Archives For workshops

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All signs point to SAW

First, to get this out of the way: I don’t like comics. Or at least I didn’t think I did. I definitely don’t like the cartoony aesthetic or formulaic narratives that I thought defined comics.

Then again: when I was a kid I loved the Sunday comics. I had a page-a-day Far Side calendar that never ceased to amuse me. In high school, after a particularly traumatic loss to the cross-town rival soccer team (I was the goalie and took it hard when I got scored upon), I stayed up drawing copies of comic characters late into the night: Charlie Brown, Garfield, Calvin, Hobbes.

Fast-forward a few decades, and this summer I was awarded a grant to work on a graphic narrative. How did I get here?

There are probably all sorts of grad-school, elitist, even gendered reasons why I decided I wouldn’t like graphic narratives, but I’m in the midst of discovering a form that has both been here along and that is also coming into its own, and it’s pretty exciting. I would say my gateway artist was Maira Kalman, an illustrator with a quirky style and a witty, beautiful voice that emerges in the short commentaries she pairs with her images. Here are a couple pages from her awesome Principles of Uncertainty:

Her work inspired me to create short graphic narratives from painted pages in my journal, and in my book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, I created art and images to pair with the text.

More recently I discovered Poetry Comics, especially the strange and wonderful work of Bianca Stone:

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Then I came across the dreamy work of Aiden Koch:

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And it was as I tried to find out more about her work that I first found the Sequential Artists Workshop, known as SAW, where she had recently given a workshop. SAW was conceived, created, and is now fearlessly led by the amazing Tom Hart (author of Rosalie Lightning, which I’ll discuss in my next post). SAW is a small, unassuming space with a fully stocked library and terrific artistic energy. In the video below, Tom (on the left) calls it “bare bones” and a “work in progress,” but that’s exactly what makes it such an exciting and inspiring space. You can get a great sense of it in just the first few minutes of this online open house (which is good because you can get seasick from the live cam!):

SAW has a year-long workshop, but once or twice a year they do a low-res, week-long workshop, which is what I did in May of this year. I had never been to Gainesville, and I sort of fell in love with it. All the UF students were gone, and the town had great restaurants and outdoor seating, all within walking distance of SAW. There were just a handful of students in the workshop, so it was intimate and focused. There are three main faculty that teach, and each of them took a day or part of day for artist talks and instruction:

  • Tom Hart gave an engrossing thematic overview of his work over the years and led us in some exercises including a scavenger hunt of images and texts from his library that we copy-and-pasted into our own mini-comic books.
  • Justine Andersen gave us some real-talk about the life of an artist, shared her amazing portfolio, and gave instruction in inking (how to hold a brush, how to use the ink, how to make lines, even how to clean brushes).
  • Jess Ruliffson shared her comic journalism projects and gave a lesson in working with gouache.

There was also time to work on our own projects, and I managed to finish the art on something I’d been thinking about and had roughly drafted: a story about an aquarium fish I had that would not die and that lived through several of my major life changes.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been delving deeper by enrolling in a couple of SAW’s online workshops: Comics for Writers, Nonfiction Comics, Creating Your Graphic Memoir, etc. The online classes are organized well and offer short videos that walk you through excellent examples of whatever is being taught in each lesson. Every time I watch a video lesson, I add new books to my reading list.

Because the cost of the low-res workshop was so reasonable (<$400 for the week), we could afford to rent a great AirBnB house and were surrounded by Spanish Moss and a lake full of gators.

Thanks for reading. My next posts will be about the graphic memoirs I’m reading (and loving) and, if I’m feeling brave, about the graphic memoir I’m trying to create from scratch this summer.

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In April 2014, I led a four-day writing workshop with a dozen graduate students at Miami University. The subject: The Architecture of Stories. The assignment: Write a story inspired in both form and content by a significant architectural structure.

I’ll be posting excerpts from the stories along with info about the architectural structures. Here’s the second one!

