Monday, October 31, 2011

The Story of a First Novel & A New Poem on Redux

I wrote a short piece for VCU’s blog about writing that first novel.  The bottom line as I see it is that the path to that “first novel” can be long and winding, and is rarely straightforward: 

“After much querying, I found a great agent for that book, and she sent it out to everyone and then some. In exchange, I received a lot of nice rejection letters from editors. That book was never published, and probably rightfully so.”


Be sure to check out “Grammar School,” a poem by Brandel France de Bravo, just posted on Redux:

America the Beautiful was our soundtrack, each of the twenty-four
frames per second as bottomless, open as the holes in our desks
where the ink bottles weren’t,  like the cloakroom without cloaks—just
parkas and yellow raincoats.  Hands perpetually raised, the smell
of mimeographs redolent as our mothers’ perfume, violet fingers
quivering in the air....

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Work in Progress: Thinking about Warhol

Yesterday my visiting parents and I went to two Andy Warhol exhibits in Washington, one a series of works that dealt with Warhol’s fascination with tabloid headlines:  “Warhol: Headlines” at the National Gallery, East Wing.  The other exhibit was at the Hirshhorn (which is fast becoming one of my favorite art museums):  “Shadows,” which was a stunning use of space to display a provocative series of canvases that brought to mind many questions about the nature (and purpose) of art.  I highly recommend it.  (Read more here, and see a picture of the installation.)

The Hirshhorn is a round building with a courtyard (think doughnut shape) and they have devoted virtually the entire length and curve of the second floor to this series of large panels that are the same silkscreened image of photograph of a shadow from (I believe) Warhol’s study floor.  The images were then finished off with mop-strokes of bright paint.  There are 102 canvases, and this is the first time they’ve all been displayed together. 

From the brochure:

“…the Shadows series was conceived as one painting in multiple parts, the final number of canvases determined by the dimensions of an exhibition space. The canvases were installed edge to edge, a foot from the floor, in the order that Warhol’s assistants, Ronnie Cutrone and Stephen Miller hung them.”

The effect is remarkable, endless color and variations that force the mind to try to organize and find logic (my mind, anyway).  And yet, Warhol himself did not set the order.  And since all of the canvases were not displayed in the orginial opening, we were told that that the last 19 canvases in the series in this display were determined by the curator, who hung them based on the order that she pulled them out of the boxes.  (Warhol would approve of that, I bet.)  Even knowing that, I tried to find reason and logic for quite a long while, before just giving in.  The guide in the gallery suggested that we think about movement and view it the way one would view a sculpture.  And what about “one” painting that can’t be seen in one single moment?  Anyway—so much to ponder!

And then this, from the museum website:  “When questioned whether the paintings were art, Warhol answered ambiguously, in his characteristically self-deprecating tone: “No. You see, the opening party had disco. I guess that makes them disco décor.””

Oh, perhaps.  And who am I to say anything even semi-definitive about the visual arts?  But the reason I preferred this to the other exhibit (which you can read about and see here), is that I felt as though I got the gist of the headline paintings quickly*; it was like a joke, and once you understood it, sure, there was the pleasure of being an “insider,” but that pleasure is fleeting.  What I’ll probably remember most from that exhibit is that Warhol and Keith Haring cooperated on some headline paintings, including one from 1985 about Madonna’s recently revealed sex photos, and they gave one to Madonna as a wedding gift when she married Sean Penn, and we wondered which of them ended up with it after the divorce.

On the other hand, that, too, might please Warhol.  In any event, the man was a genius.  Since he was always a dozen steps ahead of the culture, I’d love to know what he’d be doing now, if he were alive.

Here’s the review of both shows from the smart Washington Post art critic, Philip Kennicott.

And in the gift shop, I read this utterly charming picture book about Andy Warhol’s dozens of cats, a fun and true(ish) tale told by Warhol’s nephew, James Warhola.  (There’s a drawing of a cat sleeping in Uncle Andy’s wig drawer!)

*Disclaimer:  I’m not saying I’m an art critic—!!!—just that this exhibit did not capture my mind and imagination.  Philip Kennicott (above) found much to admire and study in the Headlines exhibit.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Black Hole" at Redux

New at Redux:  “Black Hole” by Walter Cummins, a short story:

The cloud cover thickened just as the cable car began its ascent, lifting off from the wooden boarding shed and skimming the tall spruces on the mountainside. Paul knew they had lost the sun for the day; only a small circle of blue sky remained far in the distance.  When they reached the peak, even the nearby ranges would be swallowed in grey.

