Attending Susanna Calkins’ Writing Historical Fiction Workshop

by Rachael Igo, ’16 (Creative Writing; Mendota Heights, Minn.)


On Monday, March 23rd I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Susanna Calkins’ presentation Writing Historical Fiction: Balancing Authenticity and Accuracy. This event was co-sponsored by the Honors Program and the History Department. It was inspired as a way for students in Dr. Corley’s honors seminar Witchcraft, Gender and Society in Preindustrial Europe, to gain insights while they complete their historical fiction short story assignment. Other students and MSU faculty benefited from the presentation as well.

As a creative writing major, I was exceptionally excited to attend this event. One of my dreams is to write literature for adolescents and young adults. Historical fiction is among my favorite genres. Reading about Calkins prior to the event, I recognized her to be someone quite like myself: a woman with professional goals and a dream to have “side” writing projects published as books. The types of novels she writes, Lucy Campion murder mysteries placed in seventeenth century England, also appeal to my interests. As a child I loved reading Nancy Drew, and watching murder mystery shows is one of my guilty pleasures.

Meeting Susanna Calkins over pizza with other honors students before the presentation was a blessing. It was great to hear her publication story and how she succeeded as a writer. It was also inspiring to hear that she started out small just like I am. Her first book in her Lucy Campion mysteries was a side project she gradually worked on over a span of ten years. She currently has two books published in her series— A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate and From the Charred Remains— as well as a third, The Masque of a Murderer, being released this April.

During her presentation, Calkins talked about the strategies she uses when writing historical fiction. She answered the following questions: “How can we contextualize our historical stories without just dumping information on our readers? How can we make our dialogue seem authentic without sounding stilted or archaic? How much historical research is sufficient?” According to Calkins, the accuracy and authenticity of the historical time period present in writing is crucial. Readers need to be able to picture themselves within the times. Her Ph.D. in History proves extremely helpful to her in this circumstance. She also likes to look at paintings and pictures from the time period.

With regards to historical accuracy and the amount of necessary research, Calkins emphasized the need to avoid sounding like a history text book. Instead, she recommended treating the historical time period as a character. For example, she likes to use maps and online digital reconstructions of the historical era in which she is writing. This practice helps her visualize where her characters are in order to correctly portray them in the specific landscape. She also raised the issue of getting every little historical detail correct, and when to judge how much research is too much. Calkins emphasized that the main goal of writing historical fiction is to tell a good story. In order to accomplish this, the historical aspects and research cannot drag the story down. However, she noted that authors must get the guns and clothes right, or critics will come knocking down their doors.

After the insightful workshop, I had the opportunity to purchase Susanna Calkins’ first two books and have her sign them. As I am sure most college students will agree, it was a phenomenal experience to meet and make a connection with someone who is successful at my dream job.

For more information about Susanna Calkins and her work, visit


UMRHC at Minnesota State is One Week Away!

by Tia Jacoby, ’15 (Communication Disorders; Farmington, Minn.)

marketing committee

Sajid Sarkar, José Lopez Munoz, Spencer Sulfow, Tia Jacoby, Haley Doran

The 2015 Upper Midwest Regional Honors Conference is rapidly approaching, and those of us that are a part of the course Exploring Leadership in the Context of Conference Development, are more than excited for the 26th of March to arrive. On our first day we were informed that our small class would be responsible for contributing to this huge event that would be hosted at Minnesota State University. Many of us had never attended a conference like this before, so we started the semester by visualizing our goals. The 2015 Upper Midwest Regional Honors Conference theme is “Confluence and Conflict” and will contain a variety of presentations for scholars to attend. Our class of fifteen highly motivated honors students has been excited from day one for the challenge of organizing such a respected event.

Our first step involved forming into committees. The five of us (pictured above in our spiffy honors shirts) compose the Marketing Committee. (If you see someone sporting an “Honors Crew” shirt at the conference, feel free to ask them for help!) We are in charge of spreading news about the conference and providing updates on social media. Look for tweets from us during the conference by following our twitter account: . The other two conference committees are the Program Development Committee and the Hospitality Committee. The Program Development Committee worked hard to create the program for the conference and helped create the presentation schedule. The Hospitality Committee coordinated fun social events including ice skating, an ice cream social, and film showing. Our three committees have worked diligently to make this conference the best yet.

