Archive | resources RSS feed for this section

The Magic of Objects

3 Apr

My fourth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog takes inspiration from objects, with wisdom from Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Kostova, Cynthia Ozick, Charles Baxter, Kate Bernheimer, RT Smith, and more.

In other news, an excerpt from my student Amber Murray’s intriguing essay “Thoughts on Abstract Thought and the Practice of Moving Things Around Until They Sit Just Right,” from this winter’s Visual Inspiration class, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog! Exciting!

Story as Architecture / Architecture as Story

16 Mar

My third set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog takes architecture as its starting point.

The Best AWP Ever

7 Mar

photo (9)Forgive my hyperbole, but I really enjoyed AWP this year. Maybe it was because this was the fourth I attended, so it was less overwhelming. Maybe it was because it was in Seattle, so I got to see so many friends and sleep in my own bed. Maybe it was because I had a chance to read alongside some really lovely writers. Maybe it was because I got to bring M to the book fair on Saturday and he made many tired exhibitors laugh. I *did* have violent heart palpitations the weekend before the conference as I stressed out over the three readings I had, but somehow these subsided by Tuesday, and by Thursday it was one big love fest. Here are some highlights.

Notes on the Practical

On Thursday I attended Kristen Young‘s panel Like Sand to a Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market. Jarrett Middleton of Dark Coast Press gave a really informative overview of the publishing process, especially when it comes to distribution. I had no idea how scary a pre-sales conference is (when a publisher pitches the merits of a title to all the big guns of a distributor and they try to poke holes in your marketing plan). I also didn’t know that a book has about 90 days or one quarter in a bookstore before it gets returned to the warehouse. Karen Maeda Allman of Elliott Bay Book Company gave the bookseller’s perspective. My favorite advice of hers about author events is to “invite everyone you know, encourage them to bring friends, and invite your ‘Kevin Bacon’ friend–the one who knows everyone.” All of her presentation slides are available on this beautiful Tumblr. Author Jonathan Evison emphasized building communities and taking the time to invite friends individually to your events rather than through mass emails. He also said, “Even if only six people come to your B & N event in south Austin, take the events coordinator to the Cheesecake Factory afterwards and get her drunk. She’ll keep selling your books.” Finally, Rachel Fershleiser of Tumblr gave an overview her experiences as a book publicist and of what she calls the “bookternet” — smart people being silly on the internet with sites like Last Night’s Reading.

A Controversial Panel

Friday morning I attended the panel Magic and Intellect. It was packed to the gills; magic must be popular! Something extraordinary occurred at this panel that so far one blogger I know of has recounted and it is worthwhile to read her account. I hope more people will write on it. I haven’t had the mind space to do so; I’m still processing. But I did come away from it feeling affirmed, that imaginative writing is necessary. Rikki Ducornet said, “The human mind & imagination cannot sustain itself in a constant state of emergency,” and Kate Bernheimer said, “Solutions in fairy tales often require radical acts. If you’re in an incestuous, abusive relationship, you might need to cut off your finger to use as a key to get out of a room.” And Rikki Ducornet offered this advice: “For a difficult book to be readable, ‘find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating’” (last quotation via Mackenzie Hulton on Twitter).

One Really Cool Thing from the Book Fair: Envisioning the Future of the Book

I cannot begin to describe the many, many books I acquired last week. So I will simply share one very cool thing, Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Expanded Artists’ Books. They displayed a hybrid artist book with heat-sensitive ink and an embedded iPad; if you pressed your hand on the page, different words erased and different words appeared on the iPad. What alchemy.

Readings Galore

I had the pleasure of reading fairy tales with Maya Sonenberg, Rikki Ducornet, and Valerie Arvidson. I was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly large room fill with people eager to hear stories. Somehow each of us included food in our stories–I hurriedly jotted the phrase “saffron buns and candied salmon” as Valerie read–and that made me immensely happy.

At Canoe Social Club, I read with Andrew Ladd, Michael Nye, and Wesley Rothman. I’d finished Andrew’s book What Ends Tuesday night and it had me sobbing by the end. In addition to making me think about the issues that got me crying, it got me thinking about the books that also made me cry like that–Sophie’s Choice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn– so maybe I’ll write a separate post on that topic. I picked up Michael’s story collection Strategies Against Extinction; of course I will read the story “Sparring Vladimir Putin” first because obviously. I can’t wait. Wesley is working on a collection that may be called Sub-Woofer–keep your ears peeled!

Chris Abani and Chang-rae Lee did a wonderful reading and conversation. I already read The Secret History of Las Vegas (it’s powerful!), but hearing Chris read the opening and another section concerned with fairy tales gave me shivers.

I got to read with 13 others affiliated with the Univesity of Washington MFA and  the Cambridge Writers Workshop. We filled up Victrola’s back room and then most of us retired to Coastal Kitchen for drinks, snacks, and exquisite corpse. Coincidentally, I sat beside someone I’d only known through twitter and had no idea would be there. The future is now!

