*originally published on HuffPost Books:  

Author and Maine resident Genevieve Morgan has an instinctive ability to connect with people. I knew that when we first met last year on a trip halfway around the world.

In her writing, this natural gift is evident.

With an extensive — and impressive — career in publishing and writing, Morgan is about to release her new novel, The Fog of Forgetting. Recently, we had a chance to reconnect and talk about a few surprises she’s encountered along her artistic journey, the significance of inspirational ideas and her guidance for writers.

Laura Cococcia: Your new novel, The Fog of Forgetting, is set to hit shelves soon. Aside from the characters and plot, what do you think differentiates this new work from your other writings?

Genevieve Morgan: It is my first work of fiction — a middle grade adventure-fantasy. Most of my career I have written non-fiction, but this story just had to be told. I have been working on it a long time. The Fog of Forgetting is book one of a larger trilogy called The Five Stones. I guess when the urge to tell a story washed over me, it was more like a tsunami. However, the fiction has a lot of real history behind it, so all that non-fiction helped. I am a good researcher.

LC: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

GM: I was always reading as a kid, which inspired me to start writing, mostly in my journal and then more and more fiction in high school. I wrote a lot of really bad song lyrics, too. I was also really into theater, so I thought then that I would become a playwright–or a veterinarian. I quickly gave up the vet idea after almost failing chemistry in 10th grade. After that, I wasn’t sure which artistic medium I would pursue–writing, music, or theater–but I did know that I wanted to connect with people and share universal experiences. It was a great comfort to me when authors or musicians shared their experience with me through their creative work, and so I set out to try and do the same for other people.

LC: What are you reading right now?

GM: I am reading a few things, from several different genres. I am also a senior editor at a book publishing company, so first and foremost, I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts. I am reading Jo Nesbo’s The Devil Star, as my company is about to publish a big crime series and I’m curious about other detective novels (also, I’m part Norwegian so I love Scandinavian authors). I’m reading a non-fiction book called Vodou Shaman by Ross Heaven (if you read The Fog of Forgetting you will begin to understand why), and I just finished a novel by Kate Christensen called The Astral. I have started David Mitchell’s Number Nine Dream. I am a huge fan of his.

Oh, and I also dip in and out of a book written for engineers called World of Wonders published long before the discovery of the atom bomb. It is fascinating to read how much scientists understood then about the world-ending power of fission and still chose to go down that road.

LC: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned over the years about the writing process or writing as a profession?

GM: It sounds cliché, but I have been continuously surprised at how little the American “market” values creative expression relative to other professions. Making something meaningful from nothing (whether it is a novel or a song or a building) is absolutely the hardest thing to do, yet it is considered a luxury to be able to do it. At the same time, creative expression is what shapes a culture for the ages. Very few people travel to Europe to visit the financial exchanges, if you know what I mean. It all feels very backwards to me.

LC: What’s your favorite thing about living in Maine?

GM: The proximity to nature and its relative emptiness. People in more crowded states have to spend so much time getting one place to the next. I’m spoiled by the ease of movement in Maine. That’s changing as Maine gets more popular, but for right now I can still get across town in 15 minutes.

I also love my community in Portland. I grew up in Manhattan in the 70’s and 80’s and Portland reminds me of SoHo back then. Not so much the architecture, but the energy. It’s a lot of really creative people getting out there and doing their thing. Plus, I love the sea, and nothing beats waking up to the call of gulls.

LC: What advice do you have for aspiring writers — or even established ones — looking to stay committed to the writing practice?

GM: I have enough trouble with this myself! My best advice is to not be afraid of the fallow times. I always beat myself up on the days when I don’t write (and lately there have been more of them). I’ve come to realize that allowing space is not the enemy. It’s not like you’ll never write again. Of course, writing is like a muscle and it flows more easily if you’ve been exercising it regularly in some way, but you can work out the stiffness pretty quickly when you finally get down to it.

What matters most is to have an idea burning inside you that requires your sustained attention. Sometimes that idea will come on you like an inferno, and sometimes it’s just a little ember that needs air and room to catch fire. In other words, it’s okay to just be sometimes, and not do. It also helps to have deadlines.

LC: What can we expect next?

GM: Well, I am publishing a trilogy, so expect book two, called Chantarelle, next summer, and book three, called The Kinfolk, the following year. I also have one or two other ideas for adult books simmering away in the back of my mind — but it may take some time. After the storm of writing I’ve been doing lately, I may follow my own advice and just be for awhile.

