Thank you for stopping by The Burning Hearth. If you are in the midst of the polar vortex as I am, I hope you are keeping warm. This month I’m writing about my experience with online writing workshops. I have included a video reading of my first workshopped story. Before that however, in honor of Valentine’s Day (and just for fun), I have included a telling of my first kiss.
I’m in 6th grade, a classmate, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, and I decide we want to have a go at a kiss. I do have a bit of a crush on him, but really, I just want to know what kissing is like. (I don’t recall for sure, but knowing me, I probably instigated the whole affair.) We plan the day: Wednesday after school. We plan the place: outside the rarely visited cafeteria door on the west side of the school. We plan the time: 3:15. We invite support: a mutual friend.
It’s Wednesday, 3:15. We stand in our obscure location, stutter-staring at each other. Our support pushes me into him and says, “C’mon you guys. Do this before someone comes up the steps.” (To this day I still wonder why we invited anyone along. We actually had a conversation about this and mutually agreed we wanted support. What? Well, not that it really has anything to do with, but it was 1978.) We check the four cardinal directions. I signal a go-ahead look. With the trembling lips of youth, we kiss. As I pull away from him, excited and embarrassed by the tingling sensation in my lips, my older sister appears from the proverbial out-of-nowhere. (There was, and still is, no discernable reason for her being at that place, in that moment.) She walks between us, and says, “Mom and Dad are gonna love this.”
Finding My Inner Witch (Not That I Had to Look Very Hard)
My first online workshop was with Wendy Oleson, an author, teacher and editor for many literary magazines including Fairy Tale Review. I was immediately attracted to the workshop title, “Found in the Forest.” Her coursework centered around the elements found in the writing of fairy tales, folk lore, and fantasy. I love spinning magical, fantastical tales and thought this would be a great introduction to online workshops.
Fearing brain freeze (from both a writing perspective and navigating the technology), I settled into the first day. I marveled at the quality of materials she had brought together for this event. I was amazed how Wendy’s energy, which was contagious, transcended the platform. (This was a non-zoomed event.) Her delight in the subject matter and her respect for the participants, apparent.
I recently asked Wendy about her experience teaching Bending Genres‘ workshops and what she likes to bring to the table for writers. She responded: I love teaching Bending Genres workshops! The writers are so fearless and passionate; our online space becomes this vortex of creative energy and joy, and it’s great to hear when a piece drafted in class gets placed in a journal (though I’m careful to stress process over product). I tend to provide writers with lots of materials—creative texts, writing prompts, and a sprinkling of craft discussion—and welcome them to make it a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience. I’m hopeful writers will find a way to shift or change, to open up some space or possibility in their writing/practice that wasn’t there before.
Forests play a huge role in fairy tales and one of her prompts (my favorite) asked us to write about what was in our forest. Immediately, I knew a witch named Sutton, crouching by a tree, was in mine. I had much fun discovering what she was doing there. If you’re curious, click on the video below to hear the story of Sutton titled “The Swallowing.”
Writing workshops have proven to be invaluable to my growth as a writer of flash. It is a form that I continue to learn about, and like so many, I am also tackling the elusive definition of the form. Here’s what I offered in the October 2020 issue of New Flash Fiction Review when asked what my working definition of Flash is. When I think of Flash Fiction, I think of compression, selection, and a fast-moving story arc. For me, Flash is about compressing a larger story idea down to its essence through the selection of details, images, and emotions that will, with the most efficiency, collapse the distance between the beginning and the end of the story. My favorite moment in Flash is right after the climax or the turn. If done well, it reminds me of driving through the Rockies and that moment when I realize I’m no longer in the eastern slopes, having crossed over into the western slopes. A great journey is behind me, and I can’t wait to discover where I will arrive.
Since Wendy’s workshop, I have attended many more. I thank Wendy, and Bending Genres, for such a positive initiation. Wendy will be back at Bending Genres again this April. Click here to view their current workshop offerings.
Deep in my writer’s heart, however, I am a writer of the long form. I love diving deep into a story and breathing life into it. I am a Gemini and find that I need to expand (novel) as much as I need to contract (flash). I am currently working on a novel that has lived within me for 25+ years. It is so exciting to sit down daily with these characters that have lived inside of me for so long. I am amazed at how they demand something more from me as I release them from the confines of my imagination, giving them life in the world. As soon as they hit the page, they start growing legs of their own and strike out on their path, which is not always the one I thought they were on.
There are just as many workshops out there to help me in the area of novel writing. I’m attending a masterclass on Saturday, March 6 through Red Oak Writing (click to learn more about Red Oak and their workshops) titled Aboutness: A Novel’s North Star.
Here’s a brief description from the website: Explore the “aboutness” of your novel project with National Book Award Finalist and Iowa Summer Writing Festival & Solstice MFA instructor, Sandra Scofield. Enrollment is limited to maximize your learning. Saturday, Saturday, March 6, 2021 (Registration Deadline: Sat, Feb 20), 10 am – 12:30 pm (CT), On Zoom (Class will fill, so please register soon to secure your place.) You can click on the link above for more information. Contact director Kim Suhr, if you have any questions regarding Red Oak Writing.
Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you will come back on February 20 to view my In Conversation…interview with author Nancy Bauer-King. Nancy is an 80 year-old retired pastor who asks tough questions of herself and her readers; and, she’s not shy in saying she’s tired of the Jesus story. I hope you’ll pay us a visit and find out why. Until then, stay warm and safe!