In the lovely subterranean Alibi Room, I got to see the UNC-Wilmington alumni reading, which featured several friends and which introduced me to the wonderful work of Rochelle Hurt and Kate Sweeney. You should check out their respective books, The Rusted City and American Afterlife. 

Finally, read Paul Constant’s take on the conference here, which includes high praise for my Furnace co-conspirator Corinne Manning and her Alice Blue chapbook “A Slow and Steady Eruption.” Hooray!

That’s What She Said?

3 Mar

Over on the Ploughshares blog, my second writing prompt revels in the wonders of eavesdropping and overheard conversations. Whether you recently overheard some choice nuggets of wisdom or gossip or are  looking to sharpen your ability to write dialogue, click on over to join the fun.

Writing Prompts on the Ploughshares blog

9 Feb

Today I kick off a series of 16 blog posts issuing writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog. The posts will discuss using art, architecture, dance, eavesdropping, and all sorts of other sources of inspiration to keep your writing going. I’m excited to be embarking on this new project. The first post uses portraits on Google Art Projects to write monologues, and a game on Twitter, and the posts will appear every two or three weeks. Check it out, write, share, tweet! Wee!

Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

5 Feb

My latest book-review-in-bullet-points is up on the Ploughshares blog today. Here’s how it begins:

Genre: literary mystery
With reference to: Little House on the Prairie

And: immigrant lit & ethnic lit
And: restlessness vs. belonging
Also: Manifest Destiny & Utopia

continue reading

This will be my last book review for the next little while as I gear up for a *new* series of blog posts on writing prompts using art, architecture, and a whole slew of other sources of inspiration. The first post goes live on Sunday and posts will appear every 2 or 3 weeks. Stay tuned!

“Old Boyfriends” in Propeller Magazine

2 Dec

My short story “Old Boyfriends” is in Propeller Magazine this week. Here’s how it starts:

It’s four p.m.: the sun is gone.

Sandra, a graduate student in archaeology, lurches forward with the bus along Avenue du Parc.

“This roof’s all bone,” Sandra says, rapping her knuckles to her skull.

continue reading

Back in my MFA program at the University of Washington, I took two “creative writer as critical reader” classes (my favorite classes from the program) one after the other, in poetry with Heather McHugh and then prose with David Bosworth, my adviser. Heather brought in a translation of Anton Chekhov’s story “Gusev” that she’d been working on with Nikolai Popov, a prose-bone to throw at the small contingent of prosers in her class. At first, I bristled against the story, feeling disoriented in its dark, suffocating setting. But the ending was wonderful and the more I read it, the more I loved the whole thing. I loved seeing how the story opened up with Gusev sinking in the ocean among the sharks and the pilot fish and how the light in the sky shifted to green, to violet, to gold, to rose. In David’s class, we were invited to choose a short story that we wanted to study deeply and either imitate or take its structure and themes and write a story we’d already been wanting to write within that structure or launching off of it somehow. I chose the latter, among other things making Gusev’s ship into Sandra’s city bus and kind of letting the story take over from there. Dan DeWeese, the editor of Propeller, had a couple wonderful suggestions that ultimately took the story away from the exercise and made me excited about the story all over again, since writing that first draft back in 2010.

Visual Inspiration: Hugo at the Henry

25 Nov

I’m pleased to offer a third iteration of my writing with visual art class for Richard Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery, now snappily-titled Visual Inspiration. Here’s the course description:

This class, which meets at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, will use visual art as a springboard for diving into prose writing. We’ll mine the inspiration of images to unearth new prose or add unexpected meaning and direction to works in progress. Students can search the Henry’s digital archive and request works from the permanent collection not currently on view. For even more creative percolation, we’ll read published works inspired by visual art. Exercises, readings, and discussions will cover the writing process, character, story, landscape (internal and external), and style. Students will have the option to workshop one short-short story or essay. Co-Presented with the Henry Art Gallery.

Class meets Thursday evenings 6-8 pm, January 30-March 13 (with no class on February 27 due to the AWP conference). General registration begins December 10, and the scholarship deadline is December 24. I’m excited to see what students do with “Sanctum,” the interactive installation now outside the Henry that draws on social media and surveillance technology, and I’m curious as always to see what gets pulled from the permanent collection and what new creative works spiral out from that.

Tale: A Two Day Moveable (Writing) Feast

5 Nov

ImageI’m excited to be teaching a class on fairy tales at Corinne Manning’s Living Room Workshops. Mid-December is wonderful time for contemplating magic, especially fairy tale magic. Here’s the course description, with nitty gritty info below:

Explore magical realism and fairy tales with 3 teachers over the course of one weekend in this moveable feast of a writing workshop. Participants will move from house to house gaining craft skills, knowledge, and writing some “marvelous” fiction and exploring the memoir as fairy tale. Readings will include Brothers Grimm, Angela Carter, and Alyssa Nutting.

