Read to Write Workshops at Copperfield’s Books

In 2011, I’ll be teaching a nine-month fiction craft course again at Copperfield’s Books in Sonoma County, California, beginning in March. The course structure and book list from the 2010 course appear below. The 2011 structure and lists will be the same with a few substitutions. I explore novel craft and close reading in this blog. 

Registration

Registration for the class is not yet open, but I am taking names of interested participants. The classes will meet at Copperfield’s Books Sebastopol and Petaluma locations. The course consists of nine two-hour sessions meeting once a month. The description below highlights content. If you have questions regarding whether it fits your goals and interests, contact me at chris (at) christinewalker (dot) net or through the contact link on my website.

Build literary community

I designed this course as a way for writers and readers to build literary community while supporting their local, independent bookstore. Nine lively sessions reveal and stimulate creative process, teach useful tools and techniques, and animate intentions. If writers and trusted readers form enduring relationships during the course— all the better! Buy local, read global.

Please respond to the blog with your own discoveries and craft lessons. 

READ TO WRITE BOOKS WORKSHOP

A course in fiction craft and close reading

We are all experts and all learners. Let’s go deeper into fiction and have a good time while we…

• Enhance writing skills and literary enjoyment through close reading of masterful books

• Share literary discoveries with fellow writers and readers

• Investigate and learn craft techniques and methods to further writing and reading goals

• Enjoy a creative, low-risk workshop environment

Writing is a solitary act with a communal spirit among writers and readers. To become accomplished, writers benefit by studying authors who’ve honed the craft techniques and nuances of fine fiction. In this course, we’ll examine masterful writing, incubate the lessons, and use expanded knowledge to read more closely and write more skillfully. 

 In my two-year MFA program, the promise was fulfilled: “Read one hundred books. Write one.” In this nine-month course, a shorter book list will step participants through crucial concerns of long-form writing. 

Writers wanting to move their projects to the next level—whether to draft, revise, cohere, or polish—will be shown tools and methods to do so. The course will help bring fullness to works in progress—novels, story collections, narrative nonfiction, memoir. Fellow writers and book lovers will inspire and encourage one another. 

Course structure

What makes fine fiction? How or why did that author do that? We delve in with authors who enrich our writing and reading journeys. Participants are asked to focus on a book from each month’s list and be prepared to share discoveries. I demonstrate visual, hands-on techniques and tools that I use when writing and suggest optional hands-on homework activities for participants wanting to further enhance their writing craft or literature appreciation. 

Each session combines book and craft discussion with voluntary reading aloud of passages from annotations and writing projects and voluntary sharing of homework activities. The course structure prompts participants to write outside of class, as suits their project goals and craft concerns, but class time is not devoted to free writes or personal writing. The workshop is not designed as a critique group, but participants may request thoughtful comments and questions on the passages that they read aloud. 

The nine sessions cover craft concerns based on reading selections.

Note: For first session, please prepare by reading any of the Session 1 selections from the book list below. Also, please bring first and last paragraphs from favorite books for investigation. If you’d like to share first sentences from your own writing or initial sentences (story seeds) that inspired a project, even if they’ve been discarded or altered in revision, please bring those. 

(This is the 2010 Schedule)

1. Gatekeepers & Story Seeds ~ March

Examine first and last sentences that successfully set up, complete, and resonate within the story. What do those first words promise? In what ways do last words glance back or look beyond? How do words and images germinate a story?

Hands-on homework suggestion: Put a first sentence on parade and identify what instrument of story delivery each word plays.

2. Voice, Style & POV ~ April

Listen to and learn from your narrator or narrators. Who tells the story and how? What does distinctive voice have to do with style? 

Hands-on homework suggestion: Write a scene two or more ways using different points of view and/or voice, or bring passages from books with contrasting points of view and voice.

3. Character ~ May

Care about your characters. How do writers make invented people come alive on the page? How much do you need to know about a character as a reader or as a writer? 

Hands-on homework suggestion : Create characters scrapbooks and other prompts to inform character development.

4. Place ~ June 

Ground the story. How do writers establish a felt sense of inhabited place? Can you picture where your characters live? Does place serve as character?

Hands-on homework suggestion: Map a story’s environment and/or architecture.

5. Tension ~ July 

Entice readers to turn the page. What is tension? How does it relate to plot? How, when and where do masterful writers weave it in and make it pay off for readers? 

Hands-on homework suggestion: Graph a story’s high and low tension points. 

6. Time & Consciousness ~ August 

Expand and compress time, pick up or slow down the pace. How does a book that engages readers for only several hours give them the experience of time, whether the story spans a day or decades? 

Hands-on homework suggestion: Track the baton relay of time and consciousness in a story.

7. Love & Other Emotions ~ September

Get second-hand emotions to first base. What’s love got to do with it? Explore the purposes and limits of the popular writer’s maxim: “Show, don’t tell.” 