Architectural Inspiration: The Cincinnati Art Museum…

 

 …and a failed exhibit that involved a gun being fired in the building. The bullets were aimed at this box…

 …and were supposed to form the shape of a crown. Oops.

 

The Story: excerpt from “Dead Art/Not Relevant” by Curtis Dickerson

“It takes bold, very genuinely thoughtful people to understand that it’s not a crazy thing to do.”

The sniper is anonymous. The artist name on banners hung from light posts and museum walls. Ballistic gel in place, calculations calculated. The sniper asks if the artist would like a particular shape in the target. Between the two: Ann Ford, Portrait of a Man in Armor, Whistling Boy, Vase, Blue Hole, Commode, Shiva, Reclining Female Figure, Human Figure, Romanian Blouse, Soup Can, Dancer, Greek God or Hero, Mummy of Adult Male, St. Stephen, St. Christopher, Bill Curry, Eve. Circa 2500 BC – 1980 AD. There are no female artists represented. Where is the artist? He is adjusting his monitors. Where is the sniper? S/he is calibrating his/her weapon, s/he is picturing the target penetrated, s/he is not a talkative person.

“For young people with no real idea of how to make anything, or any real talent or skill or inspiration, this kind of work comes easy.”

From ten to five, Eden Park is rife with gunfire, normally regulated to less desirable/bad/problematic/depressed/scary/different parts of town. We were cautioned with fliers, with reports on the local news. We are interested, we are angry, we are excited, we are annoyed, we are confused, we are repulsed, we are thrilled; our concerns are not considered. We must relive it again a year and a half later when the exhibit opens. The artist is profiled in the Enquirer. He is a “Cincinnati artist” who lives in New York City. We are Cincinnati artists/lawyers/teachers/editors/housewives/businessmen/actresses/clergy who live in Cincinnati. His point of reference is a film that came out eleven years before he was born. We saw it in theaters, have rented it from the Cincinnati Public Library. “It is disturbing, but is it disturbing in a meaningful way? This seems so far from the mission of a general art museum, which is to preserve, display and exhibit art.”

A column, plume–a geyser of energy, instantaneous, captured with/through six blinking cameras–propels projectile. Sheriffs stand arms sheathed smirking: better than a day spent on a beat or in the office at least. The ghosts of greats trapped in canvas are anxious, the pulses of nervous energy from the living they sense through pores. Watch as it passes, if you can. And you can, a year and a half later. And you can feel it, perhaps in a century. And you can feel it coming, though once you feel it it’s already past.

“To shoot a gun in the halls in the museum, it’s in bad taste. The speeding bullet is going in front of 18 iconic treasures. I think it’s his way of showing that it’s dead art and not relevant.”

(quotes taken from the Cincinnati Enquirer article “Cincinnati Art Museum’s ‘Crown’ exhibit under fire” written by Janelle Gelfand and published 15 March 2014)

The story behind the story (as told by Curtis Dickerson)

I happened upon this story listening to our Cincinnati NPR affiliate. A museum curator was being interviewed for WVXU’s local program “Cincinnati Edition,” and when the prompt for our sprint week was explained, I immediately thought of this instance. I’m not sure I have a position on the correctness of firing a gun in a museum, especially one that houses works as old as the Cincinnati Art Museum does, but it’s a heavy decision to make, and I don’t envy anyone who had to look at the artist’s proposal and decide whether or not that this was a thing that should have been done.

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About the author

Curtis Dickerson, a native of Dayton, Ohio, studies and teaches writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he lives alongside his partner and dog. His interests and passions include social justice, reality television, and animal advocacy. The most recent book he has read which he highly recommends is George Packer’s The Unwinding.

In April 2014, I led a four-day writing workshop with a dozen graduate students at Miami University. The subject: The Architecture of Stories. The assignment: Write a story inspired in both form and content by a significant architectural structure.

I’ll be posting excerpts from the stories along with info about the architectural structures. Here’s the first one!

