Faculty Approach to Thesis Supervision

Alison Acheson

I have advised a breadth of projects from YA realistic and spec fiction, to verse novels, short fiction, poetry, nonfiction…even a screenplay. I’m still waiting for someone to come up with a brilliant early reader collection or a set of challenging picture books. I have a weak spot for realistic middle-grade work as well as YA. And there is not enough humorous work for young people. Bring on the Fun.

My working methods are to set up deadlines according to how you work; along with your graduation piece-of-paper-to-frame, you should have some solid understanding (so some idea of!) HOW YOU WORK. Your thesis is your last opportunity to gain this—use it. I may ask you to keep a process journal, if I sense that you could use such a piece for your artistic growth. I am very flexible, but I ask that you keep in touch, and do not hide. I don’t need reasons for why it’s not done; I know what it is to create.


Deborah Campbell

My interests in CNF include narrative nonfiction, reported memoir, memoir, immersive writing, travel writing, humour writing, personal essay, Gonzo, biography, ethnography (not necessarily in that order), and my own writing has aspects of all of these categories. I particularly like writing that uses facts—the harder won the better—to make literature. I read all kinds of fiction, from literary and historical to noir.

Approach: I meet with thesis students in September to discuss approaches to their chosen subject and set a timetable for first drafts. Some students work well with outlines, others do not, so I do not require an outline but suggest one if it is helpful, and also suggest supplementary reading materials as possible models for the approach they want to take.  I like to see a full draft before offering substantive comment, since too much editorial too soon can be detrimental to the creative process. I work with students as an editor and mentor.


Kevin Chong

I supervise and can serve as a committee member for fiction and nonfiction projects, and all the variants contained within those broad categories: novel, novella, short fiction, memoir, essay, literary journalism, humour, travel. Additionally, I am interested in being a committee member for drama, graphic forms, YA, and songwriting.

Both May and September start dates work with me. I like meeting with a thesis student as soon as we are paired and try to get a schedule that works for both of us. I suggest deadlines that allow for optimal writing time for students and the shortest turnaround periods from myself. I prefer receiving entire drafts before I dive in, but am willing to intervene earlier. I prefer to meet with the students after every deliverable, but am also there as needed for moral support and pom-pom flourishing.


Maggie de Vries

I write children’s and YA books for all ages, and I’m happy to supervise any form and genre within that realm: realistic, historical, fantasy; picture books, easy readers, middle grade novels, and YA. Students should keep in mind that while one picture book or easy reader manuscript may not make a thesis, a combination of two or three stories in different forms could. Feel free to get in touch to discuss.

The usual process:

  • I usually meet with students (in person or virtually) a few months before they submit their complete draft, to discuss, identify any ways in which I can help, any trouble spots.
  • They submit a complete draft sometime between mid-August and mid-October for May graduation.
  • I provide detailed feedback within 2 or 3 weeks.
  • We meet or talk.
  • They submit a revised version two months later.
  • Within 2 or 3 weeks, I provide a second round of detailed feedback both in a letter and on the manuscript itself.
  • We meet or talk.
  • The second revision happens a bit faster, and I receive that by the end of January with changes tracked.
  • After that, we might go back and forth two or three more times working on finer and finer details, depending on need and time.
  • By early to mid-February, we provide a clean copy for the second readers.
  • We hold our thesis meeting in March. And off the student goes to graduate.

In addition, we exchange emails, and schedule further meetings or conversations as needed. These dates are for May graduation. They are adjusted, of course, for students graduating at other times of the year.


Wayne Grady

I have taught courses in creative nonfiction, fiction, and literary translation, and have advised on theses in all three areas. My own writing includes several forms of CNF — nature, travel, memoir, personal essays, lyric essays, and literary journalism and immersive writing – as well as novels, short stories and translations from the French. I am, of course, interested in good writing no matter what rubric it falls under. To Ezra Pound’s injunction, “Make it new!” I would add: “And make it interesting.”

I believe that a thesis should have a thesis: that even in a collection of individual essays or stories there should be a unifying thread that yokes the disparate elements together to make a book. I prefer receiving a completed first (or better, second) draft in September, but if that isn’t practicable then to have a workable outline and to schedule regular submissions according to your work habits. I do not prod, cajole, scold or threaten: we set deadlines together, and then I read, comment, return for revision, and await the final draft. 


Sara Graefe

My main speciality is dramatic writing. I supervise theses in screenplay (both short and feature-length), television (including web series), and playwriting (both text-based and devised work). I’m also an avid reader of fiction, nonfiction (mostly memoir) and children’s literature (primarily middle-grade and young adult), and have sat on committees for all of these genres. For the information of folks working on translation or multilingual projects, I am fully fluent in French as a second language. I’m also happy to provide a queer eye for theses with LGBTQ2 content.

