Final Deadline for Spring Cohort: June 27, 2024 Apply Now

Christian Kiefer

Christian Kiefer

Christian Kiefer is the director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Ashland University and is the author of The Infinite Tides (Bloomsbury), The Animals (W.W. Norton), One Day Soon Time Will Have No Place Left to Hide(Nouvella Books), and Phantoms (Liveright/W.W. Norton).

What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?

There’s nothing I enjoy more than spending time in my own imagination. At some basic level, it allows me to create problems and then solve them (or make them worse!) in an environment that is (or can be) so much different from my own. And of course every single part of that work is malleable. The characters can be changed. The situation. The responses. The dialogue. The structure. The paragraphs. The sentences. The words. Everything.

And to make it yet more interesting, you are ultimately writing for a reader that you do not know and cannot even imagine. Your sentences will manifest themselves—as reality, as truth—in the consciousness of someone else who will, necessarily, bring their own self to the text. What this means is that whatever you do on the page is, ultimately, a responsive, malleable thing all the way to the end, for you have no idea what this hypothetical reader is going to bring to that conversation. And be sure, it is a conversation, where hearts and minds and souls meet, are broken, are made whole. I can think of no other art forth with that kind of transcendental power.

What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn? 

Whenever I hear about a musician (usually it’s a musician) “returning to form,” I immediately lose interest. I’m not super interested in someone retreading the same material or doing something in the same mode, nor am I particularly interested in what someone has done. What I’m deeply interested in is what you’re doing now. What are you thinking about? How is it developing? Where is it going in your heart? In your mind? In your body?

This kind of thinking is how we continue to grow and learn as writers: by being open to all the possibilities and, especially, the possibility that our work is not yet complete. (The best thing about publishing a book is you can’t mess with it anymore!)

What makes a good writing mentor?

A good writing mentor is someone devoted to helping you make your work the best version of what you want it to be. I know from experience that this is not always the case, that sometimes mentors get too involved in their own aesthetic positions and forget that they are not the authors of the piece in question. You are. So you’ll want a mentor who understands and remembers that, first and foremost.

Secondly, being a mentor is something of a razor’s edge. I always want to make sure that I’m telling my truth about my own singular experience in reading a piece, while also trying to envision how it might land for a broader (or simply different audience). At the same time, I have to make sure that the writer I’m mentoring can hear what I’m saying in a way that buoys them (and their work) up rather than tearing it down. Writing is difficult in the best of times and it’s simply not helpful being torn apart in a workshop.

What is your style of feedback?

I really like to give the writer lots of margin notes that track my experience reading the piece for the first time, many of which end up being questions and/or comments about how certain characters, scenes, ideas, or sentences are landing with me. I’m understanding the character this particular way. Is that how you want them to be read? I also try to make sure that it’s clear that my comments are just my comments. I’m one reader and I bring my own privileges, perspectives, and expectations to the text. I do my level best to make sure those are tracked and noted in my comments.

In my larger, narrative comments, I try to offer some critique as to what I think might be working or not working in a piece, general enough so that I’m not prescribing but am, instead, offering ways to move forward. Such comments often end with some reading suggestions, often texts that might have come to mind while reading the draft.

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