Architectural Inspiration: Meera Sky Garden House, Singapore

“The concept of Sky Garden House is strongly influenced by the ambition of enhancing the occupant’s quality of life. This is largely achieved by the roof gardens on every level. As well as having direct access to these, interior spaces have large areas of glazing with views out over the gardens to the sea and sky.” (from Archello)
Click here for more views.

The Story: Excerpt from “Nobody Belongs Here Less Than You” by Michael Stoneberg

When he begins walking toward the house, it surprises him. He doesn’t have a plan, but he knows there’s a pool running along the front of the house, and that submerged basement windows look out into it, and he wants to look into the basement. The ground-level yard slopes up to those picture windows where the man and woman are watching TV, but with the lights blazing, he knows they’d only see the inside reflected back at them.

The pool is long and narrow, but deep.

He is aware of the daughter perched

in the garden above him. He kicks

off his flip flops and sits at the pool’s

edge, easing his legs down. The water

is warm, the pool lights, if it has them,

are off, but cool ambient light

from the basement leaks up through

to the water’s surface, dancing where

his legs leave ripples. He eases himself

down, submerged to his waist, then his neck.

He lets go of the side and sinks.

The story behind the story (as told by Michael Stoneberg)

I did not immediately have a building in mind, but I was interested in sustainable (or green) architecture, and so I searched around for examples. I was pretty taken with the terraced shape of the Meera House from Guz Architects, the sloping grassy roof and pool with subsurface basement windows looking into it. I was also pretty taken with the $20 million price tag, and the way these green projects are often unattainable without fatcat pockets. It’s also on this resort island in Singapore called Sentosa, and the more I read about the island, the more I felt inspired to write about it. So I wanted the story form to reflect the shape of the house, the shape of the actions, in the layout of text on the page (something poets dabble in often, and, hey, why not fiction?), and to have the tension between sustainability and cost at its core.

 

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About the author

Michael Stoneberg is a drifter and writer of fictions, originally from Oregon, currently at Miami University in Oxford, OH working toward his Master’s in Creative Writing. His fiction has been published in a chapbook from Plumberries Press.

 

 

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.

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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…

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…these students made the most amazing stories!

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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!

1. Let’s get straight to it. The number one highlight of the Southern Kentucky Book Fest was this:

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That’s right, I got to hang out with two of my favorite people and authors: Molly McCaffrey (left) and David Bell (right).

2. And I might have gotten to meet this guy:

(He’s standing next to the tall girl in red above. The tall girl makes everyone look shorter than they are. The tall girl apologizes to The Fonz.)

Seriously, Henry Winkler was super friendly and charming. He hugged my friend Molly and told her how much he loves her personality. We bonded over New York / New Jersey connections.

3. I met three overeducated country boys who brew some damn fine IPA over at Country Boy Brewing:

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(Seriously, these guys make great beer, and they majored in things like English and History. They have Master’s Degrees! Yes.)

4. I was assigned an awesome boothmate: Sharon Short

downloadSharon’s new book is My One Square Inch of Alaska, and I’m excited to read my new copy! She also agreed to participate in my interview series, so more about Sharon to come…

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5. Dinner and gossip with the amazing Eric Goodman and Lee Martin, authors of these awesome books that I just bought:

BONUS HIGHLIGHTS:

I sold some books! My attention has been on my forthcoming book, Liliane’s Balcony, due out in the fall, so it was great to talk to people about For Sale By Owner again.

As I drove home I passed a trucker who honked at me. This has not happened to me for years, so I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that he was holding up a sign in his front window that said, “M O M.” I thought, “Geez, how did you know? Is it that obvious?” But when I glanced back again, he had turned the sign over. It now said: “W O W.”
(Oh my!)

Find a community. You’re in this together.
You’re in this alone.
Be patient.
It takes time to arrive at the right word, the story.
The moment of elation.

