Faculty Feature: Andrew Miller


Hayley Kirley interviews NKU professor Andrew Miller about his experience at NKU as well as his writing. Miller describes his creation of the creative writing program, his writing style, and his plans after leaving NKU.

HK: You created the creative writing program here at NKU. Can you give some context on how that process began?

AM: When I started at NKU we had 3 writing courses: intro to creative writing, one fiction writing class, and one poetry writing class. They were sharing screenplay writing with the theater department—that was it. When I was hired in 2000, I decided that I wanted to teach more than what was offered. Even before I got hired for the full time job, I created what we still use—the ENG 358 course. I eventually wound up using that class to pilot creative nonfiction before it became its own class. We still use it today; I’m teaching it right now, ENG 358—writing the superhero. At the same time I was adding classes I also said we needed to have more faculty members. It didn’t make sense to only have one faculty member commenting on their creative stories. I was trying to build a program that students would want to take but also what we were able to teach; play it off of student interests and faculty strengths.

HK: Can you explain your writing style?

AM: I don’t know if I have one writing style. I have a couple modes I write—there are all kinds of different things I write. I write contemporary fantasy, poetry, often mythological, but also some very personal writing which tends to be borderline creative nonfiction/poetry. I also have humor. So there are several different writing styles that I write in depending on what I’m writing for and what I want to write at the time. Sometimes I might start one way and then it turns out the other way. It all depends. There are a lot of themes that come up; water is a big theme that comes up a lot. More recently I’ve been deliberately exploring a lot more gay and lesbian characters in my writing. It also depends on what I’m writing. My poetry is a bit different than my fiction. I do humor in my poetry as well.

HK: How do you write to the reader?

AM: I don’t know if I write to the reader. Very seldom do I sit down and write to a reader. When I sit down to write, I write to me. Normally, I write what I want to write. As a reader I know what I like to read so I have that reader in mind; me as a reader but not necessarily them as a reader. I don’t sit down and say, “who am I writing this for?” Mostly I write for that reader in me.

HK: On your blog you write that you often write “speculative” pieces (science fiction/fantasy). How do you think that this kind of writing deepens the meaning of your writing?

AM: Part of it deepens the meaning. I use a lot of mythology because a lot of mythology speaks to so many different things to everybody–it’s the reason it’s been around for a long time. Again, though, that is the inner reader in me–that’s what I like to read so that’s what I like to write. I think the genre doesn’t determine inherent quality. One of the criticisms often used against genre fiction is that it’s formulaic. I see the same things in contemporary realistic fiction and literary fiction. In speculative fiction, yes, there are some people who follow formulas but there are some people who far exceed those formulas. Mostly the reason why I use ‘speculative’ elements is because it is what I like to write or like to read and what I’m interested in. Frequently, I also bring that into the art world—trying to imagine what if these characters existed now and what would they be doing. I just think that’s a fun exercise to do.

HK: Do you have any direct influences on your work?

AM: I have always been interested in mythology. I have always been using mythology. With mythology, I try to go back to the source material—you can never capture how they were worshipped—but the abilities you can use and then their characterization. I want to make them recognizable in the mythic aspects. I also think it’s interesting to take the mythic and make it human. Most of the time the gods never acted like humans or they acted like the worst of humans so then I try to write them as if they were more sympathetic.

HK: What are your plans after leaving NKU in the Spring?

AM: There are a couple of things I want to do. One is doing more writing. I want to explore some other artistic avenues like photography or something along those lines. I want to do something that’s individual arts. I also bought a business recently. I collect animation art, comic art, and I’m thinking of opening up a gallery of animation and possibly doing workshops there. It’s in the West-side of Cincinnati in Green Township right off of 74 Harrison.


Alum Feature: Stephanie Knipper


Hayley Kirley interviews Stephanie Knipper about her beautiful book, Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin. Knipper discusses her writing inspiration, her experience at NKU, and her advice for other authors.

HK: You have published the book, Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin. The story is about a young woman with special abilities. You have mentioned in past interviews that it is in part inspired by your own experiences. Can you explain more about the inspiration for your book?

