Six different literary fiction workshops will be happening as part of the 2012 Port Townsend Writers’ Conference.
Dorothy Allison will be leading a July 15-22 workshop entitled: “Getting to the Good Stuff”. Her class description: “We will begin with a brief selection of a manuscript on which you wish to start or start anew. You will be asked to work from questions or suggestions provided by the instructor–and exchange drafts with other workshop members. The workshop will then focus on work on the page, with detailed attention to critiquing drafts and bringing characters and language to a new level of engagement. Reference for the workshop will be Ursula LeGuin’s “Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew”–an invaluable resource for literary terms and explications of voice, point of view and place.” Register.
Pam Houston will be leading a revision workshop. Her class description: “It was great when it happened, gorgeous when it lived in your imagination, transcendent as you hit the “on” button of your computer and got to work. Now that it is on the page it is seeming both flat and unapproachable. In this workshop we will look at drafts of stories and novel chapters that aren’t quite making it, and see if we can figure out how to make them not just good but great. We’ll address structure (making sure that form is following function or vice versa), narrative tension, voice, point of view, dialogue, and beginnings and endings. We will talk about how to find the real pain spot of a story and we will force ourselves to slow down where it hurts. We will make sure that our glimmers, those hunks of the physical world that sent us into the story in the first place, have been remade in all of their complexity in language. We will talk about the difficult moments when writing feels like juggling an apple, a chainsaw, and a toaster, and celebrate the rare but intoxicating moments when the place we were most afraid to go did not kill us after all. We will do some brief, nightly exercises, and I would like you to read Mary Gaitskill’s “Don’t Cry” and Tim Winton’s “The Turning,” before you come to the conference. Register.
Jennine Capó Crucet will be leading a July 8-15 class. Her debut story collection, “How to Leave Hialeah,” won the 2009 Iowa Short Fiction Prize, the 2010 John Gardner Book Award, the 2010 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award, and was named a Best Book of the Year by the Miami Herald, the Miami New Times, and the Latinidad List. Jennine is the recipient of the John Winthrop Prize & Residency for Emerging Writers, scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and her work has been a finalist for both the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize and the Missouri Review Editor’s Prize. Her stories have appeared in multiple literary journals.
Sometimes, all that stands in the way of us working on our book projects is a little accountability. In this workshop, we’ll form a supportive and enthusiastic space where we’ll generate tons of new material and break through the dreaded writer’s block. On day one, we’ll each set a personal goal for the number of new pages we want to write each day–one, five, ten, whatever you feel you can really do. From then on, we’ll hold each other accountable to that goal, bringing new material–no matter what shape it’s in–into the workshop. We’ll read our fellow writers’ pages and ask questions of the work and the characters, and we’ll use these questions to generate the next day’s material. You get to hear right away what from your piece is sparking the reader’s interest, what’s confusing them, and best of all, you’ll feel real pressure to keep going. Everyone involved understands that this is new, first-draft material, so there’s no pressure to be perfect: this is about rekindling your love and excitement for your novel–about getting your ideas out quickly, even if it’s messy. We’ll also talk about ways to keep the momentum going and do in-class exercises that teach us how to stay disciplined once we’re back at our desks. Ideal for writers who are stalled on a novel project or who have an idea for a novel or novella and just haven’t gotten down to the tough stuff yet, this workshop provides a concentrated amount of time and support to add significant length to a manuscript in progress. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those looking to get their book (or potential book) into swimsuit-weather shape. Come with a project in progress or in mind; spandex optional. Register.
Susan Steinberg will be leading a July 15-22 class in short fiction. Her description: “Now that boundary-pushing fiction writers have paved the way for us to try out alternative forms, why adhere to the traditional narrative arc? It’s perfect for some stories, but not all stories can conform to that shape; not all should. Some stories are nonlinear, some are fragmented, some are voice-driven. Some stories borrow from poetry, some from nonfiction. In this workshop, we will discover the best directions for your short fiction. In other words, we will consider what your stories are demanding and what choices you can make, keeping an eye on the inextricable relationship of form and content and the multitude of formal options available to us. In addition to looking at short works by a range of contemporary writers who successfully, and often subtly, undo the expectations of conventional fiction (including Lydia Davis, David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel), we will write short prose pieces every day, trying on new strategies. And if more traditional strategies are what’s best for your work, that’s fine too. You should expect to leave this course with several solid drafts of either new or old work. This is a good workshop for short stories, flash fiction, and stand-alone novel excerpts.” Register.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz [July 8-15]
Benjamin Alire Sáenz is the author of such novels as “Carry Me Like Water,” “Dark and Perfect Angels,” “The House of Forgetting,” “In Perfect Light,” and “Names on a Map”, as well as “Elegies in Blue,” “Dreaming the End of War” and “The Book of What Remains.” He has taught at the University of Texas at El Paso for the past twenty years and lives, writes, loves, hates, and breathes on the U.S./Mexico border.
“A Vast Universe: The Art of Writing the Short Story.” 1. You must somehow communicate the complexity of your characters without driving the reader away with explanations. This isn’t a cocktail party—don’t waste time on introductions. A reader must know the characters and know them immediately. There is no time to waste. 2. Get to the heart of the matter without unnecessary delay. Something has to happen and it has to happen soon. There is no time to waste. 3. The characters must speak with real voices. They should talk like people, not like ideas. No story can work without mastering the art of dialogue 4. Write well and carefully but don’t fall in love with your own writing. Beautiful, lyrical sentences are at the service of a greater good. Fall in love, instead, with the story you’re telling and the characters that are living the story. 5. Ask yourself this: Why does this story matter? Why does it need to be told? 6. There is more than one way to tell a story. Structure and plot matter. Choose well. 7. Endings to stories are not inevitable. They just have to feel inevitable. 8. A short story should have all of the ambitions and pleasures of a novel. 9. When I am reading a great short story, I am happy to be lost in the vast universe of the writer. Be ready to produce a short story during the course of this workshop. I will send out reading assignments to all participants at the beginning of the summer. In addition, each participant should send out via e-mail the first five pages of a story at least two weeks before the workshop. We will discuss those pages on the first day of the workshop.
Sam Ligon [July 12-15]
Sam Ligon is the author of the short-story collection “Drift and Swerve” and the novel “Safe in Heaven Dead.” His stories have appeared in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, and New England Review. He teaches at Eastern Washington University’s Inland Northwest Center for Writers, and is the editor of Willow Springs.
“Flash-fiction Boot Camp: Three Days, Three Stories.”
In the anthology Sudden Fiction, Robert Kelly refers to short-short fiction as “the insidious, sudden, alarming, stabbing, tantalizing, annihilating form… neither poetic prose nor prosy verse, but the energy and clarity typical of prose coincident in the scope and rhythm of the poem.” In the same anthology, Joyce Carol Oates writes that “[v]ery short fictions are nearly always experimental, exquisitely calibrated, reminiscent of Frost’s definition of a poem—a structure of words that consumes itself as it unfolds, like ice melting on a stove.” Very short fictions tend to rely on surprise, a hard turn at the end. They’re often elliptical or fragmented, and often shaped by tone and shadow. In this workshop, we’ll be exploring compression and limitation, evocation and implication, formal constraint and what might arise from line pressure and narrative restriction. We’ll immerse ourselves in a fever of flash fiction reading and writing, composing and workshopping three short-short stories in three days, an intensive in the annihilating form. Register.