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Writing Certificate


The Online Creative Writing Program is nearing the end of its first decade, running more than fifteen courses each quarter, including our two-year Novel Writing Certificate Program. This space will aim the spotlight on the talented alumni and faculty of our courses, featuring news of recent successes, opportunities for networking and publishing, short personal essays and interviews relevant to all aspects of the writing life. If you have a piece of news or know of an opportunity you'd like to share with our community, please email: continuingstudies@stanford.edu.

MAY 2016

This month, we are excited to share the success of two Writing Certificate Program students. The first article is the publication of a memoir and the other an online story.

Isabelle Gecils 

Isabelle’s debut book was written through the Stanford Continuing Studies Creative Nonfiction Certificate program in 2014. Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape, is the captivating memoir of Gecils’ upbringing in Brazil, where her parents raised her in a restrictive cult. Leaving Shangrila tells the poignant life story of her restrictive past and ultimate escape, as she grew up to embrace an independent future. Gecils’ resonant chronicle explores themes of belonging, family allegiance, and starting over. As it does so, it effectively tells the story of the liberation of a young girl who had her eye on a bright horizon. Kirkus calls this, “A well-paced memoir steeped in strife, struggle, sorrow, and, eventually, freedom.”

You can read an excerpt from her memoir here. Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape is also on Amazon.

Janice Billingsley 

We are also pleased to share that Janice Billingsley, one of our current students in the Novel Writing Certificate program, has a story online at Podium, the literary magazine for the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Read her story, Janie, here.


APRIL 2016

This month, “The Writer’s Spotlight” narrows its focus to magazine and travel writing. In addition to offering a wide variety of creative writing courses, Stanford Continuing Studies regularly offers specialized courses in travel writing, magazine writing, and food writing. These courses are designed specifically for students who want to strengthen their craft and break into print. Many students finished these courses with print-ready pieces; some going on to publish stories they’ve written in the classroom and beyond.

Stanford Continuing Studies Lead Instructor Malena Watrous recently chatted with Magazine/Travel Writing Instructor and Freelance Writer Justin Bergman. The brief interview is followed with links to recently published articles by students who’ve completed writing courses with Justin or Malena. Congratulations to these students! 

An Interview with Continuing Studies Instructor Justin Bergman

MW: Can you tell us briefly about your background as a magazine writer and editor?

JB: I started out in news writing and editing for the Associated Press before making the move to magazines, becoming the senior editor for Budget Travel and then an editor at Time in London. For the past five years, I’ve been living in China and freelancing full-time for a number of publications, including Monocle, the New York Times and Modern Farmer. I focus mostly on culture, business, sports and travel—anything but breaking news. Done with those days. 

MW: Since you started teaching magazine and travel writing, how has the market changed and how has the advice you give your students changed?

JB: In the past five years, I’d say the market has rebounded nicely from the financial downturn when magazines were laying off staff and nobody was traveling for stories. Suddenly, magazines have money again! (Not much, but some.) And online, there’s been a huge boom in interesting publications like Roads & Kingdoms and Atlas Obscura, among others. My advice for students remains largely the same—try and start small and local, or go the online route. This is the best way to break in.

MW: What are the traits that make for a good freelance magazine or travel writer?

JB: First, it’s all about having the right idea and approach that a magazine would be interested in—the story needs to feel topical, somewhat newsy (even for travel). Then, you need to be persistent and have the confidence to keep sending your pitches out, no matter how many rejections you get. Flexibility helps, too, especially when editors suddenly want a story written by tomorrow and they’re calling you at 6pm.

MW: Are there particular markets or types of magazines that provide a good outlet for writers who are not yet published elsewhere?

JB: I’m always surprised by how many niche publications there are these days—name a hobby, there’s a magazine for it. (Ceramics Monthly comes to mind..) These publications are generally smaller and more open to taking a risk on a new writer. I also tell people to think local: look for magazines in your city or state, or a particular industry. Trade magazines, hotel magazines, airline magazines—they’re all great for novice writers.