SK: This was a very personal book for me. It came together after two difficult events in my life.  The first was the birth of my son, Zachary. I went into preterm labor when I was six and a half months pregnant. When Zach was delivered, he weighed two pounds fourteen ounces.  He fit in the palm of my hand. Miraculously, he only spent four weeks in the neonatal ICU and experienced no ill effects from his traumatic birth. I was not so lucky. When doctors performed the emergency C-section, they discovered that I had developed peritonitis. I was put on life support and spent several days in ICU. No one expected me to survive. I ended up spending almost two months in the hospital and was later diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. After my health stabilized, and Zach and I had been home for several months, I started to wonder what life would be like for a child whose mother had died at birth. Would they feel responsible? What would that child do to try to keep their mother alive? In 2005 we adopted our first child from China, Grace. We had been told that she had a heart condition that had already been surgically corrected. When we met Grace, it was obvious that her problems went far beyond a small heart condition. She was almost two and couldn’t hold her head up, couldn’t walk, and couldn’t eat solid foods. Still, we hoped that once she was home she would get better. Unfortunately, she didn’t.  Grace was diagnosed with autism, developmental delays, and seizures. After the shock of Grace’s diagnosis wore off, I once again thought about a child whose mother died during childbirth.  How much worse would it be for a disabled child to lose their mother? With that thought, the character of Antoinette was born, and the rest of the book fell into place.

HK: Can you explain for me the process in which you got published?

SK: I had been researching agents while working on my manuscript. Once it was finished, I began submitting the book to agents. Dan Lazar from Writer’s House was one of my dream agents. I never thought that he’d be interested in representing me, but within a few weeks of submitting my manuscript I had signed a contract with him! After that, we went through several rounds of revision. It was a long and grueling process but the book is so much better for it. Finally, Dan submitted the book to publishers and Algonquin made an offer!

HK: How did the Master’s program at NKU help you in your process?

SK: My time at NKU gave me permission to admit that I was a writer. Too often, those of us who write fiction feel as if it’s a silly little hobby. There’s a lot of pressure in our culture to be “productive”—which usually translates to “something that makes a lot of money”. From the start, the English Department faculty treated me as someone whose work had value. Not only that, but the professors went out of their way to help students develop their own voice. There was no pressure to write only “literary” fiction. Writers in all genres were encouraged and supported. I believe this culture is unique to NKU and should be celebrated. The safe and supportive atmosphere gave me the courage to push the boundaries of my writing.

HK: What advice would you give writers trying to get published?

SK: First, don’t quit. Writing a novel is grueling. There will be days you want to run your manuscript through a shredder and delete it from your hard drive. Don’t. Push through. By simply finishing your manuscript, you’re already ahead of most people. Second, edit your work. Not just once or twice, but fifteen or twenty times. Don’t be one of those people who believe every word they write is precious. If you want to be a writer, plan on spending 90 percent of your time editing. Finally, after you’ve edited your work, you have to send it out. Don’t be afraid. The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you’ll get a form email turning down your work. Don’t worry about it. When you get that rejection, turn around and send that book back out.

HK: What is your next project?

SK: I’m working on my second novel. It too is set in Kentucky—this time in Appalachia—and centers on a fractured relationship between a mother and her grown daughter. That relationship becomes even more strained when the mother’s mental health deteriorates after past traumas resurface and the daughter must move home to care for her.

Undergrad Feature: Elizabeth Gauck


Hayley Kirley interviews Elizabeth Gauck about her upcoming romance novel to be published next year. Gauck talks about her inspirations, personal struggles, writing methods, and advice for writers. The working title for her book is, Step Toward You. The expected release date is March 2018.

HK: Can you give me some context on what your book is about?

EG: It’s a romance novel. It is about an alcoholic who falls in love with a girl whose mom is dying and it’s supposed to be about his redemption and how he grows and becomes a better person through that.

HKWhat were some inspirations for your book?

EG: There were a few things going on in my life at the time. My family has a history of alcoholism. Also, I had cancer, and when I was writing this my grandpa was dying. Those three things mixed and mingled and formed a book idea.