Hands-on homework suggestion: Create a graphic storyboard of a love scene or emotional passage.

8. Image & the Senses ~ October

Make the fabulous real and the real felt. How do writers paint vivid impressions with words to enliven narrative and awaken readers’ senses? 

Hands-on homework suggestion: Find or create images that encapsulate aspects of a story.

9. Theme & Gestalt ~ November

Draw it all together. How does an author integrate big ideas and intentions into his or her story without overpowering it? 

Hands-on homework suggestion: Continue a deep engagement in literature.

Suggested book list

Focus on one book or portions of a book each month. As the workshops progress, participants may suggest books for the list that illuminate topics scheduled for discussion. With an annotative approach, rather than a book report approach, we’ll explore and contrast specific craft concerns within several books. Our individual literary investigations cross-pollinate for hybrid thinking among the group. The nine sessions cover these reading selections:

(This is the 2010 schedule)

March ~ Gatekeepers & Story Seeds 

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen; The Quiet American, Graham Greene; Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee; The Awakening, Kate Chopin; Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner; Selected Stories, Alice Munro 

April ~ Voice, Style & POV

“Richard Parker, can you believe what happened to us? Tell me it’s a bad dream. Tell me it’s not real.”

Life of Pi, Yann Martel; Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes; Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad; Vanity Fair, William Thackeray; Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan; The Middleman and Other Stories, Baharati Murkherjee; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; Bell Canto, Ann Patchett

May ~ Character

“Cosimo climbed up to the fork of a big branch where he could settle comfortably and sat himself own there, his legs dangling, his arms crossed with hands tucked under his elbows, his head buried in his shoulders, his tricorne hat tilted over his forehead.”

Our Ancestors:Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino; The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien; Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Richard Yates; How to Make an American Quilt, Whitney Otto; The Country Life, Rachel Cusk; To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

June ~ Place

“For the Lighthouse has become almost invisible, had melted away into a blue haze, and the effort of looking at it and the effort of thinking of him landing there, which both seemed to be one and the same effort, had stretched her body and mind to the utmost.”

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf; Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson; Of the Farm & Pigeon Feathers, John Updike; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; Dubliners, James Joyce.

July ~ Tension

“He has never been seen in the company of a girl on the factory premises, nor anywhere in the immediate neighborhood. Nothing like that on your own doorstep is the rule he has.”

Felicia’s Journey, William Trevor; The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante 

August ~ Time & Consciousness

“Though sometimes in my brain I go back to that afternoon, to relive it, sail up there again toward the acoustic panels, the basketball hoops, and the old oak clock, the careful harmonies set loose from our voices so pure and exact and light we wondered later, packing up to leave, how high and fast and far they had gone.”

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Lorrie Moore; Lie Down in Darkness, William Styron; Larry’s Party, Carol Shields; A Country Life, Rachel Cusk; Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf; Bel Canto, Ann Patchett 

September ~ Love & Other Emotions

“This sound seemed to enter him, pierce him down his length so that his whole body opened up and he was able to step out of himself and kiss her freely.”

Atonement, Ian McEwan; Jasmine, Baharati Mukherjee; Selected Stories, Alice Munro; Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov; A Passage to India, E.M Forster; Bell Canto, Ann Patchett; The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante

October ~ Image & the Senses

“I have never seen anything like it: two little discs of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire. Is he blind?”

Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M Coetzee; A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor; Life of Pi, Yann Martel; Invisible Cities and Our Ancestors: Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino; Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

November ~ Theme & Gestalt

“One is constantly wondering what sort of lives other people lead, and how they take things.”

Middlemarch, George Eliot; Passage to India, E.M. Forster; Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton; Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M Coetzee; The Human Stain, Philip Roth; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Testimonials

“Christine is a natural teacher with such a clear and gentle manner.”

—Gillian Parker, PhD, Philosophy Professor, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California

“Christine is extremely talented and is a true educator.”

—Denise Rosendahl, Director, Life Learning Center, Santa Rosa, California

“Christine really knows how to bring out the creative soul in each student. She has the magic touch to get the women motivated in a completely different way than any other class they would take.”

—Karen Whissen, Director, Sonoma County Library Literacy Program, County Jails, Santa Rosa, California 

“Without your help these past weeks, my stories would be in a folder in a suitcase, and maybe I’d work on them or maybe I’d procrastinate and not do anything at all. You guided me to a much improved manuscript, one that I feel confident to submit.” 

—Sally Dawson, writer, Greer’s Ferry, Arkansas

“Your curriculum and presentation were great and I feel inspired.”

“One gem I pulled from your class on Saturday is to believe in my work. That you care and are passionate about what you do and wish to share is evident.”

 “I loved your workshop. I walked away from it, for the first time feeling like a writer.”

—Workshop participants, Inkling to Ink and Beyond, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, California

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