I recently returned from Miami University (that’s Ohio, baby), where I was happy and honored to teach a week-long class to fiction writers in the graduate program. The class is called a SPRINT Class because it’s short and fast and intense: we met 4 days in a row for 2.5 hours of class each. Plus I assigned them 70 pages of reading. Plus I made them write a story. Plus I met with all twelve students in a half-hour conference. Plus I gave a reading. Plus we had a party. So, yes, a sprint. But way more like one of those intense and long 800-meter sprints than, say, a hundred-yard dash.

image-19

I attended Miami my freshman year of college, and here’s a pic of my old dorm, Dorsey Hall.There’s a huge track in front of it that I used to run on VERY SLOWLY. No sprints.

 

The topic of the class was The Architecture of Stories. I asked the students to do what I did in my book, Liliane’s Balcony, set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater:

Choose an architectural structure and write a story that engages it in both form and content.

So, under the watchful eye of this guy…

image-14

…these students made the most amazing stories!

image-21

I created a tab on this blog with notes and quotes for the class (Architecture of Stories), which I plan to continue to develop – maybe into a craft book of some sort. And I’m going to be sharing excerpts of their work on the blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Thanks to Joseph Bates for inviting and hosting me, and thanks to the students for making is such a fun and fulfilling week!

I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be a writer when I was a child. For a long time I thought I’d be a visual artist. But, something tripped a switch in college, and I couldn’t stop reading.

d004d2_18d4d73a052ade47dfe4d99fd6749c0b.jpg_srz_p_476_451_75_22_0.50_1.20_0

David James Poissant’s stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The Chicago Tribune, Glimmer Train, The New York TimesOne Story, Playboy, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and in the New Stories from the South and Best New American Voices anthologies. His writing has been awarded the Matt Clark Prize, the George Garrett Fiction Award, the RopeWalk Fiction Chapbook Prize, and the Alice White Reeves Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts & Letters, as well as awards from The Chicago Tribune and The Atlantic and Playboy magazines. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Florida and lives in Orlando with his wife and daughters.

His debut short story collection, The Heaven of Animals, will be published by Simon & Schuster on March 11, 2014. He is currently at work on a novel, Class, Order, Family, also forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

Web site: http://www.davidjamespoissant.com

Read more by and about Jamie:

Book of Stories: The Heaven of Animals

Story: Black Ice

Story: Nudists

Chapbook: Lizard Man

NY Times Essay: I Want to Be Friends With Republicans

How David James Poissant Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Jamie for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

I think that it was Saul Bellow who said that all writers are readers moved to imitation. That’s absolutely what happened to me. I fell in love with books and with language, and I wanted to be part of the conversation. I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be a writer when I was a child. For a long time I thought I’d be a visual artist. But, something tripped a switch in college, and I couldn’t stop reading. I read The Great Gatsby at least half a dozen times in college, then got hooked on the short stories of John Updike, Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, and Lorrie Moore. The more I read, the more I wanted to write fiction of my own.

2. How did you go about becoming a writer?

I went the normal route (or what’s becoming the normal route these days). At 25, I applied to a number of MFA programs. The only one I got into was the University of Arizona, so I went. I was thrilled to go. I’d become a big fan of the stories of Jason Brown, and I couldn’t wait to work with him. Once I got there, though, I enjoyed working with all of the faculty, Jason, for sure, and also Aurelie Sheehan, who was a guiding force for good in my work. I also learned so much from my fellow students in the program, especially Rachel Yoder and Mark Polansak, who now edit the journal Draft, and Cara Blue Adams, former Fiction Editor of The Southern Review. They’re fantastic writers, and they all raised the bar high for me. After Arizona, I did a four-year PhD at the University of Cincinnati, which gave me teaching experience and time to revise my collection and begin the novel that is now under contract with Simon & Schuster.

3. Who helped you along the way, and how?

I had so much help along the way. Early on, Sandra Meek, the poetry professor at Berry College, where I did my undergrad, gave me tons of encouragement. Jack Riggs and Bret Anthony Johnston convinced me that I could do this thing while I was still trying to decide whether to apply to MFA programs, and I owe a huge debt to them. At Cincinnati, Brock Clarke, Leah Stewart, and Michael Griffith were all huge helps and keen editors. But, most of all, my wife, Marla, has given me unconditional love and support. I absolutely couldn’t have done this without her unwavering belief in me and in my work. She’s one of those people no one deserves, and I don’t know how I got lucky enough that she agreed to spend her life with me.

