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 2018 residency, scheduled for January 5 – 14, 2018, is Friday, December 22, 2017. 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 member: Laura Williams McCaffrey Class type: CC&T 

Saturday, January 6 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 139

One of the true joys of writing speculative fiction is creating imagined worlds, whether they be wholly invented or merely a tiny bit skewed. Yet when crafting speculative fiction short stories—intended for either children or adults—authors have very little space in which to offer imagined worlds, while they simultaneously invite readers into characters’ lives and stories. In this class, we’ll explore how to create vibrant speculative worlds, characters, and stories in the small space of the short story.

To prepare for class, please consider the following questions for each reading and take notes for discussion: 

What do you learn about the world? How do you learn about it?

How do you learn about the central character and his or her central yearning? How do the character’s personality and central yearnings relate to the world?

How do you learn about the antagonistic force and his or her central yearning? How do the antagonistic force’s personality and yearnings relate to the world? If the antagonistic force isn’t a character, how is its power or influence conveyed?

What relationship does the ending have to the story’s beginning and middle?

As you read, at what point did you realize these stories are about more than what-happens-next? How does the author convey this to you?

The class will also be a working session, so please bring a story in progress or a story idea to work on. You don't have to have written any speculative fiction short stories before entering the class, but come prepared to try. If you're an experienced writer of speculative fiction short stories, come prepared to hone your current skills as well as complement them with new ones.

Required Reading: Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children.” This is widely available. For an online pdf: http://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinichol/CreativeWriting/323/MarquezManwithWings.htm

Lanagan, Margo. “Sweet Pippit.” From Lanagan’s collection Black Juice.

Saunders, George. “The Semplica Girl Diaries.” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/15/the-semplica-girl-diaries You can also read an expanded version of this story in his collection The Tenth of December.



Guest faculty member: Alexander Danner Class type: CC&T


Sunday, January 7 from 3:45 – 5:45 p.m. in Haldan 136

Unlike most media, the formal structures of comics are presented visibly to every reader; the elements of pacing and narrative flow take shape through the spatial arrangement of panels. For this reason, formal play is a hallmark of nearly all comics, experimental and traditional mainstream alike. This course will examine the “rules” of comics structure, with the aim of subverting, complicating, and breaking those rules to create meaning through awareness of form. Building from the linguistic theories of Neil Cohn, we will look also toward the development of a visual poetry native to the comics form.


Required Reading: McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art. William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014. Note: The foundational text of comics theory, McCloud’s work is something with which every student of comics should be familiar. In particular, we will use McCloud's discussion of word/image relationships, as well as interrogating his concept of comics as a temporal map.

“A Visual Lexicon.” Public Journal of Semiotics, Jan. 2007, pp. 35–56:

http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/P/visuallexicon.pdf Note: This sophisticated theory of comics details the visual language underlying the form from linguistic and cognitive perspectives. We will use his concept of panels as “Attention Units,” as well as applying the structure of his lexical representation matrix to the idea of creating visual poetry.


Recommended Reading: Cohn, Neil.The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. Bloomsbury Academic, An Imprint of Bloomsbury Pub. Plc., 2013.

Madden, Matt. 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style. Chamberlain Bros, 2005.

McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Harper, 2007.

Auster, Paul, et al. Paul Auster's City of Glass. Avon, 1994. (adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli)

Spiegelman, Art, et al. Breakdowns. Stroemfeld, 1981.

Comeau, Joey, and Emily Horne. “A Softer World.”A Softer World, www.asofterworld.com/.




Guest faculty member: Stephen Kuusisto Class type: CC&T


Sunday, January 7 from 3:45 – 5:45 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room

The Lyric Essay may be understood as a prose narrative characterized by subjectivity and deep feeling. In contemporary nonfiction, the term “lyric essay” has been applied to writing that follows many of the impulses of lyric poetry. The essayist is concerned with urgency, music, personal or cultural anguish—or, to put it another way, cultural mystery. Lyric prose is driven by the writer’s pleasure in language and not by fidelity to narrative conventions. This class will offer students the opportunity to color outside the lines, as we’ll write lyrical prose that uses hybrid forms and techniques.

