Phoenix College is launching its’ new Creative Writing Facebook page: PC Rising. They want to connect students, professors, and alumni with other writers from the downtown Phoenix area. Follow them @PhxCollegeRising for more information about their students, publications, and upcoming workshops!
The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference is three days of craft talks, panels, workshops and presentations at Arizona State University. With more than 50 sessions from over 25 faculty members in multiple genres and fields, the goal is to provide writers with opportunities to make personal and professional connections, advance their craft, and deepen their engagement with the literary field. View the full conference schedule here.
About the conference from the host, The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing:
“We are committed to creating an accessible and inclusive space for writers of all backgrounds, genres, and skill levels. Conference faculty and programming encompass many genres which can often go under served in the literary field, including Young Adult, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, Crime Fiction, Translation, Graphic Novels, Hybrid, and more.
Special topics like climate change, social justice, and other contemporary issues also feature prominently.
Publishing, editing, agents, and other aspects of the business of publishing are included as well.
Beyond sessions, attendees can also participate in receptions, discussion groups, after-hour socials, and other opportunities to connect with fellow conference-goers, develop relationships, and build community.”
The 2018 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference will take place from Thursday, February 22 through Saturday, February 24. Writers of all backgrounds and experience levels are encouraged to attend. Register here.
On Workshops: An Exercise in Character
There’s nothing like the first day of class. Coffee, notebooks, and laptops are strewn around the table. The awkwardness of either small talk or silence permeates the room. As the seats fill, the energy is palpable, and the student body seems to carry with it a collective question. What are you about to make us do?
I teach short fiction, often in workshops settings, and though I vary my lesson plans considerably, there is one outline I return to no matter the age or skill level because it is fundamental to fiction writing. This lesson is on characterization, the only lesson I have that is, if not fixed, consistent.
When getting to know a new class, I ask for names, where students are from, how they like to spend free time, their favorite book or movie, and what led them to my class. Sometimes I throw in silly questions, such as how they’d spend a million dollars in three days or who they’d interview first if they had a talk show and could have anyone living or dead on as a guest. In other words, I cover the who, what, when, where, and why to get to know them.
To introduce students to characterization is to introduce them, in part, to all aspects of short-form storytelling. For this reason, I follow introductions by asking my students to answer the first four intro questions for a fictional character as well—preferably a brand-new character. If the more far-reaching question was posed, I ask them to answer that, too.
There is rarely a lot of struggle with this exercise. Characterization is a natural thing. We have so many personal experiences and interactions to draw from that we can often come up with a character by asking ourselves a few simple questions. In fact, if you’re reading this, try it. It’ll only take a few minutes.
- Place of origin:
- Favorite past-time:
- Favorite book or movie:
Think of characterization in a similar manner to how we get to know people. When we first meet a person, we only have appearance to go by, and it’s easy to deduce a thing or two from body language. In conversation, more information is gathered. The more we see a person and interact, the more data we have at hand to create a portrait in our minds.
Examining fabricated characters at this point, after only a few questions, it would seem they are mere acquaintances. We need to know more, so here are a few more questions:
- What does this character want more than anything?
- What’s in the way?
- Greatest fear?
- Does the character have a favorite color? Favorite food? A quirky habit?
Depending on the length of the workshop, we continue:
- Would you date your character?
- Would you be friends?
After adding to our list of questions and answers, a character begins to take shape, and at this early point in the workshop, I tell the class it’s time to share. When we go around the room, the magic begins to take shape. Suddenly, the number of people in the room has doubled. A fresh energy takes over as these quirky new people (usually people) are introduced.
Characters inevitably reflect aspects of either ourselves, people we know, characters from our dreams, and/or fictional characters we’ve been inspired by. We’re processing information day by day, so whether we’re conscious of it or not, all information shapes the way we think and perceive the world as artists. This is never more evident than in spontaneous creative efforts.
Because characters are often a collage of previous interactions, questions about human behavior, dreams, hopes, worries, and joys, they may even lead us to corners of our mind that are strange or uncomfortable. “How did I come up with this disturbing person?” a student might ask. Sometimes a disclaimer will be made: “Just so you know, my writing is not usually so dark.” Or, “I don’t like this person at all. He’s nothing like me.”