Karen Russell; image from The Daily Beast

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

I’m super-enamored right now with Karen Russell, who is not only a genius writer, but also fearless. Most of all, though, she’s a hard worker. I think we look at people who produce great art and assume, sometimes, that it comes easily to them. I suspect that things don’t come easily to most people. I think Karen works harder than most people, and I think that makes a big difference. I’m inspired by her example and her endurance and tenacity.

5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Don’t give up. Write every day, or write most days. But, mostly, read. Read everything. Read widely. Read and let the multiplicity of voices tangle in your subconscious. Read enough and, one day, you’ll find you’ve found your voice.

 

Something Wrong With Her VBT Banner

This is one stop on Cris Mazza’s virtual book tour!
Click to keep up with the rest of the tour here.

———


I didn’t go to artist’s colonies or conferences,
didn’t flirt with, seduce or receive seduction from visiting writers.
I just kept writing, and submitting.

2013 author photo

Cris Mazza is the author of over 17 books, including Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, Waterbaby, Trickle-Down Timeline, and Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?   Her first novel, How to Leave a Country, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction. Mazza has co-edited three anthologies, including Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience. In addition to fiction, Mazza has authored collection of personal essays, Indigenous: Growing Up Californian. Currently living 50 miles west of Chicago, she is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Website: cris-mazza.com

TrickleDownFrontCoverRead more by and about Cris:

SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER companion novel: Various Men Who Knew Us As Girls

Stories: Trickle-Down Timeline

Editor: Men Undressed: Women Writers on The Male Sexual Experience

On the Radio: Ask Dr. Love

How Cris Mazza Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Cris for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

Something happened around the time I was 13 or 14. I changed from an outgoing girl who had wanted to be an actress to a girl to whom being noticed was not safe, especially to be noticed for any female qualities I did (but mostly did not) possess. This “something” that happened was not an assault or huge betrayal. I can’t even point to an event or moment. Probably a culmination of disillusionment coming out of the feral world of junior high where I was none of the things that counted: stylish, popular, beautiful, mature, worldly, sexually provocative, or even up-to-date. It wasn’t called bullying then, and what I experienced of it was hardly the life-threatening sort one hears about now. But I turned inward, and I began dressing as androgynously as allowed on my hand-me-down clothing availability. I also turned to a typewriter to “talk” to. A journal is not an unusual way to discover that writing was a career path. But in the hours I spent pounding that typewriter, I discovered (and honed) my written voice, my written self … a self I was more comfortable putting out there to be “looked at.” On retrospect, I can see that the escapism of reading is also related to turning toward writing as an escape from an unfriendly world at adolescence. But I wasn’t making the connection to reading at the time. Pounding at the typewritten journal was communication; reading was escape. I needed both. I never thought “This is a way I can get attention,” but more like “This is who I am.”

2. How did you go about becoming a writer?

In college, I majored in Journalism. I loved everything about it. Except that I could not see myself pushing into crowds or calling strangers on the phone to get stories and quotes and sources. I loved the idea of journalism, and learned a lot, but abandoned it as a career as unsuitable for the introverted way I worked and thought. But I knew I needed to support myself. So I took my journalism BA to secondary teaching. I went through my student teaching before I quit that. I was very bad at it because I only could care about my own writing projects. No high school students deserve a teacher like that. Then I went back to grad school and this time focused on fiction writing, even though there was no clear “career path” at the other end. It’s possible to become a writer without a graduate writing program, but I hadn’t had enough of an absorption of reading and being around other nascent writers, so for me it was an environment that I needed. I now teach in a PhD program for writers and can see how just the community there adds easily as much as their coursework and mentorship from professors like me.

Mazza new cover -FrontBack

3. Who helped you along the way, and how?

I had good professors, but never had a consummate mentor in the way movies might portray. In the 80s, outside my in-home study, there might have been just as much career-building quid-pro-quo going on as is highly visible now, but I wasn’t aware of it nor part of any cliques or circles. I didn’t go to artist’s colonies or conferences, didn’t flirt with, seduce or receive seduction from visiting writers. I just kept writing, and submitting.

