At the start of each semester, the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College hosts a 10-day residency on our campus in Chestnut Hill, MA. Below is a sampling of the kinds of classes open to serious writers who wish to audit graduate-level Craft, Criticism, & Theory (CC&T) courses and Elective Seminars. Auditors are asked to commit to doing the preparatory work and required reading for each class attended. Classes for our winter 2017 residency will be posted in November.
REWRITING FROM THE SENTENCE TO THE BOOK
Faculty member: Sterling Watson
Saturday, July 9 from 1:15–3:15 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room
Most of us begin as writers believing that we can get it right the first time. Most writers who make it to the MFA level know that this is a false article of faith. We learn that rewriting is necessary, and then we learn to enjoy it. The processes of rewriting offer us exercise for our meticulous and obsessive parts, the joys of discovery, and if we are lucky, even the occasional mystical surprise. The novelist and poet Fred Chappell said that writing is “saintly tedium.” Perhaps revision is more tedious than the casting of the first draft, but most writers who stay in the profession learn to enjoy rewriting. A few rewrite so obsessively that they publish very little. Paul Valery said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned in despair.” You will recognize immediately that the truth in this statement is not so much about despair as about the inevitable “letting go” at the end of the long struggle with a work of art. Even though we might create greatness, we will never be completely satisfied with what we write. There is an end to what revision can do, but before we reach it, we can learn much about how to improve our writing.
This session will center on a Power Point presentation with teacher commentary and frequent pauses for questions and comments from students. We will discuss rewriting at the level of the sentence, the paragraph, and the page, and also at larger levels of structure including the act and the whole book.
Suggested reading: Burroway, Janet, and Susan Weinberg. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 6th ed. Boston: Longman, 2003. 1–21 and 395–410. Print. [Please note: These page numbers refer to chapters 1 and 11 (Writing Process and Revision) in the 6th edition of Burroway and Weinberg.]
Questions: How conscious are you of your skills as a rewriter? How do you rate yourself as a rewriter? Do you think you are good at it, or not so good? By what processes have you learned to rewrite, e.g., studying great writing, reading books about how to revise, getting advice from others and trying to use it? Do you have terms or labels for the various activities you routinely perform as you revise a manuscript?
Assignment: Come prepared to share with your fellow students at least one labeled strategy that you routinely use when you revise. A labeled strategy is a rewriting technique for which you have a name; e.g., Faulkner’s famous advice, “Kill all your darlings.” Write these on a sheet of paper and hand them in at the beginning of the class. We will read and discuss some of them.
WHERE I'M FROM: IDENTITY & SUBJECTIVITY IN POETRY
Faculty member: Iain Haley Pollock
Saturday, July 9 from 3:45–5:45 p.m. in Haldan Hall Room 136
We necessarily inscribe our poems with elements of identity and subjectivity. To do otherwise is “objectification and death” (Carruth, p. 308; see Sewanee Review essay*). We’ll look at the promise and pitfalls of writing poems about identity. How do we write subjective poems that avoid being private references? In writing about our own identity, how do we reach a broad range of readers and achieve “universal subjectivity”? This craft class will start with a brief hip-hop interlude leading to a writing prompt and discussion of the writing produced thereby, move to a discussion of the class reading, and end with a discussion of 4 to 5 poems that I will handout in class.
Required reading: Carruth, Hayden. “The Art of Love: Poetry and Personality.”* Selected Essays and Reviews. Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1996. pp. 175-184.
Reading Note: This reading can be dense and esoteric in places. Stick with it. In class we’ll mainly discuss Carruth’s idea that personality is arrived at through subjectivity and that great poems move through and beyond subjectivity to a universal subjectivity. How does this ideal impact how we think about inscribing elements of identity into a poem?
DEVELOPING SUPPORTING CHARACTERS
IN MIDDLE-GRADE AND YA FICTION
Faculty Member: Renée Watson
Sunday, July 10 from 3:45–5:45 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room
Main characters are the heart of the story, but the people in their lives play an essential role to their development. We learn a lot about our main characters by understanding the people around them. Someone in their life has an expectation of them; someone is rooting for them or wanting to see them fail. The personality and actions of our main character become clearer once we put them in the room with their best friend, sibling, teacher. Through interactive activities, open discussion, and in-class readings, we will discuss ways to develop our supporting characters in order to better determine plot points and further develop the main character.
Required Reading: A handout will be distributed in class.
1. What is the purpose of secondary characters?
2. What can authors learn about their main character by developing their secondary characters?
3. How do authors determine if there are too many/not enough secondary characters?
PLACE WITHIN PLACE: INSIDE THE OUTSIDE, A CROSS-GENRE CLASS
Faculty member: Anne-Marie Oomen
Monday, July 11 from 2:30–4:30 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room
Place is the magic character in most literary writing. It underpins and informs and shapes character and even plot. How do we handle place, and what do we do when the place in our minds (or in the real world) is large, unwieldy, or simply too overwhelming to write about efficiently or with some sense of literary purpose? What is the large and small of it? How might we get to the essence of place through “place within place”? How does the nested landscape (perhaps reflecting an inner landscape) echo how we understand place—be it field, stream, street or subway? In this class, we will explore place writing that macrocosm through its contained microcosm. You’ll have a chance to discover your place within place.
