Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Category Archives: stanford

Colm Toibin

I attended a reading at Stanford this week by Irish author Colm Toibin, whom I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of until our workshop instructor recommended him to us. I am now writing to recommend him to you.

The man who introduced him recommended Heather Blazing of Toibin’s published works. It’s going on my list as of now. Toibin himself is an engaging, pleasant speaker, who began his talk by saying, “My father died when I was twelve.” In true Irish fashion, this story leads through a few other stories about Irish funeral customs, how people would just come over to his house to pay their respects for months afterwards, to the story that leads into the work he’s going to read from. A woman he didn’t know well was over to pay her respects to his mother, and told his mother a story of her own, about her daughter who she found dead in her bed (two dead people already–you can tell this is an Irish story). The death prompted her other daughter to return from Brooklyn (not just “America,” but Brooklyn specifically). For a time, she stayed with the mother, the mother thinking she’d returned for good, until one day the daughter said, “Mum…I’m married in America.” And then it became clear that she would have to go back.

That one small story became the basis of his upcoming novel, “Brooklyn,” which he read two passages from. It’s funny (no dead people in either of the passages) and very lyrical, and despite the fact that I hadn’t slept well the night before, my eyes didn’t droop once. The first passage he read concerned his heroine’s passage in third class on a boat from Liverpool to New York, much of which is spent vomiting; the second passage takes place in Brooklyn on Christmas Day, 1951.

I’m adding his books to my stack and will certainly pick up “Brooklyn” when it comes out. Though I wouldn’t have discovered him without the workshop, ironically, I won’t have time to read any of his books until the workshop is over.

New Class Starting Today!

I’m taking another Stanford Continuing Studies workshop this term. This one is “Fiction For Experienced Writers,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I’m pretty excited, as it’s been over a year since my last fiction workshop (the wonderful “Fabulist Fiction” class). In the meantime, of course, I’ve been working with our New Fables group, so I haven’t been lacking in workshoppy goodness, but it’s always nice to be exposed to a new group of writers. We’ll see how the fabulist/spec fic stuff goes over with this group.

By the way, if you’re not in the area or can’t spend the money/time to take a class on campus, you can download some classes from Stanford (and other universities) on iTunes U. I’ve very much enjoyed the lectures I’ve gotten from there–my favorites are the “why people do evil things” and the series on Benjamin Franklin (who might be in the running to be my new role model).

I’ll keep updating as the class goes on. Meanwhile, I can’t overstate the value of workshops in general to help develop both your writing and critiquing skills. Being part of a writerly community is a great way to spark your writing, and learning how to critique other people’s work helps you think more critically about your own.

Continuing Studies

I’ll be taking the “Fiction for Experienced Writers” class in Stanford’s Continuing Studies program in the winter term. It promises to be pretty interesting. If you don’t want to click the link above, here’s the summary: “Focusing intently on issues of structure, characterization, and point of view, we will direct our energies toward the creation of polished, seamless narratives and the further development of our own individual styles. In addition to reading and constructively commenting on one another’s work, we will continue to read published fiction from authors who both exemplify and challenge traditional concepts of storytelling. Finally, we will attempt to demystify—as much as possible—the process of bringing our work to the outside world, and students will actively explore places in the literary market where their work (as well as that of their classmates) might find placement.

So needless to say, I’m looking forward to it. Some friends of mine are taking Carl Yorke’s “Writing For The Movies” class, which examines movie structure and is a terrific class even for novelists. Movies follow a pretty standard structure which is also a good one to keep in mind as a basic story structure for your prose. Carl knows his storytelling inside and out, and is not just a good teacher, he’s a great guy besides (though he’ll deny that). If you’re interested in movies at all, or in story structure, I can’t recommend his classes highly enough.

Anyone else taking another Stanford CS class this winter? Anyone else taking one of the two above?