"We won't see a goddamn thing."  Paul kicked a boot at the side of the car.

"Stop pouting," Leslie told him. 

"I came here for mountains."

Their eyes locked, and Paul quivered with resentment.  An hour before, maids clattering outside their hotel room, they had thrashed in lovemaking, not caring that their cries could be heard in the hallway.  Now he found her lips thin and mean as she clenched her jaw.  We're only good in the dark, he wanted to tell her but instead turned away from her face.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Moby-Dick in the News

Thar she blows…Nathaniel Philbrick has a new book out called Why Read Moby-Dick?, and I’m immediately putting it on my list.  He’s the author of In the Heart of the Sea:  The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, which is an amazing true tale about the sinking of a whaling ship, the basis for Moby-Dick is based on.

So here are some excellent Moby-Dick related links:

From NPR, a discussion with Philbrick about his new book:  As he tells Robert Siegel, he thinks you should read it not only because "the level of the language is like no other," but because "it's as close to being our American Bible as we have." “ (Read on.)

And from the New York Times, this display of Moby-Dick book covers from various eras and countries (what’s up with the cover showing guys standing on the steps?):

The New York Times review of Philbrick’s book:  “His voice is that of a beloved professor lecturing with such infectious enthusiasm that one can almost, for a moment, believe in the possibility of a popular renaissance for Melville.”  (Read on.)

Here’s the book trailer, which includes some lovely scenery of Nantucket:
 (sorry--I don't know why this video isn't showing up directly...grr.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Redux is Open and ISO the Best Previously Published Work!

Redux’s first open submission period starts today, and lasts through November 19.  Redux is an online journal focused exclusively on previously published fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.  To be considered for the journal, your piece must be:

--previously published in a literary journal (not a student-only publication)
--not elsewhere online
--not part of a book
--a piece for which you retain publication rights
--accessible in a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file

There’s no payment for publication, but your work will find a new audience and live a long, happy life on the internet.  If your work is accepted, you will be asked to provide a short piece discussing the story of writing your piece (a la Best American Short Stories) and a bio with as many links as you’d like.

You can read the full submission guidelines here:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest in Progress: Richard Goodman on Finding "Richard Goodman"

Google myself?  Why, never!  How self-absorbed!

Okay, maybe once or twice, and if I’m confessing that, I also have to confess that I literally have no idea what Richard Goodman is talking about below.  Why not?  Two words:  Leslie, and, especially, Pietrzyk.

By Richard Goodman
[Note: These are all real people named Richard Goodman.]

So, what has Richard Goodman been up to lately?  I went to the Web to find out.

Who knew I was so versatile.

It seems that I’m a wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers.  (Oh, I also see that I’m black.)  I’m not having such a good year.  Any advice on that front?

I’m also the Executive Vice President, Operations at Pepsi.  Before that,  I was the Chief Financial Officer at PepsiCo.  I appear to be good with money.  I don’t even like Pepsi, which makes this all the more impressive.  This is great, because I have a car loan to pay off.  (By the way, is becoming Executive Vice President a promotion or a demotion?  Isn’t CFO more prestigious?  How do I feel about this?)  

I notice, too, I’m also a professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Oregon Health and Science University.  And I’m Director of the Vollum Institute, whatever that is.  Odd, because I got a D in Biology in high school. 

I see, too, that I, Richard Goodman, have been building custom homes and remodeling existing property since 1971 in Laguna Beach, California.  Just look at some of those places!  They must cost a bundle.  Whoa, that one looks like it’s about to fall off a cliff.  Why do I take so many chances? 

I notice that I’m dead, as well.  Yes, I died on April 3, 1676 in Hadley, Massachusetts.  I was a deacon.  You know, I always thought I was basically a spiritual person.  Apparently, I had a son named John.  News to me.  I’m ok with that, though. 