Characters, when made up on the spot, are not a reflection of us so much as a reflection of what’s been on our mind, what we know, and what we’d like to know. And in every case, they reflect passions and fears.
That’s not to say that if a student writes a serial killer character, that student is a serial killer. What it does mean is that if we write a serial killer character, that character will likely have some humanizing trait that we share, or reflect a fear we have about the world.
Writing is a way to reframe reality by exploring our emotions through characterization and action, through pure creative output, which, ideally, distills all the information we have and carries with us into potent little worlds that seem both unfamiliar and not.
As we conclude, I challenge my students (and anyone reading this) to live like writers, to observe the world like writers, to take notes and take stock. Feel fully that thick, humid breeze or hear the birdsong during morning walks—hear what is always there but you never pay attention to.
Carry a notebook. When you come up with a beautiful line, a new insight, a new observation, or just pure guttural emotion, write it down as soon as you can. Explore it on the page. And through all your observing and listening, keep your new character in the back of your mind.
As you live, this character solidifies. And as you continue to write, I suggest creating a few more and traveling with them, too, examining the world through multiple sets of eyes, and writing when so moved to do so. In this way, characters become vehicles by which to study the world. They can return in different scenarios or deliver a single message and move on.
The more I write, the more likely it is I’ll see a character return, only with each story she becomes stronger, more defined. Sometimes characters from different stories end up meeting in a narrative some months or years down the line. Sometimes, they fizzle out. But when we know our characters, really know them, our writing feels less like work and more like opportunity, a journey.
The Northern Arizona Book Festival will be celebrating its 21st year at Flagstaff, Arizona on October 10-16, 2016. This weeklong literary extravaganza will be filled with readings, workshops, and book signings. This year, they will feature over fifty writers, such as Diana Gabaldon, Nicole Walker, William Trowbridge, Miles Waggener, Doug Peacock, Matt Bell, William Pitt Root, and Pamela Uschuk.
The events will take place at Uptown Pubhouse, Firecreek, The Orpheum, and numerous other bars, restaurants, book stores, and locally owned businesses throughout the Flagstaff historic downtown.
The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing organizes the annual writers conference Desert Nights, Rising Stars. Every year they bring writers from across the country to a three-day event full of workshops, classes, and readings. This past February was my second year volunteering at the event. And once again, I felt like a groupie when meeting famous authors.
After being in the financial industry for so many years, I sometimes feel like an outsider in the writing world. But, one of the main reasons I love this industry is because everyone is interested in you–in your writing and in you as a person, not the company you represent. Being you is important in the writing world. You are the only person that is more passionate about your work than anyone else.
It is incredible to be able to meet so many writers at the same place. Being a writer sometimes feels idiosyncratic and isolated, and this event has helped me to see that I’m not the only one that feels that way. I have met wonderful volunteers, attendees, and faculty who I befriended and keep in contact with.
There is some sort of magic in being able to talk with the author (Manuel Muñoz) of that book you read a semester ago about craft, endings, and the struggles of being a bilingual Latino writer.
There is some sort of magic in reading aloud your work in front of excellent writers like Alice Eve Cohen.
There is some sort of magic in being able to see that behind a published book there is a person who is not too different from you. And that they were once in your role; they were once an aspiring author learning the craft of writing.
There is some sort of magic in listening to real literary agents share their wisdom on the world of publishing and learning to“never pitch over the summer” and “never send query letters on the holidays.”
There is some sort of magic in eating lunch with the people you aspire to be like: award-winning writers who just signed their book for you; writers who just told you that success is a mix of hard work and a lucky break; writers who told you that they hope to get your book signed one day.
There is some sort of magic during these three conference days everywhere you want to see it; you can even find it in the delicious afternoon snacks.
The most important element of this kind of conference is how you feel at the end of it. How you feel during these three days would be worthless if you do nothing about it. If you feel inspired at the end, then it was worth it; you know can go back and keep writing. If you feel discouraged because you learned the toughness of the writing and publishing business, then it was worth it; you know can go back and keep writing. Between MFA readings, panels, conferences, and classes, the magical key that everyone agrees with is that the only way to be successful is to sit and write your best work.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Sarah Pape.
