Fiction: Presentation and Workshop Samples
Hateful Heroine: A Discussion of After Claude by Iris Owens
First published in 1973, Owens’s novel was called “barbed, bitchy, and hilariously sour” by Kenneth Tynan. In her introduction to the new edition (NYRB Classics), Emily Prager writes, “After Claude is a hilarious story of breakup as it takes place in the dissolving mind of a brilliantly funny, parasitic ne’er-do-well. But it is also a withering statement about intelligence in women.” Let’s discuss the book in terms of its humor, cruelty, and representations of women. What can we take from it? How might this slim, rollicking narrative encourage us to take risks, go big, be fast, cut deep, and skewer/celebrate society? Come prepared to discuss.
Carolina De Robertis, Boman Desai, Aaron Hamburger
This panel will explore the joys and challenges of portraying a range of sexual and gender identities in our fiction—gay, lesbian, bi, straight, trans, and everything in between and beyond those particular labels. All fictional characters have a sexual identity and gender identity. What tools can help us create compelling, complex characters across the sexuality spectrum? What techniques can we use to write sexualities that differ from our own personal experience? What role can gay themes play in seemingly non-gay narratives—how do they enrich or inform the bigger picture? In what ways can queer erotic desire burst open the definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman—and how does this affect our stories? What does it take to create nuanced portrayals of characters who cross gender boundaries?
We will explore these questions and more, with readings from Michael Chabon, Ha Jin, Herman Melville, Manuel Muñoz, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson.
Grabbed by the Tale: Fairy Tales as Source, Symbol, and Springboard
Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Nancy Holder, Christina Mock
For a wide range of authors, from the experimental fiction writer to the formalist poet, the fairy tale has been a rich and rewarding source for characters, plotlines, and imagery. The dramatic frames the tales provide are endlessly reworkable, and the psychological complexities elastically adaptable to many current modes. What hold do the tales have on us and why? How can contemporary writers use the tales to fire up their own imaginations? This cross-genre panel will look at these issues and consider several textual examples. We will also consider such issues as authorial tone of the tale teller, updating the tales, and writing for different audiences.
Mappa Mundi: From Folk Tale to Fiction
In this presentation I’ll tell four folk tales and we'll discuss their relation to fiction.
Folk tales have an especially sneaky logic found in poetry, metaphor, and dreams. Knowing intimately all the land and plants and creatures with whom they live, stories tell carefully and respectfully the people’s place on earth. The tales’ natural inner/outer narratives reflect what changes and what is perennial in their world. Everything is alive in the stories, and so not given to large statements on meaning. What seems both outside and inside are experienced in the same place; what seems small and hidden is an entire world.
How is this view helpful to a fiction writer? The stories aim at balance. No word is wasted, yet this sparseness allows the richest of images, complex and subtle. I think of telling stories as primitive (first) theater where story/ teller/ listener are one in the soulful art. Knowing the value of these intensely wise stories changes our sense of learning, changes us – not in order to write communal folk tales but to reflect on their wisdom and shake ourselves free to be inspired.
Twelve Things Not to Do in Fiction
We’ll undertake a discussion of major pitfalls that can diminish the potential of any manuscript. Specific examples will be examined. It should be remembered that these dozen “don’ts” can each be easily repaired in the editing process. The hoary dictum, “Show don’t tell,” will be first out of the blocks, but we will also identify other, less commonly noticed mistakes. We’ll also look at what works—at great stories that possess a burning soul and yet also manage to avoid any of the twelve mistakes.
Go There: The Art of Conflict in Fiction
All too often, students shy away from the juiciest, most meaningful moments in their stories because they aren’t sure how to write the conflict, or they’re afraid of writing it. That conflict can be anything from a brawl to a conversation, internal or external. In this craft class, students will look at a couple of stories to examine the meat of fictional conflict, how authors work with it and how they might begin to use conflict more skillfully in their own work. Then we’ll practice writing a conflict of our own. Please read Charles Baxter’s essay “Creating a Scene” in the book The Art of Subtext and the stories “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway and “The 5:48” by John Cheever. All will be discussed in the presentation.