I guess I’m still alive, because I’m a teacher at Horace Greely School in Chappaqua.  (I wonder if I know Bill Clinton.)  Uh-oh—on, one student wrote, “Good for advanced students but for those struggling- he can be a real d-ck.”  Luckily, I’m also a surveyor, head of Richard Goodman Rural Surveyors and Land Agents in Compton on the Berkshire Downs, England.  So I have a career to fall back on in case I get too many d-ck reviews for my teaching.

And I’m a lawyer!  I practice in Southfield, Michigan.  What kind of lawyer am I?  I’ll tell you:  “When it comes to matters of the law, you need hard-hitting representation from experienced attorneys who know the many ins, outs and subtle nuances of the law.”  Mr. Nuance, that’s me. 

And if you have problems of the heart, I can help, too.  I’m a therapist.  Do you know what I believe?  “I believe that all people yearn for a deep human connection, including those people who have had great difficulties in relationships.”  Call me.  I’m in Somerville, MA.  Remember, “The therapist is a guide, or a soulmate if you will, for an in-depth journey into the self.”  Are you ready to journey?  I am!

About:  Richard Goodman is the author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France.  The San Francisco Chronicle called French Dirt “one of the most charming, perceptive and subtle books ever written about the French by an American.”  He is also the author of The Soul of Creative Writing and A New York Memoir.  Richard’s most recent book, The Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker’s Journey Through 9-11, was published in a fine press, limited edition form, with original color wood engravings by Gaylord Schanilec.  The New York Times said that “it has the weight of a small thing done with great care to honor a huge loss.”  He is Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of New Orleans.  Website:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Link Corral: My Creative Muscle Class & Gatsby Ballet & the Etiquette of Letters of Rec

I discuss the benefits of writing exercises (and shamelessly shill for Saturday’s class at the Writer’s Center):

“I can’t say that writing exercises will burn calories (if only!), but writing exercises definitely will develop and stretch and build your writing muscles. That’s why I put together a one-day class composed entirely of guided writing exercises: Flex Your Creative Muscles.

“The idea is that these exercises will challenge your mind in a new and exciting way, pushing you to come up with a forgotten memory, perhaps, or an insight into the characters in the novel you’ve been working on, or the opening of a story that you can’t wait to finish at home, or a new way of viewing the familiar.”

Read on.  And register for the class here.


The Gatsby ballet returns to the Kennedy Center November 2-6!  Learn more and get tickets here.


Do you need a letter of recommendation, say, for grad school apps, colonies, fellowships, grants, job apps, and so on?  (I hope you’re getting my point that if you’re a modern-day writer, there will come a point where you WILL need a letter of rec!)

Then you must read writer Cathy Day’s FAQ about the etiquette of asking for a letter of recommendation and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what all goes into these letters:

“Don’t you just use a boilerplate letter?
“No, absolutely not. I spend at least 1-2 hours writing each of these letters. Remember: I’ve been on admission committees. I know my letters will be read by people in my profession. Unless they know me personally or by reputation, the only way my letter can truly help you is if I write it in such a way that I make a good case on your behalf. Of course, you have to make that case too—with your writing sample and statement of purpose. Seriously, these letters are not just some formality, some hoop I’m helping you jump through. When I vouch for you, I’m staking my reputation on you as a writer, scholar, and teacher (if it’s a program where you’ll be given the opportunity to teach). I’m saying to Schools A, B, and C that they won’t be sorry if they accept you. I’m saying you’re smart, talented, sane, mature.  If you turn out not to be those things, then the next letter School A gets from me will matter just a little bit less.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Philip Levine at the Library of Congress

Last night I attended a reading given by our new Poet Laureate, Philip Levine.  I had never been to the Library of Congress for a poetry reading (shame on me!), so I’d like to give a shout-out for a great event. 

Just on a logistical level, I appreciated that there were many pleasant people guiding and directing those of us (ahem) unfamiliar with where the auditorium was, where the post-party was, where the bathrooms and exits were.  The book sale table moved with surprising efficiency.  The LOC poobahs hung around afterwards, chatting with the crowd (and yes, there was a crowd; the auditorium was virtually full). And, as Mr. Levine noted partway through this reading as he glanced at his watch, “It’s a no-no to go over the time,” and this was a well-organized and time-conscious event.  And the setting of the party afterwards—the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building—was spectacular.  (Here’s a picture.)

