Writers on Craft

Do you long to dive more deeply into your characters? Are you in need of some new methods to invite the reader into your work? Do you wish to get over your fear of dialogue? Do you want to write at the intersection of the personal and the political? Have you always wished you understood the poetic line? Please join our favorite Writing By Writers faculty members online on Monday nights as we offer two-hour topic-specific craft seminars in character, structure, dialogue, and all the elements of style and storytelling. Choose your favorites or sign up for the whole series. Classes will be offered via Zoom and capped at 20 participants. More writers being added.

lidia authorphoto1
Aimee_NezhukmatathilBlack-240x360_edited
lidia authorphoto1
Aimee_NezhukmatathilBlack-240x360_edited

This Is The Voice with Samantha Dunn

Online Seminar - $75

June 1, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

June 2, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

“Voice” is the stuff that binds a great narrative, as distinctive as a fingerprint. Your writing voice is more than the sum of your vocabulary and your syntax and your use of the elements of craft (although it employs all of these). Voice is the resonance that can’t be found by diagraming your sentences. Voice, simply, is the deepest reflection of who you are. When we say a writer has "found their voice," we mean that they convey a distinct attitude and world view through the pacing and the rhythm of their words on the page. Voice is what readers want to lean into, to hear all it has to say. Great, but how do you get that voice on the page? Come to "This is the Voice," the craft talk led by writer, editor and teacher Samantha Dunn.   

Samantha Dunn is the author of Failing Paris, a finalist for the PEN West Fiction Award in 2000, and the memoirs Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life (Henry Holt & Co.), a BookSense 76 pick, and Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation.  Samantha’s work is anthologized in a number of places, including the short story anthology, Women on the Edge: Writing from Los Angeles, which she co-edited with writer Julianne Ortale. Other recent collections showcasing her work include the Seal Press releases Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small and Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up.  Samantha’s essays have appeared in numerous national publications including the Los Angeles Times, O (Oprah) Magazine, Ms., and Shape. In 2000 she received the Maggie Award for Best Personal Essay in a Consumer Publication. A widely published journalist, her bylines are regularly featured in InStyle, Glamour, SELF, Men’s Health and a variety of other consumer magazines. She has also written for the stage, as a co-creator of the show “American Ese,” and has taken a few turns screenwriting as a member of the Writers Guild of America. Samantha teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers Program and at the Idyllwild Arts Center in California, and was a longtime writer-in-residence at the New York State Summer Writers Institute.  A former specialty features writer for The Orange County Register, Samantha lives in Orange, California, with her husband, musician/politico Jimmy Camp, and their son, Ben.

Plaracterization with Joshua Mohr

Online Seminar - $75

June 8, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

The best plots aren’t controlled by the author. They spring from the characters themselves. The writer masterminds all things, yes, but the more we as writers realize that our characters are sovereign beings with independent consciousnesses, the better prepared we are to traverse what Joshua Mohr calls plaracterization. Plot + characterization = PLARACTERIZATION. Get it? In this seminar, we’ll ponder characters’ decision-making, the causality between plot points, and how to keep a reader excitedly flipping pages. Plaracterization is an exciting strategy that will help any aspiring writer, by getting you to dig deep down into your characters, your plot, and the very DNA of your story!

Joshua Mohr is the author of the memoir “Sirens” (2017), as well as five novels including “Damascus”, which The New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.” He’s also written “Fight Song” and “Some Things that Meant the World to Me,” one of O Magazine’s Top 10 reads of 2009 and a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller, as well as “Termite Parade,” an Editors’ Choice in The New York Times. His novel “All This Life” won the Northern California Book Award. He is the founder of Decant Editorial.

Ways To Unstick Yourself If You're Stuck with Camille Dungy

Online Seminar - $75

June 15, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

These aren't normal times. Maybe your typical writing strategies aren't working. Maybe your typical writing strategies don't make sense in these atypical times. Maybe a million other things are going on that make it harder than usual for you to do what you want to do on the page. Trust me, I understand. Hang out with me for this workshop and I'll share some strategies that have worked for me when I need to get myself unstuck during particularly sticky times.

