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How to Write Fiction that Stands the Test of Time

Matt Gallagher
The NCWN Writingest State Online Conference 2020, November 10-14, offers an abundance of classes and programs for fiction writers. Attendees can register for the full conference; half a conference; or just one single class! You don’t even have to be a member of NCWN, although we hope you’ll consider it.

Registration is open; what’s on tap for our spinners of yarns and tellers of tales? 

Matt Gallagher will lead the session “Imagination and History,” meant for all writers but of particular value to fiction writers.

“The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.” Putting E.L. Doctorow’s famous words to practice, this course will examine how creative work interacts with historical moments, large and small, and how that work can augment or even subvert the hard, factual record. Through a mixture of fiction and creative nonfiction, students will examine a variety of works set in the midst of change, progress and upheaval, with a mixture of works written in those moments and of works written long after. How does time and perspective influence this literature? What makes certain works stand that test of time, while others fail it? How do writers place the interiority of individual experience within societal and cultural history? This course will explore those questions and more, with a focus on storytelling.

Matt Gallagher is the author of the novels Empire City and Youngblood, a finalist for the 2016 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His work has appeared in Esquire, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and Wired, among other places. He’s also the author of the Iraq war memoir Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War and lives in New York with his wife and son.

Leah Hampton will lead the session “Magical Objects.”

So much depends upon what we carry, what we lose and find. This course focuses on the power of everyday, concrete objects and how they enrich plot and character. We will avoid interior monologues, figurative language, and other abstract craft elements and instead dig up bones, change clothes, and pull the literal plug. We will practice using tangible objects and hard details to convey tension, emotion, metaphor, and so forth. Writers of all genres and skill levels welcome. Bring a work in progress to enrich with random thingamabobs, or start a story from scratch with something you find in class.

Leah Hampton is the author of F*ckface and Other Stories (Henry Holt, 2020), a longtime NCWN member, and the 2012 winner of the Network’s Doris Betts Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, McSweeneys, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers, and she lives in and writes about the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Prose writers—fiction and nonfiction alike—will benefit from Art Taylor’s session, “Wait, Wait… Do Tell Me!”

Art Taylor
Suspense writers have mastered a skill that all storytellers—genre and literary writers both—might profit from: keeping readers in anticipation of what’s going to happen next. Two competing narrative strategies work together here, both a swift movement forward and a steady forestalling of information about what’s ahead. This craft talk will look at tactics to implement this plan: hooking readers quickly and earning their investment in characters or situations; raising questions to pique their interest; parceling out enough information to keep them engaged but withholding enough to keep them turning those pages; and navigating either suspense or the path toward surprise—not the same journey. Passages from writers including Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, Margaret Millar, Cormac McCarthy, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, and others will illustrate various techniques for incorporating suspense into your own work.

Art Taylor is the author of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense and On the Road with Del & Louise, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He won the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Short Story and has also won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, three Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Last but not least—in fact, first!—novelists Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle and Therese Anne Fowler will engage in an “Opening Conversation” on the topic of “The Place & The Past.”

They will discuss how in almost all creative writing—whether poetry, drama, fiction, or creative nonfiction—the setting where the story happens and the history out of which the story begins are as important as the voice, the plot, and the characters. Two North Carolina novelists will open the Writingest State Online Conference officially with this conversation on the place, the past, and the stories we’re trying to tell.

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, resides in Qualla and teaches at Swain County High School. She holds degrees from Yale University and the College of William and Mary. Her debut novel, Even As We Breathe (The University Press of Kentucky), was published in September.

Leah Hampton
Therese Anne Fowler is the author of several New York Times bestselling novels. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Week, Harper’s Bazaar, the Telegraph, and more, and her books are sold in translation worldwide. A Good Neighborhood, her most recent work, debuted at #5 on the New York Times bestseller list and was the Barnes & Noble Book Club selection for March 2020. Her 2018 novel A Well-Behaved Woman was a finalist for the Southern Book Prize. Her 2013 novel Z has been adapted as an original television series for Amazon Studios, starring Christina Ricci as Zelda Fitzgerald. Therese earned a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology and an MFA in creative writing, both from NC State University. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and PEN America, she lives in Raleigh with her husband, author John Kessel.

The Writingest State Online Conference is a five-day festival for writers featuring classes and conversations on the craft and business of writing, as well as a keynote address by North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, a Pre-Conference Tailgate and a Prompt Party to get creative juices flowing, online Open Mic readings and Happy Hour virtual gatherings, and an Agents & Editors panel discussion.

Registration for the Writingest State Online Conference is open.