Every Wednesday night at 7 p.m., an increasingly large group of University of Southern Mississippi students meets to critique original prose.
The USM Fiction Society is a newly formed organization resurrected by professor Andrew Milward and led by USM students Jacob Kemp, president, and John Mark Gilder, vice president. It offers interested students the opportunity to have their creative work critiqued outside of the classroom setting among peers who also share a love for writing.
Although it started with just nine people, it is expected to grow much larger.
“Local writers don’t have enough opportunities to really hear feedback from peers on equal footing in the field,” said chief editor Charles Dunphey. “My biggest goal with the organization is to help authors become better writers and to also help them get published.”
Dunphey is the founder of Gehenna Publishing House and the author of “Lazarus,” a science fiction novel published in 2012. He hopes his experiences in marketing and publishing will allow him to steer other authors away from novice mistakes.
His advice may prove to be invaluable considering recent trends in traditional publishing.
According to a recent Authors Guild survey, most writers who rely solely on income from writing live below the federal poverty line. There are many factors that have contributed to this decline, including everything from online piracy to more competition in the market.
“I’ve learned through my endeavors that the publishing world is cruel and often difficult,” Dunphey said.
For many, the solution lies in self-publishing ventures.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the number of authors seeking self-publication has grown dramatically in recent years, thanks to advances in technology and shifting attitudes.
Dunphey noted that publishing nevertheless remains a murky and complex topic.
“It’s a very hard market to break into,” Dunphey said. “But with the right tools, it can become much easier than expected.”
The Fiction Society was first started by former USM student Jake Johnson, and although it died once he graduated, its influence remained.
“I read one of the Fiction Society’s published works when I was thinking about applying to USM. It really cemented my interest in the English department here,” said sophomore English major Madison Etheridge, who is now a member of the new society.
Interested students can join at any time. Weekly meetings are held at 7 p.m. every Wednesday in room 205 of the Liberal Arts Building. The society critiques any creative work aside from novels and novellas.
However, excerpts from longer stories are permitted as long as they do not exceed 30 pages