MW: What advice do you have for students who want to get articles published?

JB: Starting a blog is always a good thing—I once had a student who was contacted by an editor to write a travel story because she had read her blog. Writing what you know at the start can also help if you don’t have clips—if you are a bankruptcy attorney, for instance, pitching stories on personal finance is a great way to make use of your specific expertise. And the pitch must be perfect—editors don’t have time to figure out the angle for you. 

Recently published articles by Stanford Continuing Studies students:

Ellen Ann Fentress in New York Times

Jon Goodman in Big Sky Journal

David Kiefer in Runner’s World—a cover story
Kitzi Tanner in The Expeditioner

Radhika Rathinasabapathy in Time Out

Jeannie Whitlock in Roads and Kingdoms

MARCH 2016

This month The Writer’s Spotlight goes back in time and features two historical fiction writers. Find out more about the different genres they chose to pursue in their writing, and click on the links if you would like to read their published books.


The Silver Sweetheart, by Claire Byrnes, is set mostly in 1930s and 1990s Los Angeles. In 1933, Jane Hart was ushered into a life of fame and fortune by Hollywood film producer, Phil Loveridge, under the watchful eye of her calculating stage mother. Embroiled in a scandal, Jane disappeared from public life and transformed herself into a Southern housewife. As an elderly widow, Jane returned to Los Angeles content to take her secrets to the grave. This is until her granddaughter, Sarah, arrives on her doorstep with stars in her eyes and Jane must confront the past she has avoided for so long.
Claire completed Stanford's Creative Writing Certificate Program in late 2013. During the program, she worked on many different parts of her literary mystery novel, The Silver Sweetheart. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia with her partner and their bruiser of a tabby cat.
Read The Silver Sweetheart on Amazon.


The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, by Robin Gregory, is set at the turn of the nineteenth century, and is the story of a disabled boy who loses two sets of parents and seeks to find a family of his own. After his adoptive mother dies in a freak accident, eight-year-old, disabled, bi-racial Moojie is sent by his disapproving father to live at St. Isidore's Fainting Goat Dairy, where he befriends a clan of outcasts from an alternate universe. Six years later, this forbidden friendship and subsequent events reveal a boy’s tale of loss and connection, first love, and self-discovery. Kirkus gave The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman a starred review, featured it in the Best Indie Books of December, and put it in the running for the Best Indie Books of the Year this Spring. It won the 2015 Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award, has been nominated a finalist in the UK’s international Wishing Shelf Book Award, and won “President’s Pick” in the Rave Reviews Book Club. Presently, the audio book is under production and will be released this Spring.
When asked to tell us about her writing experience, Robin had this to say:
“Reality is not always probable, or likely,” said Jorge Borges. This quote comes to mind because the hero’s experiences in my book can’t be explained away or interpreted by logic. Initially, the book was going to be a memoir, relating my life experiences of raising a boy with special needs to a trajectory of deepening spiritual practice. Four years into the story, I realized it wasn’t working. It felt too humanistic, too prosaic. Form and expectation were supplanting magic. I needed more freedom to play with time and space, the mind, and dreams—I needed poetry. Not being a poet, I looked to other literary forms for ways to deal with spirituality without getting religious. Magical realism allowed me to reverse the natural order of things, to encompass the ambiguities, absurdities, humor, and wit of a (fictional) disabled boy’s life, and to discover surprising yet inevitable conclusions.
Read Robin’s wonderful book on Amazon and on her website.


"Why I Need to Write This Novel" by Jane Gilmore
With an introduction by Malena Watrous, Online Writing Certificate Lead Instructor

Jane Gilmore is currently a student in Novel 1, the first of four sequential novel writing courses in the Online Writing Certificate Program. She started in the Fall with the introductory course "The Writer's Life," in which students brainstorm, plan, and workshop ideas for the novels they're planning to write. Over winter break, before Novel 1 started, Jane received some medical news that confirmed her desire to switch subjects for her novel, which is the subject of this essay. When I read this piece in our class discussion form, in response to our first week's prompt, "Why do you want to write this particular book?" I had no idea about her current situation. I found this essay remarkable in its honesty, clarity and beauty. Although this is an essay that she has graciously allowed us to share, Jane is at heart a fiction writer, using her imagination to develop characters in lives quite different from her own. She also has a rare gift for using her emotional insights and experiences to enrich her fiction and make it feel lifelike, inhabited by real people, specific and yet universal, as all great writing must be.