Camille T. Dungy’s debut collection of personal essays is Guidebook to Relative Strangers (W. W. Norton, 2017), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan UP, 2017), winner of the Colorado Book Award. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019. Dungy’s other poetry collections are Smith Blue (Southern Illinois UP, 2011), finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award, Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, 2010), winner of the American Book Award, and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison(Red Hen Press, 2006), finalist for PEN the Center USA Literary Award for Poetry. Dungy edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (UGA, 2009), co-edited the From the Fishouse poetry anthology (Persea, 2009), and served as assistant editor on Gathering Ground: Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006). Her poems and essays have appeared in Best American Poetry, Best American Travel Writing, 100 Best African American Poems, nearly 30 other anthologies, plus dozens of print and online venues including Poetry, American Poetry Review, VQR, Guernica, and Poets.org. Other honors include two Northern California Book Awards, a California Book Award silver medal, two NAACP Image Award nominations, two Hurston/Wright Legacy Award nominations, fellowships from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and fellowships from the NEA in both poetry and prose. Dungy is currently a Professor in the English Department at Colorado State University. She lives in Fort Collins, CO with her husband and child.

Inviting The Reader In with Pam Houston

Online Seminar - $75

June 17, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Register

In this class we will explore 14 ways to invite your reader into your story (everything from putting your reader onto the page to innovations in form to VOICE MATTERS)  and four questions to ask yourself about why it isn't working (ie. Am I working to hard holding the readers head and directing her response) . We will look at the openings of lots of great stories, memoirs, essays and poems and try to determine why, once you pick it up, it is so hard to put down. We can have a conversation about all of this, and then if there is a bit of time left, we can work on writing our own great openings.  

Pam Houston is the author of the memoir, Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, as well as two novels, Contents May Have Shifted and Sight Hound, two collections of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Short Stories of the Century among other anthologies. She is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA Award for contemporary fiction, the Evil Companions Literary Award and several teaching awards.  She teaches in the Low Rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is Professor of English at UC Davis, and co-founder and creative director of the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers, which puts on between seven and ten writers gatherings per year in places as diverse as Boulder, Colorado, Tomales Bay, California and Chamonix, France. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level on a 120-acre homestead near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. A book of letters between Pam and environmental activist Amy Irvine will be published by Torrey House Press in October of 2020.

Put the Pieces Where You May: Three Ways To Build a Story From Narrative Fragments with Lidia Yuknavitch

Online Seminar - $75

June 19, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

When I read Virginia Woolf’s line “put the pieces where you may” my whole writerly life changed, since I’m a person who writes in fragments and lines and images and THEN asks, how the hell might this be a story? We will look at some examples of stories written in fragments from Maggie Nelson, Terese Mailhot, and Justin Torres, and I will show you several strategies for building essays, poems, stories, and/or hybrids from pieces of life, imagination, language.

Lidia Yuknavitch is the National Bestselling author of the novels The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children, winner of the 2016 Oregon Book Award's Ken Kesey Award for Fiction as well as the Reader's Choice Award, the novel Dora: A Headcase, and a critical book on war and narrative, Allegories Of Violence (Routledge). Her widely acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water was a finalist for a PEN Center USA award for creative nonfiction and winner of a PNBA Award and the Oregon Book Award Reader's Choice. The Misfit's Manifesto, a book based on her recent TED Talk was published by TED Books. Her new collection of fiction, Verge, is due out from Riverhead Books in Winter 2020. She has also had writing appear in publications including Guernica Magazine, Ms., The Iowa Review, Zyzzyva, Another Chicago Magazine, The Sun, Exquisite Corpse, TANK, and in the anthologies Life As We Show It (City Lights), Wreckage of Reason (Spuytin Duyvil), Forms at War (FC2), Feminaissance (Les Figues Press), and Representing Bisexualities (SUNY), as well as online at The Rumpus. Writing by and through the body, one workshop at a time. She founded the workshop series Corporeal Writing in Portland Oregon, where she teaches both in person and online.  She received her doctorate in Literature from the University of Oregon. She lives in Oregon with her husband Andy Mingo and their renaissance man son, Miles. She is a very good swimmer.

Staying In Love With Your Book with Ramona Ausubel

Online Seminar - $75

June 22, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

Does it sometimes seem like your novel is trying to kill you? Have you considered divorcing a story? Me too. Just like in human relationships, quarantining with your creative work can put a strain on the love you feel for it. In this class we will work through a series exercises designed to bring joy and a sense of possibility and invention so that you and your writing will once again be besties (or at least unlikely to murder each other).