Each class will last 1.5 hours and will take place in Capitol Hill and the Central District on Saturday, ending in Greenwood on Sunday. Carpooling is encouraged. Course must be taken as a whole. No single class drop ins. To enroll please email corinne.manning@gmail.com.

Tale: A Two-day Moveable (Writing) Feast

December 14- 15, Saturday and Sunday
Instructors: Corinne Manning, Anca Szilagyi, Anne Bean
Saturday: 1-2:30, 3-4:30 (Capitol Hill, Central District)
Sunday: 1-2:30 (Greenwood)
Cost: $100

Refilling the well

26 Oct
A fresh green chestnut

A fresh green chestnut

I’m retraining myself to write novels. My first novel is floating in the ether, I wrote a quick, rough draft of my second novel some time ago, I focused on finishing my short story collection, and now, with the leaves falling off the trees outside, I’m in my dark office x-raying that second novel to get at an outline.  I already had a couple outlines in hesitant pencil, one very bare bones, one a bit more detailed. But I’m hesitant to launch into a rewrite yet as I seem to still be in a fallow period. I’d have loved to take a suitcase full of books into the woods and just read for 10 days. Alas.  A decent second option was to bolt to Vancouver with M. for the weekend, where two writer friends were visiting from New York. We gorged ourselves on dim sum, wandered around Coal Harbor and the West End, had cocktails at Cloud 9, a bar that rotates on top of the Empire Landmark hotel and that has some very 1995 cocktails (we stuck to a gin martini and an old-fashioned), and went on a short, mild hike where we spotted purple and orange mushrooms and black slugs and a seal. We waved at the seal, and the seal seemed to give us a little nod before disappearing in the water, probably grumbling that we took his lunch spot, Cod Rock. All this to say, there are different ways to refill the well. Reading and travel (and with travel, eating) are some of my favorite ways. So is looking at art.

I feel a little out of shape, novel-writing-wise, because I’m at the difficult step where I’ve decided to rewrite entirely. The first draft was quick fun, throwing details on the page and seeing what sticks.  I want to be a lot more strategic about the second draft.  I decided to try using novel writing software, to help me feel less scattered, and a few friends recommended Scrivener. This morning I finally started to get the hang of it, and now I have a more detailed outline with fancy arrows and nesting files and everything. Soon (hopefully!) I can go deeper into the writing cave to write those scenes.

Outlining at this point feels helpful, but sometimes I outline when I’m stuck in writing because I don’t know what else to do. I might already have the outline in my head. I might have gone over that outline obsessively already. But I still write it down, maybe more than once, as if I’m in a holding pattern, and then it just feels like treading water.  In a way, it is like a writing exercise I used to do, coming up with arbitrary lists of specific things. But it is also very different from those lists. Rather than racing from plot point to plot point., those lists try to get me to think about very specific details or to think about words I don’t often use. Red things; things that start with the letter V. More particularly (while still being quite broad), Ray Bradbury recommended making lists of nouns as a way to jog creativity. He wrote, “Make  a list of 10 things you hate and tear them down in a short story. Make a list of 10 things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.” Such sound advice, for not only finding ways into writing, but writing with passion.

Back in September, as Rosh Hoshanah approached and I thought about all the oncoming holidays (hello, Thanksgiving-Hanukkah merger), I thought it would be fun to just write a list of all the dishes my grandparents, great aunts, etc. were known for. I invited M. to add to that list.  This got me thinking about how many stories might be in each these specific dishes as well, and how revisiting memories is another way to refill the well.

Here’s that dish list:

Bubby’s mandelbrot

Grandma’s chopped liver

Aunt Shirley’s jello molds

Aunt Ellen’s meatballs in a sweet tomato sauce

Aunt Myra’s chicken schnitzel

Grandpa’s sarmale (large and loose and juicy)

Eva’s matzo balls (dense as bricks)

Aunt Shirley’s brisket

Mom’s meatloaf

Grandpa’s meat pies

Bubby’s Swedish meatballs

Grandpa’s cheese pies

Bubby’s matzo balls (large and fluffy)

Aunt Myra’s walnut cake

Mami’s salade de boef

Grandma’s apples and rice

Grandma’s salade de boef

Eva’s fish soup

Eva’s salade de boef

Aunt Myra’s trifle

Eva’s sarmale (small and tight and smoky)

Grandpa’s fried kippers and onions

Grandma’s upside down cakes  (fruity and light)

Eva’s plum dumplings

Grandma’s plum dumplings

Mr. C’s plum dumplings

Everybody’s plum dumplings

What do you do in your fallow periods? How do you get yourself ready for big creative projects?

Related posts:

1. Background Reading for a Novel-in-Progress

2. Parking Signs to Power Lines

3. Writing from Art

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 657 other followers

%d bloggers like this: