One Story Workshop Day Five: Last Day of Camp

flowers. (448x640)Our final recap is brought to you by Tony Wei-Ling. Thanks to all of the interns for their stellar work this week! We couldn’t have done the workshop without you. -HT

And so One Story’s Summer Workshop for Writers draws to its grand finale!

In the morning, Will Allison and Patrick Ryan taught their last workshops, giving editorial feedback to each student and answering any lingering questions they might have.

After lunch, our writers sat down for a nuts-and-bolts industry talk from One Story Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti, who discussed different ways to get out of the “slush pile”: the giant mess of unsolicited manuscripts that come through the doors of any magazine or literary agency.

Hannah began with simple presentation tips – how to make your submission fit industry standards and be kinder on the reader’s eyes and laptop. (The topic of writing cover letters made everyone anxious, but Hannah calmed us by walking us through a basic template.)

“Don’t overthink it,” she said. “The bio especially. Keep it simple and short. The first read, whether it’s for an agent or a magazine or a press, is almost certainly done by an assistant, an intern, or a volunteer. They are the first hurdle you must get over. So thank them for their time, and be courteous.”

More complicated, but less stressful, was Hannah’s advice on researching and submitting work strategically. “You want to find a place that publishes writing like your own, a magazine that matches your aesthetic. Most places – especially small presses – have a strong point-of-view.” The same went for agents: submit to people who represent writers you admire, authors you’d be comfortable “being in a line-up” with. Hannah didn’t just recommend doing research beforehand, but outlined how to do so, emphasizing the AWP conference and yearly anthologies as the best way to get to know the field.

That evening, everyone gathered one last time at the Can Factory for a (slightly nervous) cocktail hour before our student reading. But the nerves disappeared once each writer took the podium, or rather stage. Who knew introverted writers could be such good performers? Each student took on a different readerly voice and pace as they presented their work, which ranged from whimsical poetry to experimental short fiction to Borgesian existential horror.

Hannah broke up the reading with a brief tribute to her former teacher E. L. Doctorow, a literary giant who passed away this week. Then, to close out the evening, she was joined by instructors Will and Patrick, and together they sang/spoke a group campfire version of “Eye of the Tiger” on Hannah’s ukulele. When dinner arrived (gnocchi with fresh peas and mint, and casarecce with tomato, chard, and anchovies), we refilled our drinks and relaxed for a few final hours with new friends.

Goodbyes were difficult, and lingering. Many promised to meet up again, and to exchange manuscripts over coffee or drinks. It many ways it felt like the last day of camp. Everyone was tired but full of new experiences and new friendships.  “This isn’t goodbye for real!” people said as they hugged, “I’ll see you very soon.”

That’s it for the 2015 One Story Writers Workshop. We’ll see you next year!

 

One Story Workshop Day 4: Calvin Baker & the Writer’s Obsession

Calvin.Baker.OneStoryToday’s recap of our summer workshop is brought to you by Tony Wei-Ling.Enjoy!-HT

The fourth day of One Story’s Workshop for Writers was a marathon. We started our day with double workshop sessions with Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, followed by a meditative craft lecture on obsession and finding the themes in our own writing from Author/One Story Assistant Editor/Workshop Coordinator, Ann Napolitano.

Earlier in the week, Ann had asked all of the students to take a picture with their cell phones. During class, she projected each of these photos on a screen, and had the students use them as stepping off points for writing exercises. Together the group discussed how these pictures could unearth themes in their writing, by revealing what each author was “obsessed” with. Ann shared how over time in her own writing (of both successful and unsuccessful novels) she’s learned to pay attention to her obsessions and use them to guide her work.

“Some things are societal obsessions,” she told us. “Things trending on Twitter or among your friends and family, or in the literary world. We feel like we have to keep up with all of those trendy books, movies, shows, and you can fill up your life doing that.”  But that won’t feed our writing, Ann said. In fact what we should do instead is pay attention to what keeps us personally obsessed, what draws our eye and our attention. “Notice the patterns,” she said. “Notice what you notice.”

After a break spent exploring the neighborhood’s parks and pie shops, our writers reconvened at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore, where One Story author Calvin Baker  read from his new novel, Grace, and spent time answering questions about his writing process. (Meanwhile, the bookstore’s cat, Tiny, prowled the cheese plate.)

Calvin emphasized the trust a writer needs to have in her senses, her instincts, and her inspirations, and remembered a moment of pure creative energy that sparked the idea for his first novel (Naming the New World) upon a hilltop in rural Kenya. He stressed the need to travel and explore the world, and the importance of finding your own voice on the page. Together with One Story’s Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti, Calvin also discussed influences on his work, from the Bible to ancient mythology and philosophy.

