Note One: Writing Tips from Our Teachers
From Julia Scheeres (Memoir in a Nutshell, 1 session Jan. 25; Creative Nonfiction: Scene by Scene, 8 sessions beginning Feb. 5; and Creative Nonfiction: The First 10 Pages, 1 session Feb. 22)
For memoir-writing folks, trying to organize the chaos of life into a streamlined, compelling tale can seem overwhelming. Life hands us much more information than we can fit into a 300-page book. So, what do we focus on? What do we leave out? How do we find the dramatics beats of our memoir? One way is to create a list of turning points, or moments at which events or a situation undergo a significant change in direction or character. You win the lottery. Your sister disappears hiking the Sierras. An escaped convict hides in your house. (Something dramatic happens). Turning points should be both external and internal. Winning the lottery makes you rich but impoverishes your relationships. Trekking through the Sierras in search of your sister forces you to confront thorny family problems. You find yourself attracted to the escaped convict lurking in your basement. Each turning point can then be fleshed out to craft a compelling scene. And scene by scene, you can write your entire book. I’ll cover this and more in my "Scene by Scene” class starting Feb. 5. Space is limited, so sign up now to reserve a spot.
Note Two: Our Latest Favorite Book on Writing
From Janis Cooke Newman (How to Write a Novel and Not Stop Halfway Through, 6 sessions beginning Feb. 3)
Usually we take this space to recommend a book that will help you improve your writing, but this month, if you're serious about finishing your book and getting it out into the world, you need to apply to Lit Camp, the 4-day writers conference co-sponsored by the Grotto. Where else can you spend the morning getting your writing workshopped by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, or a New York agent, or an editor from a big New York publishing house? Then spend the afternoon getting top-notch advice from the editors of McSweeney's, The Rumpus, and Zyzzyva. And don't forget the yoga, the pool, and the hot tub. Held at beautiful Mayacamas Ranch, Lit Camp -- now in our third year -- is both about turning you into a better writer and building your writing community. Lit Camp accepts only 40 writers of fiction, memoir, and narrative nonfiction. This year’s faculty includes authors Adam Johnson, Paul Harding, and Julia Scheeres, agents Ellen Levine and Amy Williams, and Riverhead editor-in-chief Sarah McGrath. And for the first time we're offering a limited number of full scholarships. For more information and to apply, visit http://litcampwriters.org. Submission deadline is January 31.
Note Three: What We’re Reading Now
From Emily Wolahan (Surprise and Danger: A Poetry Workshop, 4 sessions beginning Feb. 25)
The most ground-breaking poetry book of the past year, and one I’ve been reading and rereading, has to be Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American
Lyric. In prose poetry that is part documentary, part memoir, part essay, Rankine expands the definition of the poem and power of contemporary poetry. Citizen explores race in America through the lens of Rankine’s own experience, as well as the historical and present-day infractions of racism, both those intended and those disturbingly thoughtless. The book offers an insightful voice in the conversation surrounding institutional racism, but that’s only part of its power as a work of poetry. Rankine reveals how the political is in every fold of language, every breath of our day; there is no America without the political. The lyric aspect of her work, announced in the title, creates space for readers to process and appreciate their own experience and culpability. Rankine knows that what’s most dangerous isn’t subject matter, but silence.
Note Four: Winter Classes & Workshops