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Notes from #AWP18, Part C: “The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got,” plus book fair porn (e.g. the requisite book haul on a hotel bed shot)

17 Mar

bookhaulIn my last post I promised blood. Well, I’ll just say I slid my boot off Friday night and it was like I was one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. I’m still limping. On to day 3!

What is a better breakfast than a leftover Cuban sandwich? Leftover fried oysters. Just kidding! The Cuban sandwich was much better. Day 3 was the best because Michael got a one-day pass and we got to roam the book fair together.

“The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got” is an irresistible title, so of course we wrenched ourselves away from the book fair for it. Here, without narrative, a fun grab-bag of quotes:

  • “Creative writing aphorisms are as useful as Dr. Phil.” –Chris Abani
  • “Your book won’t save you. It’s just something you’re going to do because you’re nuts.” –Min Jin Lee
  • “How do I handle writer’s block? I don’t write.” –Ada Limón

I appreciated Limón’s story of navigating two groups of people: those who roll their eyes at “abuelita poems” and those who say, “where’s your abuelita poem?” And Melissa Stein‘s remark that dread may be a sign that advice you’ve been given may not be for you, anxiety might mean it’s worth exploring the challenge, and excitement is obviously a good sign. Abani noted that “Craft advice is only important if you’re asking questions. What are you trying to do?”

We stuck around for a reading and conversation between Min Jin Lee and Sigrid Nunez. Nunez on writing about sex: “The vocabulary is not there. It’s either coy, clinical, or filthy, none of which do justice to human sexuality.” At the book signing, Lee called Michael and me adorable. So that happened.

My attention span went out the door by mid-afternoon, so it was off to the hotel bar for wine and fried calamari! Naturally, someone in panda suit wandered in. panda

Next year in Portland! Maybe Seattleites can get some party buses organized…

Notes From #AWP18, Part 2: “Sound Makes Sense: Reading the Lyric Sentence” and Various & Sundries (Gonzo Links Edition)

16 Mar
Sunrise view from my hotel room

Sunrise from our hotel room

The Friday of AWP is always the best day. The nervous energy of Thursday has dissipated, and the inevitable Saturday flu epidemic has not yet emerged. I woke early to respond to student stories and breakfasted on a leftover Cuban sandwich, wondering if it would make me barf later. Reader, it did not! A fortifying start.

Alan Sincic, the fantastic Orlando-based writer who was The Furnace’s Writer-in-Residence, was on a 9 am panel on the lyric sentence. I’m a fan of Sincic’s prose *and* mad presentation skills, so the early start was well worth it. The moderator, Pearl Abraham, kicked off the discussion with this advice: “If the voice doesn’t work, write better sentences.” 

Then Sincic woke up the crowd with a call-and-response activity, that gradually built up to us chanting together: “I am an individual and will not surrender my voice to the crowd.” He said, “A sentence is less like the beam of a house and more like the branch of a tree,” that a sentence has ghost limbs lost in the editing process. He proceeded to take apart this Mark Twain sentence, examining each word choice and its placement as a way of generating suspense and delight: “Is a tail absolutely necessary to the comfort and convenience of a dog?”

Baylea Jones analyzed a sentence from Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, graphing sounds and letters, including patterns of consonant use, and internal rhymes: “Black walnut trees dropped their green-black fuzzy bulbs on Aunt Ruth’s matted lawn, past where their knotty roots rose up out of the ground like the elbows and knees of dirty children suntanned dark and covered with scars.” Wow! I had fun retyping that.

AuthorSigningI ducked out early to get to my book signing at the Lanternfish Press table, where I got to hang out with my editor Christine Neulieb and publisher Amanda Thomas,  and connect with new readers and old friends, including Julia Mascoli, who was in my Tin House workshop in 2013 and who is Deputy Director of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop doing great work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Washington, D.C. (Seattle-area folks, you can donate books to prisons and other under-served communities via Seattle7Writers Pocket Libraries program.)

Later, I chilled at the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop table, celebrating the release of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, which includes my “Summer-Inspired Writing Prompts.” Co-editor Rita Banerjee was there with her mythic poetry collection Echo in Four Beats, as was Maya Sonenberg, whose new chapbook After the Death of Shostakovich Père is out from PANK Books.

That night, the celebration continued at the Helen Gordon Davis Center for Women, a beautiful old mansion a mile away from the convention center. There were many, many readings. One was from Women in the Literary Landscape; crowds whooped in appreciation for Anne Bradstreet, Virginia Kirkus, and the biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt. (I am a rube for not remember which biographer was mentioned, so here are five of them!)  Nell Painter, author of A History of White People, read from her forthcoming memoir Old in Art School, Diana Norma Szokolayi read her poem “Sarajevo,” Sonenberg read an anti-plot manifesto, and I read an excerpt from Daughters of the Air in which Pluta has committed arson in Brooklyn and found refuge in an abandoned Times Square theater. Fun! There is so much more to write…! I’ll wrap things up in one more post. Sneak preview: there will be blood.

5StarDiveBar

Reading at Strange Theater: A Menagerie of Fabulists. Photo courtesy of Daniel A. Hoyt. I swear, there were more people here. We agreed the line up was so good we’ll do it again in Portland, but weirder!

“Poems That Helped Me Write Novels” on the Submittable Blog & Upcoming Events

27 Feb
Gowanus canal at night.

Tonight at WORD Brooklyn, I’ll read a section of Daughters of the Air set in Gowanus.

It’s my birthday, and I’m home in Brooklyn. Today is full of treats. Mimosas and chocolate croissants with my family (and bagels, but I’ve been gorging on bagels since Saturday and have nearly reached my bagel limit), a stroll by Prospect Park, and a reading from Daughters of the Air at WORD Brooklyn at 7 pm. If you’re in town and free, I hope you’ll come! There will be wine and treats.

Over on the Submittable blog, I have a craft essay on poetry’s effect on my prose. Here’s how it begins:

Poems are tuning forks. When I am lost in the darkness of a novel-in-progress, fumbling through and then and then and then, they key me back into the precise and intimate. They pull me closer to the unknowable.  continue reading

After tonight I have two more stops on my east-of-the-Mississippi tour, in Chicago on Saturday, March 3 at The Book Cellar, with Gint Aras, and then three events at AWP in Tampa: Strange Theater: A Menagerie of Fabulists (Thursday, 3/8, 7 pm); a book signing at Lanternfish Press’s table at the book fair Friday (3/9) from 10-11:30 am; and Spontaneous Reading Party by C & R Press Friday (3/9, 7 pm), celebrating the release of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Source Book For Creative Writing. Then I’m back on the West Coast for the next little while, with a full docket of events you can see here. Huzzah!

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.

continue reading

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.

continue reading

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!
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