I originally started writing the novel just to get through what I was going through. The more I wrote the more it started matching up with my life. There are scenes that almost exactly matched events that happened in my real life. And that made me realize that this is more about me getting through the situation, finding peace, and getting out emotions that I couldn’t say or talk to people about. But it ended up that I would have to delete whole sections, because they were more what I felt and it didn’t match what the character should feel.

HKWhat are some of your methods for writing?

EG: So, my writing style is pretty simplistic. I’m not overly flowery. I want my work to be commercial and interesting but still literary. I try to write every day. I give myself a goal such as to write a chapter a day. But if I do not feel good about the chapter, I can delete it the next day and start over. This method helps me get over writer’s block.

HKPlease explain the process in which you got published.

EG: This novel was something I really cared about, because, like I said, it was written during a hard time. I tried to get an agent, but I wasn’t able to secure one. So, I re-worked the novel, changed it up, and then I finally decided after Stephen Leigh’s class to try a small press. I started looking at what the top romance novel presses were and I happened upon Inkspell. I submitted my manuscript to them, and they accepted it.

HKAre there any NKU classes that helped you through this process?

EG: Novel Writing One and and Novel Writing Two gave me the direction to write, revise, and send out my novel.  I remember one specific piece of advice when Steve said that your opening is what is going to seal the deal—when you send it out to people that’s all they see—they don’t see the rest.  I think that was a huge issue with why my novel wasn’t getting picked up at first. I wasn’t happy with the opening. But eventually I realized it just wasn’t working, so I got rid of it and started over. I believe this process helped the book get sold to Inkspell.

HKWhat are some of your goals with this book?

EG: My ultimate life-ending goal is to get a movie on the Hallmark channel but that might not happen. I want to have an audience that’s loyal and cares about what I’m writing. I want somebody to fall in love with reading romance the way a lot of the authors I read have made me feel.

HKWhat is some advice you can give novice writers?

EG: I guess the cliché—“don’t give up.” It’s not an option if you love what you are doing.


Want to follow Liz’s progress? Here are links to her Facebook, Blog, Instagram and Twitter:

Instagram (LizAshleeAuthor): https://www.instagram.com/lizashleeauthor/?hl=en  

Twitter (Liz Ashlee Author): https://twitter.com/LizAshleeAuthor

Introducing Hayley Kirley

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Hello! My name is Hayley Kirley and I am the new Graduate Assistant for the English Department! I am getting my Master’s in English Literature and I plan on teaching English abroad after graduation.  I will be conducting interviews for the blog this year. Some important things to know about me is that I love  baking, reading, dogs, and music. Some things that I hate are celery, hangnails, snakes, and escalators. Thank god there are no snakes or escalators in Landrum! I am so excited to start working with everyone!

Faculty Feature: Dr. Donelle Dreese


Jacqui Tackett interviews Dr. Donelle Dreese about her prolific and varied body of work. Tackett and Dreese discuss Dreese’s work in Ecocriticism, activism, mixing genres, writing techniques, and other courses Dreese teaches at NKU.

JT: You’ve done a lot of work and research on Environmental Literature and even published a book on Ecocriticism. Tell us about that and why you feel so passionate about it.

DD: I love literature that pulls the background into the foreground and holds a mirror up to show us the interdependent relationship we have with the beauty and intelligence of nature. When I was a young girl, the rural hillsides of Pennsylvania were my refuge and playgrounds, and those experiences laid the foundation for a life-long passion for the environment and how profoundly we are influenced by place. Environmental Literature is also an important part of my activist work. Our planet has been facing difficult challenges for quite some time. I’m glad that these issues are becoming more present in our national and international political dialogues, but there is a lot of work to do. We all can participate in creating a healthier planet and a more sustainable future. We have a responsibility to each other and to future generations to do so, and I have great admiration for talented writers who are showing us how important our home is and that we need to conserve and protect it.

JT: You’re also going to be teaching a course titled “Literature and the Environment” soon. Tell us about that.

