Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Rain

Today is the 22nd--the last day off before the end of ski week. I spent the week working on revising short stories, painting a set for my daughter's play next week, finding a costume for her. I have to say the set turned out fabulous: a surreal orange and yellow sun, a pink castle with silver glitter, and fields of pink, yellow, and white flowers. Thanks to my husband, it looks pretty professional. It's a fairy tale story.

Well, I'm reading a couple of books about writing right now: Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark and Creative Journal Writing by Stephanie Dowrick. Clark's book is in some ways an updated version of The Elements of Style; however, I'm finding all kinds of useful tidbits around writing that were unexpected when I picked the book up. I wish more newcomers to writing would read books about writing, but I remember when I first started writing--it was all about the act of writing and less about craft. Anyway, Clark looks at things from a journalistic stance, too, and I think that can only help my sense of organization. I found some surprising writing exercises in it. The Creative Journal Writing book is still on the back burner for me. I did like journaling about goals for a particular project--it helped me clarify a direction I'm taking with my collection of stories I seem to be working on now.

I was also thinking a lot this week about writing groups vs. classes vs. one-on-one mentoring. I've been shopping around for a writing group to join, but find many groups blocked to my entry. I think it's just that people get used to each other--hmm, what am I trying to say? I keep encouraging people in my classes to also think about finding someone whose opinion they really trust to help dig deeper into their stories. I have one or two people whose opinions really matter to me; I'd like to find one or two more. One thing I think that happens is a person needs help with just one small issue in a story, and an article or a craft book doesn't really address that. I read the flyer/newsletter from Glimmertrain called Writer's Ask? Is that what it's called. Anyway, I feel like they need to have the articles dig a little deeper on some of their topics--too superficially treated. I think helping students with a particular topic works in a one-on-one question/discussion format rather than in the workshop model. In a workshop class, students bring the writing to the table and are told the strengths of the piece and then some areas that need attention. Or the others ask questions. The writer is silent until the end, but I find that if I am allowed to talk about a story to a group, I'm able to come up with the answer I needed. By that, I don't mean that I justify the events or endings or whatever in a story. If it aint there, it aint there. I mean, say I don't like me ending, but I can talk about my ending, maybe I can figure out why I don't like it. If a group tells me the ending doesn't work for them and then suggests alternate endings, they've gone too far in trying to write it for me. I attended a group last week, and we sat around and ate chili and salad and laughed and talked about our stories and that helped free up my writing more than any prescribed group vs. writer type of setting. Journaling about a story helps, too. Still can't work in a vacuum. I'm not that writer. All right enough rambling. I've got stories to edit and I gotta go see a man about a mule.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Writing Fiction

It was nice to see a couple of people read my blog--Peter and Kevin. Kevin asked about my fiction class that I teach on Thursday nights at the Writing Salon. It usually runs as a nine week class. In each class, we address an issue of craft, such as developing characters or finding the arc of the story. I try to bring new articles and ideas surrounding craft for each class. That means if you've taken the class before, I still bring in new stories and new techniques for addressing craft. We have a short discussion around craft, read a story related to the issue, and discuss that. Then we try some writing within the class--something centered around the story we read or the craft issue. Maybe we'll try writing a story that has lots of dialogue with lots of subtext, something like that. Then we workshop 2-3 stories for the rest of the class. It's a jam-packed night. If you take the class, you get to workshop at least two stories within the timeframe of the class. It starts again in the summer. Sometimes I teach a flash fiction class on a weekend, but I've had more trouble drumming up a class for that. the website for any classes at the Writing Salon is

Kevin--thanks for the quote from Bukowski, but I think he was a pretty ambitious poet. He's not giving himself enough credit.

As for me, I had a great time at the Good Vibrations reading on Friday. It was very tastefully prepared and everyone seemed to have a good time. Laura Riggs made some beautiful cards with our poems/flash fiction/nonfiction on them, so I was especially pleased. (By the way, it was on Polk--oops)

I'm working on a story now that I got inspired to write by reading the book Ron Carlson Writes a Story. It's a book that follows how he wrote the story "The Governor's Ball." I liked it because it looked at how we writers write a story, instead of looking at story from the outside ie. craft. I was so inspired by it that I decided to include a period of time within my class at the Writing Salon where we don't just talk about craft, but also talk about where we get ideas, how we make decisions, how we get into and through the revision process, how we set a writing schedule that works for us--stuff like that.

Bummed. I went to Zack Rogow's reading today at Diesel Books in Oakland on College (His book: lovely, lovely, lovely--called The Number Before Ininity) and forgot my purse, so I didn't get to buy all the books I had picked up for myself and for loved ones' Valentines--I gotta get back over there. Well, it's time to read and write a little, spend some time half-watching a kid movie with my younger daughter and get some sleep. Be kind to yourself and say hi to me when you get a chance.

Wait let me just say one more thing about Zack's book. It's a collection of poems that are wonderfully written. The blurb on the back says each poem is a chapter in the story of two lovers united by passion but separated by previous commitments. I especially choked up over his poems involving children caught in the tug-of-war when two people move apart. The Number Before Inifinity