Required reading: Selections from “Seneca Review’—provided as handouts.



Faculty: Josh Neufeld Class type: CC&T


Monday, January 8 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 139

Through classics like Maus, Persepolis, and Understanding Comics, the comics form has proven to be a fertile ground for nonfiction. This class will investigate how graphic narratives tackle memoir, journalism, historical, and explanatory/educational stories. We will discuss various techniques for using research, reference and primary source material — interviews, journal entries, photographs, on-site sketches, etc. — and how to organize that material to help craft (and individualize) the narrative — giving it authenticity through specificity. Finally, we’ll explore some of these concepts in an autobiographical in-class exercise. 

Required Reading:

Suggested Reading:



Faculty member: Sandra Scofield Class type: CC&T


Tuesday, January 9 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room

Regardless of genre, when you tell a story or incorporate narrative in creative discourse, you are taking the reader toward the pleasure—best, the surprise, of arrival. Everything that came before comes together in a way that gives the reader satisfaction and insight. Regardless of your narrative strategy (chronology, POV, balance of scene and summary, etc.), the story accrues meaning as it is told—and read. Likewise, poems accrue.

We will look at texts with a particular interest in their structures and their use of details—two important elements of any work of prose or poetry that has a narrative core. As you read the assigned texts, consider the “smallness” and specificity of details and how they accrue meaning as the story is developed. Consider the structure of the text, how one thing leads to another, where the turns are, etc.

We will do a close reading and discussion of the texts.Also, please identify a true story you want to tell, one that you have not already written, and bring this statement (completed): I would like to write about......(the time that/how something happened/the way that/the person who/etc). We will begin an exercise based on our discussion and your prompt.

Required Reading: “Araby” by James Joyce. A short story, widely available.

“Losing My Sight,” by Lisel Mueller.

Plus: the first five chapters of the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.


Task & Question: In each text: Write a response to the selections. What image or combination of images not only reproduced the person, place, or thing in question, but also caused the subject to accumulate meaning through the rendering? Try to see the arrangement or sequencing of the details. Try to think of where the narrative has gone; where you are, at the end.

Limit yourself to a paragraph or stanza of comments.

*Please note: Much of our discussion will be made up of observations of the texts. Everyone will be expected to participate; we will go round-robin, rather than waiting on inspiration. In this way, the discussion, too, will “arrive.”



Faculty member: Kathleen Aguero Class type: CC&T


Tuesday, January 9 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 139

The actual story lines of many myths are simple, yet these myths have been retold and refashioned in literature and art throughout the centuries. Why is it that myth continues to yield new perspectives, and how can we use the metaphors myth provides to structure and deepen our own writing? In exploring these questions, we will focus on poems and a story that treat the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the epic of The Odyssey; we’ll also do an in-class writing exercise based on myth.

Required Reading: Familiarity with the stories of Orpheus & Eurydice and main scenes of The Odyssey are required. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology is a good source for brief versions of these texts. Also read the following poems & short story. A bibliography will be provided in class.

*Poems: (Originally found in Orpheus and Company: Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology,” ed. Deborah DeNicola)

  • “Eurydice in Darkness,” Peter Davison
  • “Eurydice Comes Back after Twenty Years,” Helen Trubek Glenn
  • “Orpheus Reconsidered,” William Pitt Root
  • “Circe,” Dian Blakely
  • “Circe’s Power,” Louise Gluck
  • “In the Land of the Lotus Eaters,” Tony Hoagland
  • “Homecoming,” Martha Collins

Fiction: “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty


Recommended Reading: “Sonny’s Blues,” James Baldwin


READING QUESTION: How do these authors explore and revise myth in service of their own themes? How might you use myth to deepen your own writing?




