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 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 Prompt by Alistair McCartney!

 

Writing Prompt: The Pitiless

In Volume One of his collected letters, Gustave Flaubert wrote that “the highest and most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, nor to arouse lust or rage, but to do what nature does—that is, to set us dreaming.”  He went on to say that writing that achieves this often has a pitiless aspect to it.  Its “somber depths turn us faint, yet over the whole there hovers an extraordinary tenderness.”

This prompt is based on this idea that writing from a point of severe detachment can set the reader dreaming. So choose a moment of heightened drama to write about.  I often suggest a death scene to my students, but it can be any moment that’s full of extreme tension—a scene of violence, of heartbreak.  Write about this moment focusing purely on the concrete details, avoiding any commentary, any statement of how the characters or narrator feel, erasing any hint of melodrama.  The idea is, through describing this moment without emotion, in an almost pitiless manner, great feeling will be evoked in the reader.  I do this exercise in fiction classes, but it can be done in any genre.

Biography of Alistair McCartney:  Alistair McCartney recently published The End of the World Book: a Novel (University of Wisconsin Press, April, 08), which was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Debut Fiction Award.  Currently at work on his second novel, The Death Book, he teaches creative writing in Antioch University’s MFA and BA Programs.  See what he’s up to at http://alistairmccartney.blogspot.com

Writing Tip by Suzanne Lummis

Suzanne Lummis

Here, the object is to enrich the language of your poetry and perhaps also trick yourself into writing a poem you wouldn’t have otherwise.   Sometimes it’s a poem your subconscious has been holding in its storage unit – you just needed the right key.   Open a dictionary at random, here and there, chose sensory, evocative words that you’ve never used in your poems, a selection of nouns, verbs and adjectives—words like puma, swagger and frothy, or gingerbread, captivate and fluorescent.   Add a mineral or precious stone, a celestial body, and a commercial brand name.   Now steal three words from a poet whose work you love (but make sure they’re not the poet’s signature words.   If it’s Plath don’t take “bald,” “hooks,” “moon”).   Put them on scraps of paper and choose a few blind.   Now, instead of starting with a topic or event then searching for the right words, you’ll let the words lead you to the poem’s subject.  Don’t be literal; don’t put everything in its logical context.  Go for the image, use the words in unpredictable ways, and mix them into areas where one wouldn’t expect to see such words.   Good luck.  Viva Poetry.

Biography of Suzanne Lummis: Suzanne Lummis, in a program funded by the NEA, is one of fifty writers selected to represent Los Angeles at the 2009 Guadalajara International Book Fair. Her poems appear in California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present (Heyday Books), Poems of the American West (Knopf), Place as Purpose: Poetry of the Western States (Autry/Sun & Moon), and in major literary publications in the U.S. and U.K. Work is forthcoming in The New Ohio Review.  She teaches several levels of poetry through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has developed classes on the Poem Noir (“Poetry Goes to the Movies”), the persona poem and the socio-political poem.  “In Danger,” a collection of poetry, was published by Heyday Books as part of The California Poetry Series.

Writing Prompt from Gail Wronsky

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 The Beauty of Collisions

 Sometimes you need to bang some very different things up against each other in order to make the sparks of poetry fly.   It’s a way of “by indirection find(ing) direction out” (Shakespeare’s phrase) or of “tell(ing) the truth but tell(ing) it slant” (Emily Dickinson’s).   Sometimes when you approach a thing directly, without making surprising associations, you find that it’s nearly impossible to say something new, to make discoveries about it.   For example, a few years ago I went to India.   While I was there I wrote like crazy and assumed I’d be able to come home and turn that writing into poetry.   But I couldn’t.   Once home, the material seemed to go flat, seemed full of trite imagery and predictable insight.   After several months of despairing to get a single poem from the stuff, I started re-reading Romantic poetry, mostly Keats and Shelley.   It was a random choice—I just kind of intuited that I needed to find something there, and I did.   Somehow the imagery and language of those poems showed me how to frame my India material in a way that created fresh poems.

 My advice, or prompt, is this:  look in random and surprising places for inspiration.   If you’re writing a poem about, say, sitting in the hospital with your father as he died, go (actually, physically, go) someplace new—someplace you might not ever have gone to otherwise—like, say, the zoo, or the Huntington, with your subject in mind, seeing what you see through its lens.   And read things you might not normally read—Car and Driver magazine, The Baghavadgita, Freud’s essay on the uncanny . . . .These things will bang up against each other in your head and flow out of your hands in startling poetry.

Biography of Gail Wronsky:  Gail Wronsky is the author or coauthor of eight books of poetry and one novel.  Her books include Bling & Fringe (The L.A. poems), coauthored with Molly Bendall, Blue Shadow Behind Everything Dazzling, Poems for Infidels, and Dying for Beauty, a finalist for the Western Arts Federation Poetry Prize.   She holds an MFA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from the University of Utah.   She is Director of Creative Writing and Syntext (Synthesizing Textualites) at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.   She is the recipient of an Artists Fellowship from the California Arts Council, and has published widely in journals and anthologies, including Poets Against War.  Her plays have been produced by the Sundance Institute and in theaters across the U.S.

Writing Prompt from Ron Koertge

Koertge

I play cards with a few friends and when it’s Laurie’s turn to deal she always says, “Everybody loves blackjack.”  Well, everybody loves haiku, too.  Any kid can count out seventeen syllables (5-7-5) and I quickly take away the demands of traditional haiku (the frog, the pond, the inevitable moon) and ask them to write about what’s on their minds.  Here’s a beauty from a 6th grader:

That sweater I bought
her, crumpled in the back of
Bobby’s red Corvette.

It’s also fun to take line one from Sam’s haiku, line two from Juan’s, and line three from Victoria’s.  These collaborations are usually great surrealistic fun (they rarely make “sense”) and they suggest to young poets that writing might not be such a lonely occupation after all (the blank page, the crumpled drafts, the cold cup of coffee).

Biography of Ron Koertge (pronounced KUR-chee):  Koertge is a long-time resident of Pasadena, a former teacher at PCC and a current member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA program for kids’ writers. Turned onto poetry at the U. of A. by Gerry Locklin, he’s never stopped writing and publishing poems (FEVER, Red Hen Press 2008). He is also the author of a series of award-winning novels for young adults. An e-trip to the website of Candlewick Press will tell you more about that.