Writing Your Peace Corps Story: Q & A

    We hope this Q &A will anticipate some of your questions about the writing class sponsored by PeaceCorpsWriters.org entitled “Writing Your Peace Corps Story — Fiction or Non-fiction.” If you have more questions, please let us know.
        We have not yet decided about the next offering.

    Q. Who will teach the course?

    A. The course will be taught by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64) who has published eight novels, including two New York Times paperback bestsellers, edited two collections of essays by Peace Corps writers, written 3 rule-breaking guides to higher education, and published articles in such national magazines as Glamour, Smithsonian, Redbook, T.V. Guide, and Travel & Leisure. In 1989, he founded (with Marian Haley Beil) RPCV Writers & Readers, a bimonthly print newsletter for and about Peace Corps writers. In 2000, they created www.PeaceCorpsWriters.org, the online version which replaced the print version.
         The webmaster and publisher of the course is Marian Haley Beil, artist and web designer and Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia (1962–64). Marian has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of American Crafts

    Q. Who should consider taking this course?

    A. RPCVs who are interested in working seriously on improving their writing skills with the aim of producing publishable-quality books — novels, non-fiction, or collections of stories or essays — that draw on their Peace Corps experience.

    Q. How long is the course?

    A. Ten weeks.

    Q. How much time will it take during the week?

    A. While this is difficult to gauge, plan on a MINIMUM of a half an hour a day. The course includes weekly writing assignments, expectation that each student will critique fellow students work each week, plus reading that includes a weekly lesson and an interview with a published RPCV writer.

    Q. How many will be in the class?

    A. A minimum of six and a maximum of eight.

    Q. Will I get college credit or a grade from this course?

    A. No.

    Q. How much will this course cost?

    A. $300.

    Q. What if I decide the course isn’t for me, do I get my money back?

    A. If you notify us ithin the first seven days, you will be refunded $250, after that there will be no refund.

    Q. When do I pay for the course?

    A. Payment will be due immediately following the announcement of a specific course offering. Enrollment will be based on first-come, first-served. You should make out your check to “Peace Corps Writers” for $300. Indicate that the check is for the “Online course.”
    Send the check to:

    Peace Corps Writers
    c/o Marian Haley Beil
    4 Lodge Pole Road
    Pittsford NY 14534

    Please include your mailing address, email address and phone number.

    Q. Do I have to buy any books or material for the course?

    A. No. We will ship you three books: The Last Camel by Jeanne D’Haem (Somalia 1968–70), Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village by Sarah Erdman (Cote D’Ivorie 1998–2000) and Peter Hessler’s River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (China 1996–98). These books will be used in the class.
         Should you already own any of these, let us know and we will make a substitution.

    Q. Besides the free books, what else can I expect to get out of the class?

    A. At the end of the 10 weeks, we fully expect that everyone will be launched on his or her own special story, have direction on how to write the story, and understand what “works” in a narrative and what doesn’t “work.” In ten weeks we do not expect anyone to finish a book on their Peace Corps experience.
         Once your manuscript is completed, John Coyne will read it and make further editorial suggestions. He may also suggest potential agents and/or publishers for the book.

    Q. How will this writing course be conducted?

    A. Your first assignment, before class begins, will be to read the three books you have received.
         Then each weekend John Coyne will post a narrative about writing focused on the subject matter: The Peace Corps Experience. Students will receive a writing assignment related to their own story. They will post their prose on the website no later than 5 p.m. Thursday of that week. During the week all members of the class are expected to respond online to each other’s postings, evaluating the writing and ideas expressed. On Monday evening there will be a “live” online chat room for all students from approximately 9 pm to 10 pm New York time to discuss the writings that have been posted. This “chat” will be led by John Coyne.

    Q. What topics are covered in the course?

    A. In the course of the ten weeks John will talk specifically about writing techniques and problems, and the possibilities of getting published. These topics will be organized under these general headings:

    • Becoming a Writer
    • Getting Started
    • Planning and Writing Your Book
    • Developing Style
    • Finding Your Own Voice
    • Relating Events Through Narrative Writing
    • Description and Narrative
    • Setting, Situation, and Theme
    • Images, Scenes, and Dialogue
    • Characterization
    • Plotting
    • Action, Conflict and Resolution
    • Fiction Techniques
    • Editing and Revising Your Book
    • Preparing for Publication
    • Finding an Agent

    Besides these topics, the main discussion will be about your writing — the work that you “put up” each week. Your material will be used as the touchstone to what is being talked about in class.

    Q. After I finish the course will I have a publishable book?

    A. No, we don’t promise that — this will be up to you. So perhaps. Perhaps not. This course promises that the teacher and members of the class will take your writing seriously and give you good editorial advice on what you have written.

    Q. What is unique about this course?

    A. This course is the only one of its type because we focus only on writing a “Peace Corps book.” As editor and publisher of www.PeaceCorpsWriters.org we have decided to offer this class because we see a desire among many RPCVs to write about their experience, if for no other reason than that they want to leave a history of their Peace Corps experience for their family. We think that based on over a decade of writing about and reading “Peace Corps literature” we have valuable suggestions on what is publishable.

    Q. Who do I email if I have any questions?

    A. John Coyne at jpcoyne@peacecorpswriters.org