantly, they can reflect the work back to us in ways that we can’t always do on our own: Who are these characters? What do they want? How do the characters and setting and details further the over-arching story?

It is from this perspective that 49 Alaska Writing Center offers you the Fiction Apprenticeship, a one-on-one conversation based on your writing project and your writing goals. If you have a novel manuscript or a handful of stories you’re working on, you might be ready to take the next step—moving someplace between discussing your work with family and submitting it to agents and editors. Over the course of three exchanges, you will receive both line comments/edits/questions to your work, as well as a 3-5 page letter reflecting your piece back to you. The format opens the Writing Center’s doors to the whole state of Alaska (via email and phone) and is modeled after the many low-residency MFA programs throughout the country. The goal of the Fiction Apprenticeship—apart from your specific goals—is to assist you with your project while further equipping you with an arsenal of writing tools so you can move forward with your piece and with your writing talents.

That critical voice will always be around, somewhere, we just need help in dealing with him.
Mattox Roesch’s first novel, Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same, was selected as a semi-finalist for the Cabell First Novelist Award and named one of the best books of 2009 by Booklist and New West. Applications for the 49 Writers Fiction Apprenticeship are due Jan. 31.

His stories have appeared in The Sun, The Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Narrative Magazine, Redivider, AGNI online, and the 2007 Best American Nonrequired Reading. He’s received a Pushcart Prize honorable mention, Minnesota State Arts Board grant, a Loft Mentor Series Award, and he was a finalist for a Bush Artist Fellowship.
Born in 1977, he grew up in Minnesota, lived in Minneapolis for ten years and played drums in an indie rock back, designed and peddled skateboards, and founded the T-shirt printing operation Screenarchy. 

Matt received his MFA from Warren Wilson College. He currently lives with his wife and daughter in Unalakleet, Alaska.

1 thought on “Fiction Apprenticeship: A Guest Post by Mattox Roesch”

  1. What a fantastic opening – you totally had me going with that guy, clicking my tongue, forehead furrows tightening. Thanks for the reminder to that our dreamer-selves are a valid part of this process.

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