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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Notes From Pine Manor College: Solstice Program in Creative Writing, 10 Day Residency

These notes are a brief (and subjective) look at what an MFA student (me) jots down during an intense and profound experience of living, eating, working, and breathing with fellow writers for 10 days straight.....Take a peek inside. Again, these are just notes from the different workshops and readings and not a complete picture of the entire residency at Pine Manor College's Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing. 

JAN 1


Meg and Tanya: Opening Remarks

*Since I'm a third semester student, I kind of just listened and didn't really write anything down until our group was addressed:

Critical Essay (4th semester students offered their advice)

-Cindy "Love that I have words of wisdom to share…Pick a topic that you are passionate about…the critical paper becomes another piece of creative work…"

-Kerry "Get brave to talk about your topic in personal way…Why do I want to do this–keep asking [yourself this question].

-Not sure who said this one. My notes were smudgy here!
Being courageous–initial idea didn't work at all. Be willing to go back to the drawing board. Willing to sit with anxiety.

***REMEMBER!!!!!! Mentor is not God or (a god)!
Critical thesis (what I am writing this semester)
    focused topic
    tackle of of your weaknesses

FIRST WORKSHOP WITH THE GREAT LABAN CARRICK HILL   

Advice for looking at our fiction:
1. Who is talking? Is their sensibility and value being revealed in every paragraph
2. What's at stake? The so-what question.
3. Is the action being driven by emotion not by the need to move the plot forward. The plot movement is the result of the emotions?
4. Come up with questions that we should be asking ourselves.

Goals
-Kimberly finish draft
-Hannah to approximate
-Jasen- get emotional movement
-Kathleen- go back fill in the gaps
-Krystal fill in the gaps

Tell Laban what you are looking for (out of workshop sessions) don't be passive

"We want the best for the story."- Laban

Discussion on packets

Cover Letters of packets is an extended synopsis of what you are doing.

What are your goals this packet? What's the upcoming plan? How does this packet fit in with the last what are they issues you have struggled with and what have you mastered What is your detailed response to mentor's comment dialogue.

Random note that seems kind of cool:
How identity is performed so that it is not a characature. Failure of imagination.

FIRST READING OF RESIDENCY (Each night we attend readings of faculty and graduating students as well as visiting guests.)


Pine Manor faculty and poet goddess, Dzvinia Orlowsky

I just love the way she reads and the sound of her voice so I wrote down some random parts of her reading that struck me:
-"Magic power of 7"
-"At midnight animals will let you know what you did wrong."
-"Congratulate my nerves for chewing through the last leaf of sleep."

Sequential poems, using numbers instead of curly queues
"talons" (I just like that word)

-"the finger is pointing at you and you don't know why"

JAN 2
 

MORNING WORKSHOP

( Each day we focus on one of our classmate's work and critique it. I found it incredibly helpful to listen and jot down the feedback for everyone as there was something I could learn for myself.)

 Kimberly's piece (Most of these comments are from our workshop leader, Laban).
-emerging from emotion
-emotion needs to drive this
-we are cabinet makers. A chapter is an end table you've constructed. Beginning and end is important.
-the emotions are subordinated in subordination clauses
-don't front load your novel
-move along at the knife edge of emotion
-use an adverb in first draft to remind yourself to go back and show
-make dialogue contain it
-simile needs to underscore emotion. This one does: "His voice was deep and rumbled like logs shifting in a fire." (from Kimberly's piece.)
-it feels like accessorizing rather than revealing something about the relationship with her mom: "The orange light lit up her face underneath making her wrinkles look like waves on a lake at sunset.
-rub one person's motivation against another's
-what's at stake?
-JK Rowling does this well. Keeps you in the moment.
-don't think 'how will this feed the story?'
-how does your simile inform character or story or are you accessorizing?
-dramatize versus exposition
-YA characters in transitional place
-plot happens through emotional logic
-begin and end with a bang
-hold on to tension until you are uncomfortable
-What's in your head is inexact language- an analog for landscape
-be as reductive as possible
-how do you create an apparatus to transfer this to someone else's head
-all about emotion
-action comes out of that

Discussion of Black Juice, an unusual collection of short stories by Margo Lanagan.
-satisfying one query but not primary (Black Juice)
-First story in Black Juice is reporting, witness speaking only in the moment
-begin at the most emotional point not being wetted to "time". what is it that we care about?
-feelings and actions, subject and verb
-begin with action no mediating it or explaining
-nothing is natural about language it is an artiface

Ellen Hopkins Olive's Ocean (a suggestion for reading)

exploit tension a (random note)


KRYSTAL'S CLASS
The Raw and The Wounded
(Krystal's class focused on Twilight, by Stephanie Meyers.)

