We’re proud to announce our new class of writers! Interested in joining them? Applications for Spring 2017 are due February 1st. For more information contact us at palmdesertmfa@ucr.edu

Jorge Alvarado holds two bachelor degrees, a BA in English-Spanish and a BS in Civil Engineering. Jorge practices engineering in Los Angeles, which he alternates with his writing career. In Colombia, he published several short stories in local magazines during the 1990s. In 2007 he was the recipient of the Atria Books Writers Award for his fiction work with the NBC-Telemundo Network Workshop, held in Los Angeles. In 2014, he completed the Certificate in Fiction Writing at the UCLA Writers’ program. Jorge is currently working on his first novel, which he is planning to complete and publish during his time at the UCR low-residency MFA program.

After careers in journalism and public relations, Laura Jo Brunson began chasing disasters as a FEMA Reservist. Since 2009, she’s been helping survivors recover from natural catastrophes like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, as well as man made problems, like the recent national flood insurance debacle. Her first career job was education reporter and lifestyle editor for The Fernandina Beach News Leader, followed by copy editor for The Florida Times-Union and then managing editor of the Jacksonville Business Journal. Leaving journalism, Laura Jo became an accredited public relations professional to help companies tell the truth while preserving their brand. In 2014, Arcadia Publishing released Legendary Locals of Jacksonville, a local history book Laura Jo co-wrote with her youngest daughter. She is ghostwriting a political memoir about a visionary who worked for JFK and President Johnson, and is rewriting her first novel. She is ready to take her writing to the national level. Laura Jo holds a B.A. in literature and communications from the University of North Florida. She and her husband, Drew, live with a cat and a Jack Russell rescue named Nike (who, it turns out, rescued them). They are attempting to live happily ever after in Jacksonville.

Tonya Burton has nearly always identified as a writer.  Due to a peripatetic childhood, she recognized early that all human interaction is story. She learned that the key for communicating information to other people is finding and presenting the best assemblage of story elements. For her, story became a way of understanding life when it seemed incapable of interpretation. As an adult, throughout the years, Tonya has been employed in writing reviews of books, plays and performances. Most recently, she has been a weekly social columnist for The Current, a local newspaper. She has also interviewed national celebrities, athletes and local politicians for Current cover stories.  Her other vocation has been somoto-emotional release, in other words, releasing stories that no longer serve us, from the body, within a wholistic framework.  Her published works have primarily been reviews and short stories, with favorable attention to an unproduced screenplay. She has attended numerous seminars and workshops in screenwriting. Her adult life has included living in various towns in Indiana, as well as, Chicago, Jupiter, Florida and San Francisco. She returned to school later in life to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Art and Humanities from Indiana University. Tonya retains her life-long passion for stories, whatever form they take.

Mari Blaise Donovan is a writer who spends her time juggling children, chainsaws and charlatans.  Upon receiving her degree from UCSB and traveling to Mexico, she never quite managed to graduate from kindergarten, and according to rumor has spent the last twenty years playing with the same toys in the same classroom.  After insulting a Fortune Teller, consulting the Ouija Board and whispering with Dead Relatives, she tossed her cards onto the table at UCR Palm Desert and came up ace high. Let’s hope her luck continues.

Emily Duren is a nonfiction writer from Florida but knows nothing about the beach. She has written for newspapers, blogs, online magazines, and even briefly worked as a photographer for CNN. She attended the University of Tampa, where she became the first ever crime columnist for the university newspaper. She’s also pretty good at Tetris and slightly obsessed with Batman.

Lynn Flores is a language arts teacher  in the International Baccalaureate program at Centennial high school in Corona, CA. She has a BA in English Literature, single subject certification, and an MaEd in Curriculum and Instruction. When she’s not writing, Lynn hangs out with her four grown children, cuddles her rescue pooch, and complains to her hubby about grading essays. A nice cappuccino and a cupcake usually soothe any of her revising woes. She’s favors retail therapy as well.

A writer, reader and collector of stories, Kaia Gallagher is working on a novel that details the harrowing experiences of her family who escaped from Estonia at the end of World War II.   On the basis of several chapters completed to date she was selected for juried workshops in 2015 and 2016 at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.  Since earning a Ph.D. in Sociology from Brown University, Kaia has worked for many years as an evaluation consultant, writing reports, articles and books that report on how social programs impact the lives of their clients.  She enjoys the personal columns, obituaries, Yahoo news and the New York Times and wondering why people do the things they do, why accidents occur and the role of good and evil in our world.  Kaia lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband who is a Plein Air painter and her daughter who performs as a singer-songwriter.  Her son is a global adventurer who recently completed two years of teaching English in Korea.