“As a young writer, I decided to make a personal canon for myself,” he said. “And I recommend that to all writers: make the canon your own.”

Hannah agreed, and encouraged everyone in the audience to curate their own personal canon, choosing the authors that they love and the books they need to inspire their writing. She  added that she creates a reference bookshelf for each project she works on. “I’ve seen Hannah’s bookshelves, and they go up to the ceiling,” Calvin laughed.

Stay tuned for a recap of the last day of our summer workshop, including our group dinner and student reading!

One Story Workshop Day 3: From 1st Draft to the Editor’s Inbox

One Story's Adina Talve-Goodman introduces One Story author Seth Fried

Adina introduces One Story author Seth Fried

The third day of One Story’s summer workshop for writers began with morning sessions of Will Allison’s and Patrick Ryan’s workshops. Halfway through the week, everyone seems to be benefiting from the intensive edits. “People want you to improve,” said one of Will’s students after her story was critiqued. “Nothing was missed. Everyone was super helpful!” Will gave credit to his dutiful students. “Everyone is reading very deeply,” he said.

In Patrick’s room, the two students being workshopped were talking animatedly after everyone else had gone to lunch. “I rewrote the first half of my story in my brain in the time between my workshop and yours,” one of the students said to the other, laughing. “It was like Tetris pieces coming together.” The other student agreed. “I want to go home right now and start redrafting,” she said.

After the writers ate lunch, they sat down for One Story author Seth Fried’s craft lecture, “Getting through the First Draft.” Seth is the author of One Story’s 124th issue, “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” and his speech focused on generating new writing material. He stressed the importance of writing even if you think that what you’re writing isn’t good. “The first draft is always shit,” Seth said, quoting Hemingway. He added that your “inner critic” is bad for generating work, and if you focus too much on what you’re writing, the content will end up being forced instead of fluid.

To get us all started, Seth assigned a writing exercise: write 200 words, right then, without thinking. The workshop participants said that the exercise was freeing, and that it was nice to write in longhand instead of typing. Seth also mentioned three great resources for generating fiction: John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, Ron Carlson’s Ron Carlson Writes a Story, and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.

Once the writers had their afternoon break, One Story’s Managing Editor, Adina Talve-Goodman, spoke with three other editors in our nightly panel. The editors were Julie Buntin, author of One Teen Story’s “Phenomenon” and Associate Editor of Catapult; Jonathan Lee, editor of A Public Space; and Lincoln Michel, Online Editor of Electric Literature and coeditor of Gigantic.

All four editors agreed that there was a certain thrill in publishing debut authors, and that mentioning that you’ve never been published doesn’t hurt your cover letter! They also stressed the importance of submitting your work to a magazine that fits. Don’t just send your story to whoever will take it—do some research and send your story to the magazines that will appreciate it the most. Lincoln said that the story was more meaningful if the author was attached to the magazine somehow, and Adina stressed the importance of not giving up. It’s all about getting the right story into the right hands.

We only have one more day of workshop before the final reading on Friday. Stay tuned for an event at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore with another One Story author, Calvin Baker, and Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti!

One Story Workshop Day Two: A Guiding Light for the Rewrite

soap-operaOur daily update from One Story’s Summer Workshop for Writers continues! Today’s episode is brought to you by intern Tony Wei-Ling. Enjoy! -HT

Soap operas are maybe the furthest thing from the literary short story we can think of –low-brow, long-form, and commercial. But today, after intensive morning workshops with editors Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, followed by a healthy lunch, our students sat down for a craft lecture with One Story Contributing Editor Karen Friedman to discuss how soap operas can relate to the editing process.

With clips from Dallas, Guiding Light, and General Hospital, Karen walked us through how to revise our opening pages, and what vital info needs to be dropped in the opening paragraphs.

“As writers, we sometimes do ‘throat-clearing’ while we’re figuring out how to get from the first line to the rest of the story,” Karen said. “But openings need to quickly establish the main characters, where they are situated, and what the emotional situation is. If you don’t do those things in the first two pages, you’re missing your best chance to get out of the slush pile.”

Using clips that covered amnesia, evil twins, and ‘it was all a dream!’ surprise endings, Karen showed us how to approach rewrites with a big-picture plan, so that “editing” doesn’t just mean fiddling with the details. Everyone’s favorite clip was by far “The Slut of Springfield”–from a famous 1980s episode of Guiding Light–that Karen used to show “movement” within a scene. Reva and Josh are the characters. Some background: Reva and Josh were in love, but Reva married Josh’s father. Josh was so mad he got into a car accident and is now in a wheelchair. This scene happens at the end of a party. Josh starts off berating Reva, but she turns the tables on him.