How did Meyers create a credible world?
What is character?
    -a scar?
    -a catch phrase?
    -a habit?
No!
Why do we care? Why are we upset? What makes us cheer or laugh? Why do we relate to characters in fantastical worlds?

    -you build a story in character
    -you build character in detail
    -values, desires, quirks, mannerisms
    YOU NEED MORE THAN THAT
_____________
Reality must prevail.
Humanity is key.
Realism and humanity
_____________
imperfections=credibility
the ugliness is beautiful
_____________
Burroway- 6 methods of character presentation, indirect or direct, authorial or other character interpretation: appearance, action, dialogue, thought

_____________
imperfection and flaw is that Edward is a vampire and his conflict is internal
_____________
Speculative fiction
    what is it to be human
    why does it matter
    WORTHY OF READERS
_____________
credibility
_____________
Who cares? emotional logic

JAN 3
MORNING WORKSHOP
I don't know what these notes are from exactly.....

-Bartleby, The Scrivner recommended reading
-The way two people "rub" together–grinding brings out characters. That's how tension is created, spot on. Out of that comes plot.
-When you write, you are having a conversation with books you love.
_____________
add scenes and constantly repair our narrative



JAN 4
MORNING WORKSHOP (on Kathleen's piece.)
-emotional time vs. chronological
-start in the middle of things
-all emotions to be physicalized
-"This is perfectly good, but I'm always looking for home runs. You've got it here to really swing for the fences." -Laban
Advice for after finishing a RD of a manuscript
1. Come up with one word to describe the entire book or story
2. Then, one sentence to describe the main character's journey
3. tip summary of each thematic concern and tension
4. How is each chp shaped and connected

Some random notes.
LET GO
BILLY JACK
"internal goth"
intensify do not accessorize
"Is it ever not right to love somebody?" Kimberly

"Subvert the dominate paradigm." Laban to Kathleen
_____________

VENISE BERRY'S CLASS: CLARITY AND DEPTH

Range–Where are you between Danielle Steele and Toni Morrison?

Deconstruct to learn how the author's did what they did.

TME editors are too afraid to edit her (Morrison)
        Her work reflects life in a way because "life is not linear" as she has said in interviews

JAQUELINE WOODSON SKYPE TALK


All kinds of ways of having family–didactic. But we show as writers
-Jesus Boy (a character in Feathers)
    Let reader bring themselves
-Write what you know…but you have a whole lot of information. All the experiences of what you know–family and ancestors before you.
-After Tupac
    Main character is unnamed. There's a reason she's unnamed.
-Feathers
    was called the Jesus Boy originally
    Jackie doesn't always know names
        -"I'm not conscious of a whole lot. I don't outline."
        -African American community never go by given name…as in Feathers.
 -Jackie's goal is to have as few characters as possible but in Feathers the class and the students are important to the story. It's a story about a group of kids moving toward hope.
-Write about stuff I really care about. You get to create a world, that may or may not exist and do what you want.
-If You Come Softly is alternating first and third person
-"I feel like I don't have the answers…As writers, we ask the questions…We are on the journey with our characters.
-Write about what you care about
-Write about what exposes you
-Rail, NY–Poe Raven
-Jackie has her students read poetry. Sense of urgency with poetry, visuals too.
-When you get it, you feel it. It's visceral. I read out loud. It has to sound good. Line by line.
-Looking back, young adult tries not to use current slang
-You have a sense of that already we have info inside
-write the charter I would like to know
-sometimes leaves house without glasses for break
-hyper aware how do I have catharsis
-figure out what it is and do the hell out of it
-write the scene from another person's perspective
----------------------------------------------------
SANDRA'S CLASS ON WRITING THE CRITICAL ESSAY
-Your critical thesis is a conversation with other writers

I. Argument
    reasoned discussion but is
    not  argumentative
    no hedging bets
Classic style
    Clear and simple writing classic

Prose
    Don't get involved in an trying to prove the weight of this

Rather make this a conversation not casual but friendly you are at ease in it and not self conscious

the sentence follows the thought
writing is not thinking in terms of a classic style it's expressing what you have already observed and thought out–in an explicit way

The writer has thought this through. It's variable because he uses text to support.