Leslie Gonzalez was born in Indio, California. She was raised with the of love reading fantasy, space-travel and chilling ghost stories, and never went without a stocked library full of her favorite genres. She’s a recent graduate at California State University, Northridge, receiving a degree in English: Creative Writing and a minor in illustration. She’s worked as a freelance illustrator at her university newspaper, The Daily Sundial, and worked as a publishing intern at Creative Age Publications in Van Nuys, California. On her free time, Leslie enjoys cycling around the desert with her dad, and likes to take her pup- Daisy- for long walks and hikes in their signature yellow backpack. Aside from her love of writing, Leslie loves to paint, draw and hide in libraries and bookstores. You can find her in the new adult fiction and reference aisle.

Bhagavan Jalli began in a small town in South India. Due to the cultural pressure, he went to engineering school even though his heart was in making art. As a result, he ended up doing neither art nor engineering well. Later, (after dropping out from engineering school) he picked up journalism as a career. Whatever little art he learnt on his own helped him get a job in the newspapers as an editorial cartoonist. In about 6 years, life took over and the pay checks from the newspaper failed to keep up. Ironically, this time, whatever little engineering he learnt helped him to transition to an upcoming field called user interface design. This new discipline needed people who understand both art and engineering. After that, Bhagavan spent about 25 years in the software industry. When the existential crisis hit him, for once he wanted to make a clear choice of returning to art. He sees the UCR MFA as a bridge to cross back to that imaginary world. Art making is a vague but pleasant memory from his boyhood. He aspires to write screenplays and make films.

Judge Mark E. Johnson has served as a Superior Court Judge in Riverside County since May 2009.  In addition to other duties, he currently presides over the Riverside County Veterans Court. Judge Johnson was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Superior Court Judge in May 2009 and was reelected to the position in June 2010.  Since his appointment, Judge Johnson has been assigned to civil, probate, felony trial, and mental health and veterans courts.  Judge Johnson also serves on the Riverside Superior Court’s criminal law advisory committee; the Riverside County Veterans Advisory Committee; the Board of Directors of Inland Empire Champions for Collaborative Courts, a charitable foundation supporting the collaborative courts of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties; and the Board of Directors for U.S. Vets, March Air Force Base.  Judge Johnson has also served as a consultant for Washington D.C. based American University on issues relating to veterans courts.

Matthew Johnson is an avid reader who is passionate about writing, especially horror and fantasy stories. He moved to California and married his wonderful wife of thirteen years. They both teach at the same high school in Fontana, CA. Being in an MFA program and completing it is a life goal to reach continue his pursuit of full-time publishing career. He has self-published two novellas and a short story published in a horror anthology. Currently he is revising a full fantasy novel for publication in the Fall of 2016.

Ashley Khatkhate lives in Los Angeles. She is a fiction and nonfiction writer. She previously worked as a journalist for the Indian Reporter and World News newspaper in Chicago, and as a Chicago Correspondent for India Today magazine (the international edition). Through her experience in journalism, she gained an appreciation for layout and editing. Currently she is completing an academic history book. Hobbies include traveling across the U.S. and abroad, but this gal is always willing to see new places and go on another adventure. In her spare time, Ashley enjoys the great outdoors of California and dining on the abundance of vegetarian food found here.

Stephanie Kotin is a writer who works by day to advance social and environmental change. She writes fiction and nonfiction stories about love, loss, death, rebirth, family, home, and the search for truth and beauty in a relative world. She has lived and worked in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and was born and currently resides in California with her husband.

Anne-Liisa Larks is a girl just trying to make it in this cruel cruel world. She feels very passionately about all the foods and all the wines. Though she has a particular penchant for blood hued stuff. Talk about life-force. She often hears it through the grapevines themselves. It disconcerts her at times. Talking grapes and vines – but, hey, what can you do? She has done some stuff and some junk and is currently working on this-and-that. She generally is interested in everything, tends to want to do it all, and almost always over-extends herself. Before you ask, she has in fact lived on a prayer (or at least a couple of people she knows have.) Anne-Liisa feels a bit like Anne Hathaway/Sally Field at the Oscars but is hoping that her writerly insecurities just give her a “cool” aloofness like her husband had when they first met. It is anticipation of this “coolness” she is considering purchasing a beret. Perhaps a second hand one of a raspberry shade. Anne-Liisa is currently highly addicted to oxygen and is looking to kick the habit before the semester begins, lest the addiction take over. Also she is pretty sure that after she is able to adequately lose her breath, she, Bey, Blue, J, and the rest of D-Child will definitely kick it and have mirror self dance offs. Can you keep up?

