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Guest Post at Lisa Romeo Writes: “Whatever Works: Looking at Visual Art to Write Inspired Prose”

7 Feb
Self_Portrait_with_Seven_Fingers (1)

Marc Chagall, Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers

Paintings helped me grope through the dark of my first draft of Daughters of the Air. I wrote a guest blog post about that process on Lisa Romeo’s blog. Here’s how the piece begins:

When I was just starting to write seriously, I fetishized notebooks—and, like an eight-year-old—stickers.  I preferred black, hard-backed notebooks with graph paper that forced my writing into small, neat boxes.  My favorite treat was popping into a stationary store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, to buy a cheap book of Dover Art Stickers depicting famous paintings by Michelangelo, Kahlo, Goya, and the like. I was trying to write the first draft of my first novel, Daughters of the Air, using Hemingway’s supposed model of 300 words a day, no more, no less, stopping mid-sentence and all that jazz.

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Years later, still enraptured with the process, I ended up teaching several classes on writing from art for Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery (you can see my students’ work alongside the art that inspired them in these e-booklets the Henry made here and here) as well as several blog posts for Ploughshares, including this one on writing from abstract art. And, my next novel features an artist. And, many of my essays engage with art in one way or another, like this one on Goya, in the Los Angeles Review of Books. All this writing about writing—it’s time for me to get back to a gallery and refill the well!

Upcoming Classes in Portland and Chicago: Writing Contemporary Fairy Tales

28 Jan
Canon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach, OR is definitely high on my list of fairy tale-ish places.

Mid-February to mid-March, I’ll be zipping around the country reading from and yapping about Daughters of the Air (yay!). While I’m at it, I’ll be teaching a couple one-day classes on one of my favorite topics: writing contemporary fairy tales. In both classes we’ll short-short stories by masters of the form, Angela Carter and Kate Bernheimer, and write our own retellings and original tales.

In Portland:

Sunday, February 18, 10 am-2 pm at Literary Arts. Bring lunch! Register here.

(N.B.  I’ll be reading at Powell’s City of Books the next day, February 19 at 7:30 pm, in conversation with another fan of fairy tales, Susan DeFreitas, author of Hot Season. Here is a conversation between us on fairy tales on the Powell’s blog.)

In Chicago:

Monday, March 5, 6:30-9 pm at StoryStudio Chicago. Register here.

(And my Chicago reading will be at The Book Cellar on Saturday, March 3 at 6 pm, with Gint Aras, author of The Fugue.)




All of my upcoming readings are here.

All of my upcoming classes are here.

Want short & sweet once-a-month updates on readings, classes, publications, and bits on art, writing, food, and cities? Subscribe to my newsletter here. It’s like this blog but less often and right in your inbox! You can check out previous newsletters here. Past highlights include pictures of ponies, fruit pyramids, giants, and odd winged creatures.

“How to Finish a Novel in Only 15 Years” in The Nervous Breakdown

8 Jan

Wassily Kandinski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wassily Kandinski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am pleased with how fitting it is to have an essay called “How to Finish a Novel in Only 15 Years” in The Nervous Breakdown today. Here’s how it begins:

1.  Choose a horrific moment in history you know little about, in a country, Argentina, you know little about, but which seems to have troubling similarities to the here and now. Research for years. Images from the Dirty War sear into your mind.

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In other news, I made a handy-dandy card with all of my upcoming out-of-Seattle readings (as always everything is on my appearances page).

Anca L. Szilágyi on Tour for Daughters of the Air

Huzzah!

“Building Artifacts from Artifacts”: An Interview with Thea Prieto at Propeller Magazine

4 Dec

I had a lovely time discussing the craft of writing with Thea Prieto of Propeller Magazine last week! We touched on research, breaking workshop “rules,” and a handful of the books that enriched the “broth” that was the manuscript of Daughters of the Air.  You can read the interview right here.

November News

17 Nov
Discovery Park

Discovery Park

Well, gosh, November snuck up on me! I try not to let a whole month go by without popping in over here, so here’s what’s been cooking.  Daughters of the Air will be out in 18 days (you might add it to your Goodreads list to be notified of giveaways); the last several weeks featured early mornings hunched over my laptop pitching book critics and events to bookstores and a handful of book clubs. Anxiety-fueled self-googling is at peak levels, which, yes, I know I should not be doing. But every now and again someone says something lovely about the book, which, as I’ve said on Instagram, has me rolling around like a happy puppy. (Also: I am increasingly on Instagram, where I overuse creepy filters, such in the photo above.)

Suzzallo

The University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library, where I recently managed to claw my way back into Novel #2.

I just finished teaching for the first time a fiction thesis writing class in the online MA program I work for. It’s an interesting class that coaches students through the first 30-50 pages of a novel or story collection, and I am embarking upon it once again very soon, just as my own novel will be hitting shelves. Our final week’s discussion on paths to publication (traditional vs. hybrid vs. self-publishing) will be rather timely.  In related news, as I head out on book tour next year, I’ll be teaching online for Hugo House as well: an eight-week intermediate fiction class touching on point of view, dialogue, and scene construction. Watch for one-day classes at Chicago’s StoryStudio and Port Townsend’s Writers’ Workshoppe!

