Classes for Audit

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, Massachusetts. A select number of classes are open to serious writers who wish to audit graduate-level Craft, Criticism, & Theory (CC&T) courses. Auditors are asked to commit to doing the preparatory work and required reading for each class attended. Each class is two-hours long and costs $45.

The deadline for registering to audit classes during our winter 2019 residency, scheduled for January 4 – 13, 2019, is Thursday, December 20, 2018. Please read our class audit policy before you register online. http://www.pmc.edu/class-audit-policy

You can see the bios of our faculty and guests here: http://www.pmc.edu/mfa-faculty--staff and http://www.pmc.edu/upcoming-special-guests


Faculty mentor: Josh Neufeld Class type: CC&T

Saturday, January 5: 1:15 - 3:15 p.m. Location: Haldan 136

Graphic narratives/comics are a hybrid of words and drawings, but a good story underpins the whole thing. In that sense, the art supports and is secondary to the story. Ergo, no matter how skillful the art is, if the story is weak, the comic will be as well. But the reverse is also true: the art does not have to be elaborate or beautiful; it just needs to render its part in the story and can be quite simple. To that end, this workshop is about teaching you the basic fundamentals of drawing for comics, so even the most insecure aspiring cartoonist will feel confident about their art. We’ll begin by showing that many celebrated comics incorporate rudimentary art. Then we’ll jump into drawing, beginning with a copying activity, followed by exercises designed to “boil down” real-life objects into their most basic (geometric) shapes. Next will be a series of engaging exercises that encourage humor, intuition, and spontaneity. Finally, we’ll collaborate on a spontaneous narrative exercise: creating self-contained minicomics that embrace the whimsical and the unexpected. You’ll leave the class with confidence in your drawing skills, and enthusiasm for making comics.

Required Reading (on Moodle):

  • Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, “Week 1: Spontaneous Drawing,” pp. 25–28.

Suggested Reading:


Faculty member: Brendan Kiely Class type: CC&T

Saturday, January 5: 3:30 - 5:30 p.m. Location: President's Dining Room

Writers of fiction provide depth and meaning to their stories by cultivating nuanced relationships between characters and setting. Whether we are writing realistic or speculative fiction, we bring the immediacy of place to life through sensory description. By using specific examples from two literary novels (one adult, one middle grade) this class will focus on one fundamental question in the craft of writing fiction: How does the setting shape a character’s psychology and how does a character’s psychology influence the depiction of the setting?

Required Reading:

  • Synder, Laurel. Orphan Island. New York: Walden Pond/HarperCollins, 2017.
  • Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage the Bones. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2011.

Reading Note: The class will use specific examples from the required texts to form a common language for addressing the course’s fundamental question. The close textual analysis of word choice, timing and delivery of description, and understanding place as metaphor and allusion will be made richer having read the entirety of each text. It is not absolutely necessary to bring the texts to class (handouts will be provided), though please feel free to bring the texts if you prefer to make notes directly in your books, or want to offer other examples from the texts in the discussion.


Guest faculty member: Hank Phillippi Ryan Class type: CC&T

Sunday, January 6: 3:45 - 5:45 p.m. Location: Haldan 136

Full disclosure: that's impossible. As Somerset Maugham (or someone) said, "There are three rules to writing a bestselling novel. Problem is no one knows what they are." But if the question is: can Hank Phillippi Ryan help me take my idea for a mystery and show me how to turn it into a living breathing book? Yes, indeed. You’ll need talent, and persistence, and craft. Some of it is magic, of course. But some of it can be learned! In this class, Hank will give you a structure, a template, an architecture—exactly what you need to organize your story and grow it into the compelling mystery it's meant to be. You’ll leave with a personal roadmap, some answers, and a lot of inspiration.

Required reading: handouts to be provided.


Faculty member: Nicole Terez Dutton Class type: CC&T

Sunday, January 6: 3:45 - 5:45 p.m. Location: Haldan 139

The miracle of some poems is the way they open themselves as a world for the reader to enter and inhabit. But how do these poems begin? Where and how is the reader first beckoned? How do these beginning notes map the rest of the poem? In this class we’ll investigate how opening lines launch poems, giving particular attention to the mechanics and narrative strategies through which a reader is compelled, startled, or seduced into the heart of a poem. We will examine work by Betsy Sholl, Yusef Komunyakaa, Eugene Gloria, Brandon Som, and Cate Marvin.

Required reading: handout to be provided.


Faculty member: Laura Williams McCaffrey Class type: CC&T

Monday, January 7: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. Location: Haldan 136

Speculative worlds aren’t entirely built of figments—inventions, dreams, grey haze. They’re also built from realistic materials. Writers use a variety of techniques to blend the real and the unreal as they form unique worlds. Ged’s land in A Wizard of Earthsea is not the same as Frodo’s in The Lord of the Rings or as Keturah’s in Keturah and Lord Death, though all these worlds are partially constructed from medieval folklore and history. Despite their shared foundations, they are as distinctive as your home from your neighbor’s. What also makes each story unique in its blend of the real and the unreal is the ways in which writers reveal these aspects to readers, ways that are fundamentally connected to point of view. A world might appear differently to its youngest residents than to its oldest ones. It may even appear differently to an older sister and a younger brother, though both grow to adulthood in the same house, with the same parents, during the same years. Characters’ circumstances and personalities alter their perceptions of their worlds—the perceptions they offer to readers. So how do we, as writers, blend the real and unreal to form distinctive, intriguing speculative worlds? How do we reveal our blends through the idiosyncratic eyes of characters? In this class, we’ll explore answers to these questions. Please come prepared for lecture, discussion, and at least one writing exercise.