It’s no wonder that Kim Zimmer, the actress who played Reva, won an Emmy for this scene!

In the evening the drama continued, as we enjoyed cocktails and cupcakes and chatted with three talented literary agents. One Story Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti moderated the official panel, beginning with the question that we all wanted to know but were too nervous to ask: “What the hell is a literary agent?” Our guests – Sarah Burnes, Jim Rutman, and Samantha Shea – had different answers. Primarily working as the intermediary between writers and publishing houses, literary agents play many roles, from finding and editing manuscripts, deciding when a book is ready for submission, finding the right editor, ironing out contracts, putting out fires as the book hits the shelves and sometimes playing “bad cop” in negotiations. Sarah Burnes cited the importance of the gut check in picking new writers: “It comes down to this question: do I feel this thing?” And Jim Rutman explained that he often corresponds with writers for a long time before he finds the right project to work on together. “A rejection is not always a ‘no.’ It can also mean ‘not this book, but maybe the next’ if the agent is encouraging and asks to see more.” Regardless of all the industry talk of pitches, query letters, and market trends, all the agents agreed – the text itself is the most important. “The writer I pick is the one whose manuscript I can’t get out of my head,” said Samantha Shea.

Tomorrow, we’re meeting with a panel of editors and listening to a craft talk from One Story author Seth Fried. Stay tuned for more secrets from behind the editorial curtain!

One Story Workshop Day Five: We All Love Each Other Now

book-heart-valentineThis Friday marked the close of One Story’s fifth annual workshop at The Center for Fiction. Tea and coffee helped ward off the last-day-of-camp blues before students entered into their final workshops with Marie-Helene Bertino and Will Allison. They were reluctant to leave their workshop rooms, lingering to have story collections signed and group photos taken. One writer told me, as she headed for the elevator, “We all love each other now.” While One Story’s romcom may not be The Notebook, it does make for lasting writerly connections. Together we ate a final lunch of pizza and chatted about ways to keep in touch.

We gathered after lunch for a craft lecture by Hannah Tinti, the editor in chief of One Story, on getting “out of the slushpile”. She told us how to manage the business side of being a writer, by walking us through how to get our work published, starting with the basics of preparing it for submission (use a simple font like 12 pt. Times New Roman, number your pages, double-space, etc.), and figuring out where to send–be that to magazines, agents, or small presses. She showed us samples of query letters, and then shared some of her own rejections to show how there are different “levels” of rejection, and finally, what to do if and when you get an acceptance. But Hannah was also clear that “you are a writer if you’re writing, not if your work is published.” She ended the lecture with a quote from Barbara Kingsolver regarding rejected work. “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

Time for celebration! After hours of workshops, panels and talks, we travelled home to One Story’s office at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn, where students were able to see where the work behind publication occurs. We saw Patrick Ryan’s desk with its strikingly intellectual desk lamp, Hannah’s desk with drawings of demons, the calendars showing our publication schedule, the table where the editorial meetings occur, and, most importantly, the coffee machine that brews our coffee.

Then to The Cantine, the restaurant within the Old American Can Factory. Conference Director Michael Pollock began the night by recognizing the students’ endurance, “I hope you don’t want to write tomorrow. I hope you don’t want to write Sunday. But on Monday, I want you to write, and that’s when this workshop will matter.” Marie and Will thanked their classes, recognizing how easy it was to teach such brilliant people. Then each student gave a three-minute reading at our open mic. Their pieces were beautiful, competent and honest. As were Michael’s physics and whale jokes as he acted as our MC.

Maribeth Batcha, our publisher, and Hannah closed the event by welcoming the students to the One Story family. Writing is about community, so it was only fitting that after a delicious dinner catered by Runner & Stone, we took many class (or should I say family?) photos.

Hannah ended the night with Lauren Groff’s writing advice from “Writing Advice from the Authors of One Story”, a special edition of One Story magazine, that was printed and given out to all the students as a parting gift: “Give yourself the grace of failure – most good stories are made up of hundreds of invisible previous failures; read everything you can get your grubby mitts on; excise people from your lives who bring up turmoil and darkness, then write them clean in your fiction; if you have talent, it is a gift, so try your best to honor you gift by developing it; write every single day, because if you wait for the Muse to land she’ll cackle as she flies on by; don’t worry about publishing because if you write from a place of love and gratitude you will publish; try not to listen to advice about writing because the most important things you learn are things you’ll teach yourself.”

