Stonecoast: Wizard of Earthsea

*This post was originally published on Theodora’s website.

By Theodora Goss

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the workshop I led at Stonecoast last winter, on fantasy writing. I mentioned that I had given the students a series of quotations, and we had discussed them as examples of various writing issues and techniques. This is one of the quotations I used to talk about character: the beginning of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. But there’s so much more going on here than the establishment of character! I have a list of writers that I learned from myself, as a writer. Le Guin is one of the most important of them. She’s one of the reasons I try to write clearly, fluidly. I think lyricism is based on clarity of expression. She’s also one of the reasons I try to write about ideas, as much as I try to write about characters. She’s one of my models for what a courageous writer looks like.

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Stonecoast: The Hobbit

*This post was originally published on Theodora’s website. 

By Theodora Goss

hobbitI want to write a couple more posts about my experience at the Stonecoast residency this winter. As you know if you read my last post, Stonecoast is a low-residency MFA Program in which I teach, which means that I go up to Maine for residencies in the winter and summer, and then mentor students during the spring and fall semesters. This past residency, I led an elective workshop on writing fantasy. Most of the workshop was spent critiquing the stories students had submitted. But we also talked about the particular challenges of writing fantasy. The first day we talked about setting, then characters, then plot, then style. I thought I would talk for a bit here about creating setting in fantasy fiction, because it presents problems that realistic writers don’t have to deal with.

Basically, when you’re writing fantasy, you may be setting your story in a world that doesn’t exist. It can be much easier for a realistic writer, because he or she will have points of reference for the reader. “I walked through Central Park” immediately conveys an image to most readers (who have been in Central Park, or more likely seen it in movies or on television). “I walked through the gardens of the temple of Ashera” tells the reader exactly nothing. It conveys absolutely no visual image, except perhaps a green horizontal thing beside a gray vertical thing. So as a fantasy writer, you often have to work harder.

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Calling All Stonecoast Faculty Blog Readers: We Want to Hear From You!

Thank YouLast year, we gave thanks to the creative and engaging blog posts we’d received from Stonecoast MFA faculty across four genres: fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and popular fiction.  With the Stonecoast Faculty Blog already in its second year, we would like to again say thank you to faculty for their thoughtful and inspiring posts on topics such as the mentor-student relationship, the anxiety about being a real writer, tips for the mother-writer, writing about grief, and more.

So now it’s your turn to share your thoughts.  As readers of the Stonecoast Faculty blog, what are the topics you would like discussed?  What insights would you like to read about from faculty?  Are there any specific questions you would like to have answered?  Do you have thoughts on the posts we’ve shared thus far and/or direction for future posts?

In the comments below, please share your thoughts and opinions about anything and everything related to the Stonecoast Faculty Blog.  We look forward to hearing from you!

What My Mentor Taught Me

By James Patrick Kelly

Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, Clarion Conference 1974

Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, Clarion Conference 1974

Back when I was an aspiring writer, there were no MFA programs for the likes of me.   My ambition when I was starting out was to marry the literary values I had embraced as an undergraduate English major to the hurly-burly of widescreen ideas, surreal settings, and exotic characters that sprawled across the pages of the science fiction magazines that I loved.  Hardcore sf fans did not necessarily welcome me and my cohort of literature-loving newbies; they accused us of writing “li-fi” instead of “sci-fi.”  And did we get respect from mainstream gatekeepers of LiteratureLand for our attempts to remake the genre?  Fat chance.  Even today, the administrators of all too many writing programs continue to hold their noses at the mention of popular fiction, lest the aroma of art for commerce disturb their delicate sensibilities.

But let’s grind that ax another time, shall we?

The one and only writing program for young Jim Kelly was the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, then being held at the Michigan State University. In some ways, the Clarion experience was very much like that of the Stonecoast residencies, only more concentrated.  Over the course of six weeks in the summer, 18 of us gathered in a steamy MSU dorm to unpack our attempts at fiction in workshops led by a different professional science fiction writer each week.  The workshops were never the same because each mentor arrived with her own artistic ideas or his own hot button issues.  But the overall agenda was set by Damon Knight, who founded Clarion with his wife, Kate Wilhelm.  They believed that science fiction was as important as any other kind of writing, but it deserved to be better written than it was.

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Seven Drownings

photo courtesy of Michael Kimball

photo courtesy of Michael Kimball

by Michael Kimball

I’ve never been afraid of water. I’ve been a swimmer all my life. Summer days, vacations, my earliest best memories are swimming, diving off my father’s shoulders on Lake Chaubunagungamaug, riding the waves with my mother at Hampton Beach. In my suburban Massachusetts town, I took swimming lessons and earned my Junior Lifesaver certificate before my voice dropped. I could out-dive my sister and out-distance my friends underwater. So I was surprised to discover how many people drown in my novels. Sometimes two or three per book. Plummeting, tumbling, sailing over bridge railings and ridge tops.

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Dispatch from a Residency: A Photo Essay

The unique experience of attending a writer’s residency, despite being devoted to the written word, can, at times, be hard to describe. Let us show you the essence of a Stonecoast residency with photos from the 2013 winter residency, going on now through January 14th.

Faculty Suzanne Strempek Shea-teaching

Here, faculty member Suzanne Strempek Shea lectures on the art of pitching nonfiction projects.

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Fun With Your New Brain

“The Brain” by Ars Electronica photo courtesy of Flickr

“The Brain” by Ars Electronica photo courtesy of Flickr

by James Patrick Kelly

Even though Nicolas Carr’s The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains has nothing to do with craft, it’s a book that I think every writer should know.  It asserts that, largely unbeknownst to us, the Internet is reprogramming our brains and thus privileging certain cognitive abilities over others.  While some of his claims are more persuasive than others, his central thesis speaks to the way we will read and think in the future.

In order to understand the implications of what Carr is saying, let’s divide his argument into three parts and consider each separately.  First: Is the net really reprogramming our brains?   Second: If so, then what exactly is changing?  Third: Are these changes good or bad?

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