I take a structured but flexible approach to thesis supervision, establishing a plan that best suits each student’s individual needs. I hold a preliminary meeting in early May to discuss the student’s proposed thesis and graduation goals. We then establish a schedule and parameters for the first deliverable, due in September. For screenplay theses, this will be a partial or complete first draft, OR a polished treatment/outline; for TV writers, a partial or complete pilot script, OR a polished series bible that includes a one-page pilot synopsis; for text-based playwrights, a partial or complete first draft of a play; and for creators of devised theatre, a detailed proposal, outline, and sample scenes.

After the initial submission, I provide general notes on big picture issues and help set goals for the next draft. I meet with thesis students about every 4 to 6 weeks, usually following the delivery of the next chunk of work (e.g. pages of script, outline, show bible or complete draft – this will vary depending on the genre and the specific needs of the student and the project). For playwriting students doing devised work, I am open to sitting in on workshop sessions in a rehearsal hall (either in person or by Skype) as part of our monthly meeting. As the thesis project progresses through second draft and final polish, my notes become increasingly focused on the finer details of the work, until the manuscript is ready to go to the thesis committee. As your mentor, I am committed to pushing you to create your best work, and to supporting you right through to the finish line.


Tariq Hussain

I am happy to advise on thesis projects in the lyric/songwriting category as this is my main genre of focus as both an instructor and creator. I’m also open to submissions in creative nonfiction and fiction. Where those genres are concerned, I’ve spent a bulk of my reading and writing time exploring specifically memoir and short fiction. Where lyric submissions are concerned, I’m open to whatever you want to explore, really. My strong suit is certainly more in the pop/rock/singer & songwriter world, but I’m interested in musicals and other options for hybrids and experimentation too. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the lyrics are working with the music to communicate the intended ideas, regardless of style.

I’d say I’m flexible where working methods are concerned and we can have an initial meeting to figure out what works for both of us. I think it’s wise to create some deadlines—we all know what happens without deadlines—and we can meet in person based on the goalposts we set for deliverables. Our strategies may bend somewhat along the way, but with clear communication, the process should be fruitful and ideally fun along the way.


Sarah Leavitt

I am excited to supervise theses that are book-length comics. I have read and studied extensively in the area of graphic memoir, particularly “graphic medicine” (comics about medical issues), queer/women’s memoir and memoirs dealing with socio-political and personal trauma. Having said that, I have a wide/eclectic range of interests within comics, from historical fiction to horror to various genres/periods of manga. My first book was a graphic memoir; my current project is historical fiction.

In working with you, my priority will be supporting the creation of a cohesive, clear and compelling story, regardless of genre, in which words and images blend with and enhance each other.

We will begin with an initial meeting, in which we lay out a plan with clear goals and deadlines. My preference is to assist you in developing a strong, realistic plan, and to be quite clear about the points at which I will read your script/ thumbnails/ completed pages (see specific requirements for comics theses) so that my feedback is as comprehensive and useful as possible.

I am also interested in supervising creative non-fiction theses, particularly memoir.


Nancy Lee

As a supervisor in fiction, my interests in short and long form include realist literary fiction, strange/absurdist fiction, crime fiction, as well as projects that bring a literary sensibility to the genre conventions of mystery, thriller or horror. As my own work attests, I’m comfortable working with dark subject matter (trauma, abuse, violence, sexuality) and with projects that experiment with form or methods of storytelling.

Working together: at our initial meeting, we’ll discuss your project and the particular challenges you’re facing. We’ll create a completion plan to ensure a clear sense of expectations and deadlines. As you work to finish a first draft, I’m available to help with any process-related hurdles. Once the draft is complete, the first round of feedback will focus on story architecture – structure, well-designed scenes, strong character arcs, and the interplay between the external, internal and aesthetic journeys. Feedback on draft two will focus on scene-level issues – prose/language, consistency of voice, dialogue, etc. Throughout the process, our focus will be your intention for the work, how best to use the many craft tools at your disposal to create the book you most want to write.

In addition to supervising fiction, I’m happy to second read in poetry, screen and graphic novel.


Annabel Lyon

Note: Annabel will be on study leave until the end of 2017 and is not accepting new thesis students at this time.

