Thursday, April 23, 2009

My senior honors thesis

The honors thesis is complete. It was orally defended on April 7, 2009, successfully. I will add that when I presented a discussion about it in my Appalachian Literature class on Wednesday my advisor announced that my novella was noted, “Outstanding.” I hope that an editor will think so, as well, when I submit it for publication. Part of the thesis process is a presentation about what I accomplished, what I learned about it and through it, and how I have grown.
Last year one of my reading assignments was So Long a Letter by the late Mariama Ba. The 90-page work describes the life and society of a woman in Senegal, Africa. This is a black culture, but it is a woman’s story. As I read it I collected bits and pieces from it that spoke to my heart. I knew I would be writing a novel as my honors thesis at Kent State University. After completing the reading and analysis of So Long a Letter I knew that I would write similarly from my own Appalachian culture.

Amaris is an Appalachian woman. She has always been securely attached to her family, willing to sacrifice for any one of the people she loves. She would even sacrifice her own dreams and goals, her own heart’s desires, to see that her family had what they needed, that their dreams came true. Raised in a family where the women are women of faith, she reaches a point where she questions many things: marriage, God and his “called” representatives, men, society, and the rules she lives by— whose rules are they anyway? She sifts through her memories trying to discover (or rediscover) the woman she is and how she came to be that woman.
That’s a pretty general description of my novella. Is it enough temptation too great to resist? We will see.
Let me share with you the process I developed for writing this project.
1. Getting my ducks in a row.
2. Researching my novel.
3. Beginning to write.
4. Over the hump.
5. The defense.
6. Tying up the loose ends.
Getting my ducks in a row.
I created the idea for my novel and put it on paper in a sort of synopsis to present to the Honors College for approval. I met with an agent of the Honors College to discuss my project and agree on the division of hours required to complete the project. I would need to research and write my honors thesis project. Generally speaking, at the junior level work begins on a project. In my case, I was a senior and had to research and write my project in two semesters. Actually, I had less than two semesters to write it. I had to have the manuscript of my novel to my director by mid-March so my reader and committee would have time to read it and request revisions or changes, and allowing me time to make those revisions and changes.
Researching my novel.
I met with Victoria Boccochiccio at the Kent State University Honors College in February 2008. She authorized ten credit hours for my project, five for the Fall ’08 semester and five for the Spring ’09 semester. However, the development began immediately whenever I had a few minutes to spare from my studies. Then, over the summer, I spent many hours reading the list of Appalachian novels to get a feel for the Appalachian genre and my writing references to hone my fiction writing techniques and develop my own style and writing voice.
Beginning to write.
Writing did not come easy. I was registered for 18 credit hours in the Fall ’08 semester, including three hours of Intermediate Spanish, four hours of Modeling Algebra, three hours of Shakespeare, and three hours of African-American Literature. The algebra class began with 10 students and ended with three. It was a difficult class and the instructor didn’t bend at all. I withdrew from the class and opted to take the Intro to Formal Logic class in Spring ’09 semester.
Logic and the creative mind??? Well, I am passing the class.
With the stress and terror of the math class removed, dropping me to 14 credit hours made life and writing easier, but I was also writing weekly articles for Family Recovery Center and running my household as well as keeping an eye on my elderly parents. I was feeling out of my element. Was I in over my head? Could I pull this off? Was I really a writer or was I talking the talk but not walking the walk? Who did I think I was anyway?
Negative self-talk. I had to quit that.
“Patti, it’s not working. I think I’m not going to be able to do this. I need to come up with a new idea.”
“Just keep writing,” she advised. “Just get it down. The fun begins when you start the revisions.”
So I continued to write. But time passed rapidly. I needed to get control of the story. How could I set up the story to most effectively write it? Journaling is a part of my writing repertoire. I used journal entries to serve as writing prompts to keep me focused when I was writing the novella. And it all came together!
Over the hump.
The committee was named, the clock ran out, and, ready or not, I sent the novel to my advisor who put it into the hands of my reader and my committee members, Dr. Karen Boyle, Dr. Roxanne Burns and Ms. Leslie Leahy. My director, Dr. Patti Capel Swartz, set the date for the oral defense. It felt good to have the novel out of my hands before spring break. I wouldn’t have had time to do anything with the novel. My father passed away unexpectedly as we headed into spring break. My mother, who has Alzheimer’s, could not stay alone. All of the adjusting provided a cooling off period so I was ready to prepare my defense in the days just prior to the oral defense.
The defense.
I was a wreck. What if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? What if I completely blanked out? Everyone told me just to relax and talk about my brain child because nobody knew as much about it as I did. This was an opportunity to brag about my work.
My biggest problem is stress. Stress affects the memory. Panic always attaches to my stress and I am terrified that I will appear to be stupid, an idiot.
My director sat beside me and skillfully took us through the process of questions and answers, clarifications and explanations. And when we were finished I stepped out of the room to await their final conclusions in regard to my novella, my senior honors project.
I was calm. The worst was behind me, and it wasn’t bad at all. When I was invited back into the room I was congratulated on the successful defense. They liked it very much and urged me to submit it as soon as possible.
Tying up the loose ends.
The last part of my project is to write the acknowledgements, print and bind the novella, provide copies to my director, my reader and committee and myself and the copy for the university. Presentation of my experience has been met. And I will be submitting to a publisher shortly.
I have completed a novel! I went back to school to achieve this. And I did it!