Opportunities and Announcements: Week of March 6, 2017

It’s time to choose the next book for our Literature Reading Series! As with each new season of the series, the existing reading group has come up with 3 choices. And now it’s your turn to vote.

The choices are:

  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  • The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector

Survey is open through Wednesday, March 15. Vote now >

And save your spot in the series >

Opportunities

Book Launch Party: Best of the BWW 2017 and Mud Season Review vol. 3

Friday, April 21, 6:00 – 9:30 p.m.
Burlington City Hall’s Contois Auditorium

Join us for a special celebration of the 5th anniversary of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop series and the 3rd annual print issue of Mud Season Review. Enjoy free food, a cash bar, and live music. Listen to readings by some of our featured authors. And celebrate the hard work and creative efforts of your fellow writers and editors.

This celebration is free to attend and open to all—not just BWW members—so feel free to bring a friend (or more)! We do ask that you please RSVP >

Upcoming workshops

Want to give oral storytelling a try? Vermont is home to a thriving oral storytelling community. If you’d like to be part of it, a great first step is to come to one of our monthly oral storytelling workshops. Led by award-winning storyteller Deena Frankel, these workshops offer a safe, intimate space to explore this unique genre. RSVP for our upcoming workshops in March and April.

Want to use your ability as a writer to make a difference? Learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Vermont’s “Right to Know” law to learn more about the way governments behave. Peter Biello of New Hampshire Public Radio and Katie Jickling of Seven Days will be on hand to talk about FOIA and VT’s RTK laws. They’ll also provide examples of stories unearthed through or enhanced by FOIA and RTK requests. There are only 2 spots left in this March 18th workshop. RSVP now >

Also, our April 2017 workshop calendar is now available. RSVP for April workshops >

Announcements

Mud Season Review

You may have noticed that Mud Season Review is taking a short hiatus from online issues. The staff is working hard on the upcoming print issue, volume 3, which will come out in April, and will be back to publishing monthly online issues next month. We’re looking forward to celebrating the launch of this 3rd annual print issue, along with the 5th annual Best of anthology on Friday, April 21. Join us for the celebration >

Flynn Center Blog

BWW writers regularly blog for the Flynn:

Cynthia Close reviews The Chieftains’ recent performance on the Flynn MainStage.

Kelly Hedglin Bowen reviews Garrison Keillor’s recent visit to the Flynn MainStage.

Joyce Gallimore reviews MOMIX’s Opus Cactus on the Flynn MainStage.

Congrats and thanks

Thanks to the Milton Library for hosting me for a 2-series creative writing workshop. I had a wonderful time meeting some new writing friends and look forward to welcoming them into the BWW community!

Congrats to BWW board member, Cynthia Close, whose profile of artist and creator of art-to-wear Maggie Neale appears in the current issue of Vermont Woman.

Congrats to our Best of the BWW 2017 nonfiction editor, Nina Gaby, whose piece, “A Couple Bad Nights in Brindisi” has just been published in Susan Cushman’s (Ed) A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Were Meant to Be from Mercer Press. Nina is grateful to the Montpelier BWW group for workshopping an early iteration of the essay. Gaby has also just been published on the BrevityMag blog and in Rock&Sling’s inauguration anthology.

Support

Support for the BWW comes from A Book of One’s Own Literary Services. Janice Obuchowski is a longtime fiction editor who helps cull and refine writing.  Through offering substantial feedback and developmental suggestions on short stories, essays, and book-length manuscripts, she can make your writing more compelling, polished, and ready to submit to agents and literary journals.  Contact her at ownbookliterary@gmail.com to inquire about specific pricing and services, or visit ownbookliterary.com.

StoryCraft: Jensen Beach and Kerrin McCadden’s Reading List

If you joined us for our recent event, in partnership with RETN, “StoryCraft: A Way with Words: Conversations on the Art, Work & Practice of Writing,” you know that featured writers Jensen Beach and Kerrin McCadden offered a wealth of great wisdom and advice. Our friend and host of the conversation, Gin Ferrara of Spindle & Widget, captured their recommended reading list in this blog post. We’re re-posting it here so our members can check out these recommendations. Happy reading!