DD: Literature and the Environment examines current and historical attitudes toward our environment through literature and examines its role as a form of spiritual expression and environmental activism. It also explores themes of survival and how communities are strengthened or dissolved by the shared experience of environmental crisis. The class focuses on literature that foregrounds wilderness areas, wastelands, farms, forests, urban spaces, the sea, mountains, small towns, reservations, borderlands, and other locations and landscapes that impact human consciousness. It’s important for me to mention that environmental justice themes are present in most of my classes, including Multicultural American Literature, Literature & Film, and American Women Poets. The relationships between race, class, gender, and the environment form the foundation for my pedagogical research. Women, people of color, and people who are poor often suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards, and there is a large body of literature that portrays these experiences.

JT: Looking over your list of publications, it ranges from poetry, fiction, articles on literature, environmental literature, and Ecocriticism. Since you have published in so many different genres and formats, what advice would you give to students juggling multiple genres as well?

DD: This is a great question. Initially, I think it is quite useful to experiment with different genres. Each genre has its own set of tools and conventions that are worth participating in and exploring for any writer, if for no other reason than to get a sense of one’s own voice and abilities. Ultimately though, it will depend on your goals. I love a challenge, so writing in different genres allows me to push my limits. But I don’t always feel as if the decision is mine. It is the idea and voice that chooses the genre. I follow the muse, if you will. Think also about how different genres can enhance and inform one another. Being a poet might help you write lyrical novels, or being a storyteller might help you write narrative poetry. Or, you might enjoy swimming the boundary waters between poetry and prose. Having considerable experience with critical research and analysis will help you polish your work and give you the investigative tools to write about any topic. On the down side, if you are trying to build an audience and a certain identity as a writer, it might be a good idea to stick to one genre. You may not be able to excel as much as you like in any one genre if you are switching among several.

JT: If you had to pick a favorite genre to write in, what would it be and why?

DD: It is too hard for me to choose. I love all forms of writing, but I have been focusing primarily on poetry and fiction in recent years. My novels usually start with an idea and a character longing to be heard. I enjoy the experience of embarking on a journey in a world where I have freedom to roam. For poetry, I love the immediacy of writing poems and playing with language. The world is radiating with meaning and presence and there are poems everywhere and in everything. My writing is almost always a careful braiding of artistry and activism. Everything I write is in some way a love letter to the world. And although I am not currently writing articles, the intellectual process of writing literary criticism is deeply imbedded in my creative work. I am passionate about research. I love gathering information, processing it, and deciding how I want to present it in a new way.

JT: What advice would you give to students who hope to get published?

DD: Read! Read all kinds of novels, poetry, nonfiction, and articles. Seek insightful feedback on your work. Revise carefully. Be patient–try not to send your work to publishers before it is ready. Put it away for a while. Let it simmer. Come back to it later with fresh eyes. Research publication venues. Follow submission guidelines. Don’t be discouraged by rejection–your happiness in life is not in the hands of an editor. Treasure your fellow writer friends who care about your art and your well-being. Be persistent. Try not to become too preoccupied with publishing. Go for long walks in the woods. Meditate. Learn a new skill that creates new connections in your brain. Enjoy your life. Be brave.

Alum Feature: Minadora Macheret

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Jacqui interviews NKU BA and MAE graduate, Minadora Macheret, about her life after NKU, which includes an MA at Kansas State and acceptances to several PhD in English/Creative Writing programs: University of South Dakota, Georgia State, and the University of North Texas (with full funding).

JT: Tell us about some of your favorite memories at NKU as an undergraduate and graduate student.

MM: Some of my favorite memories as an undergraduate student while at NKU had to be the OpenMic that we have in the middle of the plaza during the Celebration of Research week. Also, I loved the trip I got to take to Ecuador to do service-learning and to engage the country and its history. As a graduate student, I was fortunate to be chosen to run Licking River Review and learned a lot from sending out a call for submissions to finalizing the proofs on the final product. Most of all, my favorite memories included the faculty and students that were part of my community and who continue to support me today (even states away).

JT: You also have another Master’s degree from Kansas State. What degree is that in, and what made you decide to get another Master’s degree?