Reading note: How might the concept “place within place” make place more literary and symbolic? And manageable? What are the craft elements of this strategy?
Memoir: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Elizabeth Tova Bailey, pgs. 3-15
Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr, pgs. 3-12
Poetry: Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude. Ross Gay, pgs. 82-92
Recommended additional readings, especially for nonfiction writers:
The Signature of All Things. Elizabeth Gilbert. Viking 2013. Hardcover, pgs. 66-69
Sightlines: A Conversation with the Natural World. Kathleen Jamie, pgs. 1-18
An American Map. Anne-Marie Oomen. Wayne State University Press 2010. Title essay, “American Map”
THE MULTIPLE SELVES WITHIN: THE “I” AS PERSONA IN LITERARY NONFICTION & FICTION
Writer-in-residence: Mike Steinberg
Tuesday, July 12 from 1:15–3:15 p.m. in Haldan Hall Room 136
We know that human beings are made-up of a variety of “selves,” and depending on the demands of a particular situation/circumstance, we’ll most likely call on the “self” who’s best able to explain, understand, and deal with those demands. Fiction writers and poets have license to create narrators who are far removed from their real-life selves. But writers of literary nonfiction (personal essays, memoirs, literary journalism, and cultural criticism) can/should also learn to create different selves—different narrators, that is—for each piece we write. Which means that, in terms of bettering our craft and expanding our tool kit, we have something to learn from writers of fiction and poetry. And they, in turn, have something to learn from us. In this class, I’ll use examples from fiction, literary/creative nonfiction, and poetry to illustrate strategies designed to help all of us—essayists, memoirists, fiction writers, and poets—choose the narrators, the “selves,” that are best suited to narrate our particular stories.
Reading: I’ll have a handout (to be given out in class) of selected examples from works of literary nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.
Suggested reading: Carl Klaus, The Made-Up Self: Impersonation In The Personal Essay
WRITE THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL: CREATING PICTURE BOOKS INSPIRED BY YOUR LIFE
Guest faculty member: Kelly Starling Lyons
Tuesday, July 12 from 1:15–3:15 p.m. in Haldan Hall Room 136
One of the best pieces of advice I received as a beginning author was, “Write the story only you can tell.” How can your childhood memories inform your writing for kids? How do you let a story inspired by what you’ve experienced take on a life of its own? Through exploring mentor texts and advice from successful authors, students will use writing prompts to mine their lives for story ideas and jumpstart their mission to create authentic and compelling picture books.
Cooper, Floyd, Max and the Tag-Along Moon. City of Publication: Philomel, 2013. Print.
Laminack, Lester, Saturdays and Teacakes. City of Publication: Peachtree, 2004. Print.
Makhijani, Pooja, Mama’s Saris. New York: Little, Brown, 2007. Print.
Reagan, Jean, Always My Brother. Maine: Tilbury House, 2009. Print.
Tarpley, Natasha, I Love My Hair. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997. Print.
Woodson, Jacqueline, This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013. Print.
Wyeth, Sharon Dennis, Something Beautiful. New York: Doubleday, 1998. Print.
Reading Question: What relationships or experiences from your childhood stick with you? How can you transform those moments into the seeds of picture book stories? As you’re reading, consider how the author created memorable characters, strong emotions, authentic voice and a captivating plot.
DEEP TROUBLE: BUILDING FICTIONAL CONFLICT FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Guest Faculty Member: Mia Alvar
Wednesday, July 13 from 1:15–3:15 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room
Janet Burroway has said that “in literature only trouble is interesting,” and most writers agree that conflict—the struggle between opposing forces—is a core ingredient of compelling fiction. Yet, both beginning writers and seasoned pros often struggle to create fictional conflict, a process that can feel goofy and false—and sometimes results in melodrama, rather than stories that resonate with subtlety and depth. In this class, we’ll close-read a few short stories with an eye toward how their authors build authentic, nuanced conflict out of elements like character and setting. We’ll practice ways to develop conflict organically in our own fiction through writing exercises. (While the class is not limited to those currently working on a piece of literary fiction, participants who have an early draft, sketch, or story idea are encouraged to bring these along to use as a starting point for in-class exercises.)
Required reading: Munro, Alice. “The Office.” Dance of the Happy Shades. New York: Vintage, 1998. 59-74. Print.
Reading Questions: What purpose(s) do you think conflict serves in fiction? What external (physical) and internal (emotional or psychological) conflicts does Alice Munro set up and explore in her short story “The Office”? How are these conflicts brought to a crisis and resolution?