 

teaAmidst all this activity, I’m looking forward to some holiday downtime, if that is even possible. Lately I’ve been starting my day with Anne Carson’s Plainwater and ending it with Mavis Gallant’s A Fairly Good Time: a superb literary sandwich. Before the year is over, I hope to get to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic novel The House of the Seven Gables. I picked it up from a used bookstore in Montreal, The Word, just before graduating from college…in 2004. Yes, I guess it’s about time I get to that one.

Stay tuned for stories forthcoming from Lilith Magazine, the New Zealand-based Geometry, and the new Pacific Northwest-based Cascadia Magazine. If you’d like monthly news in your in-box, which will include information for upcoming events across the country, you can sign up here. Until launch day!

“Art After Auschwitz” in Jewish in Seattle’s April / May issue

8 Apr

“I wish people would just stop writing about the Holocaust,” a woman said to me at a national writing conference. Thus begins “Art After Auschwitz,” my feature article for Jewish in Seattle‘s history issue.

It’s such a big topic. I’d love to explore it further. I learned about so many artists, such as Israeli Maya Zack, who’s working on a film about Paul Celan, and Seattleite Leah Warshawski, whose documentary Big Sonia follows a larger-than-life survivor running a tailor shop in a dying mall outside Kansas City. I came across Ann Lipscombe, a young artist whose surreal drawing “What We Talk About When We Talk About My Jewish Nose,” stopped me in my tracks at the Jewish Art Salon’s “The Jew as Other” show in New York last December, and miniaturist Tine Kindermann, whose “Hummel Midrash” project explores the danger of kitsch and who curated “The Jew as Other” with Yona Verwer.

Upcoming Classes

1 Dec
Strange trinkets and doo-dads on display in Astoria, Oregon.

Objects galore, courtesy a storefront in Astoria, Oregon. An image-based writing prompt for you.

There are still some spots in my 30-minute, $10 online class Powerful Objects, meeting December 9 at 7 pm.  This micro-class is via OneRoom, an online platform designed specifically for creative writing classes allowing real-time interaction via video. The format of the micro-class is a great way to sneak in some writing in this busy time of year, if I do say so myself. Here is the class description:
Italo Calvino wrote that “the moment an object appears in a narrative, it is charged with a special force and becomes like the pole of a magnetic field, a knot in the network of invisible relationships.” We’ll read Kate Bernheimer’s short-short story “Pink Horse” to see how she uses imagery and detail to bring out the psychic power of a particular object. Then we’ll do a writing exercise exploring a character’s relationship with an object. Register here.
In 2016, I’m teaching 1000 Words a Week, a six-week class in which–you guessed it–we will write 1000 words a week. It’s like NaNoWriMo but at a more merciful pace. Class meets Thursdays 7-9 pm, starting January 14. General registration opens December 8; if you’re a Hugo House member you can register today. Scholarships are available! Apply by December 14. Class description here:
Each week we’ll write 1000 words using big-picture and fine-grain prompts. In class, we’ll lightly workshop pieces, focusing on questions like “What creates energy in this story?” and “What do you want to know more about?” Stories may be part of a larger work or stand alone. We’ll also discuss writers’ thoughts on writing, from classics like Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” to newer essays like Rikki Ducornet’s “The Deep Zoo.” Students will leave class with 5000 new words. Register here.
Finally, I am teaching a mini-lesson called The Priceless Detail at Hugo House’s Write-O-Rama, this Saturday at 12 pm & 1 pm.  Here is the class description:
Good liars know that selective detail, not a pile of facts, make a more convincing story. In discussing Chekhov’s exceptional use of detail, Francine Prose notes that we live in detail, remember in detail, identify, recognize, and recreate in detail. But finding the right detail in fiction takes a lot of sifting. We’ll look to excerpts from Chekhov for inspiration, then immerse ourselves in an exercise drawing on keen observations of our own experiences. Register here.
Wishing you a writing-full season & 2016!

On Writing Difficult Material

2 Mar

Over on the Hugo House blog, I’ve got a mini-lesson previewing my upcoming one-day class at the Henry Art Gallery. The excerpt of class reading I chose comes from the opening of Mercè Rodoreda’s novel Death in Spring, which is the new book integrated into Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E(The first book was J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine.)

Death in Spring is a stunning novel, for its poetic language, lush imagery, and its tackling cruelty among humans as well as violence in nature. Rodoreda was a Catalan writer living during Franco’s dictatorship, and the novel can be read as a metaphor for that regime or for any oppressed society.The violence is also of mythological proportions, and the beauty of the language helps make reading it bearable. This technique was something that was made explicit for me by Rikki Ducornet speaking at an AWP panel on “Magic and Intellect”: “For a difficult book to be readable, find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating.”

The class will go beyond this topic, delving into the many layers of Ann Hamilton’s monumental show, on our relationship to animals, the sense of touch, and being touched–emotionally and intellectually–through the private act of reading. Death in Spring will definitely bring home this last idea of being touched–being moved in profound ways by another’s experience and creation.

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!

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.

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