Required reading: Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races and Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

Reading Notes: We will be discussing the answers to the following questions. All students, including auditors, should come prepared for discussion by marking exemplary passages or by bringing notes on the texts. [Please BRING the books with you.]

What do you identify as realistic in Stiefvater’s and Tan’s worlds? What do you identify as speculative? How do these relate to each other?

How do separate characters reveal separate aspects, both real and speculative, of the worlds in these two stories?


Guest faculty member: Alex Myers Class type: CC&T

Wednesday, January 9: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. Location: President's Dining Room

This class will look at writing about gender identity, particularly transgender identity, in fiction and nonfiction; and how to create, depict, and craft compelling characters who are non-binary. To ensure everyone is on the same page with terminology, we will begin with a short primer on gender identity; we’ll then then proceed to examine some examples of transgender characters in fiction and nonfiction, looking at how to avoid reducing transgender narrative to “traumaporn” or to a single, expected storyline. We will engage in some close reading, round-table discussion, and (time allowing) writing exercises (time not allowing, I’ll provide some writing exercises “to go”).

Required Reading: Handouts will be given in class.


Faculty member: Dzvinia Orlowsky Class type: CC&T

Wednesday, January 9: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. Location: Haldan 136

Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz describes the act of the poet as a passionate pursuit of the real. Taking a close look at early as well as contemporary villanelles and pantoums, we will try to determine what separates the real from double-talk. Poems by Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, Haydn Carruth, Marilyn Hacker, Donald Justice, and others will be considered to illustrate how repeated phrases create subtle shifts of meaning. This class will incorporate an in-class writing assignment. Bring one of your poems to revise as a villanelle or pantoum.

Required reading: In-class handouts to be provided.

Reading note/questions: How do these poems fulfill their demand for pattern while maintaining their rigor and emotional intensity?


Guest faculty member: John Florio Class Type: CC&T

Wednesday, January 9: 3:15 - 5:15 p.m. Location: Haldan 136

Okay, you’ve written your memoir. Or you’re in the middle of writing it, but looking to expand your universe. Either way, you want to dive into a fresh project—another truth-seeking mission—but one that puts somebody else in the spotlight. In this class, our goal will be to pull your next project off of your “maybe” list and drop it squarely into the “this can be done” column. We’ll start by identifying the hallmarks of a strong nonfiction story; we’ll then discuss how to present your ideas to agents and editors via query letters and full-blown proposals. (I’ll bring in examples.) We’ll follow our talk with an informal workshop to discuss your ideas and determine the best way to bring each one to life.

Required reading: There is no required reading, but you’ll get the most out of the class if, in the weeks leading up to the residency, you look through published articles, essays, and nonfiction books that you find compelling. (While reading, consider why the stories attracted editors.) Most important, come to class with an idea or subject area that you might like to explore.


Guest faculty: Angela Dominguez Class type: CC&T

Thursday, January 10: 1:15 - 3:15 p.m. Location: Haldan 136

One of the greatest joys at any age is reading a great picture book. When stories and images enhance each other, the results can be humorous, action-packed, and incredibly poignant. While these brief stories may appear effortless, they can be some of the most challenging stories to write. In this class, we will analyze the structure of picture books, their tone, and their purpose. We’ll review the process for starting a new project broken down into sequential steps. Finally, we will identify strategies that will help you when writing your own children's books.

Required Reading: There is no specific required reading for this class, but it is strongly suggested that, in the weeks prior, you read a few picture books. Take notes based on what you observe.

ALSO required: Select a favorite contemporary picture book published within the past ten years. As an exercise, type up the story. Note the pagination to the best of your ability. Bring the story and the physical book to class. Be prepared to share what makes the book successful and what you noticed once the words were separated from the images.

 Recommended Reading: 

McCannon, Desdemona, Sue Thorton, and Yadzia Williams. The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2008.

Smith, Lane. Grandpa Green. New York: Roaring Brook, 2011.

Martinez-Neal, Juana. Alma and How She Got Her Name. Somerville: Candlewick, 2018.

Willems, Mo. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2003.



Guest faculty member: Marika McCoola Class type: CC&T

Thursday, January 10: 1:15 - 3:15 p.m. Location: Haldan 139

Though they share elements with prose, poetry, and picture books, both the writing and reading of comics require knowledge of additional terminology and skills. In this class, students be introduced to the vocabulary and elements that make up a comic before moving to consider the craft. Due to format, comics add considerations such as page turn, gutter, and image-text balance to the writing process. Through a combination of lecture, examples, and prompts, students will learn how to write a comics script, and how the illustrator's interpretation can affect the script. The class will focus purely on the writing of comics; no artistic experience necessary. (Someone else might create the art for your script!)

Required Reading:  Fink, Margaret. comics. The Chicago School of Media Theory, Winter 2007, https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/comics/

Plus: one graphic novel of your choice if you have not read one before.

Reading Question: What is a comic and how do you describe it?


Guest faculty member: Sheela Chari Class type: CC&T

Friday, January 11: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. Location: Haldan 136

Most of the time, point of view means who is telling the story. But sometimes you need more than one person to tell a story. Multiple points of view in a novel is a great way to move plot, add suspense, and deepen your characters as your readers encounter each of them intimately through their thoughts and feelings. Multiple POV can also be a challenge for both the writer and for the reader. In this workshop, we’ll look at some of the common pitfalls you might run into while writing multiple POV, for early middle grade through young adult. We’ll talk about avoiding redundancies, keeping voices consistent, and how to effectively juggle multiple timelines across chapters and sections of the book. But we’ll also talk about the joys and advantages that multiple POVs bring to the writer, and some of the quirky and inventive ways you can use this form to enrich your storytelling.

Suggested Reading: 

Young Adult:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Middle Grade

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari

Schooled by Gordan Korman