Instead of help from a mentor, a big break came for me when an unpublished novel manuscript won a national award. The judges didn’t know my age or gender (they said so in their comments) … I point this out because gender and age disparity is so much in the literary conversation these days. But this was in an era before one had an “internet persona” or could be looked up instantly to find a photo and bio. For once being unpopular, even genderless and obscure, had not been a deficiency. I was not writing to anyone’s expectations, and “somebody” (the judges) heard me.

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

I have probably unconsciously steered clear of author biographies (although I read memoirs and personal essays). A memoir is an experience that the writer, by virtue of being a writer, is able to share in an artful narrative. A biography, it would seem, would have the purpose of building the story of how that person came to be a successful author. I don’t find that sort of knowledge beneficial to my appreciation of the author’s work. It is inspiring that Annie Proulx and Toni Morrison both started their publishing careers in middle-age. I also admire Alice Munroe, for staying the writer she was meant to be instead of allowing huge success to cause her to start writing toward expectations, or believing too much in the hype about her.

5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Have something to say before you worry about having readers. Don’t be afraid of isolation – it used to be a writer’s world. Don’t avoid having the thoughts in your own head for your only company. Don’t be in such a hurry to spew those thoughts in public; let them mull, work them out. Don’t read something just because everyone else is. But read. Don’t expect feedback and/or gratification to be available every day, even though you see and hear others yapping about everything from how many pages they wrote today, to who they’re sending work, or what their characters did today. Have something to say before you listen for applause.

I got to spend a few days at West Liberty University last week, giving a reading and lecture, visiting classes, and chatting with students. Thanks especially to Steve Criniti, who invited me, and who organized everything, and who let me sit in on his British Modernism seminar, which happened to be about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and which happened to be the anniversary of her death (though we didn’t figure that out till later). Also thanks to Peter Staffel and his wife, who toured me around Wheeling, and to WLU’s graphic design student Corrine Martin, who created this awesome flyer with Fallingwater perched on a book:

WLUposter

I met all sorts of great faculty and students, but unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of people. Instead, here are a few views from the road. A strange combo of urban and rural along the Ohio River. I kept singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”: Almost heaven, West Virginia…

Visiting Taliesin West

March 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

Frank Lloyd Wright built his winter home & studio, Taliesin West, in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, with money from the Fallingwater commission. I was excited to see my book Liliane’s Balcony on a front table in the gift shop.

image-4

Wright drew on his Welsh background in naming Taliesin (in Spring Green, WI) and Taliesin West; taliesin means “shining brow.” Here are a few other pics from my visit.

I’m at AWP, where it’s crazy and awesome. I should have posted my schedule before, but three out of four events are still to come!

Schedule (copied from Rose Metal Press, which is why I seem to be referring to myself in the third person):

Thurs 2/27, 10:30 to 11:45 pm: RMP author Kelcey Parker will be doing a panel called “How Many Readers Is Enough” along with Valerie Vogrin, Allison Hedge Coke, Chad Simpson, and Kellie Wells in the Willow Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor

Fri 2/28 6:30 pm: Rose Metal Press authors Kelcey Parker, Aaron Teel, and Sierra Nelson will be reading in an offsite reading near the convention center co-hosted by Toadlily Press and Cortland Review at Rock Bottom Brewery, 1333 5th Ave.

Sat 3/1, 12:00 to 1:00 pm: Kelcey Parker will be signing Liliane’s Balcony at the RMP table, R5.

Sat 3/1 1:30 to 2:45 pm: RMP author Kelcey Parker and RMP co-founder Kathleen Rooney will be doing a panel called “Please Mind the Gap: Innovative Approaches to Writing Historical Figures” with Caitlin Horrocks, Gretchen Henderson, and Cathy Day in Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2

 

 

“…my fellow writers in the SUNY Albany writing program…
pushed me over the ledge into a free fall where I found my voice,
which involves treating every new story as a brand new thing
which deserves its own brand new way of being told.”

ronNOLA5

Ron MacLean is author of the novels Headlong (2013) and Blue Winnetka Skies (2004) and the story collection Why the Long Face? (2008). His fiction has appeared in GQ, Fiction International, Best Online Fiction 2010, and elsewhere.

He is a recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. He teaches at Grub Street in Boston.