I work with thesis students writing fiction at any length: short story, novella, and novel (including mid-grade, YA, and adult). I’m open to all genres (literary, fantasy, mystery, etc.). Ideally, you’ll develop your thesis from a project you began in workshop. I prefer to begin the thesis process with a draft in hand (or a partial draft only if you’re stuck and don’t know how to proceed, not because you didn’t have time to complete it). You should expect to provide at least one substantive revision of the complete manuscript. We’ll meet whenever you have new work for us to discuss.


Keith Maillard

I am primarily a novelist (13 published), secondarily a poet (1 book published), and have written quite a bit of short non-fiction. I worked in radio back in the day when we cut tape with a razor blade, played bass in an alternative band and wrote a few songs for it, worked as a photographer because pictures are silent, wrote two full-length feature films that were optioned but never produced and a script for a graphic novel that no one has seen fit to publish yet (the first few pages, illustrated by Chloe Chan, are on my website). I am an avid reader of YA fiction but haven’t published any (although I am currently working on a YA graphic novel). I do a little sound mixing and fool around on a couple of graphics programs. I am interested in the blurry lines between genres and in cross-over or mash-up work that defies description. I usually, however, end up supervising novel or short story theses with a few poetry theses thrown in for good measure.

My thesis students design their own program. If they like tight deadlines, they’ve got them. If they like things loose, that’s fine with me. We always begin with a first meeting at which we talk things through and plan the work schedule.


Sharon McGowan

My thesis supervision work in the Creative Writing Program focuses on fiction screenplays and I can also supervise the development of scripts for documentary films.   I have a professional background as a producer of original feature films and television movies and as a director/writer of documentaries. As a teacher, I have supervised the creation of hundreds of short films from script to screen as well as several feature-length fiction and documentary films.

My approach to working with thesis students is flexible but structured. I like to meet with students to discuss their project and creative process and to set a schedule for doing the work that ensures I am available to properly support you and provide feedback at key stages. In addition to working with you on your thesis project, I am a supervisor who likes to help you connect with and become familiar with the film industry in order to build a career in screenwriting after graduation.


Maureen Medved

I am happy to work virtually or in person. I can supervise theses in fiction and screen. I am interested in the gamut from contemporary realism to magical realism with a keen respect for experimental and transgressive writing. I am very interested in work that combines and crosses genres. I have written a little for theatre and am currently exploring elements of new media in my own work, so I would be happy to sit on those committees as well. I will work with you according to your specific needs, challenges, strengths, and processes. In other words, I would feel comfortable during our first meeting to discuss a process that you feel would best support you to complete your project. I’d prefer to set up a schedule with you where you will deliver drafts of your thesis to meet your goals.

Obviously, as the writing process can change throughout a project, I can be very flexible about adapting to your needs. Occasionally, a writer will need more support or they may have challenges throughout the process, and I feel my goal as a supervisor will be to work with you to find your way through those challenges. I like the idea of working organically with the student, to create a safe and respectful environment to produce your best work, and to adapt to your needs throughout the process. At minimum, I would like to meet with you early in the process, to set up a schedule, and to discuss the broad elements of story, shape, and intention. After that, I would like to meet with you after you have completed a first draft to discuss elements of pacing, character, voice, structure, tone, and so forth, and a second draft to discuss the finer details of your work. If you need to meet with me more than that, I will make every attempt to make myself available. I am hopeful that our journey will be a productive one that will equip you with tools you can use throughout your writing life.


Susan Musgrave

I write in many genres — poetry, fiction, non-fiction, children’s and young adult’s, but I teach poetry and that is where my main interest lies. I have edited fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, but in the ten years I’ve been working at UBC the majority of the theses I have supervised have been poetry.

My emphasis is always on process, not product. I begin with a substantive edit and end with a line edit, and of course there all the other edits in between. I have created submission deadlines, but I am flexible about these. My motto? No rules, only effects. Revise, revise, revise. Having said that I don’t believe the thesis experience should cause anyone to have what John Lennon termed a nervous breadvan.


Emily Pohl-Weary

Young adult and middle-grade novels—both speculative fiction and contemporary realism—are my main interests. I would also be interested in a wide range of other genres (in which I have published) such as graphic novel, creative non-fiction, novel, and poetry.

I prefer to start the process when you have completed a draft of the book and can supply me with an outline. That said, I’m willing to meet with students who are in the midst of writing their first draft and want to create deadlines for themselves or bounce ideas off someone who’s been through the same (sometimes gruelling) process.

My approach is to meet with students early on in the process and develop a timeline of deliverables together that fits both of our schedules. We will work together much the same way an editor would support a commissioned author, and follow the usual stages of getting a book to market: overall notes, substantive edit, line edit, proofread. I’m also interested in helping you learn to speak about your book by refining an author bio, book synopsis, and brief book pitch.


