Writing Prompt by Rob Roberge

I’m a great believer in forced limitations—stories/modes of composition that have some pre-enforced limitation that requires us to find creative and unique ways out of a bind (as writing is, among other things, a form of creative problem-solving).  Lipograms, formal poetry, all these things tend to spur creativity.  So, with that in mind, a writing prompt:

Do a three to five page story (it can be longer, but if you’re stuck and looking to get un-stuck, sometimes shorter is better) in which, in the last paragraph, a character ends up alone in a motel room.  A few rules:

• Make it a MOTEL, not hotel, room.  They are different and the potential for unease, squalor, and the gravity of loneliness is greater in a motel.

• The character who ends up alone in your last paragraph MAY be your main character, but it doesn’t have to be the main character.

• Do not, no matter how great your misguided intention, have the character(s) alone throughout the story.  Remember Flaubert’s great observation from his notebooks that things exist in fiction when they are worked upon by other things…that the sunlight doesn’t exist for the reader until they see it coming through a window with dust specs floating in it…that the wheels of the cart don’t exist until you hear them rolling over cobblestones.  The same is true of people—they exist much more vibrantly in fiction when they are worked upon by other things and other people.  Have your characters interact.  Give your main character a desire and have him or her act on that desire with others.

• The story need not limit itself to the motel as a setting.  It only needs to end with the character alone in the motel—anything else is up to you.

Biography of Rob Roberge: Rob Roberge is the author of the upcoming book of stories, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life (Red Hen, Fall, 2110), and the novels, More Than They Could Chew (Perennial, Dark Alley/Harper Collins, February 2005), and Drive (Hollyridge Press, 2006).  He teaches writing in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, in the MFA program in Creative Writing at UC-Riverside’s Palm Desert, and in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where he received the Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 2003.  His stories have been featured in ZYZZYVA, Chelsea, Other Voices, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the “Ten Writers Worth Knowing Issue” of The Literary Review.  His work has also been anthologized in Another City (City Lights, 2001),  It’s All Good (Manic D Press, 2004) and SANTI: Lives of the Modern Saints (Black Arrow Press, 2007).  Newer work is scheduled to appear, or has appeared, in Penthouse, Black Clock, and OC Noir, part of the series that includes San Francisco Noir, LA Noir and Las Vegas Noir.  He plays guitar and sings with several LA bands, including, among others, the punk pioneers, The Urinals.  In his spare time, he restores and rebuilds vintage amplifiers and quack medical devices.  For news and more info, visit & or email at www.robroberge.com or on Facebook.

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Writing tip by Peter Gadol

When I was a senior in high school, I was part of a fortunate group who got to meet with Isaac Bashevis Singer–he would have been about eighty–and he offered this advice (I’m paraphrasing):

All of you are what, seventeen, eighteen? And you are being told, Write what you know.  Write what you know-but what do you know?  Most of you haven’t even had sex yet.  So.  Don’t write what you know.  Write what you want to know about.

Write what you want to know about.  And let me amend that notion and suggest:  Write what you’ve always wanted to know about.

The best writing is born from curiosity.  Figure out the inner workings of a bakery or the Kremlin or the harpsichord or mitochondria.  How long have we been cooking with fennel?  Who settled Iceland?  How does a bistro manager know how much food to order for the next day?  Who lived in your house before you did?  What makes a dinghy seaworthy?  Research, explore, travel.  And along the way, note the people whom you encounter.  Chances are that you’ll still want to write what you know, but what you know will work its way into a whole new realm, namely what you’ve figured out.  It will be great!

Biography of Peter Gadol: Peter Gadol is the author of six novels, including most recently Silver Lake and Light at Dusk. He teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Otis College of Art and Design.

Writing Tip by Sarah Maclay

That Hemingway Thing

“Just write one true thing . . .” I can’t tell you how many times this has gotten me out of a jam.  And that’s “true” with a small t.  Try a Big T truth and this will have the opposite effect:  it’ll shut you down.  Plus it will probably be abstract, which is the opposite of where you want to go.  Usually, the “true thing” is something I see—“A bell in a window. Verdigris.  Still.  How the roses tatter in heat. ” It doesn’t seem to matter how small it is, if it registers precisely on the senses.  For some reason it unlocks the next line, and the next.  What becomes important: don’t jimmy it.  Stay true.  This can be odder than you’d think, but embrace that oddness.  As Charlie Murrow says, only the strange is luminous.  I once started a poem while driving across town in the late afternoon among wet vines, block after block, lining the boulevard: they smelled like cat piss.  This “smell image” started a poem that ended in an apartment, with a sweeping of shattered glass.  The cat piss, by the way, did not stay in the poem.  But without it, the poem would not have begun.

Biography of Sarah Maclay: Sarah Maclay is the award-winning author of The White Bride and Whore (University of Tampa Press). Her poems, reviews and essays have appeared in APR, Ploughshares, FIELD, The Writers’ Chronicle, Verse Daily, The Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 to the Present and Poetry International.  She teaches creative writing and literature at Loyola Marymount University.

Writing Tip by Samantha Dunn Camp

Getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes us tick is not something that comes easily, even for those who are inclined to want to do it. It seems we naturally resist examining why we are the way we are; we want to avoid looking at our contradictions, the places where we don’t make sense. That, however, is exactly the place we need to write from in order to arrive at insight.

I have my memoir students in the UCLA Writers’ Program do this as a beginning exercise: As quickly as possible, write fifteen sentences using this construction, “I’m the kind of person who________ but ____________ .” For example, I’m the kind of person who votes democrat but hates to pay taxes. Think first about actions in the world, rather than thoughts or beliefs—the tangible as opposed to the abstract.

After they have done the fifteen, I ask that they observe the list, think hard, then choose one of those sentences to expand upon for a 20-minute timed writing. The structure of the sentence usually ends up falling away like old scaffolding. What emerges is insight—the key to making any narrative more finely layered, more profound.

Biography of Samantha Dunn Camp: Samantha Dunn Camp is the author of several books including the memoirs, Not By Accident, and, Faith in Carlos Gomez. Her essays are widely anthologized.  For more information visit her website at http://www.samanthadunn.biz.