I don't have to express that I have trouble with this argument

Sandra thinks this is an instance where dirty first draft is a bad idea

Build an essay sentence by sentence

Therefore you feel responsible for the assertions you make.

Don't use quotes in any other way than to support what you already know.

not persuasive more lyrical and interesting

writing is char and economical but not plain and unadorned you say it and get out not bloated

Douglas Baver

Charles Baxter Burning Down the House

Don't talk about the doubts you have. What you write depends an prior thought

no hypothesis yet it should be fresh

Enjoy this task

II. Good writing has structure direction pattern- one that is intuitive to grasp. It has direction–the writing and the sentence.

Different possible
schema

focus and inspect- deconstruct
move towards "x"
accrue- adding on to what I'm saying and each addition adds on to my subject. For example, moving from center to periphery. Central focus that has arms. Move from "c" to periphery
linear/circular
question/focus
tentative thesis

a critical essay is not a close reading or annotation its more you have to take that to another level its not a review of another's although you may include another's thought you may look at  maerial that stimulates you but that you don't quote or use
this is not an evaluation based on taste . The issue is what you see in it that instructs or informas

Its not old news. It engages with outer writers by assuming other writers are engaged.

Make a generalization about the text that the text supports.

HOW?
1. How do you do it?
Have something you want to write about. Usually it's too big.
ambiguity stay fluid for a little while
figure it out
2. Guidelines
    thesis- should be an answer to a question?
Mine is:
    How do you make first person pov varied or vary narrative voice in first person pov

thesis will answer this
start by accumulated data before you generalize then cluster
analyze and synthesize

Steps
1. observe
2. analyze (deconstruct and identify
3. synthesize (put back together in a different way, my way)
4. interpret and shoo knowledge that this is true
5. choose a strategy for putting it together.
    take a subtopic and firue it out the best way to develop a paragraph

Think about strategy and organization.
DON'T USE "in fact"

TOP 5
1. try to cover too broad a subject
2. to write to fast and get whetted to your draft
3. failure to know schema and logic
4. talking in a puffy flowery way or too academic or being overly casual- don't use contractions except isn't/don't

SENTENCE FOLLOWS THE THOUGHT

the "I" in YA– it's varied? Confessional?
Maybe we can learn from adult

varying tone with first person POV Maybe Holes.


READING WITH MELISSA STEWART

AND STEVEN HUFF

Tanya's opening to Melissa. Why aren't we wondering what the animals are doing…
Melissa's book tells what happens to the animals in the rain, butterflies take cover under a canopy of leaves and squirrels put his tale over his head

Steven Huff- Poem "balls"
"sperm count"
"As with sex/ did as instructed/ the first… Little floods
They were healthy but lazy…"

Sometimes in the middle of theses readings, I have these ideas about what I am working on. Here's my thoughts during the reading that night:

How do authors vary the voice  and tone of a first person narrator? What are the different modes of first person POV and what strategies do author employ to convey the tones? What is the effect of these tones?
Why does realistic YA shy away from reportage?

reportage
reflective
confessional
stream of conscious

It's accused of being easy!

strategies
internal monologue neg. space
dialogue
word choice

JAN 6
KARIMA GRANT'S CLASS
Exploding the single story
finding your own literary space

"To whom do I owe the power behind my voice, what strength I have become yeasting up like sudden blood blood under the bruised skin's blister?"
      -courageous women and slaves before me?
      -anyone who encouraged me to speak it students mentor teachers friends
"To whom do I owe the symbols of my survival?"  (my people before me?)
     -doubting my voice
    take the tape off so I can speak
Audre Lorde, Zani, A New Spelling of our name
How do I begin to find the inquiry into voice