Linda Svendsen

I work in fiction, both long and short, with a specialty being linked collections.  I also work in television and am comfortable in the half-hour and hour series, as well as limited series, or long-form screenplay, in a variety of genres.  My approach is writer-centered and based upon your individual need, ambition, and timeline and I counsel creating a dynamic schedule, with page counts/episodes/stories, which can be discussed monthly or by the term.  I’m passionate about structure and, if the writer is amenable, am happy to serve as a sounding board on narrative arc until the writer feels confident and excited about proceeding to draft.


Timothy Taylor

I supervise theses written in the genres of fiction and creative nonfiction. My approach to supervising a thesis is modelled on the editorial relationships I’ve had in both fiction and nonfiction as a writer myself. Essentially, the editor and writer form a kind of team but with very different duties. The editor will organize a schedule with the writer that meets the individual writer’s need for supervision. Sometimes that will mean regular meetings. Sometimes that will mean a relationship built more around complete drafts. In either case, the editor will also monitor progress and be available for manuscript problem solving on an as-needs basis throughout the writing process. Once a first draft is finished, a firm schedule will always be in place for my writers so that they know when drafts are due and I can set aside the time required to give them the very close readings involved. At the end of the process comes the committee meeting, where writers will hear from two other faculty members with some final editorial input. In summary, I like to design a process that both suits your style and maximizes your chance at delivery in the timeframe. That’s the role editors have played so crucially in my own writing life.


John Vigna

My interests in supervising fiction include short fiction, novellas, and novels in all genres and subgenres from literary and popular to historical and experimental. I have a soft spot for Canadian & Southern gothic and deeply admire character-driven work as well as muscular, visceral prose. I also supervise and read narrative nonfiction, memoir, travel writing, and personal essay with an emphasis on factual and emotional authenticity through detail, story and structure.

I’ll work with you as both mentor and editor. We’ll meet initially to discuss your project and set deadlines. Every writer has a different process, and I will work toward encouraging and challenging your process, whether it’s outlining, learning more sophisticated, nuanced aspects of craft or finding your way through the complexity of revision. I’ll recommend readings, both complementary pieces on craft and published works that might influence, inform or inspire you and the direction of your book.


Bryan Wade

Stage play is my speciality for thesis supervision, but I would be delighted to supervise anyone who would like to write an audio drama thesis. I’ve been a committee member for novels, creative non-fiction, YA novels, operas and poetry.

Regarding my approach as a thesis supervisor:

Meet as soon as possible to work out a writing schedule based on when the student plans to graduate. Once that date is known, work backwards to establish draft deadlines that are mutually agreed upon. Generally, a full-length stage play needs at least three drafts at a minimum before it is ready to be evaluated by the student’s thesis committee.


Sheryda Warrener

I sit most comfortably on poetry thesis committees, and my interests beyond the contemporary lyric include long poems, prose poems and hybrid forms, as my own work explores these modes. I’m an avid reader of short fiction, novels and non-fiction, so feel I would be useful as a committee member if you’re looking for someone actively engaged with language at the level of the sentence. I have also worked in a creative writing setting with children ranging in ages from 3 – 12, so could make informed suggestions when it comes to early readers and picture books, and YA.

My approach to thesis is collaborative. Together we’ll determine the kind of process and feedback you’re looking for, given the scope of your project and your own writing practice. I believe deadlines generate work, so we’ll schedule check-ins. During these meetings, we can discuss new generated material, talk about the challenges you might be facing with your work, and the progress you are no doubt making. I provide mentorship in the form of in-depth editorial feedback, engaging in general conversations about contemporary poetry and poetics, as well as making suggestions for readings I think might impact your project.


Ian Williams

I speak poetry and fiction but this year I’m exercising my poetry visa. Poetry’s an enormous country, though, and I appreciate all of it: its several ruling parties, its proud (arguably oppressive) tradition, the revolution last century, the vibrant contemporary citizenry that wrestles between the personal and the political. There’s a disputed border with fiction on one side and on the other the sea.

My approach to advising is flexible but remember that we have limited time together and I’d like to have you writing strong poetry out in the world as soon as possible. There may be a period when I encourage you to generate material without editorial intervention (from you or me), followed by a meeting where we spread out your manuscript and draw shapes, structures, maps, and hierarchies of genre/sub-genre/technique on the wall, followed by a time when we edit with sensitivity to your potential readership. Our meetings are designed both to discuss your work and to work on your work. Celebrate deadlines like national holidays.

The same approach applies more or less to fiction, except we talk faster.