Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo of The Spectrum
Monday, December 11, 2023
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

UB alumna finalist in worldwide novel contest

Student voting could be difference-maker

Madeline Smyth, who graduated from UB in 1984, is one of 10 finalists in Writing with the Stars, one of the largest writing competitions in the world.

Her submission, Aliya Arabesque, has been called a "different" and "provocative" read. Voting decides the competition, so Smyth needs the UB community's support to pull her to the finish line. The first of five rounds begins today at

What's your submission, Aliya Arabesque, about? What was your inspiration?

It is the story of Aliya, an American woman of Arab blood who must journey across the desert of Saudi Arabia to find her late mother's family but also must journey into the depths of her heart to discover her destiny…[It's] about a clash of cultures, two cultures that are very much at odds.

I think [my inspiration] was 9/11… I have known Muslim people closely since my teenage years. On 9/11, I knew many people that were possibly at risk; … my brother worked in Manhattan and I had also worked in Washington D.C. so I knew people who would be on planes coming out of Washington.

I had gone to law school and practiced law in Boston, so I knew people who would be coming out of Boston. It was a very difficult day not knowing if anyone I knew had perished, both from Boston and Washington and New York.

So I was caught in a conflict, and I decided to write about Aliya, who was also in a conflict.

Why did you enter this contest?

The publishing world is very tight right now, both with the tough economic times as well as the changing technological landscape, as the world moves towards electronic printing… Contests are an excellent way to not only hone the craft of writing, because you get judges' comments and scores… It's a wonderful way to avoid the flush pile that all editors have.

[The contest] used to be called American Title; it's the writing world's version of American Idol. [It was renamed] Writing with the Stars to give it a new, fresh name. They made one change in that they assign mentors, [who are] multi-published authors from Kensington Publishing.

The voting will occur online at… It's entirely up to the voters because Kensington has found all 10 books to be of publishable quality. They've committed in a contract with each of the finalists that they will publish the book if it is chosen by the world.

I need UB to turn out the vote… They were my first thought; I cannot win this without them. I've caught the attention of the editors at Kensington Publishing with Aliya Arabesque but I cannot win this Writing with the Stars contest without the UB students… I need them to tell everyone they know to vote on Facebook. I need that kind of viral voting to pull this off.

How did you know you wanted to become an author? Did your time at UB influence your decision to write?

I think I was first and foremost… a poet. As I moved into the teenage years... I needed something longer, I needed to not just play on words; I needed the length of a novel platform in order to do what I needed to do… Novel writing is something I do on a daily basis.

I graduated from UB in 1984, as an English major. [I was involved in] extra-curricular activities like Schussmeister's Ski Club, but Black Mountain College was my primary interest at the time.

Black Mountain College was housed over in Ellicott Complex. It had to do with the Black Mountain Poets that were there at the time, in the English department. There was this incredible group of people like Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsburg, who are quite famous as American authors and poets. I was… a very integral part of it at that time. That's why I came to UB. I not only studied under Robert Creeley, I also spent a summer at UB writing poetry with Joel Oppenheimer, another Black Mountain author.

What advice would you give to a student who is interested in writing?

[He or she] would need and should contact me because it is a very complicated industry. First, there's the writing and second, there's the publishing, and those are two different things... I need to know who they are and what their voice is and where they see themselves fitting in the market… it's a very individual plan.

The only general advice I could give is write, write, write. Every writer has a different way of writing and a different way of approaching publishing… The only way you become published in the end is to be prolific and persistent.

I'll be on campus for anyone who is interested in writing. I think there are amazing opportunities for your age group. I think that is a bursting market, the young adult market… There are publishers that are asking and adults are attempting to have the voice of the age group that you're in. No one could have the voice like you could have the voice.

I hope when I'm [on campus this week], I can meet with people.

To get in contact with Madeline Smyth, visit her Facebook event page by searching, "Writing with the Stars" and send her a message to arrange a time to meet on campus during this upcoming week. Also, check out her blog at




Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2023 The Spectrum