Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Craft: Presentation Samples


Connecting the Arts (C, CC)

Debra Marquart, Shanna McNair, Helen Peppe, Suzanne Strempek Shea

Creativity is a quest for meaning and truth that begins with the private self but speaks to the public collective. From structure to tone, from practice to mastery, the arts are the same. The writers on this panel will discuss how their personal art informs and strengthens their writing. They will describe how considering craft from the angle of secondary artistic pursuits, whether knitting, singing, playing the guitar, designing collages, painting, or photography strengthens writing, allowing a writer to view her work from different angles that will alter perspective. The goal of this panel is to give writers a new way to consider and study their short stories, novels, poems, and essays, a way that can delineate structural issues, enhance characterization and benefit thematic development.

Required Reading:

Jeannette Winterson, “Art Objects”

Excerpts from Creators on Creating

Confronting the Negative Controlling Images of Black Women:  The Work of Morrison, Hurston, Walker, and Butler (C)

Alexs Pate

Good fiction functions on many levels. And while character, story and fully wrought settings are the hallmarks of these great writers, their work accomplishes so much more.  The novels of these African American women are instructive for writers who wish to recalibrate the world’s perception of a group of people or just themselves.  As the analysis of Patricia Hill Collins’ essay Mammies, Matriarchs and Other Controlling Images explains, these Black women attempt to smash stereotypes and redefine their existence.  This presentation, using the work of groundbreaking African American women writers, will focus on techniques and approaches to attacking the “controlling images” that effectively hold us (all?) in bondage.  

Required Reading:

Students are required to read one of the following novels

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Toni Morrison, Jazz

Octavia Butler, Kindred

Alice Walker, “Everyday Use”

Patricia Hill Collins, “Mammies, Matriarchs and Other Controlling Images”

Suggested Reading:

The remaining novels

Let’s Talk About Sex: How to Use Eroticism Effectively in Writing (C)

Aaron Hamburger

Writing about sex can cause many of us a lot of grief.  Some of us try to dance around the topic, perhaps out of fear that if we include too much sex in our work or write about sex in the wrong way, we won't be taken seriously. Others are eager to write about sexual subjects openly, but sometimes what seems erotic and authentic in the imagination can turn out childish and cringe-worthy when it appears on the page.

If either of these descriptions sound like you, don’t worry; you’re in good company.  In this session, we’ll take a look at two of the finest writers in the English language, E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence, who had exactly these problems when writing about sex. We’ll also take a look at writers who have written effectively about eroticism, gay and straight, including Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Victor LaValle, Andre Aciman, Peter Nadas, and our own Patricia Smith.  We'll pay special attention to how writers have depicted eroticism in original ways.  We’ll also examine how in their descriptions of erotic habits or behavior, writers have transcended simply reporting the mechanics of sex to reveal hidden depths of character, plot, and theme. Finally, we’ll try an in-class creative writing exercise.

Required Reading:
E. M. Forster, Howards End (Chapters 1-35)

Suggested Reading:

D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

E. M. Forster, Howards End (to the end)

Writing Rituals: How to Tame the Dragons and Face the Blank Screen with Courage (CC)

Cait Johnson

Balzac swore by 30 cups of coffee a day. Colette insisted on her blue-paper-shaded lamp. Wordsworth needed long walks in nature. Some writers work best in the early morning, others in the afternoon. May Sarton liked 18th century music, but Katherine Anne Porter craved silence. Some of us require order, others need mess. In this presentation, we’ll expand our repertoire of possibilities with dozens of effective, supportive techniques from the great writers that will help us change our workspace or our habits to befriend the dragons of self-judgment and procrastination, reduce anxiety, and empower ourselves to write with more ease and fluency. Take a quiz to learn more about your own individual process, then find out how to work with and embody it more fully.

Required Reading:

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear

Suggested Reading:

Alice Weaver Flaherty, The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain

Plots—What the Heck Are They, and Why Don’t I Have One? (C )

Aaron Hamburger

The term “plot,” is one of the most slippery and angst-inducing for writers of prose, fiction, pop fiction, and non-fiction alike.  In this presentation, we’ll try to nail down exactly what we mean by this oft-used and little-understood term, considering the differences between “plot,” “story,” and “action.”  Once we’ve come to some conclusions about what we’re talking about when we talk about plot, we’ll then analyze how plot organizes narrative in two short stories and a fantasy novel.  Finally, we’ll turn from literary analysis to our own work with an exercise or two to see how plot is functioning in students’ current projects.

Required Reading:

Gonzalo Barr, “Braulio Gets His Car Back” from The Last Flight of Jose Luis Balboa

L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Lorrie Moore, “Terrific Mother” from Birds of America

Suggested Reading:

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (great chapter about plot)

Gotham Writers’ Workshop Guide to Fiction (also, a great chapter about plot)

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

One Good Thing After Another (C)

Jaed Coffin, Michael Kimball, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Patricia Smith

“A story should be . . . one good thing after another and the whole of some consequence.” – James Salter

A panel that explores ways of breathing life into expositions and transitions. Whether we write fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, stage plays, or poetry, we inevitably face passages where we feel compelled to abandon our experiential perspective and start explaining—or perhaps we hope that our readers will sit still for a brief but uninspiring transitional chapter, scene, paragraph, line, or word.

In this panel, we will share our strategies across genres for infusing those flat passages with drama, conflict, anticipation, momentum, enlightenment, emotion, humor, beauty, etc., so that in the end we’re left with “one good thing after another.”

Open to all genres.

Write to Eat (S, C)

Jaed Coffin, Barbara Kelly, Helen Peppe (moderator), Michael Steinberg, Suzanne Strempek -Shea

Food writers try to be compelling, sometimes entertaining, always informative, yet they often arouse anger and guilt in the reader and, in some cases, they even offend.  How does a writer address those food issues that affect environment, health, and ethics without making a reader defensive? Or is it a writer’s responsibility to incite readers to react emotionally and, in the case of food and the environment, to question their food choices and related behaviors? Appetite, including cravings, is one of the most basic animal drives, connecting us to our planet and the animals and plants that inhabit it in a way that nothing else does. And it is one of the most difficult to control. Fraught with challenges, socially, politically, and, even hormonally, if the “you are what you eat” cliché is true, then many food writers seem to want readers to become different people.

In this presentation, panelists will discuss the opportunities food and related issues present for writers and strategies on how to write about food successfully in an era where the topic has overwhelmed many readers to a level of unresponsiveness.

Required Reading:

Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, Skinny Bitch or Skinny Bastard

Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manuel

Frances Moore Lappe, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet

Excerpts from: Moby, Gristle

Excerpts from: Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope, A Guide to Mindful Eating

Excerpts are available on BlackBoard

Suggested Reading and Viewing

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What you Eat

Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet

DVD Food Inc., Eric Schlosser, Gary Hirschberg, Michael Pollan, and Joe Salatin, 2009