News from Writers At Work

Happy to announce that Doug McBride, a longtime participant in Meditate/Create and the newest member of The Art of Prose, has had his first publication of a work of fiction, the story “New Years Eve” in Wolf Willow Journal.  You can read it here: http://www.wolfwillowjournal.com/new-years-eve.html

Congratulations, Doug!

At my desk

Last week I had the chance to participate in two separate discussions about David Shields’ Reality Hunger: a Manifesto, the first with members of the Working from Life: Writing Creative Nonfiction workshop and the second with two members of the Future of Publishing Think Tank (FOPTT).

Shields’ book contends that shifts in perception—of self, of the world, of the nature and function of art—are changing the ways in which content is created and consumed.  The book is loosely assembled as a collage of quotations by writers, musicians, filmmakers and cultural critics—and occasionally Shields himself—that allows disparate points of view to bounce off one another and vibrate in proximity.  The structure supports one of Shields’ assertions—that a tidily structured narrative is so unlike the way we experience our lives, barraged with information as we are, as to be an obsolete way of structuring a work of art.  Instead he argues for breaking form and for barely mediated content and he challenges the notion that one can originate content. As his subtitle indicates, he intends to be provocative.

Among Working from Life participants, two points garnered huge pushback. The first is Shields’ flagrant appropriation of the words of others (he does cite sources but only at the insistence of his publisher’s attorneys and suggests one might just cut out of the book those pages of citation). One of my students is a board member of the National Writers’ Union and a vigorous defender of artist copyright protection. While it’s self-defeating for any artist not to be a defender of these laws, I’m also not in favor of sacred cows.  I’m willing to at least imagine a world without intellectual property, one in which ideas and their expression are not owned by anyone, just as many indigenous societies did not have any concept that land should or could be owned.  What would that be like?  It would mean artists would need to find other ways of supporting themselves, but most artists do anyway.  What would it mean for the kind of art created or the way we regarded such creations—not as the result of the effort of a single, exceptional individual but arising out of a collective and communal pool of values, ideas and experience.

The other point of resistance, also shared by one of my FOPTT colleagues, is Shields’ dismissal of fiction.  He clearly believes that nonfiction is the more honest and relevant form (though he does acknowledge that nonfiction contains a health dose of fictionalizing.)  One of my students and one of my colleagues were both passionate in their defense of the pleasures of the novel, of losing themselves in an invented world that could nevertheless reveal potent truths about this one.

Shields is especially scathing about the element of plot, which he feels is artificial and tidy and serves to narrow the perception of the world rather than expand it.  Anyone who has worked with me knows I am an avid proponent of plot as an engine that can move the story forward and as a device that helps to shape meaning.  To me, plot provides the bones on which a story can be hung; Shields may be proposing that we move beyond story itself.

To me this is the value of a work like Reality Hunger. The opportunity to engage with bold ideas—whether one agrees with them or not—is expansive, and nothing is more valuable, I think, for an artist, is whatever facilitates that expansion of mind and perspective.  When I teach at Antioch, I tell the students, “I’m here to mess with you.”  By that, I mean I want to help them broaden perspectives, undermine assumptions, open to greater possibilities.  In Reality Hunger, Shields intends to mess with us, and in the best possible way.

Writing Prompt by Rob Roberge

A revision prompt:  Go back through any story you’ve done (or essay or whatever) and highlight every simile or metaphor.  Usually our first attempts at these are pat—using the borrowed language dead with, as Shklovsky points out (in the great book for writers “Theory of Prose”), the weight of familiarity. Say you’ve written a clunker like: “We fought like cats and dogs.”  Take this simile’s beginning, “We fought like…” and then write five more similes. Usually, sometime around the third or fourth, a writer will find a sharp, original simile or metaphor that another writer (with a different history of experience and experience in language) would not have come up with.  It’s a way to distinguish your work from other people’s, and a way to give voice to your unique history with event and language.

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.

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.

Writing Prompt by Felicia Luna Lemus

Punk Nerd Revolution Writing Prompt

Pick a central character you’d like to develop further.   What is one thing you know for sure about said character?