Faculty member: Amy Hoffman Class Type: CC&T


Wednesday, January 10 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 136 


Some critics fear that, with daily newspapers cutting back or eliminating their book review sections, reviewing is a dying art; in fact, it is alive and well in literary magazines, alternative publications, on the Internet, and even in some writers’ personal journals. In this workshop, we will consider the various reasons why people read and write reviews: their purposes, audiences, styles, and forms. We will practice writing a short, Publisher’s Weekly-style review in class and discuss the results.

Required: A book—one you’ve read and enjoyed recently in your genre. Please bring it with you.

Required Reading: “Should Critics Aim to Be Open-Minded or to Pass Judgment?” by Thomas Mallon and Liesl Schillinger, New York Times, August 29, 2017. Found online here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/books/review/criticism-objectivity-judgement.html?_r=0

“Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers,” by Bret Stephens, New York Times, August 25, 2017. Found online here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/opinion/tips-for-aspiring-op-ed-writers.html

Writers’ Guidelines, Women’s Review of Books.


Suggested Reading: Pool, Gail. Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2007, 192 pp., $19.95, paperback.




Guest faculty member: Miriam Glassman Class type: CC&T


Thursday, January 11 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 136

“Plot is Character Revealed by Action.” Even in picture books, Aristotle’s guiding principle holds true. This class will focus on exploring the interaction of character and plot in picture books. Through a close reading of character-centric texts, students will examine the traits that create endearing and enduring picture book characters, analyze how plot arises organically from these characters, and discuss how character and plot are expressed both visually and through text. Writers currently developing their own picture books will examine their characters’ traits as a way of honing the narrative and identifying the heartbeat of their story. In addition, we will examine four basic plots commonly found in picture books as well as the pattern these plots often follow.

Required Reading:

  • Allard, Harry, Miss Nelson Is Missing!
  • Bemelmans, Ludwig, Madeline 
  • Burton, Virginia Lee, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
  • Falconer, Ian, Olivia
  • Henkes, Kevin, Julius, The Baby of the World
  • Hoban, Russell Bread and Jam for Frances
  • Keats, Ezra Jack, The Snowy Day
  • Leaf, Munro, The Story of Ferdinand the Bull 
  • Sendak, Maurice, Where The Wild Things Are
  • Steig, William, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
  • Watt, Melanie Scaredy Squirrel
  • Willems, Mo, Knuffle Bunny


Reading Note: Bring the title of a picture book (no need for the actual book) featuring a favorite character of yours. Answer these questions about the character: What are the traits, both positive and/or troublesome that make the character appealing to you? What are the elements that make the narrative satisfying? Can you identify the heartbeat of the story?

Also, if you are working on a picture book, think about your character’s traits, and how they shape your narrative. Bring any questions, and let’s brainstorm about how your character and plot work together to create a satisfying story.

Suggested Reading: 

  • Marcus, Leonard. Show Me A Story: Why Picture Books Matter. Candlewick Press, 2012.
  • Paul, Ann Whitford. Writing Picture Books. Writer’s Digest Books, 2009.
  • Shulevitz, Uri, Writing With Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books. Watson-Guptill Publications, 1985.




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


Friday, January 12 from 1:15 – 3:15 p.m. in Haldan 136

Some of our most enduring novels for young people are not only great mysteries but enriched by the complexity and breadth of their characters. Whether it’s new or emerging ideas of family and self, social justice, disability, or cultural differences, mystery stories offer a unique opportunity to combine an exciting plot with larger artistic and social themes. In this class, we will look at what all good mysteries possess: a solid cast of (suspicious) characters, a well-constructed plot, and carefully planted clues that keep us guessing until the end. We will also address the importance of well-rounded, complex characters with the following questions: How do I create a mystery that supports emotionally or culturally rich characters? What details lead to their greater authenticity? This is a good craft class for writers who wish to deepen their characters and add urgency to their storytelling, regardless if they’re writing a mystery or not.

Suggested Reading: 

London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon