Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 24, 2017

Author Jericho Parms reads from her essay featured in Mud Season Review Vol. 3.

To everyone who came out for our 2017 Book Launch Celebration, thank you! What a wonderful night of celebrating everything that makes the BWW what it is—the creativity and inspiration of the literary arts experienced within an open and generous community and supported by passionate volunteers whose dedication keeps it all going.

Thank you to everyone who bought a copy of Best of 2017 and Mud Season Review. Vol. 3. We appreciate your support!

Thank you again to the staffs of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2017 and Mud Season Review Vol. 3, to everyone who helped make the event happen, and to the wonderful poets and authors who read during the celebration: Julia C. Alter, Peter Biello, Elizabeth Gaucher, Benjamin Hale, Jericho Parms, and Meg Reynolds.

For those who couldn’t join us, I wanted to share with you what I announced at the launch party. And that is that I have decided to step down as organizer in May.

After 2 years of serving as organizer, and a year before that serving as managing editor of Mud Season Review, it feels like the time is right to take a breath and create some more space for my family and my own creative pursuits. I will still be serving on the board and working on behalf of this community—so I’ll look forward to still seeing and working with you all. It’s been such an amazing experience working with you all, and an honor to serve as your organizer. I can’t thank you enough for the support you’ve shown me in this role.

More info will come soon from the board as we work through the transition. In the meantime, workshops will continue as always and you can feel free to contact us any time with questions or concerns!

Opportunities

Volunteers needed!

Mud Season Review is looking for volunteers to join the fiction and art staff. If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact Lauren Bender, editor-in-chief, at editor@mudseasonreview.com.

We’re also looking for a space manager at our Burlington location. This involves keeping the space stocked with supplies and looking nice, coordinating volunteers to help keep the space open for our members, and being the point of contact for space-related questions. This is an important role for the organization and is ideal for an active member who’d like to use the space regularly during non-workshop hours for writing time. If you’re a BWW member interested in this role, please contact us.

And, we’re looking for 3 members to join a new Marketing Committee. This committee will work to help spread the word about the BWW through social media, print, and around town. If you’re interested in being on this committee, please contact us.

Announcements

Mud Season Review launches online issue #28

Congratulations to the Mud Season Review staff on the launch of issue #28! Check out the stunning artwork of Toni Hamel and the gorgeous writing of Chen Chen (poetry), Noelle Q. de Jesus (fiction), and Jericho Parms (nonfiction). Read issue #28 >

 

Congrats and thanks

Congrats to Lauren Bender, Mud Season Review editor-in-chief, whose poem, “Harm,” was recently accepted by Yes Poetry. Read the poem >

Congrats to Cynthia Close, BWW board member, who will be reading from her memoir-in-progress at the CORNELIA STREET CAFÉ 29 in NYC in June.

Thank you to the volunteers who helped to make the launch party such a successful event: Anne AverytLauren BenderPeter Biello, Cynthia CloseRose Eggert, Laura Napolitano, Erin Post, Jody SmithRebecca Starks, and Mike Sweeney.

Thank you to High-Low Jack for providing the evening’s music, to Have Your Cake Catering for providing the bar, and to Burlington City Arts and the City of Burlington for hosting us. And to our book cover artists Robert Waldo Brunelle, Jr. (Best of) and Toni Hamel (Mud Season Review).

Thanks, as well, to Jericho Parms and Benjamin Hale for leading crafts workshops in conjunction with the Mud Season Review Vol. 3 launch. Both workshops got rave reviews from our members and we’re looking forward to having Jericho and Ben back for future workshops!

 

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 10, 2017

Author Benjamin Hale will read from his work at the Mud Season Review/Best of the BWW launch party, on April 21, 2017.

Both The Best of the BWW 2017 and Mud Season Review Vol. 3 are back from the printer and our editing teams are looking forward to sharing them with all of you at the upcoming launch party on Friday, April 21!

Join us on 4.21.17, 6 to 9:30 p.m. at Contois Auditorium (in Burlington’s City Hall) for author readings, live music, refreshments, and good fun. The event is free and open to the public so feel free to bring friends. RSVP  now>

As an added bonus for the launch weekend, Mud Season Review featured author Benjamin Hale has graciously agreed to hold a craft workshop for BWW members while he’s in town for the launch.

