PEN Center USA is pleased to announce a fabulous new writing workshop with Alan Watt, our recent Mark instructor! This one-day workshop is geared to help the writer uncover thematic elements behind the plot.
The workshop is offered at three prices:
$25 for Full PEN Center USA members
$45 for non-members
$75 bundle, which includes the workshop and an Associate PEN membership!
Saturday, September 22, 2012 12 PM - 3 PM
1404 3rd Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Preview the workshop:
Writers' Reel is a weekly video feature. Below we've shared a video profile of Andre Dubus, an American short story writer.
Andre Dubus, born in Louisiana to a Catholic family, studied journalism and English at McNeese State College. He spent six years in the Marine Corps, during which he married his first wife and had his first four children, including Andre Dubus III. After leaving the Marines he studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. As an ex-Marine turned writer, Dubus (pronounced duh-byoose) had a tough exterior and a tender heart - something he became known for in his work, which often deals with pain, tragedy, violence, and flawed characters with astonishing compassion and kindness. He wrote a few novellas and one novel, Lieutenant (1967), but was mostly devoted to the short story, a form in which he is considered one of the masters. As a devout Catholic throughout his life, his faith sometimes appeared explicitly in his writing and other times informed his work through themes of redemption and grace.
On an evening in 1986, Dubus stopped at a roadside to help a brother and sister injured in an accident. As he did, an oncoming car hit them, killing the brother and crushing Dubus's legs. The sister was saved because Dubus pushed her out of the way of the car. Dubus's left leg was amputated above the knee, and he lost the use of his right leg. After several years of physical therapy, he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, an experience he wrote about in the collection of essays, Meditations from a Moveable Chair. His other works include Adultery and Other Choices, The Times Are Never So Bad, Dancing After Hours, and Broken Vessels. He was awarded the PEN/Malamud, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Jean Stein Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He also received Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships, and nominations for a National Book Critics' Circle Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. Several of his stories and novellas have been adapted into films, including In the Bedroom (based on "Killings") and We Don't Live Here Anymore (based on "We Don't Live Here Anymore" and "Adultery").
Biography provided by bookbrowse.com.
Thank you to Writer's Digest for posting ten Gore Vidal quotes on writing, all taken from a 1975 Writer's Digest interview. Among his many achievements, Gore Vidal won the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Join us in honoring Vidal's work and life, and enjoy a selection of his advice to writers:
“I’ve always said, ‘I have nothing to say, only to add.’ And it’s with each addition that the writing gets done. The first draft of anything is really just a track.”
“That famous writer’s block is a myth as far as I’m concerned. I think bad writers must have a great difficulty writing. They don’t want to do it. They have become writers out of reasons of ambition. It must be a great strain to them to make marks on a page when they really have nothing much to say, and don’t enjoy doing it. I’m not so sure what I have to say but I certainly enjoy making sentences.”
“Constant work, constant writing and constant revision. The real writer learns nothing from life. He is more like an oyster or a sponge. What he takes in he takes in normally the way any person takes in experience. But it is what is done with it in his mind, if he is a real writer, that makes his art.”
“I’ll tell you exactly what I would do if I were 20 and wanted to be a good writer. I would study maintenance, preferably plumbing. … So that I could command my own hours and make a good living on my own time.”
“A book exists on many different levels. Half the work of a book is done by the reader—the more he can bring to it the better the book will be for him, the better it will be in its own terms.”
Read the full article here.
Writers' Reel is a weekly video feature. Today we've shared Dinah Lenney's TED Talk, Faith and the Writer: When Life Meets Art.
Dinah Lenney was an Emerging Voices mentor and hosts an author evening for the Emerging Voices fellows. She serves as core faculty in the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, as well as in the Bennington Writing Seminars and the Rainier Writing workshop. She is the author of Bigger than Life: A Murder, a Memoir, and the co-author of Acting for Young Actors.
Today we'd like to share a piece published on McSweeney's - a reflection of the advice writers commonly give and get for improving their craft. "The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do" is by Colin Nissan.
Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.
Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”
The blank white page. El Diablo Blanco. El Pollo Loco. Whatever you choose to call it, staring into the abyss in search of an idea can be terrifying. But ask yourself this; was Picasso intimidated by the blank canvas? Was Mozart intimidated by the blank sheet music? Was Edison intimidated by the blank lightbulb? If you’re still blocked up, ask yourself more questions, like; Why did I quit my job at TJ Maxx to write full-time? Can/should I eat this entire box of Apple Jacks? Is The Price is Right on at 10 or 11?
Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” This is an incredibly important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like “Show, don’t tell.” Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.
Finding a really good muse these days isn’t easy, so plan on going through quite a few before landing on a winner. Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes. When honing in on a promising new muse, also be on the lookout for other writers attempting to swoop in and muse-block you. Just be patient in your search, because the right muse/human relationship can last a lifetime.
Read the rest here.
Every novelist's work contains an implicit vision of the history of the novel, an idea of what the novel is. I have tried to express here the idea of the novel that is inherent in my own novels. -- Milan Kundera
Today the Mark Blog recommends The Art of the Novel by Milan Kunera, the Franco-Czech novelist and literary critic. It is a worthy read for any writer and anyone interested in world literature.
The book is available here and in most bookstores.
Writers' Reel is a weekly video feature. Please enjoy this video of author Lydia Davis giving a master class to students.
Below we've re-posted Haruki Murakami's New York Times essay, "Jazz Messenger," about how he used his knowledge of music to learn how to write fiction.
I never had any intention of becoming a novelist — at least not until I turned 29. This is absolutely true.
I read a lot from the time I was a little kid, and I got so deeply into the worlds of the novels I was reading that it would be a lie if I said I never felt like writing anything. But I never believed I had the talent to write fiction. In my teens I loved writers like Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Balzac, but I never imagined I could write anything that would measure up to the works they left us. And so, at an early age, I simply gave up any hope of writing fiction. I would continue to read books as a hobby, I decided, and look elsewhere for a way to make a living.
The professional area I settled on was music. I worked hard, saved my money, borrowed a lot from friends and relatives, and shortly after leaving the university I opened a little jazz club in Tokyo. We served coffee in the daytime and drinks at night. We also served a few simple dishes. We had records playing constantly, and young musicians performing live jazz on weekends. I kept this up for seven years. Why? For one simple reason: It enabled me to listen to jazz from morning to night.
I had my first encounter with jazz in 1964 when I was 15. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers performed in Kobe in January that year, and I got a ticket for a birthday present. This was the first time I really listened to jazz, and it bowled me over. I was thunderstruck. The band was just great: Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Art Blakey in the lead with his solid, imaginative drumming. I think it was one of the strongest units in jazz history. I had never heard such amazing music, and I was hooked.
A year ago in Boston I had dinner with the Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Pérez, and when I told him this story, he pulled out his cellphone and asked me, “Would you like to talk to Wayne, Haruki?” “Of course,” I said, practically at a loss for words. He called Wayne Shorter in Florida and handed me the phone. Basically what I said to him was that I had never heard such amazing music before or since. Life is so strange, you never know what’s going to happen. Here I was, 42 years later, writing novels, living in Boston and talking to Wayne Shorter on a cellphone. I never could have imagined it.
When I turned 29, all of a sudden out of nowhere I got this feeling that I wanted to write a novel — that I could do it. I couldn’t write anything that measured up to Dostoyevsky or Balzac, of course, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to become a literary giant. Still, I had no idea how to go about writing a novel or what to write about. I had absolutely no experience, after all, and no ready-made style at my disposal. I didn’t know anyone who could teach me how to do it, or even friends I could talk with about literature. My only thought at that point was how wonderful it would be if I could write like playing an instrument.
I had practiced the piano as a kid, and I could read enough music to pick out a simple melody, but I didn’t have the kind of technique it takes to become a professional musician. Inside my head, though, I did often feel as though something like my own music was swirling around in a rich, strong surge. I wondered if it might be possible for me to transfer that music into writing. That was how my style got started.
Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.
Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but if I had not been so obsessed with music, I might not have become a novelist. Even now, almost 30 years later, I continue to learn a great deal about writing from good music. My style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker’s repeated freewheeling riffs, say, as by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegantly flowing prose. And I still take the quality of continual self-renewal in Miles Davis’s music as a literary model.
One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: “It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!”
I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.
This essay was published on July 8, 2007, by the New York Times. It can be found here.
Writers' Reel is a weekly video feature. This week we've shared a video of Zadie Smith reading from her essay collection Changing My Mind. The video incorporates Smith in conversation with the Director of Public Programs at the New York Public Library
Changing My Mind explores a range of topics including literature, movies, going to the Oscars, British comedy, family, feminism, Obama, David Foster Wallace, and Katharine Hepburn.