DONNA MISCOLTA is the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced (Signal 8 Press, June 2011). Her story collection Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent was a finalist for the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in America’s Review, Calyx, Cha: An Asian Literary Review, Connecticut Review, Kartika Review, New Millennium Writings, Raven Chronicles, Conversations Across Borders, and others. She has been awarded residencies from Anderson Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has received numerous grants and awards, including the Bread Loaf/Rona Jaffe Scholarship for Fiction.

Web Page: http://donnamiscolta.com

Read more by and about Donna:

Novel: When the de la Cruz Family Danced

Excerpt of novel at Cha: “A Month in the Tropics”

Short Essay: “Home Is Where the Wart Is

Story at Conversations Across Borders: “Fleeing Fat Allen” (proceeds go to VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts)

How Donna Miscolta 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 until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Donna for saying yes!

1.     Why did you want to become a writer?

The desire to be a writer went unacknowledged by me for much of my life. I had always been a reader and had a reverence for writers. Books were magical and writers were wizards. I thought that you didn’t become a writer. You simply were a writer. Anointed or ordained. Though all through school I did well when it came to writing, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never said writer. Writing was hard. Not hard in the way math was for me ─ the abstraction of it, the way numbers refused to form a language in my head. I felt comfortable with words, but choosing the right ones and arranging them in the best order – that was hard. I thought that to be a writer, writing had to come easy. So I never considered it an option to pursue.

In an almost willful defiance of logic I studied science, obtaining a degree in zoology. I followed up with a master’s degree in education and later one in public administration, trying to figure out what and who to be in life. At age 39, I was employed in the public sector, twelve years married, deeply entrenched in parenthood, and busy as hell, yet, looking for that thing to round out my life. Finally, I acknowledged it — my fascination with words and sentences and how they come together to make stories, my desire and need to play with words on my own, to knit them into narratives, to be a writer.

Trailer for When the de la Cruz Family Danced:

2.     How did you go about becoming a writer?

In July 1993, I attended a reading by Kathleen Alcalá, whom I knew from our membership in the local chapter of a national Latina organization. The reading was on the University of Washington campus, which I had recently learned offered extension classes in creative writing. Hearing Kathleen, someone I actually knew, read a story from a book she had written, inspired me to consider the possibility that I, too, might write a story.

As it turned out, I took one of the last open spots for the fall extension class. My teacher that quarter was Jack Remick. I knew nothing about how to write a story. Yet, I, along with many of my classmates, was resistant at first to the diagrams Jack would draw on the board and his requirement that our stories have an intruder. We thought he was trying to force a formula on us and we, by golly, weren’t going to be formulaic. We were going to be original! What we came to understand was that he was trying to teach us about tension and action and conflict ─ in other words, story.

The much loved and highly esteemed Rebecca Brown was my teacher for the next two quarters. I began to feel more confident about writing. From the time I started this series of classes, I developed the habit of writing every evening after my daughters were in bed. I wrote on the bus to work and during my lunch hour. I wrote while waiting for my kids to finish soccer practice or swim lessons.

As my daughters got older, it became more feasible for me to spend time away from home and I applied to writing conferences. My first was the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, which exposed me to a lot of established writers and people like me wanting to be writers. Over the years, I’ve been able to experience the Napa Valley, VONA, and Bread Loaf conferences. I took Tom Jenks’ four-day intensive workshop. And I’ve attended multiple times the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, a few hours away from me on the Olympic Peninsula. Program director and poet Jordan Hartt puts together a wonderful conference.

I’ve also set aside time for intensive periods of writing at residencies. Hedgebrook, Anderson Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts are among the places that have generously provided time and space, and in some cases, money for me to write.

I read books and articles on craft, but mostly I’ve just continued to be a reader of the things I want to write – novels and stories. Despite my science degree, I’m not a particularly analytical person. I suppose if I had done an MFA program I would’ve developed skills at analyzing fiction. Instead I just read and enjoy and hope that at some level I absorb something of craft from the writers I admire – Antonya Nelson, Francine Prose, Lorrie Moore, Jessica Hagedorn and Ana Castillo, to name a few.

