Upcoming classes

Writers! Start your writing year off right by taking a class. If you’re interested in exploring craft, I’m offering several classes in the winter session at SF Grotto. One is a 6-week session on sentence-level style and editing, with an optional 4-week follow-up workshop (style geeks can take just the workshop), and another is a 4-week introduction to point of view (fiction, nonfiction, poetry). Not right for you, or not right now? I’d appreciate it if you’d spread the word to anyone who might be interested. Many thanks!

SATURDAYS, JANUARY 14 —FEBRUARY 18, 10am–12:30pm
Good writing functions on many levels simultaneously. Tone, suspense, character, imagery, and subtext combine to make a story compelling, whether it’s flash fiction or War and Peace. We tend to think of these elements within the context of a whole—a story, essay, or novel—but to deliver that package, the pieces—the words, phrases, and sentences—need to work hard for us. When should our sentences be lean and mean, and when would a languid, lyrical flow be best? When can a single word say it all, and when might a paragraph-length sentence lead the reader deeper into a place or time or character?When is repetition annoying, and when does it add power? Why should you care about musicality in writing? And how can you learn to see your own work more objectively so that you can make all these decisions?

In this class we’ll explore sentence-level style and self-editing techniques through analysis, discussion, in-class exercises, and homework. Bring a piece or pieces of writing (fiction or nonfiction; no poetry) you’d like to work on and share, and be prepared to play. Master the micro for macro effects!

Note: This class will be followed by an optional four-week workshop (separate enrollment), that will give you additional opportunities to use the knowledge you’ve gained in revising your work.

Point of view is one of the most essential aspects of imaginative writing. In fact, perspective is everything in narration, but writers sometimes place the narrator without understanding the implications of the choice they’ve made. In this class, we’ll talk about POV options—the use of first, second, or third person as well as the manipulation of narrative distance and its impact on characterization across the genres of fiction, creative nonfiction, and even poetry. We’ll identity common POV “violations” and look at published examples, and we’ll experiment in POV in our own work. (You’ll need two pieces, each 2 to 4 pages, one written in first person and one in third.) By investigating how POV works and harnessing its power, you’ll find new narrative possibilities—and bump up your writing skills a notch.

SATURDAYS, FEBRUARY 25 — MARCH 18, 10am-12:30pm
Students who took The Long and the Short of It: Sentence-Level Style and Editing asked for a follow-up workshop, so here it is. We’ll dig deeply into revision in this four-week workshop, working intensively with the elements of style and editing our work in ways that are objective, experimental, and even ruthless. We’ll play with sentence structure, rhythm and flow, schemes and tropes, and more, keeping in mind how all of these things affect meaning, suspense, and characterization.

This workshop is open to all writers of fiction and nonfiction, but completion of the six-week Long and the Short of It course (which precedes this workshop) is strongly recommended.

Matt Black’s black-and-white world

Last night I attended Pop-Up Magazine, not quite knowing what to expect other than storytelling. That was good enough for me. And the event delivered—stories spoken, animated, sung, and conveyed through images both moving and still. An evening of entertainment, yes, with all the delight of the unexpected and a range of topics that included race, relationships, magic, burglary, world records, and Janis Joplin. But what stuck with me was a grim story of poverty and an 18,000-mile journey to capture it.

Matt Black stood at the mic and spoke softly, an understated presence that set the right tone for the stunning images splashed on the screen behind him. His words were compelling, his photos the kind of images you can’t tear your gaze from. Traveling through small towns ringing the United States, along the Mexican border through Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and California’s parched Central Valley (Black’s home), he photographed millions of people living in desperate circumstances. And in documenting them, he gives these worn people and exhausted places a luminescent beauty. Graininess, off-kilter composition, and extremes in contrast are among his storytelling tools, and they are the bringers of beauty. But what shines through are the people themselves, the people who suffer in these places of disregard, and Black’s compassion for them.

I don’t know how Black’s work has escaped me until now; he’s well published. But I’ve seen his photographs now, and I won’t forget them. A hand laid over a fence post, gnarled to the point of inhumanness; a dust storm rising from the earth like a dancer—and the faces, always the faces, with eyes that gaze into the lens with a single message: look at what this world has become.

Look here.