MM: Funnily enough, my Master’s degree from Kansas State is also in English, but with a focus in literature and creative writing, along with a certificate in Professional and Technical Communication. Well, I ended up at K-State after dealing with almost 12 rejections to MFA programs from the 2014-2015 application season. I had heard from a friend that they were still looking for applicants (especially poets) and considering their amazing poet on faculty, Traci Brimhall, I realized that I wanted to work with her and see how my poetry could grow. Also, K-State gave me the opportunity to teach persuasive writing as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, which would help to cover my tuition and some of my living costs.

JT: Many students from NKU will want to further their education, and many will be looking into graduate assistantships, teaching assistantships, and other scholarships to receive funding for graduate school, myself included. Since you just received funding to the University of South Dakota, what advice would you give those students?

MM: I would advise researching the schools that you are applying to and making sure that they state on their departmental websites that they cover tuition through teaching assistantships or research assistantships, or through other work programs through the university, like working in writing centers. If the website doesn’t tell you then call the department and speak to their director to find out how funding is distributed (if it is offered). Not all programs will offer funding or some will just offer partial funding. Also, make sure to highlight any sort of teaching you have done, whether as a teaching assistant, a grader, as a tutor, through any volunteering programs, etc. within your statement of purpose to show the program that you’re serious in pursuing your skills in aiding others to learn. I think most importantly that you find ways to follow your passions even if it may not be considered the “normal route.” For instance, at K-State I was unable to teach any creative writing courses and so I found ways to teach creative writing within the community. I teach poetry and storytelling to the local 4-H Latina club in Manhattan, KS, which have become very popular and opened other avenues where I get to engage creative writing. I think the best advice I ever got (coincidentally from a professor at NKU) was to take any passion I have and find a way to build community and engagement through it even when it seems like every door has closed. That bit of advice has been pivotal for my success as a poet and professional.

JT: What schools did you pick to apply to and why? What would you tell students to look for in a school when they start applying for graduate school?

MM: I applied to University of North Texas, Georgia State University, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Florida State University. I chose those other four schools because I heavily researched the faculty there and found people that I thought could become mentors or that at the very least we would be a good fit based on aesthetic, research interests, genre of writing, etc. Also, making sure each program was fully funded was a concern of mine along with looking at how their current students/recent graduates were doing as far as publications, rates of job offers, etc. As far as what you want to look for when you start applying for graduate school is to make sure that the city/town/location, its environment, and climate are things you can live with for the next two to five years depending on the length of your program. Look at the applications fees, if they require official GRE scores to be sent, and whether they require official transcript copies to be sent, all of which can add up very quickly and expensively. Make sure that there are faculty within the program that are interested in similar research ideas so you can establish a mentorship and work with someone already established within the field. Also, if funding is a concern of yours, make sure to find out that the program is fully funded and understand that funding can sometimes fall through due to the nature of budget cuts and bureaucracy. Lastly, I would see if the program offers classes that you would like to take by looking at their course catalogs and even reaching out to current students to hear about their experiences within that program.

JT: What do you plan to accomplish and focus on while furthering your education at either the University of South Dakota or the other programs you applied to?

MM: I will be focusing on completing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing with a focus in poetry. My hope is to complete a second collection of poems and work on sending out the current manuscript to be picked up. Along with that, I want to continue my work as the Poetry Editor for Devilfish Review, will hopefully join the staff of the university’s literary magazine, and continue my work with 4-H youth.

JT: Besides furthering your education, has there been anything else you’ve been up to?

MM: Besides furthering my education, I have spent a lot of time traveling cross- country with my pup, Aki, attending writing residencies, and being a part of different reading series. Also, I got to spend the last two years helping to do curriculum develop and create culturally-sensitive programming for KSRE-4H Youth Development, which has resulted in a webinar series where I get to be a facilitator as well as guest speaker. My time in Kansas has been a whirlwind full of adventure, reflection, and growth. I am thankful for the landscape I’ve gotten to experience and become a part of.

Faculty Feature: Dr. Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman


Dr. Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman is the most recent addition to the creative writing faculty. Her writing has recently appeared in Hippocampus and Brevity. She has worked as a freelance researcher for various media organizations including MTV, where she was the first person to compile research on the show that would later become the nationwide hit Teen Mom. Her teaching and writing interests include memoir, the personal essay, cultural criticism, and Narrative Medicine.