Of course, any reading is only as good as its reader, and Mr. Levine was also spectacular.  His “between poem patter” (there should be an official word for this specialized skill) was excellent and amusing, illuminating background to the poem, offering a few laughs, and alluding to a long life deeply lived.  (Never once did he say anything like, “In this poem, there’s a reference to a word from ancient Greek that means….”)  His selection of work ranged widely—no surprise when you’ve got 20 books to choose from.  Dare I say that this man knows how to please an audience?  It seems such a scandalous thing to say of a poet, but I mean it as a high compliment.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone left the event feeling less than fulfilled and enriched and happy and yet thoughtful.

Below are links to two of my favorite poems that Mr. Levine read last night. And there was another I loved that I couldn’t quickly find online, but that I also loved called (I believe) “The Escape,” in which there was a line that resonated with me (though I’m probably garbling it somewhat…sorry!):  “We were Midwestern, so someone had to pay.”  I will definitely track it down.

Here’s more info on Philip Levine, including a link to a previous reading given at the Library of Congress.

And here’s a schedule of the fall literary events forthcoming at the Library of Congress, including a birthday celebration for John Berryman (one of Levine’s great teachers, as he noted last night) on October 25, and a birthday celebration for Louisa May Alcott on November 29.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Open Reading Period for Redux & Mark Lewandowski's Essay, "Tourist Season at Auschwitz"

I’m pleased to announce that Redux will be holding an open submission period from October 24 to November 19.

Redux is an online journal focused exclusively on previously published fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.  To be considered for the journal, your piece must be:

--previously published in a literary journal (not a student-only publication)
--not elsewhere online
--not part of a book
--a piece for which you retain publication rights
--accessible in a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file

There’s no payment for publication, but your work will find a new audience and live a long, happy life on the internet.  If your work is accepted, you will be asked to provide a short piece discussing the story of writing your piece (a la Best American Short Stories) and a bio with as many links as you’d like.

You can read the full submission guidelines here:

And be sure to check out today’s new post on Redux, “Tourist Season at Auschwitz,” a moving piece of creative nonfiction by Mark Lewandowski that originally appeared in The Gettysburg Review:

“At Birkenau stands a mound unlike those dotting the countryside that Poles have built in remembrance of past generals and statesmen.  You will not see picknickers lay out blankets on it or watch their children roll down the slopes.  The Birkenau mound is a mass grave for Soviet soldiers killed by the Nazis.  The bodies were packed so tightly together that they are still decomposing, and when it rains now, almost fifty years later, human grease rises to the surface and fans out through the grass in a brilliant rainbow of color.

“Not far from the mound lies what looks like an ordinary pond.  Bend over and peer into its depths and you might be surprised not to see a minnow or two, at least, in the water.  Take a stick.  Dip it into the water and movie it in circles.  Soon, a whirlpool of gray ash will funnel to the surface.  This pond is only one repository for the remains of the Jews.

“A Polish actor told me that these were just a couple of the sights in the Auschwitz complex most tourists miss.  I was with two American women I had met in a youth hostel in Kraków.  This was the summer of 1990.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Work in Progress: A Rant on Rejection

We know that there are many factors that go into the decision of which story/poem/essay gets published and which gets returned, and that many of these factors are beyond the writer’s control: the editor’s bad mood, what else has been accepted for the journal, someone friend’s story getting the nod instead, a screener who hates the second person, and so on.  In fact, the only factors in our control are to write well and to research journals as best we can.  Even though we know these things—and preach them to our students and friends and family—it remains an inescapable fact:  rejection sucks.  There’s no way around it.

This is not a post that will make you try to feel better.  This is a post to just rant and whine and complain about the unfairness of it all and how sending work out again and again and again can be soul-sucking, making Sisyphus’s life look like a walk in the park.  Rejection is the worst part of the writing life.

How to cope?

