Tagged with corinna vallianatos

Residency day 7

We began with a fiction workshop on revision from Corinna Vallianatos. She began with her top ten on revision, with the #1 position comprised of suggestions from the class:

10. Put your classmates’ response letters away. Read them, but don’t keep them handy.

9. Be impatient. Be impatient with your own preciousness. Revision is like waking up with a hangover. You need to have the cold clear gaze of the morning after when looking at your work.

8. Be deliberate. Try to determine exactly what’s supposed to happen in the scene and what it’s supposed to do so it does something unique for the story. 

7. Secure the point of view. Make sure that POV changes are done with intentionality.

6. Sharpen description. Whenever we go to a new place, spend at least one or two sentences describing the place. Keep describing, keep showing, never let up on the showing. Describe everyone in your story, no matter how briefly. Give everyone at least one sentence of description, ideally before they start speaking. Avoid generic description. Show what’s unique or distinctive about a character. Description is a conduit for depicting character.

5. Tighten and sharpen language. Choose an arbitrary goal to trim x words from a story to remove needless words: direction words, redundancies. “he nodded his head” to “he nodded”. If the adverb doesn’t enlarge the verb then get rid of it. Make verbs as active as possible, nouns as specific and precice as possible. Pick a tense, stay in the tense.

4. Be aware of your own tendencies. Know your work better than anyone else. Watch for the unusual words or sentence constructions, crutch descriptions. Vary sentence structures and word choice.

3. Dialogue. Dialogue needs to move the story forward and/or characterize. Look for places where dialogue can be sharpened or excised.

2. Read it out loud. Nothing makes problems more obvious than reading it out loud. It can be interesting to hear your words in someone else’s mouth. “Computer can read it out loud for you if you don’t have a friend” —Steven Paul Lansky

1. Suggestions from class: Know when to stop • Have no bias • Be willing to retype the whole work • Keep your original draft • Remember the small details • Cut up the chapter or story and then rearrange to re-envision the work • Let the text rest • Let a trusted reader comment on it

This was followed by a writing exercise on writing beyond the story:

Have the main character of the story you’re thinking of do the following exercises—as if he/she has his/her own notebook. Try, as much as your sense of decorum allows, to pretend that your character is writing the following, not you:

• Write a diary entry for the time of the story

• Write a diary entry for the time preceding the story

• Write a letter to someone who isn’t in the story about what’s happening in the story

• Write a letter to someone in the story.

Or you might explore places in the story that you haven’t either dramatized or summarized:

• What events happened before the beginning of the story? Before page one? Try writing a scene that comes before the first scene in your story.

• Write past the ending. Write an additional page past where you felt the story’s end was. This allows you (the writer) to understand the ramifications of the events that have already happened.


The rest of the morning was a mentee workshop then after lunch we had the last of the student seminars. I had Resa Albohor writing about leaving the stream of consciousness without drowning and Dan Cox on teaching creative writing in prisons.

Our evening “reading” was a screening of Hal Hartley’s Meanwhile followed by a question and answer session. The star of the film, D. J. Mendel bears a striking resemblance to our own Cully Perlman. He does at least now have an alternative nickname to “Heisenberg.”

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Residency day 8

We’re just about done with the residency. We started with the genre workshop with Tibor Fischer and Corinna Vallianatos talking about beginnings of works. We workshopped a new piece that I wrote this week and despite it being relatively rough in my opinion was well-received by everyone else.

I went for a walk after lunch and nearly forgot to go the synthesis. I remembered just minutes before it was meant to begin.

The afternoon was largely empty until I had my contract consultation.

The evening readings consisted of Stefan Kiesbye who read a chapter from Your House is on Fire Your Children All Gone. It was spooky enough on its own, but Stefan added a backing soundtrack for added eeriness. Jessica Anthony read from a novella in progress and Jeff Parker finished off the reading series with a short story which concludes with a character (probably) disappearing into a sinkhole. Damn it, that was a story that I wanted to write.

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Residency day 2

Don Morill’s seminar was “Sentences & Paragraphs as Aesthetic Performance.” There were some interesting thoughts on linguistic structure and how it can be enhanced, although perhaps the most interesting part of the seminar came early when he produced Su Hui’s “Star Gauge”


Courtesy of some aspects of Chinese linguistic structure the above can be read in a variety of different ways, with over 3000 poems possible here. A sort of prefiguring of Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes. Also of note in the seminar for me was the introduction to me of William H. Gass’s Life Sentences, a book that I now feel compelled to read.

Workshop with Terese Svoboda began with a freewriting exercise, on the title of “How did I get Here.” I managed to come up with a somewhat entertaining piece of 600 words which I think may get some refinement and submission.

Genre workshop was with Mikhail Iossel and Jessica Anthony. While nominally about transforming personal experience into fiction, it was largely about some expansion and compression of time and space looking at two short pieces from The New Yorker: “Getting Closer” by Steven Millhauser and “Going for a Beer” by Robert Coover.

The afternoon seminar was Stefan Kiesbye on “How We Cannot Say What We’re Talking About” which was largely about dialog, looking at some masterful uses of dialog and concluding with a bit of a teardown of some of the bad writing that is the output of Dan Brown.

Our evening reading was a triple header. First we had John Capouya reading from an unpublished essay on a soul singer which he says will appear in print in the year 20never. Corinna Valliantos read the first chapter of a novel in progress about a girl who had been raised by dogs. Some of the lines seemed earily reminiscent of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Finally, Kevin Moffett (who is also Valliantos’s husband) read some selections from The Silent History. I realized just yesterday that Moffett is the author of one of my favorite stories from Best American Short Stories, “Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events.”

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