Writing Tip by Felice Picano

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.

Writing Tip by Sholeh Wolpe

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.

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.

Writing Tip by Janet Sternburg

This is about the old chestnut: “Do you write every day?”

And if you answer, “yes,” then chances are you’ll hear another old chestnut: “What discipline you must have!”

Nope. It’s not discipline. I always think of discipline as beating yourself on the shoulders with a stick. It’s actually a writer’s “trick.” Let yourself fall in love with what you’re writing — so much so that you can’t stay away from it. I don’t mean infatuation. I don’t mean bliss. I mean letting yourself become so absorbed in the story you’re telling, the words you’re honing, the structural problems you are trying to solve, that it’s the most interesting thing you know to do. So you do it.

Biography of Janet Sternburg: Janet Sternburg’s books include The Writer on Her Work, Volumes 1 & 2, (W. W. Norton); Phantom Limb: A Memoir, American Lives Series, (Univ. of Nebraska); and Optic Nerve: Photopoems, (Red Hen). She is also a photographer and has exhibited in solo shows at galleries and museums in Korea, Mexico, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles.

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.