Join Ben on Saturday, April 22, 10:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. in our workshop space in Burlington for a craft workshop on experimental fiction. RSVP for the workshop >

Ben also recently spoke with Mud Season Review co-fiction editor, Natasha Mieszkowski,  and editor-in-chief, Lauren Bender, about his work, his craft, and his advice on writing. Read the interview >

Opportunities

Workshops

What is experimental literature? A craft workshop with Benjamin Hale
Saturday, April 22, 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

As mentioned above, join us for a workshop on experimental literature with Benjamin Hale, author of the novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, 2011) and the collection The Fat Artist and Other Stories (Simon & Schuster, 2016). In this session, Ben will first lead participants through an exploration of the definitions and purposes of experimental literature (including essays and stories relevant to the discussion by Kafka, Nabokov, Roland Barthes and Zadie Smith). This will be followed by a workshop, for which participants should feel free to bring copies of their own creative work for peer review and discussion.

RSVP for this workshop >

Retreat committee

BWW guided poetry retreat

It’s time to start planning our 2017 writing retreats! If you’re interested in being part of the retreat committee for creating the retreat experiences, please contact us this week.

Live music at the launch party

Friday, April 21, 6 – 9:30 p.m.

Come listen to HIGH-LOW JACK, an old-time Mom & Pop duo consisting of Sarah Hotchkiss and John Mowad, at the Best Of 2017Mud Season Review Vol. 3 launch party!

HIGH-LOW JACK features old-timey fiddle tunes, gambling songs, bad guy songs, railroad songs, songs of sin and sadness, real music for real folks, good-timey and bad-timey music. The perfect music for writers and the perfect prelude to the evening’s readings.  RSVP  now>

Announcements

Flynn Center blog

BWW writers regularly blog for the Flynn:

Cynthia Close reviews 42nd Street >

Joyce Gallimore previews Christal Brown: The Opulence of Integrity >

Congrats and thanks

Congrats to Cynthia Close, who was recently accepted to attend a NY conference for writers pitching full-length manuscripts.

Congrats to Hank Lambert, whose memoir, Highgate Switchel : A Vermont Memoir, the First Thirty Years is now available at Phoenix Books in Burlington and Essex and The Eloquent Bookstore in St. Albans as well as online at Lulu.com. Buy a copy online >

Congrats to Kerstin Lange, whose commentary on health care as a political issue was recently featured on Vermont Public Radio. Listen to the commentary >

Congrats to Jimmy Tee, whose poem “Donny” is featured in the Vermont Stands With… art exhibition sponsored by Art Alive at Main Street Landing for the month of April.

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.

We learn how to build better stories

An interview with author Benjamin Hale

Mud Season Review co-fiction editor, Natasha Mieszkowski,  and editor-in-chief, Lauren Bender, recently talked with Benjamin Hale, author of The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore and a featured author in MSR’s print issue Vol. 3. Here’s what Ben had to say about his work, his craft, and his advice on writing.

Author Benjamin Hale will read at the Mud Season Review launch party on April 21, 2017.


To hear Ben read from his work: Join us on Friday, April 21, 6 p.m. at Contois Auditorium in Burlington’s City Hall for the Mud Season Review Vol. 3 & The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2017 launch party.  RSVP for this free event now >


Your piece [featured in Mud Season ReviewTower of Silence is an excerpt from your next novel. What inspired you to write this work? What do you hope readers take away from it?

I was teaching a class at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop last spring, and at some point I mentioned a story about the legacy of Kafka’s archives. When he was dying of tuberculosis, Kafka gave all his unpublished manuscripts, diaries, letters and so on to his friend Max Brod, and told him to burn them all after his death. He didn’t—instead, Max Brod published a lot of them (which is why we have most of the Kafka we do), and held on to the rest, which he then left to his secretary and maybe mistress, Esther Hoffe, when he died decades later in Israel. And when she died in 2007, she left them to her two daughters. The fate of the Kafka papers is still undecided—the National Library of Israel is suing the sisters to obtain them. One of the students in the class remarked on how much she hated romantic anecdotes about famous male writers giving their papers to mistresses with solemn commands to destroy them. That comment sparked the idea for this story. The other ideas floating around in there have to do with our bad habit of romanticizing the lives and suicides of great artists who were bad or badly dysfunctional people; legacy; fame; and why anyone bothers to make art in the first place.

 

You spend a lot of time in this section developing the background of the two central characters. How much time did you take to plan these characters and their histories out? Have you mentally mapped out their future as well, or do you let the story shape itself? 

I always do a lot of planning and groundwork before beginning to write the sentences of a story.  I try not to start laying down the bricks and mortar before the architect has drawn up pretty thorough blueprints for the house. I always try to start a story with a nine-part outline: I detail the action that needs to happen or the information that needs to be revealed in each leg of the story before moving on to the next. This story takes place over the course of several months, and I know what happens to each of the characters during that time. I have no idea what they might do after the story is over.

The two main characters have not met by the end of this section. Yet you’ve established enough tension surrounding them to make the reader want to know what will develop between them, and what will happen to the boxes. Could you describe your thoughts on constructing a story with such a gentle build-up of tension while maintaining a reader’s interest?

Besides thinking about the story of the Kafka archives, the other source of inspiration for this novel was Heinrich von Kleist’s novella, Michael Kohlhaas. A year or so ago I was reading all of Kleist’s novels and stories—an interest that was brought on by Kafka—but I was particularly astounded by Michael Kohlhaas. It’s about a very stubborn, principled horse trader in sixteenth-century Saxony who gets screwed out of a couple of horses by a bored aristocrat; in seeking remuneration for this relatively petty injustice, events compound upon events, and the situation spirals rapidly out of control as Michael Kohlhaas stumbles into leading a violent peasant rebellion. The novella is narrated in a cold, distant style, hovering a mile above the characters’ heads. A dry, businesslike voice moves the story quickly from one action to the next. That’s the way I want this story to unfold. I don’t know if I’ve achieved it yet—it’s a work in progress.

Since this work is currently in progress, how do you feel publishing this excerpt will impact the story? Do you ever have any hesitation or anxiety about releasing a piece of your story for the public before it’s completed? 

Maybe I should feel some hesitation about publishing part of it before it’s done, but I don’t.

With such a compelling beginning that leaves so many questions unanswered, I’m sure our readers will be anxious to know when they can expect to read the rest of it. Do you have a timeline in place yet?

All that is undecided so far. I don’t want to say anything specific, for fear of jinxing it. 

Do you have any other writing projects in the works? How far out do you plan in advance?

I have quite a few novels and stories lying around in states of semi-completion, waiting to be returned to. I hope eventually to get back to all of them, but that is all dependent on a million things, most of all the fluctuations in my teaching schedule.

Could you describe your writing process, and how you approach revising?

Step one: Planning/research. I read a lot of books about the subject I’m working on, and when I’m ready, I map out the plot. Mapping the plot usually takes at least a few weeks, and I expect to go back to my outline and fiddle around with things many times over the process of writing.

Step two: Write the first draft by hand. I always write the first draft of anything by hand in notebooks first. I try to work as quickly as I can at this stage, hopefully during the chunks of time when I’m not interrupted by teaching—during the summer, or the winter break between semesters, in January. I don’t let myself start typing it up until I’ve finished a draft of the whole thing by hand.

Step three: Type up the second draft. I prop up my notebooks on a music stand next to my desk, and type the second draft into my computer. This process takes months and months and months.  In typing the second draft, I work much more slowly, reworking the sentences as I type, taking things out and putting things in. This stage of the process is better suited to the school year, when my writing time is much more stop-and-go than those long, unbroken stretches in the summer.

Step four: Hand-edit the manuscript. I print out the manuscript, and carefully go over every sentence, again taking things out and putting things in, playing around with word choice, grammar, messing around with the sentences. This, for me, is the most fun part of writing—paying extremely close attention to every word, experimenting with language, trying to make every sentence as beautiful and interesting as it can be.

Step five: Type up the hand-edits. I put the typed and edited manuscript back on the music stand next to my desk, and make all the changes to the manuscript. This is a very slow and careful process, as I’m hoping this one will be something like a final draft.

Step six: Repeat steps four and five until happy with the result.

What are you reading right now? 

A quick list of books I’m in the middle of reading, or that I’ve read or reread recently: Mark da Silva’s Square Wave, Frank Kermode’s The Genesis of Secrecy, John Berryman’s Dream Songs, Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, Gabriel Blackwell’s Madeleine E., Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief, The Collected Poetry of Wallace Stevens, Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. And then there are things that I’m rereading because I’m teaching them, or about to teach them: Descartes’s Discourse on the Method, David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, Patricia Highsmith’s The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder, Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies, Kafka’s “The Burrow,” Jakob von Uexküll’s A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans.

You’ve already published two books: The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore and The Fat Artist and Other Stories. How has going through the publication process changed how you start to write a new novel?

In one way, it heightens anxiety about writing a new novel: I know that this one will probably be published—I’m not working desperately in the dark, as I was with my first novel. But it lessens another kind of anxiety, which comes from the terrifying questions that haunt a writer who hasn’t yet published a book while working on a book: Am I wasting my time? Will anyone ever read this? You might never get back the hunger you had when you wrote while you were starving.