Sarah Pape lives in Northern California and teaches English at California State University, Chico. Her poetry has recently been published in The Southeast Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Watershed and Cadence of Hooves: A Celebration of Horses. Her chapbook, Road Z, was published by Yarroway Mountain Press. Committed to community arts and literary collaboration, she is on the board of the 1078 Gallery and leads creative writing workshops.
You can read along with her poems in Issue 8 of Superstition Review.
To subscribe to our iTunes U channel, go to http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/superstition-review-online/id552593273
Yesterday, I started my first day of work at New Era Public School by attending the first of a three-day workshop led by four members of CERTAD (Center for Educational Research, Training, And Development), a research collective operating as a part of the Srishti College of Art, Design, and Technology in Bangalore. Each of the workshop’s coordinators has extensive experience in very different areas of study from educational psychology to art education to environmental biology to theater education, but the combined variations of their chosen disciplines was actually a conscious decision to promote the central idea of the entire workshop: that the rigidity of modern educational paradigms in India are not entirely conducive to assisting students in properly learning the requisite state-mandated material. As a result, the workshop coordinators focused on engaging the teachers in the kinds of activities that could be utilized in a classroom environment to encourage critical thinking among their own students.
First, they started the workshop with a handful of ice-breaker exercises like pairing up the teachers and having them spin, clap, and make eye-contact with each other in synchronization. After a while of this, the coordinators invited each teacher to randomly select a scrap of paper that had one part of a quotation by a famous person regarding education. After all of the teachers had found their proper groups and pieced together their quotations, these smaller groups were divided into different sub-workshops run by one coordinator each that focused on different approaches to classroom engagement from visual to kinesthetic to spatial to data-related. In each of these sub-workshops, coordinators introduced teachers to many different activities that they could implement in their classrooms to actively engage different kinds of students in the learning process. These included several spatial, linguistic, naturalistic, and bodily-kinesthetic activities that seemed relatively simple to all the teachers but also had the added effect of showing them how much more open-minded they could be in the classroom environment. One workshop coordinator, Manjari, explained the importance of differential instruction to the staff and myself by explaining Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. She said that the methods of teaching that had dominated the classroom environment so far focused on the existence of the average student around whose ability the curriculum had been decidedly fixed, therefore creating the strata of students from below average to average to above average or gifted around an unchanging teaching approach. Basically, you either don’t get it, you sort of get it, or you get it.
Now the teachers at NEPS are anything but unprofessional. They take their work and responsibilities to their students very seriously. But even they recognize the overwhelming emphasis Indian society has placed on board examinations, which leads to an enormous amount of stress among a student body that is already fraught with various socioeconomic and development problems. The teachers do everything in their power with the limited time they have in the classroom to teach their students, but without getting the kids to actively participate in their learning, retention and growth are both found wanting. If one accepts the premise of Gardner’s theory (which all the teachers in the workshop wholeheartedly did), there is no such thing as an “average student,” only students with different types of prominent intelligence. Moreover, if every child is indeed different and thus learns differently, different approaches must be implemented in the classroom to engage those intelligences. If a student has trouble learning through spatial methods, perhaps he or she will learn more effectively through body-kinesthetics; if neither, perhaps a linguistic or naturalistic approach would be more productive. Essentially, the point that the workshop coordinators were trying to drive home is that each student has different developmental needs that can be nurtured in different ways. And although it is impossible for each teacher to give total attention in this manner to each and every one of the dozens of students that walk into their classroom every day, they can learn how to at least assess these different needs through more inventive means. In short, it wasn’t a workshop to teach new methods (which there still were), but more so about developing new methodologies.
I have to say, it’s been a long few days and although I am anxious, I am also excited to try my hand at this most noble profession eight hours a day, five days a week, and apparently all the time in between.
I am ready to work. My only goal is to be prepared. My only hope is to be rigid and flexible, kind and firm, and engaging and authoritative with my students.