GRAPHIC NARRATIVE STORYTELLING
Guest Faculty: Josh Neufeld
Wednesday, July 13 from 1:15–3:15 p.m. in Haldan Hall Room 136
This class will delve into the realm of comics storytelling. We’ll discuss the constraints of the form—and the almost limitless narrative possibilities inherent within those restraints. In the majority of graphic narratives, scenes are the building blocks ofstorytelling, and we’ll discuss structuring comics that focus on action and dialogue (as opposed to narrative captions) to move forward. We’ll explore showing vs. telling vs. implying, encapsulation, and Scott McCloud’s five major types of panel transitions. We’ll also get into the rhythm of comics, how the size (and shape) of panels on a page affect readers’ experiences, and their sense of time. Finally, we’ll discuss the storytelling lessons we can learn from other media, such as film, prose, and even radio.
Scott McCloud, Making Comics, chapter 6: “Writing with Pictures,” pp. 8–53
Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, chapter 11.1: “Panel Design” (pp. 150–159)
Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, pp. 45–52 (the “democratic grid” and the “hierarchical grid”)
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapter 6: “Show and Tell,” pp. 152–161
Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art, particularly Chapter 4: “The Frame,” and Chapter 6: “Writing & Sequential Art”
Reading Question: What do you think of McCloud’s theory of panel transitions and storytelling choices? How do your own creative processes fit into those models?
OF THINGS PAST: FLASHBACK, ANALEPSIS, AND HOW FICTION REMEMBERS
Faculty Member: Jedediah Berry
Friday, July 15 from 1–3 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room
The wizards of the Harry Potter books employ a magical object called the Pensieve to review their thoughts and memories—and to share them with others. We writers, however, need no wands or runes to reveal a story’s past: only words and a working knowledge of the flashback. But “flashback” is a term lifted from filmmaking, and it doesn’t begin to cover the range and subtlety of what prose narrative can accomplish with backward shifts in time. In this class, we will examine how various writers have used analepsis (for so the ancients named it) in their fiction, sometimes with the boldness of a storyteller’s dancing among multiple timelines, sometimes with the gentleness of memory’s quiet searching. We will also devote some attention to prolepsis (or flash-forward, as the kids are calling it), and we will discuss how to use these techniques in our own work, lending to our fiction the layered richness of things past.
Required reading: Wolff, Tobias. “Bullet in the Brain.”
Reading note: The bullet of the title precipitates the major flashback of the story, but Wolff’s language brings the memory to life. How does he manage the transition(s) between the story’s present and past? What key words make this feat of analepsis possible?
POETS: Re-speak, re-feel, re-see, re-invent, re-listen, re-collect, re-write….REVISE!
Faculty member: Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Friday, July 15 from 1–3 p.m. in Haldan Hall Room 139
The focus of this talk (followed by a Q&A and/or conversation) will be the solitary process of revision: how can we acquire the tools we need to revise work on our own? After graduating, many writers with an MFA find it challenging to revise without the help of a workshop group or mentor. Students will learn how to strengthen and hone revision skills which systematically, and in great depth, address all the elements of a poem — with (one hopes) enough distance as to be able to agree with Wordsworth and define poetry as “an intense emotion recollected in tranquility.”
Required: Please bring 20 index cards to class.
THE DELIGHTS, CHALLENGES, AND PROCESS OF WRITING MAINSTREAM COMIC BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Guest faculty member: Steve Murphy
Friday, July 15 from 1–3 p.m. in Haldan Hall Room 136
Join the author as he describes surviving nearly 25 years of scripting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles children’s comic books—the tricks, challenges, and constraints of the medium; the subversive delights of incorporating social and environmental issues, of sneaking things by editors; and of collaborating with artists while trying to maintain one’s creative vision throughout the back-and-forth process that is so integral to a “team effort” medium like comic book creation. (And let’s not forget the whims of publishers, the hidden power of advertisers, and the inconsiderate beauty of monthly deadlines.)
Required reading: none
Question to Consider: Do comic books and graphic novels help or hinder a child’s entry into reading prose and literature?
COMMUNITY OUTREACH VIA WRITING WORKSHOPS
Guest faculty member: Barry Wallenstein
Friday, July 15 from 3:15–4:15 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room
In this session, Barry Wallenstein will discuss the evolution of the poetry outreach program he developed at The City College in New York and the practical issues involved with setting up writing workshops in cooperation with area schools and community centers. He will also demonstrate a model workshop dealing with creative writing—one that can be modified for elementary, junior high, and high school students and one that touches on all genres. Wallenstein says, “It’s enriching to any developing writer’s life to take his/her skills and enthusiasms into the surrounding community by leading writing workshops at all levels of education and with as diverse a population as can be found. The benefits for the receiving institution are obvious.”