 

Ramona Ausubel is the author of two novels and two story collections. Her most recent book, Awayland, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection, a Finalist for the California Book Award, Colorado Book Award and long-listed for the Story Prize. She is also the author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, No One is Here Except All of Us and A Guide to Being Born. She is the recipient of the PEN/USA Fiction Award, the Cabell First Novelist Award and was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tin House, One Story, Ploughshares and many other journals. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts and Colorado State University in the fall of 2019.

Playing Tennis Without A Ball (or a racquet, or a net, or a court, or a Serena Williams signature dress, etc.) with Pam Houston

Online Seminar - $75

June 29, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT 

July 7, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

Dialogue.  Some writers love it, some writers fear it, and all of us, sometimes, could ask it to work harder than we do.  I tend to think of great dialogue as a game of tennis between two not very good players. Each player has his own agenda--to win--they keep lobbing the ball over the other players head, hitting shots that hit the top of the net and die on the other side, and all the well, but the game is anything but seamless, and the tension builds. We will talk about the things that dialogue is good for (building tension, developing character) and some things it is not so good for (revealing back story, advancing the plot) and how every line of dialogue ought to be doing at least two things at once. We will do some dialogue related writing in class.  

Pam Houston is the author of the memoir, Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, as well as two novels, Contents May Have Shifted and Sight Hound, two collections of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton.  Her stories have been selected for volumes of The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Short Stories of the Century among other anthologies. She is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA Award for contemporary fiction, the Evil Companions Literary Award and several teaching awards.  She teaches in the Low Rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is Professor of English at UC Davis, and co-founder and creative director of the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

Crushed Glass and Medusa's Veil: Exploring The Revelatory Break with Kaveh Akbar

Online Seminar - $75

July 6, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

In his A Year With Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno talks about experiencing the crack in a blue’s singer’s voice or the static of a grainy film as being “the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.” If we accept as American writers that our medium, the English language, is one of the deadliest colonial weapons ever invented, then its breaking becomes a political urgency. How do we undermine our language’s inherent corrosiveness, turn a violent technology against itself to speak to things—doubt, sex, identity, justice, rage—it would rather us leave unspoken? This lecture will discuss writers—including Kathy Acker, Jean Valentine, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Athena Farrokhzad—who use revelatory breaks in idiom, form, and syntax to render with clarity what is too urgent, too momentous, for mere rhetorical speech.

Kaveh Akbar's poems appear recently in The New Yorker, New York Times, Paris Review, Poetry, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. His newest book, Pilgrim Bell, will be published by Graywolf in 2021; he is also the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James 2017). Kaveh was born in Tehran, Iran, and teaches at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA programs at Randolph and Warren Wilson Colleges. 

10 Steps for Revising Your Story with Antonya Nelson

Online Seminar - $75

July 13, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

Details coming soon!

Antonya Nelson is the author of eleven books of fiction, including Nothing Right, Bound and Funny Once. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s, Redbook and other magazines, as well as in anthologies such as Prize Stories, The O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories. She is the recipient of the 2003 Rea Award for Short Fiction, as well as NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships, and teaches in the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program and the Warren Wilson Low Residency MFA Program. She lives in Telluride, Colorado, and Houston, Texas.

Crafting a Short Story with Robert Boswell

Online Seminar - $75

July 20, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

In this class, I will try to teach you as much about crafting a short story as I can cram into the time. But it's a class, not a lecture. I will read a story aloud and we will discuss each part of it as we go. For teaching reasons, I do not want you to read the story in advance. We will discuss most of the standard aspects of craft, as well as matters that rarely appear in craft books, and I'll reveal a few of the secrets I've discovered about the writing of short fiction.

Robert Boswell has published seven novels, three story collections, and two books of nonfiction. He has had two plays produced. His work has earned him two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Iowa School of Letters Award for Fiction, a Lila Wallace/Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, the PEN West Award for Fiction, the John Gassner Prize for Playwriting, and the Evil Companions Award. The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards was a finalist for the 2010 PEN USA Award in Fiction. What Men Call Treasure was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Nonfiction Spur Award. Both the Chicago Tribune and Publisher’s Weekly named Mystery Ride as one of the best books of the year. The London Independent picked The Geography of Desire as one of the best books of the year. Virtual Death was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award and was named by the Science Fiction Chronicle as one of the best novels of the year. Boswell has published more than 70 stories and essays. They have appeared in the New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, Pushcart Prize Stories, Esquire, Colorado Review, Epoch, Ploughshares, and many other magazines and anthologies. He holds the Cullen Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Houston. He lives in Houston, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Telluride, Colorado. He also spends time in a ghost town high in the Rockies.

What’s Love Got to Do With It:  Constructing Narrative Line with Fenton Johnson

Online Seminar - $75

July 27, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

This lecture aims to deepen your understanding of your particular narrative strategies. Like the lecturer, it moves fluidly between fiction and creative nonfiction in examining how we weave the red thread that makes art of the seemingly chaotic elements of our lives. Freud would say narrative line, like art, is all about desire – thus the title – and I’ll offer examples from Hemingway and Alice Munro that lend credence to that point of view. But what of the orderly chaos of, say, Son of the Morning Star, Evan Connell’s deeply researched portrait of William Tecumseh Custer, or the prose poetry of Michael Ondaatje’s memoir Running in the Family, or the associative brilliance of the essays of Guy Davenport? Orson Welles pays a visit, along with Alfred Hitchcock, master of narrative suspense, and Maurice Manning, Kentucky’s Pulitzer-nominated poet. Toward the end Tina Turner shows up, recently reborn from her first incarnation as Anna Mae Bullock of the Springhill Baptist Church choir of Nutbush, Tennessee. As for “seemingly chaotic” – in keeping with the universe in which it’s delivered, the lecture ends with the unity of all being, the place where past and future, memory and desire come together. 

Fenton Johnson is the author of At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life, a meditation on the solitary artists, writers, and musicians who have inspired him and on the importance of solitude in contemporary life. He is the author of three novels: The Man Who Loved Birds, the award-winning Scissors, Paper, Rock, and Crossing the River, each recently reissued in new editions. He has published as well Geography of the Heart: A Memoir and Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey among Christian and Buddhist Monks. His collection Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays was selected for the Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature. Geography received the American Library Association and Lambda Literary Awards for best LGBT Creative Nonfiction, while Keeping Faith received a Lambda Literary and Kentucky Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction. Johnson has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was recently featured on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air and writes regularly for Harper’s Magazine. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona and teaches creative writing workshops nationally.  He is on the faculty of the low-residency creative writing program of Spalding University.

Generating Poems that Snap, Crackle, and Pop with Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Online Seminar - $75

August 3, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

Building upon Audre Lorde’s idea that “the sharing of joy…forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference,” we will spend our time generating poems that sing and celebrate the various big and small delights of this earth. You will learn a variety of poetic practice prompts to help keep you generating new work long after our session ends. Come prepared to roll up your sleeves and dig in!

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. She is the author of the forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays, WORLD OF WONDERS: IN PRAISE OF FIREFLIES, WHALE SHARKS, & OTHER ASTONISHMENTS (2020, Milkweed Editions), and four previous poetry collections:  OCEANIC (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), LUCKY FISH (2011), AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), the last three from Tupelo Press.  Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of nature poems with the poet Ross Gay. She is the poetry editor of Orion magazine and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry 2015 & 2018 series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pushcart Prize.

How To Write A Hot Scene Without Shame with Steve Almond

Online Seminar - $75

August 17, 5:00pm - 7:00pm PDT

Class Full

Even though people think about sex all the time, and even have it occasionally, writers tend to shy away from the subject. Which is crazy. Because sex is the one experience that makes us all hopeful and horny and embarrassed and vulnerable (at least if we’re doing it right). In this freewheeling workshop, we’ll look at the work of Mary Gordon, Mary Gaitskill and other literary horndogs in an effort to figure out how to infuse our own sex scenes with genuine emotion and ecstatic sensation, not evasions and porn clichés. Arrive ready to lay your characters bare.

Steve Almond is the author of ten books of fiction and nonfiction, including William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life, Bad Stories, and the New York Times bestsellers Candyfreak and Against Football. For four years, Steve hosted the New York Times Dear Sugars podcast with his pal Cheryl Strayed. His short stories have been anthologized widely, in the Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Erotica, and Best American Mysteries series.

More writers being added each week. Check back often for new craft seminars!

Our Mission

To create a rigorous and compassionate environment to learn the art of reading and writing from accomplished authors.

  • Facebook - White Circle
  • Twitter - White Circle
  • Instagram - White Circle

PO Box 1271

Los Altos, CA 94023

info@writingxwriters.org