Alumni Interview: Kevin Finley (MFA, Creative Nonfiction, '09)

Kevin Finley, the widely published, dedicated writer, teacher, and former board member of the Minnesota Publishers’ Roundtable, shares with us his career experience, trials and triumphs as a writer, and advice and tips about the publishing world, after the MFA Program. Take a look! 

SMC MFA Creative Writing Alumni: Kevin Finley Creative Non Fiction '02

Kevin Finely, Creative Nonfiction, 2009

Job Title: Copywriter, Teacher at The Loft Literary Center

 

Where do you live? Where are you from? Where did you get your undergraduate degree?

I live in Saint Paul, MN and also grew up here. I got my undergraduate degree from a small school in southern MN.

 

Where do you work and what’s your job title?

I had spent 15 plus years in publishing and last year, I transitioned into being a copywriter. I write copy for Medtronic and Snap Fitness. I also teach at The Loft Literary Center and write paid articles for The Wall Street Journal.

 

What have you been up to since graduating from the program?

It’s been a several years since I graduated so a lot has happened. I was working in book publishing as a publicist while getting my MFA and when I graduated, I took a job with a publisher in San Rafael called Insight Editions. A lot of our catalog consisted of titles from movie studios, pro sports teams and we did celebrity memoirs/nonfiction titles. Our office was on one of Lucas Films studio lots so there were days when bands such as Metallica where shooting a music video. 

I moved back to Minnesota in 2013 to be closer to family, took a job with a small press and accepted a position to be on the board of Minnesota Publishers. I also started teaching at The Loft around this time. 

I’ve been fortunate to work on some great books and have had some very cool experiences. I’ve had several pieces published in both print and online and will never stop writing my own stuff. I even had a book deal. I wrote a piece on this deal that fell apart for the Writer Magazine. I have a website for my copywriting and published work. This can be found at www.kevinfinley.net.

 

What are you working on now?

Going back to the book deal, after it fell through, I had to set the manuscript down. I just wasn’t in a mindset to jump back into pitching so I started working on other things that I had taken notes on, but hadn’t spent much time putting pen to paper. I feel anytime you take on new topics, it breathes new life into your work. 

I was able to get some pieces published on the time I spent on the French owned territory called Reunion Island, my travels to Ireland and some more journalist pieces. I’ve also been working on a book proposal about living with someone who’s struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder.

In the past month, I’ve started working on the manuscript that had the book deal. I believe the deal falling through was a blessing in disguise. It’s allowed me to put a fresh pair of eyes on it and identify holes and cut up areas that needed some love. So I’m working on this and the book proposal. Having been in this business, I know having more than one story to share is appealing to agents because publishers aren’t as inclined to invest in a single title. They want to build a platform that has some staying power. My plan is to pitch the manuscript and if there are bites, I’ll have the proposal in my back pocket.

 

Recent publications or accomplishments?

I had an essay published in the Irish Gazette a few months ago and am currently working on a piece for the website Bustle. Even though it fell through, the book deal is accomplishment. I wrote a screenplay that was a finalist in a few contests and really, everything that I’ve gotten published is an accomplishment. 

I’ve been able build some great relationships in the book business. I have a tie for the two biggest accomplishments, but will run with one. A client of mine (Chuck Logan) became a good friend when we worked on the film version of his book Homefront. This led to me getting interviewed in a national magazine, resulting in offers to work on tons of great books. Super fun time. 

I’ve also had the opportunity to work with people like Christopher Nolan, Henry Winkler, and “Famous” Dave Anderson. Some studio stuff included the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises. I also got to work on Pixar stuff and of course Star Wars and pro teams such as the Cowboys and SF Giants.

 

Why did you choose to earn your MFA Degree and what made you pick Saint Mary’s?

I wanted a few years where I could dedicate myself to writing and be in an environment where I was surrounded by others pursuing similar aspirations. I decided to go to Saint Mary’s because of the professors. I’d read their work and felt that connection. I wasn’t able to visit so I went with my gut and it proved to be spot on. Also, being in a smaller community of writers was very appealing. I felt it was going to give me the best opportunity to become a better writer. 

 

How did your experience in the MFA program affect your writing and creative growth?

It had a tremendous impact. I had a great experience and grew as a writer. I tell people all the time, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, but I also had to do my part to make it this way. Had I been writing on my own, there is no way I would have been half the writer I was when I graduated.

I write for my day job and while it’s not always creative work, the program teaches you about the craft of writing. I still recall moments of my first craft class with Marilyn and just being amazed how much I learned in those few months. When I’m writing ad copy, articles for the Wall Street Journal, promotional emails or web copy, what I took away from the program pays off every day. 

In terms of creative growth, having the time to hone your craft is so valuable. You have to keep writing and creating, but the program gave me the foundation to continue growing. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Wesley. You have important people in your life and lose touch. Life moves and it’s sad in so many ways. I’ll leave it at that I miss him and am so thankful and appreciative of what he did for me. One night as I was wrapping up my thesis, we had a drink. It was about writing, but more about life and lessons. We don’t meet people like him and when they go, there’s no replacing or replicating what they did and meant to you.

 

Did earning your MFA impact your creative and professional trajectory? If so, explain.

Absolutely. Whether it’s my career in publishing or as a copywriter, my time in the program allowed for me to grow quicker and reach for gigs that would have been a few branches above my head without the program.

 

Do you have any advice for prospective or current MFA candidates? Or writers in general?

My best advice is to get your butt in the chair every day and this includes the days you aren’t feeling it. Sit there and see what happens. It’s about creating habits and if you tell yourself, I’ll start tomorrow, when will that tomorrow begin? 

Provide other writers constructive criticism and give their work a thorough read. Being able to understand why a piece is and isn’t working is part of the process of becoming a better writer. It’s also an important component to the program and as writers, the business side of writing is hard enough and when we support each other, it makes it a little easier.

If peers are telling you a certain piece isn’t working, instead of ignoring or saying they’re wrong, listen and work on making it stronger. Read and read and read. I consider reading just as important as writing. If you’re learning how to play guitar, can you master it without practicing? Think of reading as part of learning how to become a better writer and buying a book is showing a writer support.

 

What role does your MFA and writing as a whole play in your career currently?

It plays a huge role. I’m still involved in publishing, I teach at The Loft and being a copywriter, I write all day.

 

Why do you write? 

Writers may differ in genre and style, but if you want to land that book deal or turn your craft into a career, there is one thing we all have in common, we all have that urge inside of us to write. It’s in us and if we aren’t creating, there’s a void that can’t be filled by anything else. 

To put it a different way: Stories don’t mean shit without the spark to start the fire to write them. To care about your craft, you need to understand the pain and craving it took to create them. Use all of this as the fuel for that spark. Sometimes it will light and other times it won't, but you need to be in that chair in order to find out.

Without that burn to create, it’s just a haircut and hobby. I write because that fire burns strongly inside me.

 

Jordon Briggs is a writer, filmmaker, and music producer from California, and sort of New York, who has been published in Entropy Magazine, From Sac Literary Magazine, The Black Rabbit Magazine, and Calaveras Station Literary Journal. He writes about film, music, and other culture and media related topics on his blog whatsbeenscene.tumblr.com. ​​