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Affordable Housing in Seattle

20 Aug

I’ve been thinking a lot about affordable housing, as, I think, many others in Seattle have been. I think about it because I’m a writer with writer and artist friends, and I think about it because my husband manages an affordable housing program for more than 3,500 households in Seattle, and I think about it because I think it’s an all around important issue for everyone. I’m not going to rant about the need for more affordable housing–the need is obvious. But because I keep thinking about it, and because I know it’s hard to find and navigate, I gathered a few links to resources that are available right now:

If you find this helpful, please do share this with anyone who needs it.

Fall Classes at Hugo House

27 Jul

Hugo House’s fall course catalog is now available. I’m teaching three classes, listed below. Scholarships are available and applications are due August 24. Hope to see you around Hugo House soon!

I’m also happy to offer writing coaching. If you’re interested, email me at anca (dot) l (dot) szilagyi (at) gmail (dot) com, and tell me what you’re working on and what kind of coaching you are looking for, and we’ll go from there.

Notes from #AWP15 in Minneapolis

13 Apr
Milwaukie Ave

Historic Milwaukie Avenue in Seward, Minneapolis. The first row houses outside of NYC, built by the railroads as worker housing.

This year, AWP has been schmoozier, in a pleasant way, as I spent more time with readings, receptions, and lunch/coffee/dinner dates and less time with panels and the book fair. We took a break from the conference Friday night to see Mr. Burns at the Gutherie Theater, an apocalyptic play spanning from the near future to 75 years into the future, in which the surviving population tries to retell and recreate episodes from The Simpsons (particularly the “Cape Fear” episode) as a way of coping. Over time, The Simpsons evolves into totally weird, wonderful, and scary mythology. I highly recommend it!

The two panels I attended were excellent, and I’m posting my notes right over here:

Small is the New Big: Working with Independent Presses to Build a Literary Career

Moderator: Michelle Brower, agent at Folio Literary Management

Panelists: Molly Fuller, Production Editor of Coffee House Press; Ethan Nosowsky, Editorial Director of Graywolf Press; Erin Harris, agent at Folio Literary Management; and Cal Morgan, Executive Editor of Harper and Editorial Director of Harper Perennial.

  • Access to early and frequent publication (such as online) has allowed an enormous amount of creativity. Adventurous small presses are publishing successful works, and big houses are discovering writers earlier as a result.   -Cal Morgan
  • Small presses take on books that might not seem readily marketable from a big publisher’s perspective, but can maximize those books’ audiences.                    -Ethan Nosowsky
  • Small presses can facilitate reviews that build the writer’s readership.     -Erin Harris
  • The reputation and backlist of a small press have cultural capital.                           -Molly Fuller
  • Small presses are also an opportunity for seasoned authors to try something new. -Michelle Brower
  • Many authors who work with both small and big presses are big supporters of new writers and facilitate connections.                               -Cal Morgan
  • It was a relief to hear all the panelists are avid readers of small press books!

Examples of successes:

  • Eiomear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, published by Coffee House after the author spent 10 years trying to get it published and being told the publishers loved it but thought readers wouldn’t enjoy it. You may already know the book is enormously successful. 
  • Erin Harris found short story writer Stacy Tintocalis after reading her collection The Tiki King, published by Swallow Press, an imprint of Ohio University Press, and discovered Brian Furuness, author of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson (Dzanc) after reading two of his stories in literary magazines.
  • Graywolf Press published a 20-year retrospective of Geoff Dyer’s essays and was able to do so  successfully based on its backlist of essay collections.
  • Cal Morgan discovered Blake Butler after publishing his short stories in the blog Fifty-Two Stories; he went on to publish three books from Butler, and Butler connected him to more authors.

It’s a Crime to Skip this Panel: Approaches to Crime Fiction

(Nb. The authors on this panel have multiple books out–see the link above for a more expansive list.)

Moderator: Michael Kardos, author of Before He Finds Her.