I’ve tried blasé:  Oh, well, whatever.  Lots of other great journals.
I’ve tried revenge:  They’ll be sorry when this gets published and is picked up by Best American Short Stories.
I’ve tried anger:  Mother-fucking mother-fuckers, fuck them.
I’ve tried nice:  Okay, I was just rejected, but sure, I’ll subscribe to their journal and use this five dollar discount they so kindly offered.
I’ve tried practical: Send it out again before the day’s over.
I’ve saved rejection slips/email printouts, and I’ve ripped them into tiny pieces.
I’ve sent the same rejected story that I knew was perfect for that journal back to that journal, essentially rejecting their rejection.
I’ve laughed at editors’ dumb jokes at AWP and complimented their hideous necklaces.
I’ve tried not submitting work at all, and I’ve tried submitting to a dozen places at once.
I’ve sent only to university journals, or never to university journals, or never to student-run journals, or only to student-run journals, or never to new journals, or only to new journals.
I’ve revised and tightened and expanded and re-revised and re-re-revised.
I’ve abandoned and resurrected and re-abandoned work.
I’ve written off certain journals entirely.
I’ve prayed.

What I have NOT done (yet):
--Binder-clipped a twenty-dollar bill to my story.
--Offered blood sacrifices.

Nothing works.  There is no way to cope with constantly getting the metaphorical door slammed in your face.

(Usually, this is where I would insert a paragraph about the importance of perseverance and patience and so forth.  How writing is its own reward.  I’d throw in an inspirational quote.  And I do sincerely believe all that on many days, but not today.)

In the end, I DO NOT believe that, like cream, all good work rises to the top.  I’m convinced that a lot of good work simply gets lost or set aside or overlooked or forgotten; many good writers simply give up.  I don’t have an answer or a better system or a way to fix this problem or a suggestion about how we can all truly feel better about it. 

I just have to call it like I see it:  REJECTION SUCKS.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

TV Script Contest: Deadline 10/28

Scriptwriters—this call for submissions is for you.  (Be sure to carefully read all the fine-print rules on the website listed below.  And also check out #6 in the FAQ….someone has a sense of humor!)  Good luck, and when you win, please throw around your newfound power to find a tiny little walk-on part for me:

The ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment (AFE) is sponsoring a new national writing contest to find the next great story featuring the modern family. From October 5th – 28th, aspiring writers can submit an original half-hour comedy format script into the Search for America’s Newest Comedy Writer Contest for the opportunity to win $5,000.00 and receive creative guidance and direct input from American film and television producer, John Wells, best known for his role as executive producer of the television series ER, Third Watch and The West Wing among others.

The AFE is a group of leading national advertisers whose goal is to provide consumers with entertainment options the entire family can watch. In the past, the AFE has put their support behind shows such as Gilmore Girls, Everybody Hates Chris, and Friday Night Lights, and awarded more than 50 scholarships to young screenwriters at leading universities across the country.

Here’s the website for more information: 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Link Corral: Life as a Converse Student; Finding Time for Creative Work; New Story on Redux

While I’ve written about life at the Converse College Low-Res MFA program, of course my perspective is not that of a student.  So it was nice to read Rhonda Browning White’s take on the program…glad to hear we’re getting it right!

“I had no idea what to expect when I arrived on the idyllic campus of Converse College for my first semester in their MFA in Creative Writing Program. I was nervous about meeting my dorm-mate (Me? Staying in a dorm? With a total stranger? At my age?), who turned out to be a spectacular poet, mother and now my sweet friend. I wondered if I’d be accepted among a group of sixty students, forty-five of whom already had a history together, or if the professors and visiting authors would look down from their lofty positions as they berate my writing. After all, these people were real writers—authors whose names I recognized, whose novels and poetry collections sit on my bookshelves even now.

“I needn’t have worried.”


And speaking of Converse, thanks to Converse student Cheryl Russell for an interesting post by Cal Newport about how to find ways to get your creative work done in a busy, modern life: 

“I identified two justifications for the importance of long stretches of uninterrupted work:

  • Shifting Mental Modes: When the mind knows it has no interruptions looming, it can shift into the flow state required to produce high-quality output.
  • Providing Freedom to Explore: Real creative work is non-linear, often requiring long, unexpected detours to uncover the contours of the problem at hand. Long stretches of time provide the freedom needed to feel comfortable indulging in these detours.
"As mentioned, the problem faced by to-do list creatives is that we cannot afford to integrate Graham's long stretches of uninterrupted work into our schedules. (Though we might want to dedicate a full day to one project, our bosses might disagree.) With this in mind, the GCTD [Getting Creative Things Done] system attempts to replicate the two benefits of uninterrupted work, as described above, in a more realistic, logistics-respecting workday structure.”


