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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.

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!

“Scrolling Through the Feed” in Cascadia Magazine

30 Jan
Eric Carle's illustration of "Big Klaus, Little Klaus"

Eric Carle’s illustration of “Big Klaus, Little Klaus” in Seven Stories by Hans Christian Andersen has haunted me since childhood. When I imagined the bandits in “Scrolling Through the Feed” doing something nefarious in Interlaken Park, I pictured them in smudgy colors like this.

Over the summer, while immersing myself in Jess Walter’s fiction in preparation for interviewing him in December (you can now watch his Word Works talk on time, and the Q & A,  here on YouTube), I reread his story “Don’t Eat Cat” and felt compelled to write my own zombie story. And, because it’s me, it’s a bit a fairy tale-ish. “Scrolling Through the Feed” went online this morning in Cascadia Magazine, a new publication focusing on the Pacific Northwest, from British Columbia to Oregon. I’m happy there’s a new venue gathering long-form journalism, fiction, and poetry from the region, and one that that thinks beyond our borders.

It feels somehow appropriate for the story to go up on the same day of the State of the Union, which I will not watch. Thankfully, I’m reading tonight at the Literary Happy Hour at Capitol Cider, alongside Bill Carty, Jarret Middleton, and Jekeva Philips, hosted by Josh Potter. It runs from 5-7 pm. In line with their “drafts and drafts” theme, I’ll give a micro-craft talk on one of the earliest inspirations for Daughters of the Air.  Speaking of which, this is your last chance (ever?) to enter to win a free copy of the novel on Goodreads.  Go get it!

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!

Fall Classes at Hugo House

15 Aug
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A fresh green chestnut

Sharpen your pencils: I’m teaching two classes at Hugo House this fall. Member registration opens today and general registration opens August 22. Scholarships are available: apply here by August 25!

  • Wall-to-Wall Writing Prompts will be a fun-for-everyone one-day writing bonanza. I’m bringing in all my favorite prompts. If you’re eager to kick start some new writing, this one’s for you. Come with some overheard lines of dialogue and leave with six story openings and a plan to finish at least one. Meets Saturday, September 30, 1-4 pm. Sliding scale pricing available for this class. Please call Hugo House at (206) 322-7030.
  • Fiction I  is a six-week intro to fiction, with a special focus on character, plot, and landscape. We’ll read short stories from James Joyce, Jamaica Kincaid, Flannery O’Connor, Sherman Alexie, and Louise Erdrich, among others. Writing prompts in and out of class will be geared toward writing a short story, though of course all the skills covered are applicable to novels. We’ll also learn the basics of the workshop model. Meets Saturdays from October 14 to November 18, 1-3 pm.

Hope to see you then!

Winter Class: Writing About Place

14 Dec

pieter_bruegel_the_elder_-_hunters_in_the_snow_winter_-_google_art_projectPieter Bruegel the Elder – Hunters in the Snow (Winter) – 1565

This winter, I’m teaching Writing About Place at Hugo House. In this six-week class, we’ll read stories by Flannery O’Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Ursula LeGuin, among other illustrious authors. We’ll write about places we know, places we don’t know, and places that exist only in our imaginations. And, we’ll talk about memory, research, and world building.

 

Class meets Wednesdays 5-7 pm from 2/22-3/29. Hugo House is located in First Hill, an easy-peasy trip from downtown and right next to the always-free Frye Art Museum. Speaking of place, if you’ve not been to the Hugo House’s temporary home, you’re in for treat, with a light-filled atrium and mysterious winding hallways.  Registration is now open. The scholarship deadline is 12/16 and there’s an early bird discount until 12/19! Hope to see you there.

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!

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.

Classy Talk: The Fiction Workshop at Richard Hugo House

18 Sep

Over on the Hugo House blog, my Classy Talk interview sheds a bit more light on my upcoming  fiction workshop. Take a look, sign up, and help me spread the word about it! Class meets Wednesday nights, 7-9 pm, starting October 29. I’m already excited about the story we’ll read on the first day,  a short-short by Angela Carter, which will be atmospheric and  fairy tale-ish and spooky.

Abstract Sculpture as Shrine

17 Apr

My student Jenelle Birnbaum’s lovely story “The Bodhisattva of the Sea,” inspired by Katinka Bock’s abstract sculptures, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog. The exhibit runs until May 4, and I think I need to squeeze in another visit before then, as there was a “Profane Fireplace” that surely had a fairy tale in it.

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!

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