Writers Kerrin McCadden and Jensen BeachThere’s no better question to ask a mediamaker than, “What films have influenced you?” So naturally, if we asked authors Jensen Beach and Kerrin McCadden, our guests from “StoryCraft: A Way with Words,” what books have influenced them, we’d have quite a list.

Fortunately, we didn’t even have to ask them, they shared a great list with us during our talk. And we compiled the books they mentioned into a rather impressive list.

So, without further ado, we present:

JENSEN AND KERRIN’S RECOMMENDED READING (in order of mention)

  1. Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen
  2. The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, by Charles Baxter
  3. The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song, by Ellen Bryant Voigt
  4. About A Mountain, by John D’Agata 
  5. Ongoingness: The End of A Diary, Sarah Manguso
  6. Stories of Happy People by Lars Gustafsson

If you missed the conversation, hosted by RETN and Burlington Writers Workshop, you can watch it now: http://www.retn.org/show/way-words-conversations-art-work-practice-writing

This is just one of our engaging StoryCraft conversations with Vermont artists, mediamakers, and writers on the craft of story making. Register now for our talk on April 14th, with Erica Heilman of RumbleStrip Vermont.

Make Don DeLillo’s White Noise a Highlight of Your Winter

Burlington Writers Workshop member Anna Carey reflects on her experiences in the BWW’s Literature Reading Series and invites you to join. The series kicked off this summer with ‘Infinite Summer,’ an extension of a Burlington area reading group of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest hosted by Patrick Brownson and Rick Rowan, and has continued on throughout the fall and winter with a new book, chosen by BWW member vote, each season.

White Noise by Don DeLillo

The BWW’s 2016 Winter Literature Reading Group will tackle White Noise by Don DeLillo

What’s up with those book titles regularly drumming ‘read me’ from your shelves—for years really?

Last spring, while visiting my son, we both noted that bold chartreuse print—INFINITE JEST—on recognizable shades of blue pulsating like a neon sign.  Who can resist that two-word title, a perfect invitation to search for meaning and delight? Upon arrival home, the Burlington Writers Workshop serendipitously announced the ‘Infinite Summer’ literature reading group—an opportunity to actually hoist from the shelf and complete David Foster Wallace’s extraordinary novel.

This past summer, a group of us gathered weekly around a large table for 15 sessions. Encouraged by the respect and insight modeled by workshop leaders Patrick and Rick, our group combined the most erudite American lit discussions, hordes of cultural references to other books, movies, TV, music…and genuine jest. If David Foster Wallace didn’t have enough perspectives on our random universe, our group provided rich perspectives on style, interpretation and meaning—no small feat.

Expanding on the success of Infinite Summer, this fall a similar group of diverse folks read Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which follows two women’s friendship from preschool into very early adulthood. One group member’s Little Italy childhood in Boston enriched our understanding of the novel. And again, Patrick’s enthusiasm and honesty enriched the atmosphere for a vibrant conversational volley that explored class, friendship, and creativity imagined astutely as the narrator herself transforms from girl to woman.

So why not consider a seasonal approach to your book collection crying for attention? Starting Tuesday, January 5, 2016, 6:30-8:00 pm, the BWW’s 2016 Winter Literature Reading Group will take on Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Especially inviting is that you can experience a warm winter activity that is free, social, and invigorating.  I know absolutely nothing about the upcoming book (admittedly learned new term ‘eco-lit’ upon ordering) and yet still feel assured that reading and discussing White Noise will be a highlight of this winter.

There are still a few spots left. Sign up now >

—Anna Carey, BWW member

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 20, 2015

David Foster Wallace is the author of INFINITE JEST, a novel known as much for its brilliance as it is for its endnotes.

David Foster Wallace is the author of INFINITE JEST, a novel known as much for its brilliance as it is for its endnotes.

