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Archive for the ‘writers’ Category

In the past few years I’ve begun to tune in to the wavelengths of the world — like a radio receiver — and now strangers tell me their lives.  I don’t know who they are until I’ve let them use me to narrate.  I think it began with my discovery of the unsolved murder in 1923 of a child, an uncle I never knew existed.  I searched but I never learned who killed him or why.  Yet. . . telling his story may have settled his spirit . . . a bit.  Since Vincenzo, I’ve heard other lives.  I always know it’s them because the story “writes itself,” often in a few days:  a woman who died of cancer in the Midwest married to a closeted man; an elderly writer stricken in a freak accident; a psychic boy in Northern Florida illness-bound to a wheelchair; a Venezuelan scientist facing the utterly unknown; a Victorian noblewoman in England, seduced, abandoned, and self liberated.  I called one story “Gift.”  They all are! . . . Learn to listen.

Biography of Felice Picano: Author of numerous novels, memoirs, nonfiction works and poetry, Mr. Picano has much of his work collected in references and collections including The Cambridge History of American Literature: Vol. 7Prose Writing, 1940-1990, A Concise Companion to American Literature & Culture since World World II, Eyewitness To America: 500 Years of American History: In the Words Of Those Who Saw It, The Readers Catalog: An Annotated Listing of the 40,000 Best Books in PrintContemporary Authors: Autobiographies: Felice PicanoContemporary Authors: Volume 20, Contemporary Gay Male Novelists; A Bio-Bibliographical Criitical SourcebookThe Post Modern Short Story: Froms & Issues, Gay Fiction Speaks: Interviews with 12 Authors, Vol 1, and The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill Club and the Making of Gay Culture.

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I love how poetry (and most types of writing) can illuminate actions, items, and feelings that we might not normally explore or question.

For the past five years I’ve solely taught autobiographical poetry workshops.  The work generated from these workshops is the perfect mixture of poetry, my lifelong love, and my inherent fascination with others. I think autobiographical work helps the writer and reader see their lives in another way.

One of my favorite writing prompts with my students is to have them write a poem about their pillow.  Though scary scientific data suggests after a couple of years our pillows are weightier due to dust mite excrement, most of us don’t discard them often.  Think about how many dreams you’ve had on the pillow, when you first got it, how many lovers have rested their head on it, how many times you’ve cried on it, stayed awake with worry, been bedridden with illness, how it held your propped up head as you read of Scout and Jem’s adventures.  What about the times you’ve woken up with drool on your pillow? Or on hot July evenings flipping it over to feel the coolness of the other side? How many pillows are on your bed? Do you hug the pillow at night like one would a lover or does it get pushed aside in your sleep—maybe like a lover as well.  How many decorative pillows are ceremoniously placed on the bed only when guests are expected?

How does this compare with other pillows in your life?  When I was younger my father still used his Marine issued pillow and  I still remember how it smelled of him.  What about those throw pillows on your grandmother’s couch you used to take naps on?

If you’re interested in writing fiction, think of the pillow of your character.  It’s an interesting way to get into a story.

Biography of Steven Reigns: Steven Reigns’ newest collection of poetry, Inheritance, is being released in May of 2010.  A two-time recipient of The Los Angeles County’s Department of Cultural Affairs’ Artist-in-Residency Grant, Reigns organized and taught the first-ever autobiography poetry workshop for GLBT seniors and edited an anthology of their writings, My Life is Poetry. Visit him at www.stevenreigns.com.

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Five nails to hammer into your writing desk:

–A poem is a sauce you simmer and simmer until your reach its potent and aromatic essence.  This you do with editing.  Learn to edit your work.  It’s an art.  It’s a skill.

–Use metaphors to render the most ordinary into extraordinary.

–Jack Gilbert in his poem, “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart,” (The Great Fires Poems, Knopf, 1984) writes about the simple Sumerian tablets that are assumed to be simple business transactions, as love poems:

…When the thousands

of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,

they seemed to be business records. But what if they

are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve

Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.

O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,

as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.


–Give your readers something to recognize or relate to, then surprise them by nudging them into a different direction.

— And finally, feel fully authorized to recreate language.

Biography of Sholeh Wolpé: Sholeh Wolpé is the author of Rooftops of Tehran, Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad, and The Scar Saloon. She is the associate editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Norton, 2010), and the editor of the 2010 Iran issue of Atlanta Review. Her poems, translations, essays and reviews have appeared in scores of literary journals, periodicals and anthologies worldwide.  Sholeh was born in Iran and presently lives in Los Angeles.  For more info: www.sholehwolpe.com.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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