Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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Under the Influence… of Sands Hall

Immersed in a 9-to-5, year-round office job since early 2007, I haven’t led a fiction workshop for some time. But if I should inhabit that particular teaching role again, I’d want to remind myself how the job is best done. Ideally, I’d do that by sitting in on one of Sands Hall’s workshops. I met Sands when I enrolled in her “Tools of the Writer’s Craft: Novel” workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in 1997. I subsequently returned to Iowa to take other workshops of hers. We’ve stayed in touch, and I’m proud to say that we’re friends. In […]


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Under the Influence… of Arnost Lustig

I was the worst writer in my MFA program my first year.  I know this thought isn’t unique, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true.  My confidence was shot.  I was lost as a writer and so concerned with impressing my teachers and fellow students that I had abandoned whatever it was that made me worth accepting into the program in the first place. The following summer, I attended the Prague Summer Program, where Arnost Lustig was my workshop teacher.  We began each class with jokes.  We wrote a fable every day.  We read (after a fashion) Aristotle’s Poetics.  We discussed […]


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A Teaching Writer's Resource: Glimmer Train's Monthly Bulletin

I began submitting to Glimmer Train in 1997, the same year I received my undergrad degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan. That fall, following graduation, my now-wife and I moved to a small cabin on a lake in northern Michigan so that I could be “a writer.” I’d thought I needed to live deliberately, like Thoreau, to nurture my creative spirit. But as we’ve often joked since, the experience was more like The Shining–though with a lot less space. One positive during that experience, however, was that a story of mine received an honorable mention from Glimmer […]


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Tastes Like Poetry

People tell me that I am a poetic writer. My response to this characterization varies from Thanks! to What does that mean? to Yes, my novel did sell like poetry to I want people to love my work in the way that poetry lovers love poetry, desperately and a bit dangerously, gripping the pistol under the pillow with one hand and the childhood stuffed rabbit with the other. But what, really, does this cross-genre accusation imply?  It’s meant as praise (I’m fairly certain), but wary praise, as if I’ve stumbled into a neighbor’s backyard party, where I’m welcome as long […]


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Get Writing: Stolen-Form Stories

As part of our teaching theme this month, we’re sharing some of our favorite exercises in our “Get Writing” series for classroom (or personal) use. Enjoy! Last week, Michael Rudin suggested that stealing a first line can help you overcome that new-story inertia. Here’s another larcenous twist: instead of stealing a line, steal a form. For this exercise, write a story in the form of some other piece of writing—a grocery list, an obituary, a set of instructions, liner notes, the back of a cereal box, a help wanted ad, a press release, a weather forecast… The less literary, the […]


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Under the Influence… of Fred Chappell

North Carolina’s esteemed novelist, short story writer, teacher, and former poet laureate Fred Chappell came along at a critical moment in my writing life: when I was starting to hear voices. Trained as a journalist but always identifying as a writer, I resumed a childhood poetry habit after it had been on hiatus during college. I began writing short stories as well in the early ’80s, and then started a novel. As I began to take myself (semi)-seriously as a writer, I started to attend conferences and workshops. That’s when the voices began. Don’t mix genres, the experts warned. Decide […]


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Under the Influence… of Stanley Plumly

When I was an MFA student at the University of Maryland, Stanley Plumly said two things about my poetry that have stuck with me and shaped not only how I think about my writing process but also how I approach teaching creative writing. In one conference, he asked, Will you ever write a ten-syllable line? Stanley Plumly is fond of John Keats’s work, so maybe he did want me to write in ten-syllable lines, but the question was designed to force to me think about formal choices I was making. My initial, silent response was that I was experimenting with […]


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Book of the Week: A Kite in the Wind

This week’s feature is A Kite in the Wind, edited by Andrea Barrett and Peter Turchi. Published this spring by Trinity University Press, the book is the most recent title in a series of craft books that are drawn predominately from lecturers given as a part of the Warren Wilson MFA program. Previous collections include Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World, edited by Ellen Bryan Voigt and Gregory Orr, and Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life, edited by Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi. The series has also published anthologies of both […]




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