Panelists: Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water; Chris Abani, author of Secret History of Las Vegas; Christopher Coake, author of You Came Back; Lori Rader-Day, author of The Black Hour.

  • Much of great literature (Beloved, The Great Gatsby) spins around a crime. -Michael Kardos
  • Joy Castro explores the chasm between the ideal of legal justice and its reality. She asks: whose law? To control whose bodies is the law written? Who is permitted to get away with crime? Who isn’t? How does the aftermath manifest?
  • The best suspense comes from characters: embed them with contradictions and set them loose. Don’t choose a main character who knows everything.    -Joy Castro
  • Misdirections and clues should all arise from point of view: different characters will pick up on different things. -Lori Rader-Day
  • Think of pacing as interval training, alternating between intense, fast-paced, action-packed scenes and more quiet, emotional scenes. -Joy Castro
  • Every story is a riddle. Stories trace an outline for the riddle of living. We don’t care about characters who are not fucked up.       -Chris Abani
  • Good art sets out to do something and does it. That’s all there is. There are no genres. -Chris Abani
  • Finding the voice of the novel is key to finding the novel. -Joy Castro
  • Structure is the skeleton of a book. Voice is its soul, its reason for existence. -Chris Abani
  • If you’re a surgeon and remove the wrong kidney, that’s bad. You have so many opportunities to get your book right.                             -Michael Kardos

On research:

  • Read two books then close your eyes. -Christopher Coake
  • Write the book before you do research, then research what you need to know. -Lori Rader-Day
  • Research a lot then forget it. Don’t write with your notes open; the divine details will come to you. -Joy Castro (My preferred approach…I love research and tend to pick stories that require it.)
  • The only question you need is “Why?” -Chris Abani

Book Fair Loot!

I sprinted through the book fair in the last 45 minutes on Saturday. I managed to get something from every genre, as well something from every “genre” of book fair stuff: freebies, cheapies, full price-ys, a notepad, bookmarks, and even an adorable pinwheel from Pacifica Literary Review, fashioned from pages of poetry.

I’m also happy to discover that Twitter *can* work for authors. Shulem Deem, author of the memoir All Who Go Do Not Return (Graywolf Press) followed me on Twitter several months ago; I was intrigued by the premise of his memoir, which is about leaving the Hasidic Jewish community; and his was the first book I bought at the fair. Can’t wait to read it.

See you in L.A. in 2016!


What Makes a Story “Chekhovian”?

3 Apr

I’m really looking forward to teaching a new short story class at Hugo House about Anton Chekhov and his influence on modern short story writing. So many craft techniques in wide use today originated from Chekhov, and I learned a lot deeply engaging with his stories. In fact, my story “Old Boyfriends” started out as an imitation of the structure and themes in “Gusev“. In addition to reading iconic stories from Chekhov, we’ll read Mavis Gallant and Jhumpa Lahiri and Ehud Havazelet, and try our hands at a range of techniques. Here’s a micro-lesson preview of the class. I hope to see there, Mondays 7-9 pm, starting April 27!

Working Backwards

28 Jan
View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

I haven’t posted story snippets to this blog in a long time, but I had such a wonderful time this morning at a generative workshop for the Jack Straw fellows, I wanted to share one here. We discussed our writing concerns and what we’re dwelling on now, and the general theme among us all had to do with connecting dots and making leaps. Kevin Craft, our curator, then offered this concept he learned from Heather McHugh about hypotaxis and parataxis–the causal-oriented and the free associating, waking logic and dream logic.

Then he pitched the Story Spine exercise, which originates from improv. It’s a basic exercise offering a rigid structure for a story that is then written quickly, using free association. The stakes are low. I used the basic plot of the novel I’m working on now, which made the exercise feel somewhat mechanical, though the final step seemed to open up for me a more expansive way of seeing the ending–something I will continue to ruminate.

