An MFA in romance?

At Seton Hill University, you can get an MFA in writing popular fiction. Nicole Peeler, who teaches in the program, thought she was headed for a conventional life as an English professor. But she began writing urban fantasy paranormal romances, and now teaches about writing dialogue and character, point of view, story structure, and worldbuilding to students who aim to be published in romance, mystery, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy (and various mixtures of these genres).


What is it like teaching popular fiction?

So it’s only been in the past two years that I’ve really immersed myself in this universe, and it’s been quite a ride. And now, actually, I have a job at Seton Hill University, which was one of the only universities in the U.S. that teaches popular fiction. Most creative writing programs avoid popular fiction, but we actively embrace it and it’s all we do in our MFA program.

Our students come from all over the world, all over the U.S. Like I said, it’s low residency, so they’re only on campus for two week-long residencies and the rest of the time they finish a whole project and I think that’s one of the things that defines our program is you don’t just write a section of a book, you write an entire manuscript.

We have some traditional grad students fresh out of college, and an increasing number of those, but we have tons. We have people in their 60s, 70s. I’m usually the youngest [laughs] person in the room as the professor.

Actually, I have a really funny story. I just did a signing in London at Forbidden Planet, which is sci-fi fantasy, and it was with my publishing company, which is fabulous, Orbit, and the other three men I was with were all very hardcore science fiction fantasy authors. So it was space opera and epic fantasy. They were wonderful guys. And we were all sitting at the table and when the emcee announced that the signing would begin I just got rushed by these 12 women who, their personalities filled the whole room and they were giving me presents and they wanted their pictures taken with me and the science fiction fantasy community is a little more hands-off, so everyone else’s fan was like, “Hello. How are you? It’s nice to meet you. I enjoyed your use of the ray gun on page 70,” and at the end of the signing [laughs] everyone was like, “Oh, my god. Your fans love you.” And I’m like, “It’s just a difference in fandoms.” Our fans are so interactive. They all talk to each other; they would talk to us. We don’t keep a distance from them the way other author fandoms do. And it’s so like you just feel absorbed in this community.

Who is your typical heroine?

My heroine is sort of the—she’s sort of bumbling and she’s someone who doesn’t want to be a hero. She’s very self-effacing; she’s a wallflower. She’s had some bad things happen in her life, and she doesn’t really want any attention.

In urban fantasy, I think that images of female empowerment and heroism are always kind of the ass-kicking girl with the sword. And I’m from a long line of these incredibly strong women who were tiny, and [laughs] if you gave them a sword they would poke themselves in the eye. My mom is 5’1”. She’s always worked with severely handicapped and disabled kids, and they call her Grandma Ninja because she’ll face-down an 18-year-old throwing a huge tantrum, and she will just get in his face, and she will calm him down in two seconds. And I would just be cowering in the corner.

So I wanted to kind of play homage to a different kind of female strength. . .

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