Daniela Montes was born and raised in the Coachella Valley. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in June 2014 with a Bachelors of Arts in English with a specialization in Dystopian and Apocalyptic Literature. During her time at UCSB Daniela received an honorable mention in the Kieth E. Vineyard Honorary Scholarship: Short Story Contest for “Hope.” Daniela is excited to begin her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside at Palm Desert where she will specialize in fiction.

David Michael Olsen was born in Riverside, Ca and lived in Hemet as a child. At the age of ten, his family moved to Woodlake, Ca to live on a functioning citrus farm. David graduated from Fresno State in 2006 with a B.S. in Business Administration. Upon graduation he moved to Pacific Grove, Ca and took a job selling mortgages for Countrywide Home Loans’ sub-prime lending division in Salinas, Ca. After the companies’ collapse in 2007, he was recruited into the field of corporate insurance where he still works today—managing his clients from his home office. In 2013, David rekindled a long standing passion for writing by taking courses through Stanford’s Continuing Studies. After three years of studying fiction and novel writing there, he applied to UCR Palm Desert where he will be pursuing his MFA starting in the fall of 2016.

Tom Provost co-wrote Under Suspicion which was nominated for an Edgar Award. He wrote and directed The Presence, an indie film acquired by Lionsgate that is both passionately loved and hated in equal measure. A graduate screenwriting professor at Pepperdine University, he received his BA from the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Tom also teaches hot yoga and writes at his websites www.cinemalanguage.org and www.onfoodandfilm.com. He loves to eat, read, cook and watch movies.

Ashley Santana is a Southern California native who writes horror, fantasy, and science fiction. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a minor in script writing from California State University, San Bernardino. She taught fine art, theatre, and writing at the middle school level and writes media content for a not for profit organization. A.E. Santana is also part of the theater group East Valley Rep in Indio, CA as one of their founding playwrights. She has quite an affinity for cats. Publications include short stories Mindful in the ghost story anthology Tales From the Grave, Five Mouths in the zombie anthology Of the Dead and Dying: Tales of the Apocalypse, Jackalopes in the graphic novel western anthology Outlaw Territories Vol. 3, and productions of her one act plays Fairy Godmother and Good Boys and Girls. A.E. Santana can be found at www.aesantana.com, at her blog of speculative fiction foxmushroomstories.blogspot.com, and on Twitter (@foxflur) and Facebook (facebook.com/authoraesantana).

Chih Wang has two bachelor’s degrees, one in Conservation and Resource Studies from University of California, Berkeley and another in Interior Design from Design Institute of San Diego. She worked in interior design for several years before taking the Copyediting Certificate program at University of California, San Diego Extension to become a freelance copyeditor. In her free time, she performs improv in a house team at San Diego’s National Comedy Theater, trains for half marathons in the canyon by her home, and eats copious amounts of watermelon to her husband’s dismay.

Heather Wehland grew up in the town that inspired One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and left it to settle in the beautiful storybook forests of Northern California. She studied cultural anthropology and religious studies at Humboldt State University, fields which feed into her favorite facet of writing: world building. She has a cat, a husband, red hair, and a very hard time writing bios about herself. Her year revolves around National Novel Writing Month, not only because it’s her birthday month and a month that celebrates the joy of writing a shitty first draft, but also because she is the Municipal Liaison for her NaNoWriMo region and hosts a weekly year-round writing group. And she’s a Hufflepuff!

Madeline Wentworth graduated from the California State University of Long Beach with a BA in Creative Writing. When she isn’t putting things off to write instead, she spends her time reading manga, playing Japanese RPGs, listening obsessively to Korean pop music, watching cartoons or RuPaul’s Drag Race, and making cosplay. She is excited to be a part of the UCR Palm Desert community as she continues to follow her dreams of being a novelist and hopes to finish one or both of the novels she is currently working on by graduation.

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