(Original article published on HuffPost Education on July 8, 2014)

Two years ago, I had the privilege of attending TEDGlobal in Edinburgh, Scotland , which focused on the theme of “Radical Openness.” Following a number of talks around the future of childhood and adult education, a few of us spent time discussing evolving educational models, technology and what determines effectiveness. Since the conference, I’ve spent a good amount of time meeting with innovators in the space to talk about what’s to come.

mid the ongoing discussion, Minerva Project and Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) are capturing much attention. Led by CEO Ben Nelson, Minerva’s “reinvented university experience” is intentionally designed to provide outstanding liberal arts and sciences to some of the world’s most intellectually curious and motivated young minds. Technology, an experienced faculty and experiential learning all play critical roles in delivering Minerva’s globally-focused educational model, which is intentionally designed to prepare students for careers in global leadership and innovation.

Nelson had a reformative vision of the university model during his own time as an undergraduate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania . Now, he’s bringing this vision to life with Minerva’s inaugural class joining this fall. Recently, I had the chance to connect with Nelson to find out more about the students joining, his inspirations and ways for others to get involved in advancing Minerva’s mission.

Laura Cococcia: This fall, Minerva will matriculate its founding class of students. Can you offer some insight into the group, its makeup and perhaps some interesting accomplishments of the students?

Ben Nelson: We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a very diverse set of students joining in the fall. This is partially due to the fact that our admissions approach reflects a very different way of approaching the university admissions model.

From a statistical perspective, our students show a compelling cross-section and while not designed to be reflective of the world population, shows some clear differences among traditional universities. More than 60% are women. Students will be joining from 13 different countries. 20% of the students are Americans. 80% are international students. Our approach is blind, with no preference given to race, gender or country of origin. We set an ‘absolute bar’ that applicants need to reach or exceed in order to be considered and accepted, which is very different with the concept of scarce space adopted by many early decision or traditional admission models. Still, our acceptance rate is 2.8%, almost twice as selective as some of the Ivy League universities in the U.S.

The commonality among all applicants is their voracious intellectual curiosity. Yet, their curiosities and ambitions all manifest in different ways. For example, we have a young woman joining from Africa who is outspoken in political and social policy in her country–ultimately expressive beyond her years. We’re excited to welcome a competitive gymnast as well as a girl in India who started her own jewelry company. These are just a few illustrations and we’ll share more student profiles as we’re able.

LC: Who would you consider a few of the most influential educators in your life, whether teachers or mentors?

BN: Minerva came from my efforts trying to change what I thought could be improved during my undergraduate studies. I was fortunate to have great mentors along the way who helped enhance my perspective of learning and life. And, there were encouraging individuals who saw my reform attempts and encouraged me to use them to write the blueprint for Minerva.

There are so many who have influenced me. Bill Whitney, my freshman economics professor at Wharton, helped me truly understand that what got me grades in college is not the same as who I am as an individual. Will Harris, my professor of political science, based our entire grade on the answer to one question related to the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. When we were given the question, we had 24 hours to compose our answer. Through this, he taught me that what mattered most were the interconnections drawn and evidence of the way one thinks. Authorship can always be seen in a paper.

I’m grateful to David Slavitt who taught us how to write and Paul Rosen in psychology who regularly reminded us to have perspective on our experience. He always encouraged us take advantage of the time we were in college, noting that we were in a fortunate small percentage.

LC: Clearly you’re passionate about education – what do you do to continue your own professional education?

BN: My current self-education is focused on creating the Minerva curriculum. The way we deliver it will be 100% of its success. For example, when the deans from Minerva put together a course, I intentionally debate them so that we actively and regularly engage in conversation that works toward the design and delivery of the best possible curriculum. It’s in real-world discussions that I learn the best.

This active approach is how I challenge myself to continuously learn. I remember a time when I was traveling to Chile and wanted to learn about Chilean wine. I planned this trip well and designed it to discover as much as I could. I drove myself around, tasted wines, kept notes and talked to local people. I then traveled to Argentina, wanted to do something similar, but had no time to plan the trip. A friend recommended a sommelier that took me to various wineries and gave me contextual and historical overviews.

When I think about the ‘better’ education of the two for me, it was in Chile. I know that when I want to learn, I need to be active in designing my experience, ask questions and truly engage.

LC: Are there ways that people who are similarly passionate can get involved with Minerva?

BN: People can sponsor or mentor a student. It’s important to remember that these are incredible, brave individuals who are making a unique and different choice about their education versus other options. You can also nominate student — almost everyone knows a Minerva student through their networks. Finally, we offer students a series of co-curricular activities that focus on how the world works, giving students the chance to see and participate first-hand. We encourage people to find out about when we’ll be in various communities as we’d welcome your participation.

Learn more about Minerva Project and Minerva Schools at KGI here.

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