Have Blaster Will Use It: Writing Moments of Violence
David Anthony Durham
No matter what genre you’re writing in the story could go there... That long-simmering marital tension erupts in a murderous argument ignited over the fondue pot. The invading horde of sword-wielding barbarians pours over the mountain pass toward your protagonist’s village. The mutated piranha-toads escape from the lab and catch the scent of fresh meat from the playground next door… The circumstances can vary, but often our fictions require us to write scenes of people at their bloody worst. Does rendering such moments effectively require the same techniques as moments of quiet description and introspection, or are new techniques required? We’ll examine this question as we look at how some of the pros handle writing violently dramatic scenes.
I’m asking participants to seek out well-written scenes of violence on their own. Please email me their chosen scenes. Yes, that may mean you have to retype the scene manually, but that can be a very informative exercise. Or you could scan it and send it as a pdf. This isn’t a requirement, but please keep it in mind and send them on to me anytime you’d like. I’ll pick some of these to use for discussion during the seminar. Also, come ready to write, as the seminar will include writing exercises!
The Question of Character Is an Innocent One
Todd Boss and guest Waldorf instructor David Barham
Using temperament models as frameworks for thinking about identity, a writer can:
- push oneself to new levels of personal discovery,
- bring that personal journey to the page, and
- model that personal journey as a teacher for one’s students.
Writing is often at its best when the writer has been most vulnerable to a conflict rooted in identity. Similarly, teaching is often at its best when a teacher can model vulnerability as a means toward development, guiding by example. Temperament models can be useful because they remind us that, although our identities are largely innocent accidents of genetics, we are never “stuck” with ourselves. Using the Jungian-based Enneagram and Rudolph Steiner’s century-old Waldorf pedagogical theories as tools, this Q&A between a poet and a Waldorf-trained teacher will explore how the journey of self-discovery begins in childhood, is manifested in the fictional characters and persona poems of major contemporary authors, and can be used in the writing classroom to engage students.
Alumni Forum: Location, Location, Location
All genres and subgenres have – due to their specific natures – strong suits that the other genres can learn and benefit from. One of speculative fiction’s strengths is setting/locale, because if we spec. fic. writers are known for anything, it’s the worlds we create.
Writers in all genres sometimes think of setting/locale as an annoying element that does need to be taken into account, but then applied, gotten over and done with as quickly as possible: a hastily painted backdrop of sorts.
Setting/locale has, however, the potential for acting as one of the most powerful implements in our auctorial toolbox – a veritable Swiss army knife of a device. Looking at examples from a broad spectrum of genres, this presentation will open up and consider some of setting’s “blades” and other wondrous gizmos, examining a number of ways in which setting can be used to multitask in a narrative.
The presentation will finish with a list of setting-oriented writing exercises. Please bring some paper and pencil or your laptop so that we can play around with these a bit.
Questions About the Narrator
In terms of narration, a series of crucial questions confront any storyteller, whether in fiction or memoir: Who is the narrator? Who is the narrator telling her story to? When is the narrator telling the story? Why is the narrator telling the story?
In fiction, these questions help the writer focus on what information should be included in order to provide the necessary context for the story. These questions can also help shape both the voice of the narrative and the narrative itself, particularly in instances of first person narration. These questions are also relevant to memoir where they can help the writer create the perspective from which she is telling her tale; these questions are thus crucial to the formation of the reflective voice.
To illustrate my points, I’ll first focus on Conrad’s Marlowe in The Heart of Darkness. I’ll also use excerpts from some of the following: The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga; The Lover, Marguerite Duras; The Brief Wondrous History of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz; The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr; Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston; American Pastoral, Philip Roth; perhaps some science fiction such as Charles Yu or Octavia Butler.