Check out the new story up on Redux, “Little Sinners” by Thomas E. Kennedy:

“My ninth summer, in 1952, I ran with a kid named Billy Reichert, a classmate from The Christian Brothers Boys School. We were thieves. We used foul language. We smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes purchased with stolen quarters. We pored over the dirty pictures on a pack of Tijuana playing cards Billy had secreted in his basement. It was a lovely summer.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve's Birthday Dinner

Selection of Cheeses from Cheesetique
Vegetable Tray

The Famous Birthday Meat Loaf
Mashed Potatoes
Creamed Onions Gratinee
Brussels Sprouts Cockaigne
Robert Sinskey Cabernet

German Chocolate Cake (with coconut!) from Cake Love

Friday, October 7, 2011

Work in Progress: Discipline

I didn’t feel like writing a blog post yesterday, so I didn’t.  Right now, I don’t feel like writing a blog post, but I’m forcing myself to do so anyway.  I expect its content will suffer as a reflection of my ambivalence (so maybe you should stop reading now?), but I’m forging ahead despite my low expectations.

Discipline is one of the “secrets to success” that they don’t officially teach you in MFA programs, though if you listen to a good teacher, that single word infuses everything he or she says. 

The way to get your book written?  Sit and write it, even when you don’t feel like writing.  The way to get your book published?  Send it out, even when you feel discouraged.  The way to get through those tough times of hard writing and too many rejections?  Make yourself trudge forward, even if in baby steps.

When I’m in the mood for writing and things are going well, nothing is finer.  When I’m not in the mood for writing, and the writing sucks (which is why I’m not in the mood for it), almost anything would be finer (cleaning out a closet, anyone?).  But I try to sit down and work anyway—because whatever I come up with will be better than nothing.  Whatever I come up with may lead to something good, or may end up better than I imagine it will be, or may be later revised into something useful, or may, simply, just keep me in the habit of writing.

Don’t let up—and the best way I know to keep yourself at it to have a plan and a schedule and a way of being that makes you feel slightly guilty if you aren’t working when you’re supposed to be (Catholic upbringing, anyone?).

From the beginning, my blog plan was to post four days a week, with a longer piece on Thursdays.  Sometimes I cheat and run a recipe, say, or something very short.  But when I skip a day, I feel guilty (as I did yesterday) even though I know that in the grand scheme of the world, it doesn’t matter.  No one seems to care.  But, perversely, that may be the most compelling reason discipline matters so much in the writing life:  No one else cares, so the one person who does care—the one person who has to care, always—that one person is you. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Writer's Center Classes & Katharine Weber to Teach Unreliable Narrators at Politics & Prose

Classes I am teaching this fall…come join me!

Flex Your Creative Muscles: A One-Day Workshop  The Writer’s Center /
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815
Time: 10:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M.
Date: 10/22/2011

Spend the afternoon doing a series of intensive, guided exercises designed to shake up your brain and get your creative subconscious working for you. You can come with a project already in mind and focus your work toward a deeper understanding of that—or you can come as a blank slate (that will quickly fill up!). Fiction writers and memoirists of all levels are welcome. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a computer with a fully charged battery. (1 hour lunch break)
Registration here. 


The First Pages: What Makes a Good Beginning 
The Writer’s Center /
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815
Time: 7:00-10:00 P.M.
Date: 11/1/2011

Most writers know that they have to “hook” their reader from the start of the story or novel, but how exactly do we do this? What are the elements that make a great beginning to a story or novel? You’ll find out in this workshop, as we explore ways to strengthen your opening pages. Everyone is invited to bring 15 copies of the first two pages of one of their stories/novels/essays/memoirs for some hands-on advice.

Registration here. 


This class at Politics & Prose looks awesome:

Reading and Writing the Unreliable Narrator
Katharine Weber
Tuesday, December 6
Morning session 10 a.m. - noon
Afternoon session 2 - 4 p.m.

Many readers have become intolerant of the unreliable narrator. Why? Is it because the less we trust politicians and the veracity of the news of the world around us, the more we demand reliability from the characters whose points of view inform our fiction?
Many writers have come to believe that writing the unreliable narrator is risky business. Book groups can prefer novels featuring main characters they would like to have as friends and members of the group, while turning away from stories told by characters they dislike because they "can't trust" them. Has unreliability become another word for unlikeable, and are we the poorer for it? 