You’ve heard of Infinite Jest. It’s that massive novel by David Foster Wallace that made him a post-modern literary star in the mid-90s. I started Infinite Jest years ago, never finished it, and have been meaning to restart it and read it all the way through. DFW meant for readers to read it twice. I’m still hoping to finish it once.

Patrick Brownson has read it five times. He’s the leader of Burlington’s “Infinite Summer,” a 13-week guided reading of Infinite Jest. Infinite Summer is a great way to commit to reading this masterpiece of postmodern literature because it keeps you rooted in a community of readers. This summer, the BWW, Patrick, and Rick Rowan are working together to bring Infinite Summer to the BWW.

We’ll be scheduling these for every Tuesday from June-August, so if you’re interested, keep an eye on our Meetup.com page on April 30th. That’s when we’ll schedule the meetings for June.

We also have a limited number of copies of the book you can borrow for this. We ask that if you borrow a copy, you stick through the whole summer (you can miss one or two weeks, but you still have to do the reading). Contact us if you’d like to borrow one and we’ll arrange a time for you to pick it up.

We’ve got some writing and job opportunities in this week’s post, so let’s get down to it, shall we? Continue reading

Reading With A Pen

file000424834161I recently found this fascinating article about reading with a pen by Tim Parks in The New York Review of Books. The gist is this: the printed word is powerful, but it’s also seductive, so don’t let yourself be seduced too easily.

He’s referring to a common, dangerous assumption: if a book is published, it must be good. We may believe that each sentence has been vetted for clarity, each paragraph hangs together, and the author’s logic holds water. This isn’t necessarily true, Parks reminds us. He provides several examples of badly written published works to make his point.

Readers definitely fall into this trap. I’m definitely guilty of it, too. But if readers are at times not critical enough, creative writing workshop participants may be too critical. Workshoppers may assume that if a piece of writing isn’t published, there must be something wrong with it. This assumption isn’t necessarily correct, and if it isn’t consciously banished from your brain, you may blind yourself to the author’s intent.

Note: this isn’t the first time I’ve warned against “looking for errors” in a work-in-progress. I speak about it at length in “On Giving Feedback.”

It’s wise to be alert while reading, to “resist enchantment for a while, or at least for long enough to have some idea of what we are being drawn into,” as Parks says. But I would caution against being so alert that you find problems that aren’t really there. A general, almost neutral awareness of your responses to each part of the piece is the real weapon here—a weapon that takes time and effort to cultivate.

The Art of Writing and the Presence of Truth

oscar-wilde-1

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, in his essay The Decay of Lying, famously claimed that “life imitates art.” This thesis stands in opposition to the Aristotelian idea of mimesis, which holds that our greatest art—in all artistic forms—attempts to describe and represent the real. Wilde’s statement defies this, as does his believe that life and nature are “uncomfortable” and that human creation is a defiance of nature. In this way, he argues that life, our lives, is an imitation of the art we see all around us. Continue reading

BWW Book Recommendations

It’s a workshop tradition:  we take turns introducing ourselves and answer one question. Last night’s question was: “What book would you recommend?” Here’s what the members in attendance last night recommended.

Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter by Peter Manseau
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen
Who Stepped on a Duck? By Jim Dawson
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
I Was Thinking of Beauty by Sydnea Lea
A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
A Million Years With You by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Client by John Grisham
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Tirza by Arnon Grunberg
Alice Munro stories
Salinger by David Salerno
The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway

It’s a diverse list: short stories, thriller fiction, highbrow literary works, poetry, biographies, and one book about the history of farting (we were surprised to hear this recommendation, too). It speaks to the diversity of opinions in the average BWW workshop.

What books would you recommend?

Five Podcasts For Writers

We’re all busy people. It’s sometimes hard to squeeze discussions of writing into our daily lives. One way to do this is to listen to a podcast. There are many out there, but I wanted to share a list of the five I’ve enjoyed recently.

shelagh-1

Shelagh Shapiro hosts “Write The Book” on The Radiator in Burlington, VT.