One Story Workshop Day Four: We Map Our Stories

new-york-public-library-lions (475x347)One Story’s fifth annual workshop is starting to wind down. Our incredible workshop teachers, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino, led us in critically analyzing each other’s work for an additional hour today. Whew! But, as usual, the feedback and guidance was well worth it.

After a lunch of falafel, in which we stuffed our bellies as much as we could, the Editor in Chief of One Story, Hannah Tinti, took us on another writing excursion: to the New York Public Library. That’s the one with the two lions in front from the opening scene in Ghostbusters (also where Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet the lion in the movie version of The Wiz). By the way, the names of those lions are Patience and Fortitude, which as Hannah sagely said are, “Perhaps the two qualities that a writer needs most.”

First Hannah talked about ways we could use maps in our stories, from creating action, to filling out setting, to keeping track of our novels and longer works. She also gave us blank story maps and floor plans as tools to keep our readers grounded. Both techniques helped us to learn to navigate our worlds. Our “on-site” exercise at the NYPL was to go look through maps and atlases, find one that we liked, and use it as a jumping off point. Characters are always in a setting. And that setting always has some topology. Creating mental or even physical maps allows us, the writer, to better explore our world so that we don’t get lost. “When the writer is lost, the reader is lost,” said Hannah. “We never want to do that. It’s the quickest way to make a reader put down our book.”

For our evening panel we enjoyed a visit from author Rachel Cantor, who read a few excerpts from her new novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario. Think of it as a really twisted Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or a fusion of Ray Bradbury and Italo Calvino. Bizarre, funny, quirky, she had us all in stitches. Then Hannah interviewed Rachel about the struggles and joys of an emerging writer, and how Rachel got this marvelous book published, from first draft on her computer to hard copies in bookstores.

We’re upset that the week is coming to an end, but tomorrow night is our big send off, with a visit to One Story’s office in Brooklyn, an open mic for students, and a grand finale dinner. Stay tuned!

One Story Workshop Day Three: Breaking the rules on Flying Bicycles

flyingbicycleIt’s the third day of One Story’s fifth annual workshop. Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino led their wonderful workshops after our students drank as much coffee as they could. Following a lunch of sandwiches, soda, chips, and more coffee, the editor of One Teen Story, the fabulous Patrick Ryan, gave a craft lecture on guidelines for writing a story.

“You cannot take risks if you strictly follow rules,” he said. “Allow room for surprise in your writing, readers read to discover and writers write to discover. Don’t spoil that for yourself or your readers. Writing should make you happy. Also, always read your work aloud.” Leaning over his lectern he joked, “Of course you don’t want to speak it in your quiet writing studio. Disturbing other writers while they’re working…bad idea.” We all laughed.

Patrick went on to explain that writers need to think of many mediocre or terrible ideas in order to find a good one. His technique is to type up any idea, even if it’s only two words, print it out, and put it in a box. The act of having a physical, separate note makes the idea stand out, rather than being in a list, where we are tempted to scan through and pick the best one.

We took a break and then did a writing exercise with Michael Pollock where we worked in groups to write a short story in about 30 minutes based on three random ideas. My group’s: a hot air balloon, a bicycle for two, and a lemon. Didn’t figure out how to put the lemon in the story, but our flying bicycle for two was like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Everyone needed a break after that. We reconvened at 6:30 for an editor panel, but not before the front legs to a beautiful leather chair suddenly gave out in our very cozy writing space. But we writers can’t sit down writing all the time, in any case; we need to get out and explore the world and be social and engaging and talk to people.

Our evening panel consisted of Maria Gigliano from Slice, Lincoln Michael from Electric Literature, Sam Nicholson of Random House, and Jonathan Lee of A Public Space, all led by our own Patrick Ryan, an editor himself. The editors were very knowledgeable, coming from big publishing houses all the way to small magazines—a nice spectrum of the industry. All agreed that the best way to stand out is to make your writing unexpected. Plot and character can always be edited, but language, style, voice, etc… really can’t. And as for debut novelists they said, “It’s a wide open future. They don’t have any history that could work against them. It’s nothing but promise!”

One Story Workshop Day Two: We Find Our Spirit Animals in the Rain

AMNHIt’s the second day of One Story’s fifth annual workshop. Today our students braved severe thunderstorms and flash floods, all in the name of good writing. We started off the morning with workshops at the Center for Fiction led by Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino, our fantastic instructors. After eating some delicious wraps and sandwiches for lunch, we sat down with One Story’s Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti, who then began a lecture about creating unique characters, using three techniques: “10 Facts,” “Superhero” and “KWL”.

