â€œI first had a sense of myself as a writer when I attended a conference much like the Squire Summer Writing Residency, in Atlanta, Georgia, about 30 years ago.Â The teachers were Philip Levine and Richard Hugo (I wrote poetry then), both of whom were magnificent, inspiring, but very real and approachable.Â I hope attendees at the 2011 Squire Summer Writing Residency in New Bern will say the same about me.
In the intervening years, the lines of my work got longer until they turned into stories and novels, but I have retained, I think, the poetâ€™s sense of sound and cadence.Â I hope that in my workshop we will give some attention to language, to the poetry of prose, as well as character development, setting and plot.
Before you come to the workshop, Iâ€™d like you to look up from the privacy of your page and think about what a short story is, what itâ€™s trying to do.Â Here are some thoughts to get you started:
- V.S. Pritchettâ€™s description of a short story is â€˜something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.â€™
- The Irish writer Joseph Oâ€™Connor says a short story is a glance at the miraculous.Â His countryman James Joyce used a religious word. Â He called his stories â€˜epiphanies.â€™Â A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realization.Â Or a hint of that, a quiet bomb.
- Ernest Hemingway said, â€˜If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.Â The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.â€™
- Raymond Carver believed the best stories exhibit â€˜some feeling of threat or sense of menace . . . I think a little menace is fine to have in a story.Â For one thing, itâ€™s good for the circulation.Â There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent, that certain things are in relentless motion.â€™
- Finally, one of my favorite writers, Flannery Oâ€™Connor, suggests, â€˜There is a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.â€™
So I hope weâ€™ll spend our workshop hours writing a few exercises, looking at your works-in-progress, and trying to cultivate our stares.â€
If you have not already done so, please register for this yearâ€™s Squire Summer Writing Residency at www.ncwriters.org.Â The registration deadline is July 1.
We look forward to seeing you in New Bern.