You can read Jane's essay "Why I Need to Write This Novel" here. (Note Adobe Reader is needed to view the pdf)


This January, the spotlight is on three of our students who have recently finished and published books. We are extremely proud of these students for their creativity and perseverance. Below, you can read about them and their books, and click on the link if you’re interested in reading a copy! 
Luanne Castle
‚ÄčThe multi-talented Luanne Castle received her Certificate in Creative Nonfiction in 2015. She writes and publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Doll God, her first poetry book, won a 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Her next project is a chapbook based on untold stories of her female ancestors. The poems “Advice from My Forebears” and “The Ill-Timed Elopement” can be found in the December 2015 issue of Museum of Americana. “What Lies Inside” is forthcoming in California Journal of PoeticsBlast Furnace Press published "When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother" in December 2014. Luanne’s fiction story, “Small Solace,” was published in Issue 163 of Crack the Spine in September 2015, and she has a flash fiction piece, “Parking Lot Superhero,” coming out in April 2016 at Story Shack. In her Stanford courses, Luanne was working on a memoir project, Scrap, that is on hold because her father passed away in May 2015, so she turned to writing and publishing smaller pieces. “Ordering in Four Movements” will be published in the next issue of Phoebe and “Boundaries” will be published in the March 2016 issue of Six Hens. To read Luanne’s award-winning poetry, click here. To read Luanne’s creative nonfiction, here’s a link to a piece that was published in River Teeth Journal, which comes from the memoir she worked on at Stanford.

Siri Chateaubriand
For a fast paced and quirky thriller that you won’t be able to put down, check out Siri Chateaubriand’s new novel, Second Chances. Siri wrote her first scenes in a novel writing class that she took in the Certificate Program, not knowing where they would take her—or how very far! Here’s how the book jacket describes the story: “On a moonless night in Rio de Janeiro, Mattie makes the wrong decision, one that will drastically change her life.  Leaving a young woman for dead after having run her over, Mattie realizes her nasty divorce has taken her to rock bottom. Racked with guilt, she returns to the crash site to find her victim, Rose, alive but unable to recall her name. Rose’s jewelry-filled backpack raises Mattie’s suspicions, but it’s the innocuous looking flash drive that puts them both in sudden danger. Mattie and Rose go on the run, desperate to escape the powerful forces intent on retrieving the explosive information on the drive and leaving no witnesses behind.” This lively début novel brings alive the lush city of Rio de Janeiro—where the Scandinavian-born Chateaubriand now calls home—with scenes set in secluded condos, slums, and tropical islands. A genuine page-turner, Second Chances will keep the reader in thrall until the very last page. To read, click here.

Michael Hardesty
Michael’s debut novel, The Grace of the Ginko, is the twenty-four-year chronology of the relationship between David Foley and his granddaughter, Liesl, whom he adopts when she is orphaned at birth. Foley's diehard atheism and offbeat grandparenting style make for lively reading as the duo deals with Liesl's maternal aunt's devoutly Catholic family, David's dichotomous sophistication and coarseness, as well as a complicated medical issue. The Grace of the Ginkgo is Michael's first novel. He is a graduate of the University of Louisville's School of Business and received a Certificate from Stanford's Certificate Program in Novel Writing. Michael is retired from his marketing communications firm, Black & White, and lives in Louisville, KY where his favorite activity is hobnobbing with his three grandchildren. He says to his Certificate Program classmates and instructors: “I'm lucky to have bumped into you guys. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for veering me in a better direction by showing me precisely how much I didn't know about writing fiction.” To read his novel, click here.