Write The Book. A local podcast comes first on my list. It’s hosted by BWW member Shelagh Shapiro. She’s done her homework for every interview and it shows. I know this because I listen to the podcast and because I’ve been interviewed for it.

The Drunken Odyssey. This is a gem. It features discussions of craft, live readings of short fiction and poetry, and essays on books that have changed lives.

Deborah Treisman edits fiction at The New Yorker and hosts the podcast.

Deborah Treisman edits fiction at The New Yorker and hosts the podcast.

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. This is probably a standard on writing podcast lists, but it’s very important. In each podcast, an author sits down with New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman to discuss a short story that he/she likes. Then the author reads the story and continues the discussion. Hearing stories aloud is a brilliant way to internalize the rhyhtm of fiction. After all, wasn’t storytelling originally an oral/aural tradition?

Selected Shorts. Produced by Public Radio International, this one features short stories read aloud by actors. A simple concept and a great service to writers.

bookworm

Michael Silverblatt of Bookworm.

KCRW’s Bookworm. Produced in California, this public radio show hosted by Michael Silverblatt is always surprising. Silverblatt blows me away with his insights, and he often surprises the authors with how well he’s digested their novels/poems/memoirs. You will have a hard time finding a better author interview show.

These are just a few of many that appeal to and inspire writers. What are your favorites?

Open Letter Books Take Risks, Deliver Huge Rewards

Open Letter Books is publishing some of the best novels I’ve read in years.

While at AWP in Boston in March, I stopped by the Open Letter table, stunned by the most superficial of things: the covers of their books. Simply designed and featuring bold colors, the books seemed unpretentious, focused, and inviting. The way they felt in my hands, with their soft matte covers and crisp pages, made me want to hold them longer. Sappy, I know. But the descriptions of the stories seemed interesting, so I bought four of them. And I’m so glad I did.

Tirza coverTirza by Arnon Grunberg is the story of a man who slowly loses his mind. Jörgen Hofmeester has lost a fortune after the September 11th attacks, and now his daughter, Tirza, is dating a man who looks, to Jorgen, a lot like Mohammad Atta, one of the September 11th hijackers. Jörgen himself is seething, but he’s barely aware of his anger, or any of his feelings, which is why, when he goes crazy and commits a horrible crime, we’re barely aware of it until long after it happens. When I discovered what Jorgen had done, I had to read that passage twice, just to be sure I understood what had just been revealed.

From Tirza, I went to 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev. In this novel, the protagonist, Zachary Karabashliev, is struggling to make sense of his life after his wife Stella walks out of it. He drives from the United States to Mexico for some self-destructive debauchery and, through a few strange twists, ends up with a huge bag of marijuana. Somehow he crosses back into the United States with the marijuana and decides to take it to New York City to sell. Along the way, he takes photographs of the people (18% gray is a photography reference).

Eighteen_Percent_Gray-web-194x30018% Gray is useful for writers because it uses what MFA programs typically advise you not to use: flashbacks. This whole novel depends on italicized flashbacks—conversations between Zachary and Stella as he takes pictures of her. As I read these flashbacks, I couldn’t help but remember the advice of a famous author I studied with: “Avoid flashbacks whenever possible.” Apparently it wasn’t possible to avoid them in 18% Gray, and thank goodness Karabashliev didn’t try to write around them, as I often do.

By the way, this novel has a twist at the end, too—but I won’t spoil it for you.

Finally, there’s Scars by Juan José Saer. This novel breaks the mold. It’s so far from the MFA model of storytelling that you may want to read it just to wash the repetitive three act structure out of your brain (although you could argue that this book has three acts, too). The story revolves around an event that we witness only in the fourth and final part of the book: a man shoots his wife in the face with a shotgun. The first part is the story of a young man who lives a troubled life with his mother and witnesses the murderer’s suicide. The second part features an attorney obsessed with baccarat. A judge creates a “superfluous” translation of The Picture of Dorian Gray in the third part. And then the murderer tells his story in the fourth.

scars_highresScars makes you work as a reader in ways that American novels today do not. I pushed through long passages in which the lawyer explains his baccarat strategy, searching wildly for the gleaming nugget of truth. I struggled to follow the judge as he drives to and from work, coldly describing people as “gorillas.” There is a reward for all this work—the sense that you have vicariously experienced life as another person. What else can you ask of a good novel?