The first book I read by Nelson was Nobody’s Girl. After that I was hooked on her writing. Prose’s Blue Angel and Guided Tours of Hell are among my favorite books, Moore’s stories seldom fail with me, and Dogeaters by Hagedorn and So Far From God by Castillo electrify with their language and humor. In fact, language and humor – sly, unforced, intelligent ─ are what draws me to all these writers.

Finally, getting feedback and really listening, letting go of any need for approval or praise, has been important in my growth as a writer. I’ve been in three writing groups. Each time one dissolved I was lucky enough to find another. I have a fantastic set of readers in the members of my current writing group: Alma Garcia, Allison Green, and Jennifer D. Munro.

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

Early on I received crucial support that allowed me to believe that I was a writer. I’d been writing for a couple of years daily, diligently, and more or less in isolation when I was invited to be part of Los Norteños, a group of Latino writers that was just beginning to form. We did writing exercises, critiqued each other’s work, and organized readings. It was my first writing community. Then, and I’m not sure how I happened upon them, I found resources for artists. I applied to and was accepted for a residency at Hedgebrook, a place that nurtures the soul and opens the mind and inspires you to write like mad.

That year I also received a generous grant, a powerful vote of faith, from the Seattle Arts Commission, and I was selected to participate in the first Jack Straw Writers Program, which exposes writers’ work through audio and live readings. Support such as this went a long way in counteracting the inevitable bouts of self-doubt.

Unable to pursue an MFA, I cobbled together my own writing education through conferences and workshops. Though I spent only a short time – a few days to a couple of weeks – with each of these teachers, I adored them: Lynn Freed, Bret Lott, Chris Abani, Antonya Nelson, Tom Jenks and, most recently, Paisley Rekdal. Each taught me something about writing and being a writer. A piece of advice I refer to over and over is this Cynthia Ozick quote passed on by Tom Jenks in his class: Play what feeble notes you can and keep practicing.

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

When I think about the books I read when I was growing up, these are the authors that come to mind: Louisa May Alcott, Daphne Du Maurier, William Faulkner, Frank Norris, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, and Jane Austen – authors worlds removed from a Filipina-Mexican-American growing up in National City, California. The only living (at the time) author that I can recall reading back then was Richard Brautigan, introduced by a student teacher in my high school English class.  Except for Fear of Flying in college, my reading repertoire would not encompass contemporary works for a few more years. It was as if I believed books existed only by long-dead writers.

So in the interim between Erica Jong and Carlos Fuentes (and the other Latin American as well as Latino and Asian and Asian-American authors whose works I would eventually seek out), I committed myself to Virginia Woolf. I was in my twenties, post-college, and missing the debate and discussion about feminism that took place in the classrooms and the commons. I wasn’t sure how one lived feminism in the world. The Voyage Out was the first of Woolf’s novel I read.

Here was a woman so removed from my life in time, place, and class, yet I connected to her words, the finely wrought sentences that paid attention to the small moments that were so ordinary and yet held such heft and meaning. I was drawn to her focus on the female consciousness, the journey from cloistered existence to intellectual freedom and independence from social strictures. I didn’t read all her works, but many of them: To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, The Years, A Room of One’s Own, Between the Acts.

I’ve only reread a few since then. But if the details of those works have not stayed with me the feeling of them has – the way she captured time, its fleetingness. Her life and character are so well-known – her fragility and her strength. The madness. But what matters most was the art, which has inspired other art – like movies. And I will always, always prefer Eileen Atkins’s portrayal of Virginia Woolf to Nicole Kidman’s.

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

Be patient. Expect rejection.

Accept that you’ll feel envy, frustration, defeat.

Move on. Focus on your work.

Develop your characters.

Develop your character.

No one owes you publication.

When you can’t sell one story, write another.

There’s luck involved ─ good and bad.

Find a community. You’re in this together.

You’re in this alone.

Be patient.

It takes time to arrive at the right word, the story.

The moment of elation.