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M.F.A. Graduate Garners Praise for Debut Novel

Sarah McCoy, a 2007 graduate of Old Dominion University's master's program in creative writing, has published her first novel, "The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico" (Shaye Areheart Books, Crown Publishing/Random House, 2009).

Described by the publisher as "the universal story of discovering one's own identity, the heartbreak of learning the truth about the people we love, and the difficulties of leaving behind one's homeland for places unknown," the story centers on 11-year old Verdita Ortiz-Santiago and her journey toward adolescence.

Set in Puerto Rico, where McCoy visited relatives every year while growing up, her first novel is already garnering praise for its rich and authentic detail.

National Geographic Traveler magazine included "The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico" for its "New Books That Transport Us" column in the September 2009 edition.

McCoy considered other writing programs in the state, but ultimately settled on ODU's M.F.A. program because of its rigor and to be closer to her fiancé (now husband), who was in medical school in Norfolk.

"I'm a firm believer in fate and purposeful forks in life's path. I followed my heart and landed exactly where I was meant to be - in ODU's M.F.A. program under the brilliant tutelage of Sheri Reynolds, Janet Peery, Michael Pearson and others," McCoy said.

"ODU's creative writing program is not easy," she added. "It's a three-year writing boot camp! I'm grateful for every writing pushup, marathon and obstacle course my professors put me through."

Reynolds, author and professor of English in the creative writing program, served as McCoy's thesis director, from which the manuscript for her novel developed.

"Sarah is the most determined student I've ever worked with. If she told me she was planning to become an astronaut, I'd expect her on a space shuttle in the near future. I have never seen anything like it," Reynolds said.

Reynolds also supplied a book jacket review for McCoy's book, calling it "a story of magic, myth, and mystery amid political and cultural unrest. You can't help loving Verdita, the world she comes from and the world she yearns for. A delightful debut by a promising and saucy new writer."

Reflecting on her M.F.A. experience, McCoy acknowledged that the challenges of the program are what helped her to achieve her goal of publishing her novel.

"It was a difficult process and brought me to my knees on many a day, but it also made me stronger, made me push harder than I ever thought I could, made me yearn so deeply and truly that for the rest of my days I will appreciate the gift of writing, of being a writer. Had it come easy, I'm not sure I'd be where I am today. In addition to the meticulous study of the craft, ODU's M.F.A. program trained me in the school of tenacity, which I know now is essential in the literary business. To make it, you've got to commit your body, mind and spirit to this work - to what Janet Peery calls 'This Writing Life.' And I am. I couldn't live any other way."

"The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico" will be available for purchase at the University Village Bookstore on Monarch Way.

This article was posted on: September 1, 2009

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