Then Kevin asked us to do the exercise in reverse. I decided not to write from my novel and just let myself go. This version of the exercise was very fun. And I can see why you need to go forward first, to feel the mechanics of an unfolding story, and why thinking backwards can allow the writing to get wilder. Here’s that backward story I wrote:

And ever since that day, she held that stone in her mouth before bed, as a reminder. Finally, she chose a slick green stone on a rocky beach strewn with sea vegetables. And because of that, she went to the coast, to look at something wild and open and to fill her lungs with salt. Because of that, she felt all tied up in a box, a sensory deprivation tank. Until one day she crouched in on herself into the tightest ball. And every day she tried to be smaller and smaller. Once upon a time, she didn’t want to be seen.

One month into this program, and it is already so helpful and generative and amazing.

Triangular Relationships

1 Dec

My 15th set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog explores triangular relationships in fiction, with discussions of Mavis Gallant’s “Lena”, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, and Peter Mountford’s The Dismal Science, and featuring Kathleen Skeels’ wonderfully suggestive drawings. Here’s how it begins:

In a previous blog post, I mentioned my difficulty with conflict and tension.  For this reason, I love triangular relationships, which bring up conflicting desires, competing loyalties, and dilemmas. All the things that make a juicy story go. When I was just starting out writing fiction, when my writing tended to be a formless blob and I learned that good writing needs a shape, a design, I turned to the idea of things happening in threes, and then I turned to triangles. As I learned along the way, there are many, many ways you might use triangles in your fiction.

Continue reading

Intro to Fiction: Writing the Short Story

21 Nov

This winter, I’m teaching Intro to Fiction: Writing the Short Story, a six-week class at Hugo House laying out crucial elements of story. Here’s the course description:

This class will zero in on the three-part backbone of story: character, plot, and landscape. Who is your main character? What do they want? What keeps them from getting what they want? Readings and discussions will include canonical and contemporary stories from James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Jamaica Kincaid, Louise Erdrich, and others. Writing exercises will focus on crucial craft elements as well as generative exercises to get started.

I’m also teaching a special one-day class at the Henry Art Gallery in conjunction with Ann Hamilton’s show the common S E N S E, which I’ll write more about in a separate post. Registration for Hugo House members begins on December 9 and for the general public on December 16. Hope to see you there!

The Tangible, The Visceral

3 Nov

My latest blog post for Ploughshares explores the sense of touch in writing, with wisdom from Aristotle, Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E at the Henry Art Gallery, Natalie Goldberg, Diane Ackerman, and John Edgar Wideman, and with a bit of inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch. Here’s how the post begins:

Touch is the sense common to all species. So wrote Aristotle in Historia Animalum and De Anima. And so is the premise for the art show Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, which I’ve been helping out with here in Seattle, and which explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature, as well as our ability to be touched, emotionally and intellectually, through the private act of reading.

This got me thinking about the importance of touch in writing. Like the sense of smell, touch is a tad neglected when compared to the senses we gravitate toward first: the visual and the auditory. But think about how connected you’ve felt to a text when the author captures a particular tactile sensation or visceral reaction? How do those moments create emotional and intellectual resonance?

continue reading

“Skitter” on LitRagger

14 Oct

“Harush” by John Osgood, painted during the 24-hour art marathon at CoCA (text painted by yours truly).

I’m very happy that my story “Skitter,” first published in The Massachusetts Review and previously only available in print, is now online at LitRagger. I love their project of reprinting stories, poems, and essays so that they have an online presence. Here’s how “Skitter” begins:

Another tooth plinked into the tea glass and Harush blinked at it twice.

continue reading

Escalating Conflict

13 Oct

My latest blog post for Ploughshares offers suggestions for inserting and escalating conflict in fiction, with advice from Stephanie Kallos, Janet Burroway, and Merrill Feitell. Here’s how it starts:

In fiction, only trouble is interesting. For the conflict averse, instilling a story with juicy conflict may take some practice. Someone who has read many drafts of many of my short stories once dubbed me “Anca Did She Forget the Conflict Szilagyi”–a moniker that has become helpful as I work on second and third drafts of stories. As is often the case in learning something, I was aware, theoretically, that I had this problem. But how to proceed?

Continue reading


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