Mossy trees sprouting cherry blossoms at the University of Washington
This spring, I’m teaching a six-week class on contemporary fairy tales at Hugo House. We’ll read Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and Alissa Nutting, among other fantastic writers. We’ll talk about some of my favorite techniques, like everyday magic and intuitive magic. And we’ll try our hands at writing our own fairy tales. Class meets Wednesday nights 7-9 pm from May 25-June 29. Registration is currently open for Hugo House members; general registration opens March 22. Scholarships are available and applications are due on March 25.
Cloud cover & blossoms
I’m also teaching a 75-minute webinar on Saturday, April 16 called Powerful Objects via Inked Voices. We’ll talk about one of my favorite topics: how objects create a special kind of magic in fiction and how useful they are in developing character, plot, and emotional resonance. It’s a lecture-based class that will include writing prompts and a Q&A. The class will meet at 12 pm EST / 9 am PST and is just $25. We’ll talk about Cynthia Ozick’s story “The Shawl,” so please read that in advance. You can register here.
Speaking of fairy tales, right now at the Henry Art Gallery, you can see Paul McCarthy’s White Snow, a wildly whimsical and subversive take on Snow White. A few years ago, I saw his gonzo installation WS at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, a similarly subversive spin on Snow White but somehow less rich than the wood sculptures on view at the Henry. White Snow seems more artful, crafted, and thoughtful, whereas WS was a big raunchy frat party. The Henry is now free on Sundays (huzzah!), so go check it out. Perhaps it will inspire you!
Where is Arcimboldo when you need him?
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!
My sixteenth set of writing prompts for Ploughshares, and the last post in this series, compiles 29 all-time favorite prompts from writers and writing teachers across the internet. Here’s how it begins:
To round out this year of blogging about writing prompts, I polled writers and writing teachers for their favorite writing prompts–generally, simple prompts that have been useful to them as writers, students, and teachers. One such prompt that I found extremely useful in my early days of writing was, “Write about an obsession.” From this straightforward suggestion, I learned a lot about what can drive a compelling story.
Some of these prompts are accessible and instructive; others offer wonderfully evocative images and ideas. For ease of reference, I’ve grouped the prompts into several categories, but certainly some would fit into multiple boxes. It is my hope that these twenty-nine prompts–some specific, some quite open-ended–will help you jump-start any stalled works-in-progress and generate lots and lots of new material.
The prompt I mentioned as one of my favorites encountered as a writing student, “write about an obsession,” resulted in my story “Go East,” published in Pindeldyboz back in 2006. It’s about one of the most addictive computer games ever. Guess which one!
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.
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?
My twelfth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog explores writing from the perspective of characters unlike yourself, with insight from Jodi Angel, Chris Abani, and Keith Ridgeway’s great short story “Rothko Eggs”. Here’s how it begins:
A crucial lesson I learned early on in my attempts at writing fiction is that every character is you–and not you. Characters have parts of you inside of them because you wrote them. But they are still not you. Chris Abani once said in a workshop that readers will always wonder if your characters are you–even if your main character is a Chihuahua. There’s not much to do about this wondering except write the characters you want to write with complexity and empathy.
In the spirit of back to school season, I wrote a blog post for Ploughshares on rolling up your sleeves and learning by imitating the writers you admire. I’ve done the prompt on structure a couple of times now with Chekhov stories; one of the stories that came out of that exercise ended up in Propeller Magazine last December. As always, do let me know if you try out the prompts and if they’re helpful!
My latest blog post for Ploughshares offers writing prompts inspired by abstract art, with wisdom from Jeanette Winterson, and features a fantastic, electric illustration courtesy of Amy Frierson.
Back when I was slogging through the first draft of my first novel, I looked to visual art every morning as a prompt. I had a big stack of Dover art stickers that I would randomly choose from, and stick in my journal, and over time, I found that Kandinsky helped me write my protagonist. I have no idea why. But when you’re focusing on just getting words on the page, you do whatever works, right? Now I’m working on a couple projects dealing with art more deliberately, one of which I’ve written a bit about in these posts; the other is a bit too embryonic, but I’m excited about it and look forward to telling you more here when the time is right.
I put together a whopping 24 summer-inspired writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog, which should keep you writing for the rest of the summer. Or at least for 300 or so minutes.
Mural at the entrance to the Kobe Ropeway. I imagine this scene smells like ice cream & heliotropes.
My eighth post for the Ploughshares blog digs deep into a somewhat-neglected sense, smell. Take a whiff. (Did I miss any synonyms for smell in this post’s tags?)
The Kobe Ropeway
The High Line’s Debut
The Winter Garden