The subject of writing, and other writers, seems to wiggle its way into your works. Why is that? Is this a way of examining your own processes and place within the literary world?

Whether directly or not, all literature is commentary on other literature. Some works of literature choose to ignore this. Others address it head-on. Borges, for example, or Roberto Bolaño, assume that if the reader is the sort of person who is interested in reading a Borges story or a Bolaño novel, it’s probably a safe bet that such a reader would be interested in the lives and works of writers, critics, and poets. Some books seem to be set in worlds in which writers, readers, and books do not exist. That’s not my world, or any world I would want to live in.

What is the best advice about writing you have ever received?

The single most useful tool anyone has ever given me to go about the process of trying to write fiction was a trick William Melvin Kelley taught me about sixteen years ago. Willy Kelley died at the age of 79 just recently (on February 1, 2017), and I will continue imparting his system for outlining to my students until I die, or quit teaching. Here it is:

  • Write your story in three sentences: beginning, middle, and end.
  • Take those sentences and break them into nine sentences:
  1. The beginning of the beginning.
  2. The middle of the beginning.
  3. The end of the beginning.
  1. The beginning of the middle.
  2. The middle of the middle.
  3. The end of the middle.
  1. The beginning of the end.
  2. The middle of the end.
  3. The end of the end.

You now have an outline. Take this, and start writing. This system builds a three-act structure into a story, and helps you think about a plot architecturally.

You are a senior editor of the literary journal Conjunctions. What do you enjoy most about this role? How has it influenced your own writing?

A few years ago, I co-edited an issue of Conjunctions with Bradford Morrow (the magazine’s founder and longtime editor), but aside from that project, the title is basically an honorary one. I have a direct line to Brad open though, if I ever want to send him something or if I want to pass someone else’s piece along to him. I’m a proud member of the Conjunctions family.

Has writing been a part of your life since childhood? What is the first story you remember writing? 

The first pieces of fiction I remember finishing were a couple of stories that I adapted from Boccaccio’s Decameron, when I was a freshman in college. They were sex-revenge jokes set in monasteries, which I re-set in a boys’ boarding school. They were the puerile and gleefully nihilistic products of an eighteen-year-old boy, and I bet I’d be mortified to reread them now. And yes, writing has been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been a fully conscious human.

What writers have been important to your development as a writer? 

Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Günter Grass, Italo Calvino, Miguel de Cervantes, Flannery O’Connor, James Joyce, Susan Sontag, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Patricia Highsmith…to name a few. There are many others.

Because we grew out of a workshop, we like to ask: what is your best or worst workshop experience?

I don’t have a particular experience that leaps to mind, but I do have something to say about the writing workshop in general, which is a fashionable thing to malign. The subject of what to call our writing classes here at Bard comes up from time to time—some people dislike the word “workshop” and want to do away with it. My colleague here, Ann Lauterbach, hates the word. I on the other hand rather like it. I like the humbleness of the word. It makes me think of shop class in high school: we would all be nailing and sawing on our birdhouses, while Mr. Arnold walked around the room, offering woodworking tips, practical advice about measuring, cutting, gluing, sanding. That’s pretty much the way I see my role as a teacher. I asked Ann why she hates the word “workshop” so much, and she said she doesn’t like the way it implies we’re “fixing” something. I don’t think of it so much as “fixing,” but as building—in this class, we learn how to build better stories. And in the process, we will have a more general conversation about what literature could be and should be, which is always the more important thing.

 More about Ben

Benjamin Hale is the author of the novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, 2011) and the collection The Fat Artist and Other Stories (Simon & Schuster, 2016). He has received the Bard Fiction Prize, a Michener-Copernicus Award, and nominations for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. His writing (both fiction and nonfiction) has appeared, among other places, in ConjunctionsHarper’s Magazine, the Paris Review, the New York Times, the Washington PostDissent, and the LA Review of Books Quarterly, and has been anthologized in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013. He is a senior editor of Conjunctions, teaches at Bard College, and lives in a small town in New York’s Hudson Valley.

More about Mud Season Review Vol. 3

Mud Season Review Vol. 3 is the third in our annual MSR print issue series. This volume features fiction by Benjamin Hale, nonfiction by Jericho Parms and J. Drew Lanham, poetry by Chen Chen, and additional work by many other talented writers and artists. MSR Vol. 3 will be available for purchase soon at MudSeasonReview.com.

To hear Ben and others read selections from MSR Vol. 3: Join us on Friday, April 21, 6 p.m. at Contois Auditorium in Burlington’s City Hall for the Mud Season Review Vol. 3 & The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2017 launch party.  RSVP for this free event now >