(Karima asked us to try and answer these questions.) This is what I came up with:

    I would say I am enough
    I would say I am a writer
            I am an author
            I am right
    I would say everything about me is fine–is not too much or too little
    I would say I am growing and changing
    I would say you cannot label or define me
    I would say my choices are right and that I have the right to change my mind at any moment

    I would have the right to not seek your approval
    I would say I know best
    I would say my mistakes and flaws are mine and they are okay
    I would say you are not better than I
    I would say you don't know me you cannot contain me and I don't need to be contained

Liberty is scary
If I don't stand for my own self, I can't speak for any of you.

Africa
    any master/narrative story that maintains the order/status
    the holocaust is a master narrative (Faye's lecture)

Consequences

    Power
        who tells the story
        how is it told
        when is it told
    Vulnerability
        when we are young we are susceptible  (Twilight) sometimes we choke on it
    misunderstanding
        of others
        of self
    silence of voice
        in the face of master narrative how do you speak words of power

white as a block identity

when the first wave of European Immigrants came they learned "nigger" and became white

Explode the single story
    History    
        public/private
    Place
        public/private
    Language and Culture
        colonial/native tongue
        society/personal family

Baobab tree is symbol of Senegal–no two look a like.
One of the last to go slaves
first president was a poet

So Long A letter
    Single story of Senegal women

Ken Bugul
    The unwanted one

The abandoned Baobab Exploding the single story structural adjustment

More of my own thoughts....
The power of point of view
    Why do YA authors choose first person so often?
        confessional
    stream of consciousness
        discovery
    reflective
to have a story focuses on voice and tone
exploding the YA story
Form and structure of a short story

Varying narrative voice (through tone) of first person POV
    Homefront
    Catcher in the Rye
The Things Fall Apart
Write from a place without hesitation
"Kersa" Wolof
Be discrete
"A single story can only happen with complacency." Karima
"I believe deeply in the universal…." Karima
Obama=exploding the story

JAN 7
MORNING WORKSHOP WITH THE FUNNY DUDE  DAVID YOO AND FABULOUS  LAURA WILLIAMS MCCAFFREY
Shug
    A lot you can articulate that will come out in other ways

When you have a lot going on emotionally in a scene, how do you convey it?
        weed out
        plot out emotional beats
Stupid Contagious

JAN 9

PUBLISHING PANEL WITH: 

David Yoo, Ray Gonzalez, Amy Hoffman, Randall Kenan, Laura Williams McCaffrey, & special guest Dorothy Allison           



I just took down what spoke to me. Since I know a lot about the process of how to try and break in, I was looking for some unconventional or unique thoughts:

author of Trash, Dorothy Allison (also wrote Bastard out of Carolina). She got angry. "Fuck it. I just want to upset people."
Laura- Alia got swept up from the slush pile…"I don't know if there's any point in your career where it's easy."
David-Fifth novel (Girls for Breakfast) and second agent when he finally got a novel published. "Everything is very slow."
"The state of publishers merging and layoffs isn't benefiting authors and readers."
Dorothy Allison- "Try arrogance. Why not? You can fuck up. But you'll fuck up anyway."
-Got 37,000 for "Bastard". Half up front half later when you sell.
-Dorothy went and pounded pavement and got her books in bookstores.

-Children's and YA don't have a small press option and that's because we need access to libraries.
The Forrest through The Trees David's agent wrote this.


THE LAST DAY, JAN 10TH.

Snippets of Meg's Parting Words
"We are all a  little radio active and...it's impossible to explain [to those at home] and don't make any changes…because you are not in your right mind…sometimes you get kind of depressed…Real World…but that's where your work is rooted…which helps with the deep falling off the cliff feeling…reach out to our community when you need to…don't think your best friend or boss wants to hear your new poem or story…but not everybody understands ..celebrate each other's successes..and don't feel somebody else's success will take away from yours. Fall in love with one another's work is the antidote."

3 comments:

Joanne Carnevale said...

Love the sketchiness of this. I can just read what jumps off the screen at me and feel a shadow of what you thought/felt at the moment you made the note. However, as time allows I will return to this until I completely read it. Thanks!

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