Taking creative writing classes has been my longtime desire, but until recently I haven’t had the courage to act on it. Unlike many aspiring writers, I never claim to have wanted to be a writer ever since I learned my first letters. Although I remember writing poems in secret. Once, in a summer camp, I wrote a poem and put it in my drawer; another girl found it and said it was no good. My feelings were hurt beyond measure. After that I only wrote poems-parodies and shared them with a few friends. I even attempted to write a sci-fi story and sent the manuscript to a youth newspaper — the story never got published. Over the years, I’ve come to think of myself as a “visual” person, rather than a “word” person. But life happens, changing the way we see the world and our place in it. So here I am, hooked on writing at 44, venturing into the wonderful world of fiction not as a spectator, but a storyteller. And, oh boy, is this fun!
I am now two weeks into Creative Writing 101 offered by Gotham Writer’s Workshop. It’s an online course, and my classmates and instructor are all connecting from different locations and time zones. Once a week, we receive a lecture and, using a discussion board and live chat, discuss among ourselves what we’ve learned. Our weekly material also includes an array of writing exercises for practice and one assignment that we turn in by the end of the week for instructor’s feedback. The course is well-paced and fits into my busy schedule nicely. It gives me enough breathing space, so I can focus on my writing assignments without feeling overwhelmed or pressured. Although it’s still early in the course, what I’ve learned so far has already changed the way I read fiction. I began to pay more attention to the aspects of language and storytelling that I often took for granted. In that sense, I can say my reading experience has acquired a new dimension and is becoming more enjoyable the more I learn about creative writing process.
What I find especially enticing about this course is an opportunity to learn from a master of the craft. My course is led by Chip Livingston, author of Museum of False Starts; his next book is slated to come out this spring. Without doubt, I am impressed with Chip’s accomplishments, but most importantly, I appreciate his leadership and active engagement in the class. I also find his timely feedback on our assignments invaluable, unlike some other programs I took in the past, where I had to wait for instructor’s feedback for weeks.
To my utter delight, Chip kindly agreed to do a short interview for this blog. I think it might be of interest to those of you who are passionate about writing. I also think it is only fair to give you an opportunity to take part in it. So, you are welcome to submit one or two questions about writing (via comments to this post) that will be used in our interview with Chip. Questions in the interview post will be properly attributed with a link to your blog, or to your Twitter/Facebook account, in case you don’t have a blog. Below I included one of Chip’s prose poems from his Museum of False Starts book, which he shared in our class.
I am also planning on sharing more of what I learn in the class in my future posts (within Gotham’s guidelines, of course.)
Stay tuned and I look forward to your interview questions!
Yesterday my father was dying, and he asked me why – in a voice so hoarse and dry I had to lean in close to hear him – why I flew two-thousand miles. I asked myself: about the odor from the cracked shell of his skin; about his breath, which smelled as if he’d crawled from underneath the house, or drifted up from ocean’s depths, like the one I flew across, only to borrow the truck he could not drive, and race to a gas station for cigarettes, when I had not smoked in years.
I sit out on his front porch swing, another thing untouched since I’ve been here, and watch a trail of ants raise a cricket from the ground. Paralyzed, swollen, and I hope numbed, she drags her egg stick on the cement like a broken magic wand, her feelers twitching uselessly as they lift her up and carry her – like the clumsy paramedics hauled my father to the funeral home.
We’re all alone, I thought, that cricket and my father’s wife and me. And we can’t grasp what carries us. It isn’t grief, at least not mine, that moves us to another’s house, for days or weeks, a time of strangers leaving chicken made in casseroles, and frozen, labeled with dates, names, and numbers, like toe tags, so we know where to return the clean dishes and Tupperware.
I sit and smoke and stare in space, watch the insects scale the bricks, not knowing if the cricket laid her eggs, or where the ants will carry her, or if I give a damn what they do with my father.
How would I know what he wanted? I wasn’t here, and we weren’t close. His wife should know better than to ask me if I care if she buries him in her hometown three states away; or if she keeps the urn; or if I want to share his ashes.
Though, maybe I do.
There is a hint of rain in this morning’s humid air, and the ants have moved the cricket to the concrete’s edge, where she teeters before falling in the weedy flower bed.
I find their nest. The sandhill’s higher on the western side to keep the rain from rushing down and flooding them. The hole, too small to fit the carcass underground, is perfect for a final cigarette.