Web site: http://ronmaclean.net/

Featured at Talking Writing: This interview is part of a partnership with Talking Writing magazine. The How to Become a Writer Series here at PhD in Creative Writing now includes interviews with Talking Writing’s featured writers. Here is an excerpt of Ron’s most recent TW essay, “Literary Criticism Is Dead“:

I love literature and believe it has a future. I hope serious criticism does, too. But we’ll only be able to attain that future by accepting the reality of the present.

The study of literature is dying, partly because of self-inflicted wounds. I’m happy to debate all the reasons why: the dominance of an elite school of mostly white, male academics; increased theoretical abstraction; easy-to-mock “littray” pronouncements.

But my focus here is more basic: Literary criticism has become irrelevant—the neglected lima beans on the cultural dinner plate. In order for criticism to matter, literature has to matter. It doesn’t, and it won’t again soon, at least not in the same way it did for a hundred-plus years of its history. [Read the rest here at Talking Writing.]

41OjyYGtpSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Read more by and about Ron:

Novel/Literary Thriller: Headlong

Stories: Why the Long Face

A cowboy-movie novel: Blue Winnetka Skies

Story: “The Night Dentist”

Essay: “Is Fiction Empathy’s Best Hope” at Talking Writing

Essay: “Literary Criticism Is Dead” at Talking Writing

How Ron MacLean Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Ron for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

As far back as I can remember, stories have been the way I’ve understood the world. Reading stories gave me insights I craved, and writing them gave me a way to understand my own perceptions and experiences.

I started out as a journalist. And I love journalism. Especially investigative journalism. But I probably should have recognized my fate back in high school, when I told a friend as I complained about an assignment for journalism class, “the story would have been much better if I wasn’t limited to the facts.”

cover-blue-skies_large2. How did you go about becoming a writer?

In the beginning I was self-educated, and that’s continued to be a huge aspect of my learning. I read a lot, and I re-read work that moves me. Again and again. I’d puzzle at it trying to figure out what made it touch me. I’d trace an evocative sentence at the end of a short story back through the text, looking for where its power originated. And then I’d try to do the same.

Once I left journalism, I applied to grad school and ended up getting a Doctor of Arts from SUNY Albany. The community of writers and teacher I met there finally made me a writer. We formed each other.

3. Who helped you along the way, and how?

Wow. So, so many. I could go on forever. I’ll focus on a few.

Writers whose work I’ve read and studied, whose words now live in me and helped shape me. I’ll name some, but there are many more: Flannery O’Connor, Rick Bass, Jeanette Winterson, Donald Barthelme, Gertrude Stein, Marilynne Robinson. Four books that literally changed my life: Robinson’s Housekeeping, Stein’s Tender Buttons, Barthelme’s 40 Stories, and O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners.

Teachers and mentors who not only taught me aspects of the craft, but taught me through their commitment to the work (the joy of it, the value of it) and to their fellow writers: Gene Garber, Judy Johnson, Don Schatz.

cover-long-face_largeMaybe most significantly for me were my fellow writers in the SUNY Albany writing program, where we learned, and taught each other, that we are part of the same tribe, and that we each only thrive as we help each other thrive. They gave me permission to stop trying to hew to a “classic” short story style that didn’t match the stories I wanted to tell. Another way to put it was they pushed me over the ledge into a free fall where I found my voice, which involves treating every new story as a brand new thing which deserves its own brand new way of being told. I’ll always be grateful for the community that held me safe as I explored that new territory (especially Lori Anderson Moseman and Jan Ramjerdi), and for the learning that we are each other’s best resource. That’s something I try to live everywhere I go; it’s part of what I value now at Boston’s Grub Street.

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

Absolutely. While it’s a tossup between O’Connor and Stein, I’ll go with Flannery. Writing did not come easily to her. It mattered enough to her to persist through physical (as well as emotional) pain and illness. And it was, for her, a means to grope toward an understanding of the mystery that lies beyond daily life. She always sought to convey an experience of mystery in her stories, and at the same time was ruthless about the necessity of representing life in honest and real physical detail. That desire, that commitment, has been a major inspiration for me. She and I work differently in many ways, but we share a desire to get beyond the daily to explore what we would both define as the mystery at the heart of human experience.

5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Love what you do. Delight in the work, and let that be your primary joy. Don’t let the business side of it discourage you. If writing matters to you, do it with everything you’ve got, and don’t worry about how many people read it.