Revolt!  Take the one thing you know for sure about your character’s identity and turn it on its head.    For instance, if your character is male, make your character female instead.    If your character is straight, queer his/her life.    If your character believes in the fantastic, make your character a rationalist.    If your “character” is a constant presence of grey skies, make your character sunshine brightness.    If your “character” is an urban metropolis, make your character pastoral.

Write at least 5 pages in this experiment.   (If you’re applying this experiment to a work-in-progress, choose a scene you’re having difficulty with.)

Perhaps you’ll realize that this identity switch is exactly what the character needs to become dynamic and you will decide to replace the “original” character with the “opposite” character.    More likely, there will be ways that the “opposite” character can inform the “original” character or your narrative as a whole.    What unexpected details/perspectives/conflicts can be incorporated into a revision?

Enjoy.   And let the punk nerd revolution begin!

Biography of Felicia Luna Lemus: Felicia Luna Lemus is the author of the novels Like Son (Akashic Books) and Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).   Her writing has appeared in numerous anthologies and in magazines including BOMB, ZYZZYVA, and Latina.   For more information: www.FeliciaLunaLemus.com.

Writing Tip by Lisa Teasley

Photo by Rex Wilson

Take Notes

When it comes to fiction, my primary discipline, I’m brought to the page by character: his or her peculiarities, vulnerabilities, self-perceived shortcomings, and conflicts with others.   If I’m stuck in any way with narrative flow, I’ll take notes on the character’s history, whims, scuffles, crises, and then come back to the page fresh with understanding.   When reading poetry, the newspaper, or even the ending film credits, I jot down a word or name that pops out alien and seductive, emphasizing the art of language.   Working in the yard, dancing, and going to see art are also juicers to get me back to the computer, feeling less enslaved by the editor in my head and more newly motivated to create.

Biography of Lisa Teasley: Lisa Teasley is the author of acclaimed novels HEAT SIGNATURE (Bloomsbury, 2006) and DIVE (Bloomsbury, 2004), and the award-winning story collection, GLOW IN THE DARK (Cune Press, 2002 and Bloomsbury, 2006).   Teasley is writer and presenter of the BBC Television documentary “High School Prom”; her stories and essays have been much anthologized, appearing in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Essence magazine.   She has taught in the Cal Arts and Antioch MFA writing programs, as well as the UCLA Writers Program.   Her website is www.lisateasley.com.

Writing Tip by Eric Gutierrez

That throbbing cursor at the top of an empty computer screen at the beginning of a new tale is the Medusa that can often turn imagination into stone.   To get past not getting started I still use that old trick of writing the last sentence first, regardless of whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction.

If I’m already working on something and the words aren’t coming that particular day, I will kick-start the keyboard by writing a letter from one of my subjects (either a character or actual person) to myself, using his/her voice, concerns, humor, life.   I find they often confide in me this way.   “Their” letters usually yield some new dimension or information and spark a detail or reference point I hadn’t previously known or considered.   The subjects’ interior lives get richer and I get that cursor moving across the screen.
 

 Biography of Eric Gutierrez: Eric Gutierrez is a writer, essayist and cultural commentator.   His fiction has appeared in several anthologies, including Indivisible and the Lambda Award-winning The Man I Might Become. His essays and non-fiction have appeared in Harvard Divinity Today, huffingtonpost.com, NuestraVoice.com and the anthology Gay Widowers: Life After the Death of a Partner. He is the author of Disciples of the Street: God & Rap in the Holy Land of Hip Hop, profiled on The Tavis Smiley Show, and co-editor of Suave: The Latin Male. His scripts for stage and television include the Imagen Award-nominated theaterwork “By the Hand of the Father” (co-writer), and “Los Beltran,” nominated for an American Latino Media Arts (ALMA) Award for Best Television Comedy.   He is the recipient of a Brody Fellowship from the California Community Foundation and a Burton Fellowship from Harvard and lives once again in Los Angeles.