When Leslie Sernaque Falcon ’22 signed up for the University’s Writer’s Room event last January, she did not know what to expect. But her participation in the virtual event series, which brings together aspiring authors, seasoned professionals, and students to network and learn, opened doors to a career path she could have never imagined.
A chance encounter
A double major in creative writing and media and visual culture studies with a Spanish minor, Sernaque Falcon writes mostly nonfiction while dabbling in screenwriting. Her passion for writing prompted her to register for the Writer’s Room query letter workshop, led by authors Marjetta Geerling ’95, Kimberly Gordon Biddle ’87, and Cory Eckert ’06. The session provided tips on how to write a compelling query letter, which authors compose to excite editors, literary agents, or publishing houses about their work.
At the workshop’s end, participants were entered into a raffle. The prize? A 1:1 session with one of the author panelists to review their draft query letters. Sernaque Falcon was selected to meet with Geerling. “I had just learned what a query letter was,” says Sernaque Falcon, who serves as a Maroon and Grey Student Ambassador and is a Bulldog track and field student-athlete. “When my name was called, I was immediately horrified because I had not yet written one.”
The following week, Sernaque Falcon met with Geerling on Zoom. During their conversation, Geerling (who now writes under the pen name Mara Wells) gave her helpful feedback and encouraged her to apply for a virtual summer internship at The Seymour Agency, a premier literary agency. Sernaque Falcon was accepted into the program a week after she applied.
Thanks to Geerling’s support, Sernaque Falcon worked with agents in New York last summer, reviewing query letters and manuscripts. Her genre focus was young adult fiction, a fun departure for her. “I read a lot of things that were different than what I would normally read, but it was a great experience,” says Sernaque Falcon. “I was able to apply all I learned in my creative writing classes.”
Reconnecting with Redlands
Geerling was happy to share the internship opportunity with Sernaque Falcon. “It is humbling to realize that I am at the point in my career where I can help a student,” says Geerling. “For someone like Leslie, who is new in the field, that kind of incidental knowledge can be life-changing.” The two met in person for the first time at last year’s Homecoming during the in-person Writer’s Room event. “You often hear alumni want to help students,” says Sernaque Falcon, “and experiencing that was monumental for me. Her encouragement meant so much.”
When the Office of Alumni and Community Relations asked for alumni interest group suggestions, Geerling thought a virtual alumni group focused on writing would draw diverse Redlands alumni. The Writer’s Room premiered during virtual Homecoming in 2020 and has since held several virtual and in-person events. “It’s been an extraordinary experience,” says Geerling. “I was unaware of how many U of R writers I was connected to, and I have enjoyed watching it grow and building these connections.”
A Johnston alumna whose emphasis integrated women’s culture and creative expression, Geerling earned her teaching credential at the School of Education and taught elementary school for 12 years before becoming an associate professor of English at Broward College. She holds an MFA in writing from Spalding University, and in addition to her first novel, Fancy White Trash, Geerling has published three books in a romantic fiction series.
“I was not connected to the U of R community for many years,” admits Geerling, “But the Writer’s Room was my way back, and I am so glad to be here.” To Bulldog alumni, including those who are not currently engaged with their alma mater, she offers the following: “You are always welcome back. It’s not too late, and it hasn’t been too long.”
Learn more about alumni events at the University of Redlands.