In this two-part, day-long workshop, novelist Katharine Weber (and creator of Alice Ziplinsky, unreliable narrator extraordinaire of True Confections) will lead a discussion in the morning on enhancing the reader's appreciation of the unreliable narrator, and teach a workshop in the afternoon session on strategies for writing the effective unreliable narrator.

Morning (10 a.m. - noon) Reading the Unreliable Narrator
The discussion will explore a variety of unreliable narrators, with consideration of the tellers of Zoe Heller's novel Notes on a Scandal, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. What makes a narrator unreliable, what are the varieties of unreliability, how do we recognize the "truth" of the story, and how does the authorial voice differ from the narrator's voice?

Afternoon (2 - 4 p.m.) Writing the Unreliable Narrator
The advantages and limits of telling the story through different sorts of unreliable narrators will be examined. What succeeds? What fails? Why? Participants will experiment with brief exercises in narrative voice while considering a range of narrative unreliabilities, from the deliberate liar to the misinformed or deluded narrator, both of whom mislead the reader (how far can the writer go without cheating the reader?), to the deluded or compromised narrator who believes his own version of reality while the reader has growing awareness of the actual truths of the story.

Katharine Weber is the author of five novels, most recently True Confections (Broadway, $14), which features the unreliable Alice Ziplinsky as narrator. Her newest book is a memoir, The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities (Crown, $24.99). She has taught fiction writing at Connecticut College, Yale, the Paris Writers Workshop, and Goucher College, and is a thesis advisor in the MFA program at Columbia University.

Zoe Heller,
Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking? (Picador, $14)
Ian McEwan, Atonement (Anchor, $15)
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (Vintage, $15)

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Link Corral: Living the Writing Life, How To Write Great Physical Descriptions, Thinking about Form, Poems Posted on Redux

How to be a wandering writer, living on $20,000 a year:

“I am a perpetual stranger, moving to a new city every year.  I’m not a businessman, or an international superstar for that matter. I’m a writer. My average yearly income hovers just north of $20,000 and comes from waiting tables and manning the till at bookstores. I live on little. I plan and I save.

“When my itinerary was loosely designed six years ago, my main motivation was to gain greater life experience to inform my fiction. Much like people who save money to buy a house or to pay for their children’s education, I budget to live a writer’s life.

“Seattle will be my seventh city in seven years. I have never before set foot in this bastion of coffee and computers. I arrive with only a few contacts in my phone and a roommate whom I’ve met through e-mail and Facebook.  There is no work lined up for me, and my bank account holds just enough money to last me a couple of months before paying rent becomes a crisis.

“This is where you panic. This is where I get started.”

Read on in The Washington Post.


“I hate describing characters. I hate having to find artful, subtle ways to describe the same old things: hair, face, hands, legs, eyes. Everybody has them, and they only come in so many colors, so many shapes or sizes. Why do I have to make them seem unique? Why do I have to find ways to describe my characters without sounding like I’m describing them?”

I agree.  That’s why I thought Chris Abouzeid’s "Gettin’ Physical: The Dos and Don’ts of Character Description," on Beyond the Margins, was so helpful, offering concrete tips to aid in this dreaded writer’s task.


Five ways of thinking about form, by K.L Cook, in the Glimmer Train bulletin:

“Form is, I think, the most difficult element of craft for any writer, especially the fiction writer, to understand and master. It can, and probably should, take a lifetime. That's certainly been the case for me. In all of my stories and books, both the published and unpublished ones, I strive to understand not only my subject but also how to give my narratives the most effective shape and focus. That has sometimes been a painfully long process, but in most cases it's been a source of aesthetic pleasure and an integral part of my apprenticeship and ongoing development as a writer. Helping my students figure out their subject matter and discover the traditions and forms that give their stories meaning has been and continues to be one of my most important goals as teacher. Form, in fact, is the element of craft that most shapes the design and organization of my creative writing courses—such as Sudden Fiction, Short Story Cycle, and Forms of Fiction. The primary thing I've learned is that there is no magic recipe, no special secret. There are, instead, many different ways to think about form….”

Read the rest.


Be sure to check out Hailey Leithauser's poetry, just posted on Redux:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.