JT: When did you start teaching at NKU? How has your experience been so far at NKU?

JCH: I started at NKU in August 2014, and it’s been amazing. I have never had more enthusiastic students, and my colleagues go out of their way to be supportive of me. Everyone has been very welcoming as I find my place here.

JT: I remember the first time I really fell in love with creative writing and why. What sparked your passion for creative writing?

JCH: Like most writers, I fell in love with reading first. I grew up in two very small, mountainous towns–one in WV that was under 2,000 people, and one in VA that was under 3,000. Reading was my primary way of learning about different people and places. And it was by reading that I knew I wanted to write. I remember being a freshman in college and reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed. What I loved about that book is that it translated the realities of the working poor to a wealthy, elite readership. The translation wasn’t perfect, but it was the first time I’d ever read anything that even attempted to do that. As someone who had grown up in Appalachia and moved to uber-wealthy Manhattan, I knew I wanted to write literary nonfiction that bridged the divide between those two cultures, which is something that I struggled to do in my daily life. And I knew I wanted to write in a way that promoted social justice.

JT: How did that passion for creative writing transfer to a passion for teaching?

JCH: I never set out to teach, and yet, learning how to teach (it’s a constant learning process) has been the most meaningful intellectual and artistic experience of my life. Writing, particularly memoir writing, requires me to search inward. Like most memoirists, I don’t always like what I find there! Teaching is the opposite; all of my attention is focused on other people. It’s a much more comfortable stance. All that said, teaching is by no means some selfless act. I learned more about writing during my first semester of teaching writing (during the second year of my MFA program) than I had in K-12, college, and the first year of my MFA combined. I am constantly learning how to write by teaching others how to write.

JT: I know a number of students plan on being writers and professors after they graduate, myself included. What advice would you give to those students?

JCH: I think flexibility is key. I majored in Middle Eastern Studies in college. When September 11th happened I was actually in Cairo, Egypt on my junior year abroad. I interned at several newspapers and thought that with my knowledge of the Middle East and newspaper reporting experience, I’d have no problem getting a journalism job, especially with all the chaos in the region. But then, within a span of a few years that happened to coincide with my college years, the internet decimated the entire field of journalism. Newspapers folded, thousands of people were laid off, and the remaining news organizations closed most of their foreign bureaus. I had planned very carefully how to get a job after college, and it didn’t matter at all because the entire world had turned upside down. You just can’t plan for that; what you can do is be flexible. Think about what skills you have. Think about what the world needs. If there is anything that you know would make you absolutely miserable, cross that off your list, but be open to everything else. Be especially open to career paths you’ve never even considered. I never in a million years thought I’d be a college professor because, well, I really didn’t like college that much, and I was very happy to graduate and get the heck out of there. I never thought I’d go to graduate school. It was only years later that I opened my mind to it, and now I consider academia a place where I can contribute and a place where I feel at home. My point is that the world is going to change in extreme ways that we have no ability to predict. The “practical” major of today can easily become the major of the unemployed tomorrow, and vice-versa. The great thing about becoming an expert in the English language, and learning how to think critically and creatively, is that these are extremely flexible, transferable, and durable skills.

JT: I know you have work that is in the process of being published. Tell us about that.

JCH: Yes, I have a memoir that is currently with an agent in NYC. We are in the final stages before shopping it to publishers. Because it’s still in that stage I can’t say much more than that, but what I can say is that I wholeheartedly agree with George Orwell, who said that writing a book is like having some horrible, exhausting illness. It has been worth it, because one’s first book is, of course, where one learns how to write a book, but I will be very glad when the process is over and I can move on.

JT: Any other advice, thoughts, etc.?

JCH: One thing that sustains me through long workdays is knowing I will get to encounter my students’ lives on the page, in all of their glorious complexity, diversity, hilarity, and tragedy. I feel so privileged to help people write about their lives, and I learn so much about the world through what my students write. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’ve ever thought you have a true story to tell, I hope you’ll consider taking a Creative Nonfiction workshop!