Looking at such examples as The Catcher in the Rye and Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Ligon–the most popular instructor in the history of the Conference–will work with you on your first chapter.
“Beginnings establish tone, mood, and point of view,” Ligon says. “They make promises subsequent pages may or may not keep, plant mysteries, and bring the reader in–or kick her out.”
Course Description (register)
“Novel Beginnings: Clocks and Promises” with Samuel Ligon
“If you really want to hear about it,” Holden tells us (accuses us?) in the first line of The Catcher in the Rye, “the very first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied… and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” Do we want to know the truth? Will Holden go into it? James Welch begins Fools Crow with a clock and a sense of foreboding: “Now that the weather had changed, the moon of the falling leaves turned white in the blackening sky and White Man’s Dog was restless. He chewed the stick of dry meat and watched Cold Maker gather his forces.” Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto begins with a clock and action: “When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning toward her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands.” Maybe. Maybe. Beginnings establish tone, mood, and point of view. They start a clock or indicate its unwinding. They make promises subsequent pages may or may not keep, plant mysteries, and bring the reader in—or kick her out. In this class we’ll workshop first chapters, fifteen double spaced pages, with an eye toward clocks, invitations, and promises made. (register)
Samuel Ligon is the Artistic Director of the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. He’s the author of two novels—Among the Dead and Dreaming and Safe in Heaven Dead—and two collections of stories, Wonderland, illustrated by Stephen Knezovich, and Drift and Swerve. His stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner, New England Review, New Ohio Review, Gulf Coast, and Okey-Panky, among other places, and his essays appear in The Inlander. Ligon edits the journal Willow Springs and teaches at Eastern Washington University in Spokane.
Read an interview with Samuel Ligon by Robet Lopez, where they discuss the difference between stories and novels.