The “10 Facts” technique is self-explanatory. It involves writing ten basic facts based on the character’s appearance. Hannah used herself as an example. Students immediately listed off some facts about her, some of which included “curly hair”, “creamy skin” and “wearing a large bracelet.” These facts added up to give us a sense of who she was, at least on the surface. The students were then asked how this could apply to their own characters; what does their appearance say about them? What conclusions could be drawn from that, even if eventually proven wrong?

Next was the “Superhero” technique. Hannah used Superman as an example, and asked the students about his costume, superpowers, backstory, weakness and quest. By outlining all of these details, we were able to create an image of Superman that even someone unfamiliar with the comics or movies could understand. While our own characters may not be superheroes in the same way that Clark Kent is, we could use the same approach for them. What do they wear? What are they good at, or bad at? What is their personal history? What do they want most? Hannah used a quote from Kurt Vonnegut to further emphasize that last point: “Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.” She then asked the students to consider how each character’s individual needs could intertwine to tell the story.

Finally, the “KWL” method. What does the character know? What does the character want to know? What has he or she learned by the end of the story?

With these methods in mind, we set off for the American Museum of Natural History. After some minor delays (thanks to a sudden downpour and one extremely late B train) we arrived at the exhibit for North American mammals. We split up and searched for animals that we felt most strongly about, and used the techniques Hannah had taught us to brainstorm stories about them. We used the information given to us by the museum’s placards to jot down the animal’s strengths and weaknesses, and we used our own imaginations to fill in backstories and quests for them. Then we took it one step further, and gave them an obstacle–whether that included a hunter, an opponent to compete against for a mate’s attention, or even, referring back to Vonnegut, trying to find some water–and we sketched out a brief scene, in which our characters succeeded, failed, or decided to change their goal entirely.

We headed back to the Center for Fiction, and were treated with a very informative discussion from a panel of literary agents: Jim Rutman, Sally Wofford-Girand and William Boggess. They offered plenty of advice to our students, and they parted with these three important tidbits: “Don’t rush your first offering. Wait until you’ve done everything you could for your story”; “spend time with a workshop group to make your story even better”; and, lastly, “the writer is really the source of the talent; trust your own work.” We wrapped up the night with snacks and cocktails, laughing together and enjoying some great company before heading out into the terrible storms once again.

One Story Workshop Day One: New York City Writes the Story for You

Taken inside the Center for Fiction's famous elevator

Taken inside the Center for Fiction’s famous elevator

Readers and writers, One Story’s fifth annual workshop has begun! Some travelled thousands of miles, others dozens of city blocks to arrive this morning at New York City’s Center for Fiction. Ahead of us lies a week of craft lectures, agent panels, guest author talks, and workshops. Hannah Tinti, the Editor-in-Chief of One Story, welcomed students with coffee and tea before they split into their morning workshops led by our instructors, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino.

After a lunch of tacos, salad and salsas so hot that they brought tears to our eyes, we sat down with Hannah, Will and Marie for a brief insight into the writerly lives of working authors. Each spoke of their path to writing, which featured ceiling-high piles of submissions and many rejection letters. Will Allison talked about his journey as a writer and an editor, and how, when he started working at Story magazine, it challenged him to make his own work better. Hannah then opened the panel to questions. “Describe your style,” one student asked. “Dark, twisted, funny,” she replied. When asked to give writing advice, Marie-Helene Bertino encouraged students to wander the streets of New York. Eavesdrop. Open your eyes. New York City will write the story for you.

After several hours talking about writing, it was time to get down to business. Hannah led a writing exercise given to her from one of her own mentors, Dani Shapiro (author of the great book Still Writing). The exercise is derived from Joe Brainard’s I Remember. She read from Brainard’s book:

“I remember the first time I met Frank O’Hara. He was walking down Second Avenue. It was a cool early spring evening but he was wearing only a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And blue jeans. And moccasins. I remember that he seemed very sissy to me. Very theatrical. Decadent. I remember that I liked him instantly.”

Students wrote their own stories built of “I remember”, and shared their memories with the class, which were full of sharp details and all kinds of interesting experiences.

In the evening, Irina Reyn gave our first craft lecture on perspective. Using Frederick Reiken’s 2005 essay on the “author-narrator-character merge,” she revealed techniques of varying closeness and distance in narration. “The one that feels the most on fire, that’s the right perspective,” she said.

I (will) remember the first day of the One Story workshop. Stay tuned for more updates!