Exploring Leadership in the Context of Conference Development has been a challenging course that has taught us the vitality of organization. There are so many details that go into planning a conference, and not one of them can be overlooked. Planning this conference taught our committee how important communication is. Everybody has to be on the same page if we want to be successful. All three committees are thrilled for the big day to arrive so that we can continue to aid our honors community. Check out our honors website for even more information about the 2015 Upper Midwest Regional Honors Conference. We cannot wait to see everyone there!

Honors International Students Spotlight

The Honors Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato encourages students to study abroad and develop intercultural relationships in order to fulfill their global citizenship competency. Naturally, we are welcoming to international students who visit Minnesota State, and invite a number of them to join our Program during their stay. Three of these students who are currently with us have agreed to share their experiences.


Victoria Camasmie, ’18

(Business Management and Marketing; Brazil)

I am enjoying my second semester here at Minnesota State and I have been having an amazing experience so far. Being far away from home can be hard sometimes, but I think feeling homesick is a very common feeling among all students, especially for those who are visiting from other countries. I believe international students bond with each other because we are all going through this same situation. One of the things I miss the most about Brazilian culture is our food. I also miss the hot weather back home. I knew Mankato was cold, but I did not know it was so windy!  It is difficult to come to a new place where the culture is so different from the one you grew up in, but living abroad and being able to speak another language is an experience that only one who goes through it knows how it feels. The world is so big and filled with different cultures! I want to know as many cultures as I possibly can. Intercultural exchange opens up my mind and gives me the opportunity to understand people in a better way. Being a member of the Honors Program, participating in extracurricular activities, and doing volunteer work has given me the chance to engage with the community and meet new people. I love living in Mankato. However, it is just the beginning of my journey into the world.


Prathibha Mangedarage, ’17 (Biology; Sri Lanka)

Coming to MSU from a diverse country like Sri Lanka which is home to many religions, ethnicities and languages, meant that diversity was not something new to me. I was pleasantly surprised when I got the opportunity to meet students from all over the world here in Mankato. I came to the US hoping to get a world-class education that I need to pursue a career in the field of Biomedical Sciences. But, my experience here has been much more than just studying to obtain a degree. My college career in the US has completely changed who I am and the way I see the world. The diversity in the United States has opened doors for me to explore various cultures and has helped me become a more culturally competent individual. As an international student, I also get to represent my country and culturally contribute to the community by sharing my culture with others. It is always a pleasant experience when I get the opportunity to share my views and values. My experience in the United States has taught me the importance of understanding people’s different beliefs and being respectful of them. The relationships I have made in the US have helped me to learn about American culture, break misconceptions and stereotypes, and have a better understanding of diversity. Through my experiences abroad I am becoming a better educated and well-rounded individual. I am able to think more critically and broadly about world views that I would not have elsewhere.


Sarah Snoussi, ’18 (Electrical Engineering; Tunisia)

Coming to the United States was a dream coming true for me. I have always dreamed about coming to the States but never thought it would happen this soon in my life. I had been desperate, separated from my family, studying at a university in my home country with different expectations. The faculty abused my energy; I was like a robot studying day and night, Monday to Saturday, no weekends or vacations, dreaming I would make it to the next year. To be blunt, my dreams and expectations about higher education had vanished into old broken walls of disappointments and my deadly routine. When I first came to the United States, I had a strange feeling that I never experienced before, an amazement that took over me. I would wake up at 6 a.m. every day because I wanted to use every second of the day to enjoy and discover every corner of this little town called Mankato. I used to walk around campus with my camera taking pictures of everything, random things. I looked for things that reminded me I wasn’t at home anymore, not in Tunisia, that I was somewhere in my dream. It was an incredible feeling to enjoy everything, every little detail. I was never sad, never annoyed, and always thankful for being here in my dream. Studying no longer became a problem for me. It was a pleasure, something I did for fun. Back home I felt like the professors were so distant and strong. I was scared to negotiate with them and felt forced to simply do what I was told. At Minnesota State Mankato, it is different. Students are the center of attention, and everything revolves around them. The question is no longer “how can we torture the students,” but rather “how can we make them have the best experience and provide them with the best education?” I know this is hard to believe for a lot of Americans. I truly appreciate being here in the United States, even as an exchange student. Living this experience has created another dream inside of me. Maybe one day, my study abroad to the United States will foster big changes in my home country. Maybe I can be the start, the spark of that big change.

To learn more about studying at Minnesota Sate as an international student, please visit our University’s International Student and Scholar Services web page.

To learn more about the Honors Program or apply, please visit our Program’s web page.