I’ve yet to read the fourth and shortest of the novels I picked up at the Open Letter Books table: A Short Tale of Shame by Angel Igov. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Did I mention that all these novels are translated from non-English languages? Tirza was written in Dutch; 18% Gray, Bulgarian; Scars, Spanish.

Perhaps I found these novels so refreshing because they came from so far away. These did not feel like American books. These books take risks. As writers, we gain so much by reading writers who remind us that risk-taking is more than just possible. Risk taking is desirable, because the rewards to readers, as these books demonstrate, are enormous.

Chekhov’s Six Short Story Principles

chek

Anton Chekhov’s six aspects of fiction make for good revision guidelines.

I’ve been working on short stories lately, and every time I sit down to revise one, I’m reminded of how difficult they are. In my MFA workshops, my short stories were shot so full of holes that revising them seemed pointless. Once a teacher told me, “This story, in my view, can’t be fixed.” When you get a comment like that, you remember it well enough to put it in firm quotes.

Still, even with stories that “can’t be fixed,” I revise for a couple of months, then take my lessons from the failed story and start a newer, better story. Progress on my overall skill level was (and is) like watching an enormous file download very slowly.

In my novel and memoir workshops at UNCW, however, the feedback was much better, which makes me wonder why I’m even trying to write short stories when I should be playing to my strengths.

Because short stories are damned awesome, that’s why. I’ve read quite a few good ones lately and have a few well-reviewed collections on my shortlist now, including Tenth of December by George Saunders and Bobcat by Rebecca Lee (who was on my thesis committee at UNCW).

When I’m wrestling with a new short story, I tend to pick up my copy of Anton Chekhov’s stories (the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation). The stories seem so pure that I can’t help but find myself going back to basics, scanning my own stories once for character, once for plot, once for dialogue, once for setting, etc. But perhaps the most helpful part of this book is the introduction, in which Chekhov’s writing advice is quoted.

According to Chekhov, there are six aspects of a good story: “1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature; 2. total objectivity; 3. truthful descriptions of persons and objects; 4. extreme brevity; 5. audacity and originality: flee the stereotype; 6. compassion.”

These are helpful guidelines for revision. Perhaps my favorite of these is the last, “compassion.” That’s because it’s the most complex rule here. It asks us to avoid needlessly heaping pain and suffering on our characters. We can make them suffer, sure, but there’s got to be a clear reason for it. So I ask: Are my characters victims of my imagination? Or are they heroic in their suffering?

I’ll have one of my own stories reviewed by the BWW on Wednesday. I will admit that it’s an odd story, but after hearing so many good things about “Break and Enter” at the Book Launch Party last April, I’m wondering if I’ve turned the corner on short stories, or if I’m still writing stuff that “can’t be fixed.” Either way, I’ll wrestle with it for a few months, take my lessons, and move on.

“Best of BWW 2013” Giveaway On Goodreads

I’m a big fan of Goodreads, the social networking website for readers. It allows me to create an ambitious reading list that I’ll never, ever finish, but at least that list exists, so that when I get spare cash, I can find that book I thought was so cool three months ago and buy it.

bww2013coversmall

Click on the book and enter to win!

The site has many features. Among those features is the giveaway. I’ve added three copies of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013 to the Goodreads giveaway page, and I hope you’ll enter the contest and add it to your “to-read” list. The deadline is later this month. It’s open to people all across the country, but I hope some lucky Vermonters win!  (Goodreads chooses the winners.)

And true to the whole BWW mission, I hope you’ll provide feedback on the book. I’ve been unable to pick my favorite story/essay/poem, but maybe you could list yours!